He was the most wanted drug trafficker in the country. The Colombian government announced, Saturday, October 23, the arrest of Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel”. “This is the hardest blow to drug trafficking in this century in our country (…), only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar ”, welcomed President Ivan Duque, in a message posted on social networks.
Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin cartel (north-west of the country), which controlled up to 80% of the global cocaine trade, was killed by Colombian police in 1993.
Otoniel, 50, is the head of Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficker gang. The cartel, funded mainly through drug trafficking, illegal mining and extortion, is present in nearly 300 municipalities across the country, according to independent think tank Indepaz.
The United States had offered a reward of $ 5 million for the capture of Otoniel. Indicted by the American justice in 2009, he is in particular the subject of an extradition procedure before the court of the southern district of New York.
The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it was preparing Otoniel’s extradition to the United States. ” Versus “Otoniel” there is an extradition warrant [vers les Etats-Unis] (…) which is still in progress ”, said Defense Minister Diego Molano, in a newspaper interview Time.
Five hundred members of the security forces, 22 helicopters
The United States contributed to his arrest, which took place in Necocli, in the northwest of the country, near the border with Panama. Colombian police conducted “A major satellite operation with agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom”, explained in a press conference the director of the police force, the general Jorge Vargas. The intervention, during which a police officer was killed, mobilized some 500 members of the security forces, supported by 22 helicopters, he said.
Images released by the Colombian government show Otoniel, dressed in black, handcuffed and surrounded by armed Colombian soldiers. “Special recognition to the security forces (…) for the capture in Necocli of Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel”, Senior leader of the Clan del Golfo”, said on Twitter Emilio Archila, adviser to President Ivan Duque.
The Clan del Golfo is made up of former members of paramilitary groups who waged a fierce struggle against leftist guerrillas until the 2010s. The Colombian government accuses him of being one of the responsible for the worst wave of violence. which has shaken the country since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016 with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Marxist).
Couriers rather than telephone
In 2017, Otoniel announced his intention to reach an agreement to go to justice. The government responded by deploying as many as 1,000 troops to hunt him down.
According to police, the drug trafficker was hiding in the jungle, in the Uraba region, where he is from, and did not use a telephone, relying on couriers to communicate. “He moved with eight safety circles” around him, said General Vargas.
Otoniel had become the leader of the Clan del Golfo after the death of his brother Juan de Dios, “Giovanni”, during clashes with the police in 2012. He had taken up arms at the age of 18 as a guerrilla in the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), a Marxist guerrilla who was demobilized in 1991. When the latter had laid down its arms, Otoniel had joined the far-right paramilitary groups. Many of these groups were demobilized in 2006 at the initiative of the government of the former right-wing president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). But Otoniel had decided to stay illegal.
Despite four decades of fighting drug trafficking, Colombia remains the world’s leading producer of cocaine, of which the United States is the leading consumer.
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Arrest of “Otoniel”, Colombia’s most wanted drug trafficker