Colombia’s most wanted drug lord Otoniel captured by armed forces

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Colombia’s most wanted drug lord Otoniel captured by armed forces


Colombia’s most wanted drug trafficker and head of the del Golfo clan, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, known as Otoniel, has been captured in his jungle hiding place by the country’s armed forces.

Colombia had offered a reward of up to 3 billion pesos (approximately $ 800,000) for information on Otoniel’s fate, while the United States government had offered a reward of $ 5 million for the ‘help locate it.

President Iván Duque compared the Saturday arrest of Otoniel to the capture three decades ago of Pablo Escobar.

After stints as a leftist guerrilla and then paramilitary, Otoniel, 50, became the leader of the criminal gang Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan, a group of drug traffickers. The gang is made up of around 1,200 armed men – most of them former members of far-right paramilitaries – and is present in 10 of Colombia’s 32 provinces.

Authorities said intelligence provided by the United States and the United Kingdom led more than 500 Colombian soldiers and special forces to Otoniel’s hideout in the jungle, which was protected by eight security rings.

Otoniel has spent years under the radar of authorities avoiding the high profile of the most notorious Colombian narcos.

He and his brother, who were killed in a raid in 2012, made their debut as gunmen for the now defunct left-wing guerrilla group known as the People’s Liberation Army. They then changed sides and joined the enemy on the battlefield of the Rebels, a right-wing paramilitary group.

Otoniel poses for a photo as he is escorted by Colombian military soldiers inside a helicopter after being captured in Turbo, Colombia. Photograph: Colombian Ministry of Defense / Reuters

Otoniel refused to disarm when this militia signed a peace treaty with the government in 2006, instead delving deeper into the Colombian criminal world and setting up operations in the strategic Gulf of Uraba region in the northern Colombia, a major drug corridor surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. sea ​​on either side.

Leaks and a network of shelters on rural farms enabled him for years to resist a scorched earth campaign led by the military against the Gulf clan.

But the war was wreaking havoc on the fugitive, who, even on the run, insisted on sleeping on orthopedic mattresses to relieve a back injury. In 2017, he showed his face for the first time on the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to the country, posting a video in which he demanded that his group be allowed to lay down their arms and demobilize in the country. part of the country’s peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), much larger, but the plan never materialized.

His arrest is a bit of a boost for Conservative President Duque, whose public order rhetoric has fallen short in the face of soaring cocaine production.

Land dedicated to the production of coca – the raw ingredient in cocaine – jumped 16% last year to a record 245,000 hectares, an unprecedented level in two decades of state eradication efforts United, according to a White House report.

Colombian authorities launched Operation Agamemnon in 2016 as they scrambled to get closer to Otoniel, killing and capturing dozens of his lieutenants, preying on his finances and forcing him to be constantly on the move, according to the police.

In March, Colombian police and the US Drug Enforcement Agency captured Otoniel’s sister, Nini Johana Úsuga, who was extradited to the United States to face charges related to drug trafficking and money laundering. .

In addition to drug trafficking, the del Golfo clan is involved in illegal mining, authorities say, while the government accuses the group of threatening and killing community leaders across the country.

He was first indicted in 2009 in Manhattan federal court for drug trafficking and allegedly providing assistance to a far-right paramilitary group designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. He also faces criminal charges in federal courts in Miami, Tampa and Brooklyn.

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