President Ivan Duque compared the Saturday arrest of Dairo Antonio Úsuga to the capture three decades ago of Pablo Escobar.
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The Colombian military presented Úsuga to the media in handcuffs and wearing rubber boots preferred by rural farmers.
Úsuga, better known by his alias Otoniel, is the alleged leader of the much feared Gulf Clan, whose army of assassins terrorized much of northern Colombia to take control of the main cocaine smuggling routes through thick jungles in northern Central America and the United States.
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He has long been on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Most Wanted Fugitives list, for whose capture it offered a $ 5 million reward. 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. Subsequent indictments in federal courts in Brooklyn and Miami charged him with importing at least 73 tonnes of cocaine into the United States between 2003 and 2014 via countries such as Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico. , Panama and Honduras.
But like many of his gunmen, he has also walked through the ranks of several guerrilla groups, most recently claiming to be the head of the Colombian Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces, after a wave of the Colombian left in the mid-20th century.
Authorities said intelligence provided by the United States and the United Kingdom led more than 500 Colombian soldiers and special forces to the suga jungle hideout, which was protected by eight security rings.
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For years, Úsuga has gone under the authorities’ radar 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 armed men for the now defunct left-wing guerrilla group known as the People’s Liberation Army, then changed sides and joined the enemies of the rebel battlefield, a right-wing group. paramilitary group.
He refused to disarm when this militia signed a peace treaty with the government in 2006, instead delving deeper into the criminal world of Colombia and setting up operations in the strategic Gulf of Uraba region. in northern Colombia, a major drug corridor surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. sea on either side.
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Leaks and a network of rural shelters he would have traveled through every night enabled him for years to resist a scorched earth campaign waged by the military against the Gulf clan. As he defied authorities, his bandit legend grew alongside the horror stories Colombian authorities told about the many underage women he and his cohorts allegedly sexually abused.
But the war took its toll on the 50-year-old 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, much larger.
His arrest is a bit of a boost for the conservative Duque, whose public order rhetoric has failed to match the skyrocketing cocaine production.
Land dedicated to coca production _ the raw ingredient of cocaine _ jumped 16% last year to a record 245,000 hectares, a level never seen in two decades of state eradication efforts United, according to a White House report.
Goodman reported from Miami