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Colombia Nabs Feared Drug Kingpin

Dairo Antonio Úsuga leads the violent Clan del Golfo
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 24, 2021 9:30 AM CDT
Colombia Nabs Feared Drug Kingpin
Dairo Antonio Usuga, leader of the Clan del Golfo cartel, is presented to the media at a military base in Necocli   (Colombian presidential press office via AP)

(Newser) – The most wanted drug trafficker in Colombia has been arrested. Per the New York Times, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, popularly known as Otoniel, was nabbed during a military operation in the remote mountains of Colombia's Uraba region. The 50-year-old was alleged to be the leader of the country's Clan del Golfo, a gang that used violence and terror to take control of major cocaine trafficking routes that go through northern Colombia, then Central America and into the US. Usuga has long been on the US Drug Enforcement Administration's most wanted list, which listed a $5 million reward for his capture. Colombian president Iván Duque painted the arrest as a huge win, liking it to the "fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s" in a national address.

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"Otoniel was the most feared drug trafficker in the world, a murderer of policemen, soldiers, social leaders, and a recruiter of minors," Duque said, per CNN. "To all criminals and narco traffickers: either you surrender, or we will come and get you." Per the AP, Usuga was first indicted in 2009, in Manhattan federal court, on narcotics charges and for allegedly providing assistance to a far-right paramilitary group designated a terrorist organization by the US government. Later indictments in Brooklyn and Miami federal courts accused him of importing into the US at least 73 metric tons of cocaine between 2003 and 2014 through countries including Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Honduras. But like many of his gunmen, he's also cycled through the ranks of several guerrilla groups, most recently claiming to lead the Gaitanist Self Defense Forces of Colombia, after a mid-20th century Colombian leftist firebrand.

Authorities said intelligence provided by the US and UK led more than 500 soldiers and members of Colombia's special forces to Usuga's jungle hideout, which was protected by an eight rings of security. Usuga for years flew under the radar of authorities by eschewing the high profile of Colombia's better known narcos.He and his brother, who was killed in a raid in 2012, got their start as gunmen for the now-defunct leftist guerrilla group known as the Popular Liberation Army and then later switched sides and joined the rebels’ battlefield enemies, a right-wing paramilitary group. He refused to disarm when that militia signed a peace treaty with the government in 2006, instead delving deeper into Colombia’s criminal underworld and setting up operations in the strategic Gulf of Uraba region.

Leaks and a network of rural safe houses he supposedly moved among every night allowed him for years to resist a scorched-earth campaign by the military against the Gulf Clan. As he defied authorities, his legend as a bandit grew alongside the horror stories told by Colombian authorities of the many underage women he and his cohorts allegedly abused sexually. But the war was taking its toll on the 50-year-old fugitive, who even while on the run insisted on sleeping on orthopedic mattresses to ease a back injury. In 2017, he showed his face for the first time on occasion of Pope Francis' visit to the country, publishing a video in which he asked for his group be allowed to lay down its weapons and demobilize as part of the country’s peace process with the much-larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
(Read more drug cartel stories.)

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