Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Colombian security forces have captured the country’s most wanted drug trafficker, a rural warlord who fled for more than a decade by destroying state officials and adapting to left and right combatants.

President Iván Duque compared the arrest of Dairo Antonio Úsuga to the arrest three decades ago of Pablo Escobar.

“This is the biggest blow to drug trafficking in our country in this century,” Mr Duque said in a video message.

A police officer died during the operation, Duque said.

Úsuga, better known by his alias Otoniel, is the alleged leader of the much-feared Gulf clan, whose assassin has terrorized large parts of northern Colombia to gain control of the major cocaine smuggling routes through thick jungles north to Central America and on to the Olympics.

‘Largest drug kingpin in Colombia’

He has long been a fixture on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted refugee list, with a $ 5 million reward underway for his capture.

Authorities said intelligence from the United States and Britain led more than 500 soldiers and members of Colombia’s special forces to the Usuga jungle hideout, which was protected by eight security rings.

His arrest is something of a boost for the Conservative president, Mr Duque, whose rhetoric in law and order has not been a match for rising cocaine production.

A man stands on a podium and turns to the camera, with other officials and army around him.
Colombian President Iván Duque compared the arrest of Úsuga to the capture of Pablo Escobar.(Colombian Presidential Press Office / Reuters)

Although Duque said Otoniel’s conquest represented the end of the Gulf clan, Colombia’s risk analysis director Sergio Guzman said a new leader would certainly wait to take over.

“It’s a big thing because he’s the biggest drug lord in Colombia,” Mr Guzman said, adding that the catch would not change the fundamentals of drug trafficking.

Sending medicine to the United States

He was first indicted in 2009, in Manhattan’s federal court, for drug charges and for allegedly providing assistance to a far-right paramilitary group designated a terrorist organization by the US government.

Later, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Miami accused him of importing at least 73 tons of cocaine into the United States between 2003 and 2014 through countries including Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Honduras.

But like many of his armed men, he has also cycled through ranks of several guerrilla groups, most recently claiming to lead the Gaitanist self-defense forces in Colombia, following a Colombian left-wing fire in the mid-20th century.

Police officers and a dog stand guard at a coca plantation.
Colombia’s military launched a major operation to capture Úsuga in 2016. (Reuters: / Luisa Gonzalez)

Years on the run

Colombian authorities launched Operation Agamemnon in 2016 when, according to police, they worked to lock in on Otoniel, killing and capturing dozens of his lieutenants, going after his finances and forcing him to be constantly on the move.

Leaks and a network of rural shelters, which he reportedly moved between each night, allowed him for years to withstand a scorched earth military campaign against the Gulf clan.

As he defied authorities, his legend as a bandit grew along with the horror stories told by Colombian authorities about the many underage girls he and his cohorts allegedly sexually abused.

In 2017, a video was released in which Otoniel announced that he intended to submit to justice, but the plan never materialized.

ABC / wires

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