NewsWorldColombia: drug trafficker "Otoniel" arrested, a huge blow to...

Colombia: drug trafficker “Otoniel” arrested, a huge blow to drug trafficking – The HuffPost

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via Associated Press

(Photo of the capture of ‘Otoniel’ on October 23, 2021. Photo by the press service of the Presidency of Colombia, via AP)

COLOMBIA – The Colombian government announced on Saturday (October 23) the arrest of Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel”, the most wanted drug trafficker in the country, for whom the United States had offered a 5 million dollar reward.

“It is the hardest blow that has been dealt to drug trafficking during 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) which controlled up to 80% of the global cocaine trade, was shot dead by Colombian police in 1993.

“The Most Important Jungle Expedition Ever” in Colombia

Images released by the Colombian government show Otoniel, strangely smiling, dressed in black, handcuffed and surrounded by armed Colombian soldiers. The drug trafficker was captured in Necocli in the northwest of the country, near the border with Panama.

It was “the most important jungle expedition ever in the military history of our country”, according to Ivan Duque.

The Colombian police have carried out “an important satellite operation with agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom”, explained in a press conference the director of the police force, the general Jorge Vargas.

The operation, during which a police officer was killed, mobilized some 500 members of the security forces, supported by 22 helicopters, he said.

A reward of $ 5 million

“Otoniel” was then transferred late Saturday to Bogota by plane, where he was taken to the police station under heavy escort, according to police footage.

The Clan del Golfo is Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficking gang and the arrest of its leader represents the Colombian government’s biggest blow to organized crime in the country.

“Special gratitude to the security forces (…) for the capture in Necocli of Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias ‘Otoniel’, senior leader of the Clan del Golfo,” Emilio Archila, adviser to President Ivan Duque, said on Twitter.

The United States had offered a reward of $ 5 million for his capture.

An upcoming extradition?

Otoniel, who was indicted by the American justice in 2009, is in particular the subject of an extradition procedure in the court of the southern district of New York. “There are extradition orders for this criminal and we will work with the authorities to achieve this goal as well,” President Duque commented.

The fall of “Otoniel” represents the main success of the Conservative President’s government in the fight against organized crime in the world’s largest cocaine-exporting country.

The 50-year-old drug trafficker was the head of the Clan del Golfo, made up of former members of paramilitary groups who waged a fierce struggle against the left-wing guerrillas until the 2010s.

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.

Hidden in the jungle

The Colombian government accuses the Clan del Golfo of being one of the responsible for the worst wave of violence that shakes the country since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016 with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, Marxist ).

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. Harassed by the authorities, he “slept there in the rain, never approaching inhabited areas”, assured General Vargas. “He was moving with eight safety circles” around him, he said.

Became chief after the death of his brother

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 demobilized in 1991.

After laying down his arms, he returned to fight in 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 largest producer of cocaine, of which the United States is the largest consumer.

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