Who is Otoniel, the powerful Colombian drug trafficker who has been extradited to the US?

This note was published on the occasion of Otoniel’s arrest in October 2021 and now updated with his extradition to the US.

Otoniel, handcuffed and dressed in gray overalls, was handed over Wednesday by the Colombian police to agents from the United States and Interpol, who received him aboard a plane from that country.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, alias Otoniel, was the most wanted drug trafficker in Colombia and arrested in October 2021 after almost a decade of intense search. The head of the powerful Clan del Golfo is now in the United States, where he must answer for drug charges.

“Colombians, I want to inform you that Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias Otoniel, has been extradited. This criminal is only comparable to Pablo Escobar, he is not only the most dangerous drug trafficker in the world but also a murderer of social leaders, abuser of children and adolescents, murderer of police officers and one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet,” he said. this Wednesday the president of Colombia, Ivan Duke.

Otoniel, 50 years old, was arrested last year in the municipality of Necoclí, in northwestern Colombia, in a joint operation in which more than 300 soldiers participated of the Army, the Air Force and the National Police displaced in more than twenty helicopters.

“It is the hardest blow that has been dealt to drug trafficking in this century in our country. This coup is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 90s,” President Duque said when celebrating the news.

In 2015, the Colombian authorities began an operation to capture Otoniel in which some 1,200 troops belonging to the best prepared elite groups in the country participated, more than double the 500 who were tracking Escobar at the time.

As for the Clan del Golfo, Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said in October that it had become “the greatest threat” in recent years because “the greater number of tons of coca that Colombia took to markets from the US and Europe was managed and articulated” by this criminal organization.

According to the Colombian press, there was a red circular issued by Interpol against Otoniel for multiple homicide, multiple kidnapping and conspiracy to commit a crime, among other crimes. In addition, it is the subject of more than 120 judicial processes opened for all kinds of crimes.

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There are more than a hundred legal proceedings open against Dairo Antonio Úsuga David.

Otoniel’s transfer this Wednesday to the Catam military base, attached to the El Dorado international airport in Bogotá, had the characteristics of a cinematic spectacle, with a caravan of tanks flanked by dozens of policemen on motorcycles.

Getting off a tank on the airstrip, an Otoniel was seen handcuffed and chained hand and foot, wearing an armored vest and helmet, guarded by dozens of agents.

A controversial extradition

The extradition was possible after the Council of State, Colombia’s highest contentious-administrative court, lifted a precautionary measure granted to victims’ organizations that wanted to prevent his surrender to the United States, since they believe that Otoniel should answer first for his crimes here. .

A soldier with alias Otoniel.

Otoniel’s capture required a massive security operation.

After his capture, “Otoniel” testified several times before the Special Justice for Peace (JEP), which judges the crimes committed by the different actors in the armed conflict, and provided more than 60 names of soldiers, politicians, officials and companies that they allegedly had dealings with the paramilitaries.

For this reason, from various sectors it was claimed that the head of the Clan del Golfo should not be extradited so quickly to the United States, since it is considered that he still keeps secrets and has a lot of information that he can contribute to Colombian justice to help clarify crimes of the conflict. .

“What an impressive desire of the government to extradite the truth of Otoniel to the USA. Dead of fright. We Colombians have the right to know who are the accomplices of all their crimes,” former Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo wrote today on his Twitter account.

However, President Duque said today that the extradition will not prevent crimes from going unpunished in the country, since “he must continue collaborating with the Colombian authorities that require it in their investigations and investigations.”

“This bandit was extradited to serve drug trafficking sentences in the United States, but I want to make it clear that, once he completes these sentences, he will return to Colombia to pay for the crimes he committed in our country,” said Duque.

Alias ​​Otoniel was handed over in Bogotá to United States agents

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Alias ​​Otoniel was handed over in Bogotá to United States agents

A history of violence

Otoniel’s life can be seen as an accumulation of geological layers of the history of violence in Colombia in recent decades.

He was born in Antioquia at the beginning of the 1970s and at the age of 16 he joined the ranks of the disappeared guerrilla movement Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) with his brother.

Later, together with his brother Juan de Dios Úsuga David, alias “Giovanni”, joined the FARC and later, in what seems like a 180 degree turn, to the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

In 2005 that group demobilized (lay down their weapons), but the brothers joined the ranks of drug boss Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias “Don Mario.”

Don Mario, after being arrested in 2009.

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The capture of Don Mario left the Úsuga David brothers in charge of the Clan del Golfo.

When he was captured in 2009, Otoniel and Giovanni were left in charge of the organization.

Othniel became maximum leader when his brother died at the hands of the Policia Nnational during an assault on a New Year’s “narco party” on January 1, 2012.

From family to cartel

Regarded as a large cartel, the Clan del Golfo was initially known as the Urabeños, after the Urabá region where it operates, although its tentacles extend to much of the country and beyond (members of the group have been captured in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Spain and Honduras).

At its core has been a family clan, the Úsugato which not only Otoniel and Giovanni have belonged, but also several cousins ​​and other close relatives.

Colombian Police Helicopter

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The Colombian Police distributed pamphlets from helicopters to ask citizens for help to capture the leaders of the Clan del Golfo.

For example, Francisco José Morelo Peñata, alias “El Negro Sarley” (killed in a police operation in April 2013), had a romantic relationship with one of Otoniel’s sisters, according to the police, and was the second in command of the organization after John’s death.

The person in charge of the group’s finances was Otoniel’s partnerBlanca Senobia Madrid Benjumea, alias “La Flaca”, who was captured in 2015.

And who was identified by the police as the contact with the Mexican cartels and the person in charge of managing the coordination of drug trafficking to Central America was a nephew of Otoniel and stepson of El Negro Sarley, Harlison Úsuga, alias “Pedro Arias”, also arrested. in 2015.

Last August, the Colombian government authorized the extradition to the United States of Alexander Montoya Úsuga alias ‘El Flaco’, a cousin of Otoniel who had been captured in 2012 in Honduras.

The United States Department of Justice has described the Gulf Clan as “one of the most important transnational organized crime organizations” that threaten that country.

On the other hand, since the time they were known as the Urabeños, the Clan del Golfo has distributed pamphlets in which they call themselves the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which is considered by the Colombian press as a ruse to hide their true goals. .

permanent evasion

The strong family ties, as well as his firm presence in an area of ​​Colombia that they know well, are some of the reasons why the authorities had had such a hard time capturing Otoniel.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga, after being captured.

Otoniel’s arrest required the joint participation of various state security forces.

Part of that has to do with his family’s close relationship with Urabá.

They are natives of the region, which the members of the clan know well.

They know how to manage their terrain and have power over their population.

After Giovanni’s death, the clan declared an armed strike that left the region stagnant for a couple of days.

But Otoniel also had several tricks to evade his pursuers.

Among them was the use of trained Creole dogs to warn you when someone stranger is approachingwith enough time to be able to escape.

Ivan Duke.

Iván Duque’s government compared Otonial’s arrest to that of Pablo Escobar.

In one of those escapes he had to leave behind one of those animals, a Colombian fine hound.

The policemen took him away, gave him the name Oto and trained him and used him in the 2015 operation to help them search for his former master, whose scent is unmistakable to him.

Furthermore, according to the Colombian press, Otoniel did not use technological devices such as cell phones to avoid being tracked, so he communicated with members of his organization by sending voice messages that were distributed on recorders and USB sticks by human couriers.

The fear of being captured also led him to constantly change the place where he spent the nights, usually in the jungle and often in wooden huts.

Those rural dwellings contrasted with the big screen televisions, expensive drinks and luxury perfumes that the authorities used to find when they followed his steps.

Another distinctive element of their dens were some expensive special mattresses, which helped reduce the discomfort of a herniated disc.

Now that he has been arrested, it is not clear whether he will be able to persuade the authorities to allow him to sleep on such a mattress in prison.

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