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‘Otoniel’, the great heir of the Colombian paramilitary groups

‘Chiquito Malo’, right hand of ‘Otoniel’, could assume command of the organization

Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, alias ‘Otoniel’, has managed to evade capture for more than a decade, but this Saturday the leader of the Clan del Golfo, the most wanted drug trafficker in Colombia, responsible for sending tons of cocaine to the States, has finally fallen. Unidos, who had put a price of five million dollars for his capture.

His capture in strategic Urabá, South America’s gateway to Central America, “is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s,” in the words of Colombian President Iván Duque. It is “the hardest blow that has been dealt to drug trafficking in this century,” added the president.

With his arrest ends the life of enormous luxuries of ‘Otoniel’, which paradoxically began in the ranks of the disappeared guerrilla of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which he left after the group’s demobilization in 1991 to join the the extreme right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

There, along with his brother Juan de Dios Úsuga –alias ‘Giovanny’, who died in 2012 in a police operation–, he was the leader of the Bloque Centauros, which operated in the Eastern Plains of Colombia, in the east of the country. . He once again accepted a demobilization process promoted by President Álvaro Uribe (2003-2006).

After this new installment, ‘Otoniel’ joined in 2006 in the nascent Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) founded by drug trafficker Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias ‘Don Mario’, also a member of the AUC.

With the arrest of ‘Don Mario’ in 2009, the Úsuga brothers took control of one of the largest drug trafficking gangs in the country, also known as Los Urabeños, Clan Úsuga (by the surname of ‘Otoniel’ and his brother) or the more generalized name of Clan del Golfo, referring to the Gulf of Urabá.

The last promotion of ‘Otoniel’ was in 2012, with the death of his brother, who died in a police operation, when he ended up as the undisputed leader of the criminal organization.

The group tried to give itself the false appearance of a political organization: they distributed pamphlets and promoted graffiti in which they signed as AGC, but it was mainly dedicated to drug trafficking. In addition, it also made money from illegal mining and human trafficking networks.

The authorities estimate that it had up to 3,500 men throughout the country, once consolidated as the only group from the paramilitary era that retained its influence and armed power.

One of the keys to ‘Otoniel’s long fugitive stage has been that he did not sleep more than a few nights in the same place and it was usually in the jungle. He did not use mobile phones and only communicated through a human mail network.

All to avoid the so-called Agamemnon operation, launched more than five years ago to try to apprehend ‘Otoniel’ and his lieutenants. Some like ‘Gavilán’ or ‘El Indio’ fell in 2017 and 2018, but he continued to avoid capture.

The Colombian media are already speculating on the reason for his capture and some suggest that the deterioration in his health could have limited his ability to move. For months he has suffered from hypertension, diabetes and kidney problems.

In Colombia he has 128 arrest warrants for the crimes of drug trafficking, extortion, homicide, forced displacement, arms trafficking, formation of armed groups, conspiracy to commit a crime and crimes against humanity.

Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias ‘Otoniel’ PRESIDENCY OF COLOMBIA 10/23/2021

The bulk of the Gulf Clan functions as criminal franchises in each region, without a unity of command and only united by drug trafficking businesses, which raises fears of a resurgence of the organization despite the fall of ‘Otoniel’.

In any case, a new name has already emerged, the right hand of ‘Otoniel’: Jobani de Jesús Ávila, alias ‘Chiquito Malo’. He rose through the ranks of the Clan del Golfo by the death in 2018 of the former lieutenant of ‘Otoniel’, Nelson Darío Hurtado Simanca, alias ‘Marihuano’.

“It is 90 percent certain that now the command of the Gulf Clan is ‘Chiquito Malo’. If he made the decision not to assume command, alias ‘Siopa’ would assume it, who is dominating the entire Southwest of Antioquia and leads the Plan of Expansión Pacifico. The structure will continue and will continue to be powerful regardless of the capture of ‘Otoniel’, “said Fernando Quijano, analyst and director of the NGO Corpades.

For the director of the Institute for Peace Studies (Indepaz), Camilo González Posso, the capture of ‘Otoniel’ “is a major blow, it is about who has been considered one of the brains, but there is a whole line of middle management to be reorganized. ” Indepaz estimates that the Clan del Golfo has 1,770 men in arms, a presence in 25 Colombian departments and 237 municipalities.

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