Colombia extradites the country's biggest drug trafficker to the US

Police officers escort Otoniel in Bogotá – Colombian Presidency/AFP

Colombia’s biggest drug trafficker, “Otoniel”, head of the Gulf Clan, was extradited this Wednesday to the United States, where he will be tried by a New York court, announced President Iván Duque.

“Dairo Antonio Úsuga, a murderer of social leaders, abuser of children and adolescents, murderer of police officers and one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet has been extradited,” the president announced in a public statement at government headquarters.

Otoniel was escorted by prison police to a military airport on the outskirts of town, where he boarded a DEA anti-drug agency plane.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga was arrested in October 2021 during a police mega-operation in a Colombian jungle area near Panama. Until then, he commanded the Gulf Clan, responsible for 30% (about 300 tons) of cocaine exports from the world’s largest producer of this drug.

Since 2009, a court in the Southern District of New York has demanded him for drug trafficking. Colombian justice also accuses the chief, 50, of murder, terrorism, recruitment of minors and kidnapping, among other crimes he would have committed when he was a guerrilla and paramilitary, before becoming the most wanted drug trafficker in the country.

The victims had requested the “suspension” of extradition, citing their right to know the truth and to be compensated. But Colombian justice authorized his extradition on Wednesday, Úsuga’s defense told AFP.

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

For the government, the capture and extradition of Otoniel is the most blunt blow received by drug trafficking since the death of cocaine king Pablo Escobar, shot dead by authorities in Medellín in 1993.

– Sexual predator –

Born into a peasant family in northwest Colombia, “Otoniel” was a guerrilla and paramilitary before becoming the leader of an organization with about 1,600 men and a presence in nearly 300 municipalities, according to the independent think tank Indepaz.

Úsuga was accused by authorities of abusing girls and adolescents in his areas of expertise. In 2017, he announced his intention to reach an agreement to submit to justice, but the government responded with fierce persecution.

The Clan was decimated by a series of blows by the authorities against Othniel’s inner circle. After his capture, Duque proclaimed the beginning of the end for what is considered the largest drug trafficking gang in the country.

Otoniel became head of the Gulf Clan after the death of his brother, Juan de Dios, alias ‘Giovanni’, in clashes with the police in 2012. He fought alongside the People’s Liberation Army, a Marxist guerrilla demobilized in 1991.

He returned to fight alongside paramilitary groups of the extreme right, who sowed terror in the 1990s with massacres and atrocities committed in their fight against the extreme left guerrillas.

Many of these self-defense groups were demobilized in 2006 at the initiative of the government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). But ‘Otoniel’ decided to remain illegal.

After half a century of fighting drug trafficking, Colombia remains the world’s leading producer of cocaine. The United States, the biggest consumer of the drug that Colombia exports, accuses Otoniel and his organization of bringing 73 tons of cocaine into its territory between 2003 and 2012.

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