The biggest drug trafficker Colombia he cried and hurled insults as he was taken to El Dorado International Airport, but his fate was already cast. One day after being extradited to the United States, Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, alias ‘Othniel‘, appeared this Thursday 5 in a court in Brooklyn, New York, which instructs the case for drug trafficking against the bloodthirsty 50-year-old capo. Sitting on the bench of the accused, pleaded not guilty.
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According to the incriminating document, Othniel He is the “leader of a continuing criminal enterprise” and is accused of having introduced more than 10 tons of cocaine into the United States as head of the Clan del Golfo, which has more than 6,000 members and is the largest criminal gang in the United States. Colombia.
Breon Peace, the Brooklyn federal prosecutor, has assured that this criminal organization exercises “military control over amounts of territory” in the Urabá region of Antioquia, “one of the drug-trafficking areas that generates the most profits within Colombia.”
Othniel He was arrested in October 2021 after an intense months-long chase through the jungles near Panama, in northwestern Colombia. Until then, he commanded the Clan del Golfo, responsible for 30% (about 300 tons) of cocaine exports from the world’s largest producer of that drug.
“There are no more Othniels”
The Clan del Golfo has been decimated by a series of coups by the authorities against the close circle of Othniel. After his capture, the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, proclaimed the beginning of the end of what is considered the largest drug gang in Colombia.
Jeremy McDermott, co-director of the organization InSight Crime, which specializes in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, considers that what has been seen in the last decade is a gradual fragmentation of organized crime in Colombia. “With the output of Othniel I think we are going to see even more fragmentation within the Clan del Golfo because there is no one who has the same profile as Otoniel”, he tells El Comercio.
Othniel He has a criminal record that reflects a lifetime of illegality. He joined the ranks of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL). After signing a peace agreement in 1991, he became part of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and, after their demobilization, in 2006, he created the criminal gang of Los Urabeños, now Clan del Golfo.
“He is a dinosaur, in the sense that there are no more Othniels. This man has had a criminal and guerrilla trajectory, as well as a paramilitary. He is a figure that generates a lot of submission or reverence in the underworld. There are no people with the same profileMcDermott points out.
In recent years, Othniel he had practically returned to his life as a guerrilla because the search block against him was enormous. “Otoniel moved every day by mule, canoe, etc. Very few people can endure that kind of life, but he was a guerrilla, a paramilitary. The narcos of today do not have this same profile”, adds the expert.
No deep changes
Despite the importance of the fall of OthnielHis extradition is unlikely to drastically change how the Clan del Golfo works because the organization is used to operating without the capo’s physical presence.
“The internal organization of the Urabeños [Clan del Golfo] it is designed to maximize territorial presence, participation in criminal economies, and adaptability to change. This has led the group to use different armed networks in the territories, mainly made up of central structures and franchises.”, indicates the organization InSight Crime.
In addition, McDermott recalls that today, particularly the traffic to Europe, is multinational, so that in each link in the drug trafficking chain one can find a Colombian, a Venezuelan, a European, depending on the route, the destination, the owner or buyer.
“There is a type of multinational network for drug trafficking. I think it will stay the same. You have to remember that Colombia is exporting more cocaine than ever, the only thing that has changed is that we do not know who owns the shipments, who is handling them”, says the expert.
Another important factor is that there are other criminal groups on the Colombian scene, such as the ELN, which is heavily involved in cocaine production and protects laboratories and crops in its areas of influence. There are also the dissidents of the FARC and the Second Marquetalia, which also participate in drug trafficking.
“But the vast majority of high-end drug traffickers today are invisible, they remain hidden and keep a low profile because today they cannot hide in the civil conflict as before, the world has changed. There are no cartels, it is a world of criminal subcontracting, ”says McDermott.
“A temporary weakness will be seen in the Clan del Golfo, but not permanent”
Senior Scholar in Law and Economics at Columbia University and Government Advisor on Organized Crime Issues
“What real impact will Otoniel’s extradition have on the Gulf Clan?”
These are criminal organizations in which when one of their leaders is extradited, be it regional or from the leadership, what happens is that there is a multiplier effect in the United States, which is not seen in countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia . Since the Americans have much more flexible laws and much larger budgets, they can pursue the criminal structure of that organization based on the testimonies of the people it extradite. In exchange for procedural benefits, many of those extradited end up providing information on the organization’s assets, shell companies and factories in various countries around the world. The United States has that comparative advantage and the countries that allow extradition know it well.
—How has that criminal organization been in Colombia?
The extradition generates, as in all cases, internal struggles to replace these leaders and at the same time generates a temporary, but not permanent, relative weakness. To the extent that the United States does not advance with these transnational and international patrimonial dismantlings, the organization in the medium term will remain the same. These people are replaceable, they are organizations, not families. Where there will be a difference is in the multiplier effect of asset dismantling that will result from Otoniel’s extradition.
—What is the relevance of the figure of Otoniel at this time?
Colombian criminal groups are no longer just drug traffickers, they are dedicated to a range of crimes, including migrant smuggling, human trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking. The fact that this emblematic figure is extradited generates a short-term effect of reducing these crimes, but in the medium term there is no difference. The organization will remain the same if the United States fails to generate the multiplier effect that I was talking about earlier.
-What drug trafficking groups still operate in Colombia?
Colombia has had institutional improvements for 20 years to combat organized crime. It has made great progress, however, the neighboring countries have not had that improvement. Colombian groups or foreign groups operating in Colombia, including the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, have patrimonial bases in Colombia and neighboring countries. What is called a cockroach effect occurred, where as Colombian institutional performance worked to dismantle, incarcerate or extradite these criminals, criminals began to operate more from countries with lower expected cost.
—What is the current relevance of the Clan del Golfo in the scene of organized crime?
Compared to the Sinaloa cartel, it has less relevance. The Sinaloa cartel, of Mexican origin, is the most sophisticated criminal organization that penetrates the Mexican, Colombian and other countries political system with greater frequency. In that sense, the Clan del Golfo is a second-tier group compared to the Sinaloa cartel. Also in terms of patrimonial power, it is a second-tier group.