Shops and shutters closed, streets and schools deserted: this Thursday, May 5, television cameras are filming ghost villages in northeastern Colombia. The day before, drug trafficker Dario Antonio Usuga, alias Otoniel, 50, was extradited to the United States. In retaliation, members of his criminal organization, the “Gulf Clan”, announced that they were ordering a “armed strike” of five days. An armed strike is the term used here by criminal organizations to forcibly confine the population and paralyze the activity of a region. Four departments and some outlying districts of Medellin, the country’s second city, have been affected by the confinement order. According to the authorities, a street vendor was murdered and about 30 vehicles burned, blocking several roads in the region.
Wednesday in Bogota, it was under strong escort that Mr. Usuga was brought to the airport: four armored trucks, five police cars and a few dozen armed motorcyclists were mobilized for his movement. Until it was time to board the plane, Otoniel, handcuffed, wearing bulletproof vest and khaki helmet, seemed to be smiling. But the man risks a very heavy sentence in the United States which offered 5 million dollars (4.7 million euros) for his capture. Accused of leading a criminal enterprise between 2003 and 2021 and of having imported several tons of cocaine into the United States, Mr. Usuga appeared on Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn. He pleaded not guilty.
In Colombia, Otoniel is the subject of more than 120 arrest warrants for extortion, terrorism, forced recruitment, sexual violence, massacres, trafficking and carrying weapons. “He is the most dangerous drug trafficker in the world, the murderer of social leaders and police, a rapist of children and adolescents”, declared President Ivan Duque, confirming to his compatriots the extradition of Mr. Usaga. The Head of State added: “This criminal can only be compared to Pablo Escobar”, the famous Colombian drug trafficker, leader of the Medellin cartel, killed by the police in 1993 and immortalized in the series Narcos.
Regional criminal gangs
“Today, legality, the rule of law, public force and justice triumphwelcomed Mr. Duque in his televised address. Violence has never won and it will not win. » But the Colombian state is definitely struggling to control large swaths of its territory.
Otoniel was arrested in October 2021, near the town of Necocli in the region of Uraba, where he is from, in the northwest of the country. Unlike Pablo Escobar, Otoniel was largely unknown to the general public before his arrest. Son of a peasant, the man spent his life in hiding. As a teenager, he joined the small guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL) which demobilized in 1991. A few years later, Otoniel appeared on the lists of far-right militias, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which deposited in their take up arms in 2006. He then joined the Gaitanist Self-Defense Force, founded by his brother, which took control of drug trafficking throughout the northeast of the country.
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