Large-scale operation against drug lord Otoniel – When he was arrested, he smiled into the soldiers’ camera

When he was arrested, he smiled at the soldiers’ cameras

A few days after the spectacular operation against Dairo Antonio Otoniel Usuga, the joy in Colombia subsided. The country is now puzzling over the background to the coup against the Clan del Golfo.

Christoph Gurk from Buenos Aires

Posted today at 12:17 pm

A few days after the arrest of the drug lord Dairo Antonio Otoniel Usuga, the joy in Colombia is slowly fading – and at the same time doubts about the usefulness of the arrest and its circumstances are growing. As the presumed head of the Clan del Golfo, Otoniel was probably partly responsible for the fact that tons of cocaine from Colombia have been smuggled into the USA in recent years.

In addition, the Colombian is said to have commissioned murders, been involved in kidnappings, as well as in the abuse of minors. The Colombian authorities had been looking for the drug lord for years. But despite a lot of effort, it was not possible to catch Otoniel.

While other cartel leaders lived in luxury and villas, Otoniel hid in the jungle. He allegedly fed on animals killed there and had bodyguards who had put several safety rings around him. It was only with great effort that it was now possible to capture Otoniel: 500 soldiers were involved in the action, 22 helicopters, 150 police officers.

The arrest of Otoniel is the greatest success since Pablo Escobar in the mid-1990s was shot, said President Ivan Duque. Photos of the detainee were proudly distributed. However, these do not show a shocked or angry man, on the contrary: Otoniel smiles into the camera.

This has now led to speculation as to whether the head of the Clan del Golfo was really found in his jungle hiding place – or whether he did not surrender to the authorities after all. In fact, years ago Otoniel had made offers to dissolve his organization. At that time the peace process with left-wing guerrilla organizations in Colombia had just started.

Otoniel probably wanted to take advantage of this change, perhaps also because he was personally worn down by decades of fighting and fleeing: As a teenager, he had joined a left-wing guerrilla and then switched to right-wing paramilitary groups. After all, he got into the drug trade.

Otoniel is to be extradited to the USA

Otoniel is now 50 years old, he is said to have a back problem and even slept on orthopedic mattresses in hiding in the jungle. In addition, his power had waned in recent years. So maybe, so the speculation, the drug lord could have faced.

This is countered by the fact that the government has already announced that it will extradite Otoniel to the United States – a fate that has faced other bosses, especially Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman: The Mexican will probably be in a high-security wing for the rest of his life for drug smuggling sit in the United States.

«Either you surrender - or we will get you»: The message of Colombian President Ivan Duque (left) to the drug lords.

Otoniel will do everything possible to prevent that from happening – and maybe this could induce him to work with the Colombian authorities and give evidence about the structure of his organization as well as the crimes he has committed. For the victims in his home country and their relatives, this would be the chance for legal reappraisal. How far even Otoniel’s collaboration would help to combat drug trafficking is doubtful. (Also read the analysis on the subject “The eternal war against the drug cartels has failed”.)

The global demand for cocaine is unbroken, and the smuggling routes and networks of the Clan del Golfo are likely to remain intact even after their boss has been arrested. There is therefore little doubt among experts that business will continue unabated. At the same time, however, there is fear that a bloody power struggle will break out for his successor.

Chiquito Malo is the new boss of the Clan del Golfo

Colombia’s President is likely to benefit most from the arrest: Ivan Duque is a right-wing hardliner who, despite all efforts, has failed to curb cocaine production. At the same time, his polls are falling.

This is another reason why Duque celebrated the arrest of Otoniel exuberantly: “This is the worst blow to organized drug trafficking in this country in this century,” said the President and shortly afterwards added that the next drug lord was already on the wanted list : Jesus Avila Villadiego alias Chiquito Malo, a close colleague of Otoniel and now probably his successor. “The message is clear: either you surrender – or we will get you,” said Colombia’s head of state.

Posted today at 12:17 pm

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