(Bogota) Colombia’s biggest drug trafficker, “Otoniel”, leader of the Clan del Golfo, was extradited to the United States on Wednesday, where he faces charges by a New York court, Colombian President Ivan Duque announced triumphantly.
Updated yesterday at 21:00.
“I would like to announce that Dairo Antonio Usuga, aka Otoniel, has been extradited,” the Colombian President declared on Twitter in the evening, as “this criminal can only be compared to Pablo Escobar”, the famous co-founder of the drug trade and the notorious Medellín cartel, which was gunned down by police in 1993.
Colombia’s most-wanted drug dealer “Otoniel”, 50, was arrested on October 23 in a major military operation in the north-west of the country. He has been charged with drug trafficking in a New York court since 2009 and his head has been set at $5 million by the United States.
“He is the most dangerous drug dealer in the world, the killer of social leaders and police officers, a rapist of children and young people. Today there is legality, the rule of law, public authority and justice,” said the Colombian leader.
Local media broadcast images of a convoy of large armored vehicles escorted by heavily armed police heading to Bogotá airport. The Presidency also released photos of “Otoniel”, handcuffed and in a gray jacket, on board a jet just before the plane took off.
Relatives of Otoniel’s victims had requested a “stay” of extradition, believing that this procedure would “deprive justice of a paramilitary leader who has committed crimes against humanity in our country.” They appealed to their right to know the truth and receive redress.
But the Colombian judiciary eventually gave the green light for his extradition, Mr Usuga’s defense team told AFP.
And after serving his sentence in the United States, the head of the Clan del Golfo “will return to Colombia to pay for all the crimes he committed in our country,” the Colombian head of state assured on Wednesday.
“Who’s Afraid of Otoniel”
President Duque “thanked” the Supreme Court, the Council of State and the JEP (a special jurisdiction investigating the armed conflict in Colombia) “for avoiding this criminal’s deliberate manipulations to try to prevent this extradition”.
The drug lord’s closely monitored detention in Bogota was marked by several incidents and controversies.
Recordings of his testimony before the Truth Commission, the body investigating human rights violations during Colombia’s armed conflict leading up to the signing of the 2016 peace accord, were stolen by unknown persons.
Colombian police also interrupted a hearing for “Otoniel,” saying they suspect an escape attempt.
“Who’s afraid of Otoniel,” headlined independent online media Cambio, saying some wanted to silence the drug trafficker, who is said to have said at his hearings that the army continues to operate in complicity with far-right paramilitaries in some parts of the country.
According to the press, citing a JEP document, “Otoniel” is said to have implicated 63 people allegedly linked to the Golfo clan, including a former minister, a former national director of intelligence, six former governors and four former MPs.
According to his lawyers, the drug lord also claimed to have organized his handover.
Born into a farming family in northwestern Colombia, Dairo Antonio Usuga was a far-left guerrilla fighter, then a far-right paramilitary, before heading a roughly 1,600-strong drug trafficking organization that exported an average of nearly 300 tons of cocaine each year to around 30 countries, according to authorities.
He succeeded his brother Juan de Dios, known as “Giovanni”, at the head of the Clan del Golfo, who was killed by police in 2012.
In five decades of US-backed drug wars, Colombia has killed or captured several drug lords, the best known to the public being Pablo Escobar, to whom a television series has been dedicated.
But the country remains the world’s largest producer of cocaine, and the United States its main market, as traffic-related violence continues.