Arrest of most wanted Colombian crime lord unlikely to turn tide in drug war

BOGOTA – The arrest of Colombia’s most wanted drug lord is unlikely to have much of an impact on the world’s largest cocaine producer as several lieutenants wait to fill his footsteps in the powerful Clan del Golfo cartel, analysts said.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known by his pseudonym “Otoniel”, was considered by the authorities to be the greatest drug capo in Colombia for seven years, until his arrest on Saturday during a large-scale deployment of security forces in the jungle area of ​​the northern Colombian region of Uraba.

The operation involved 500 special forces and 22 helicopters, and the military has promised to crush the clan cartel.

The clan, which is present in about a third of Colombian territory and has about 3,800 members, has the capacity to produce and export hundreds of tons of cocaine a year, mostly to the United States and Europe, security sources say.

As Usuga is about to be extradited to the United States for drug offenses, the eyes of the police and military are on his potential successor within the clan.

But if deaths and arrests of former gang leaders are any clue, the loss of 50-year-old Usuga won’t hold the hydra-like clan long as several would-be leaders wait in the wings, analysts said.

According to security officials, Usuga is a potential successor.

“The arrest of aka Otoniel will not change the drug trafficking problem, just as the death of Pablo Escobar did not end the drug trade,” said security adviser John Marulanda, a retired Army colonel and president of the Union of Retired Officers.

In addition to fighting criminal groups, holistic drug trafficking solutions must also include aerial fumigation of coca plants, the basic ingredient in cocaine, he said.

The government of President Iván Duque has announced that it will resume air fumigation, which was suspended in 2015 for health reasons, but it has not yet received court approval.

“We will continue to fight the Clan del Golfo and will not rest until this organization is completed,” said General Fernando Murillo, the director of the judicial police, late Sunday. “We’re going for Siopas, for Gonzalito, for Chiquito Malo.”

Defense Secretary Diego Molano said the offensive against the clan would continue until the organization was completely destroyed when he announced that informants who helped arrest Usuga will be paid a total of $ 5.8 million in rewards. According to the police, many clan members betrayed Usuga.

“The operation continues: the men are deployed; their structures are neutralized, ”said Molano.

But human trafficking is likely to continue, analysts said. Colombia’s potential cocaine emissions rose 8% last year to 1,228 tons, the largest in the world, according to the United Nations.

National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, former FARC guerrillas opposed to a 2016 peace deal, and criminal gangs are involved in drug trafficking, according to security sources.

Usuga’s arrest could split the clan into small groups, spark an internal war, or encourage groups like the ELN to attempt a takeover, Marulanda said.

“The violence could worsen and we cannot rule out the possibility of retaliation for the arrest, including the killing of members of the security forces and the general public, as was the case in Colombia,” he said.

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