Thursday, December 2

From guerrilla to narco: the life dedicated to the crime of ‘Otoniel’


The US authorities offered five million dollars for the head of the head of the Gulf Clan and Colombia came to create a special body to hunt him down.

Dairo Antonio Usuga David, 'Otoniel', after his capture.
Dairo Antonio Usuga David, ‘Otoniel’, after his capture.M Defense ColombiaREUTERS
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His mother, a devout Pentecostal evangelical, prayed that the police would stop him. He was aware of the high price that had been placed on his son’s head and feared that he would end up riddled with bullets. “I would like my son to be in jail,” he told this newspaper Ana Celsa David in the interview he gave him at his home in a village in the municipality of Chigorod, department of Antioquia. “It is safer, you could repent and go to heaven. And not like that, in the race, it is hard. It is that when you repent, you live close to God.”

It was 2015 and the North American authorities were already offering a five million dollar reward for the head of Daniel Antonio, alias ‘Otoniel’, supreme head of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, as they always wanted to be called. But they were better known as Gulf Clan or The Urabeos. In that year, the Colombian government had created Operation Agamemnon, a special body made up of 1,000 men, a number that would later triple, to hunt down and weaken the powerful criminal gang, founded around 2005, and dedicated to drug trafficking.

His brother and right hand man, Juan de Dios, aka ‘Giovanni’, rested in the cemetery. He had died in a confrontation with the police in 2012. And Ana Celsa, who died of a heart attack last year, feared that the seventh of her nine children would suffer the same fate.

But ‘Otoniel’ was captured this Saturday. They found who was one of the two most wanted drug lords in Colombia (the other is alias ‘Gentil Duarte’, from the FARC-Ep) in the Nudo del Paramillo, between the Yoki and the Azul hills. It is a wild, jungle mountain range, so impenetrable and broken, that the members of the Special Forces themselves considered it hell. But ‘Otoniel’ knew her like few others and from a very young age she got used to living and having the most inaccessible mountains as a lair. In addition, I had been on the run for six years, protected by a small group of faithful, without sleeping more than two or three nights in the same place.

But this Saturday they found him alone, he had separated from his escorts and had spent the night in the open.

The mission to arrest him began planning on October 15. The authorities had managed to determine the area where he is hiding. In the early hours of Friday, using 22 helicopters, they mobilized half a thousand Special Forces and Marines and established eight security rings around the point where they had placed him, to close all exits. ‘Otoniel’ suga had managed to evade other capture attempts and this time they wanted to be sure that it would not slip through their hands.

From shy boy to ruthless man

His mother told me that he was a shy boy at school and that at 18 he joined the EPL, the National Liberation Army, the guerrilla group that then controlled New Antioquia, the town where his parents, farmers, worked a farm. “He was not a revolutionary, he was what he had and he went with them,” the woman sadly recalls, who always reproached her children’s misdeeds.

When the EPL demobilized in 1991, ‘Otoniel’ and ‘Giovanni’ jumped into the FARC but shortly after they crossed the border and joined the Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urab, of the Castao brothers, the bitter enemies of the guerrillas. They also did not accept the delivery of weapons by the so-called paramilitaries (then United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and in 2008 both joined the AGC (Self-Defense Forces Gaitanistas of Colombia) or The Urabeos, created by Daniel Rondn, aka Don Mario. The capo was arrested in 2008 and since then the mafia gang, led by Otoniel, grew to become the strongest drug trafficking and criminal group in the country, together with the new FARC-Ep and the ELN.

Ruthless, distrustful man, of whom there was only one old photo, never used electronic means and communicated with his lieutenants with human emails. Author of countless crimes, in August 2017 he surprised the country by announcing, through a video, that he was offering an agreement to demobilize the AGC. He made a declaration, using the same language that the guerrillas usually use, in which he affirmed that he had the “firm will that peace be consolidated in Colombia. We want to be part of the end of the conflict in order to achieve total disarmament.” And he added, dressed in camouflage, that it was his wish “to achieve a dignified and voluntary departure for all our combatants. We are ready to suspend all the illegal activities of the organization.” He also gave a brief message to Pope Francis and, among other things, in addition to “asking for his prayers”, he told him that he was “obliged to take up arms (…) We are men of God, respectful of divine law.”

But Santos, who had already sealed his agreement with the FARC, did not advance any process with them and the path of a pact was completely blurred.

Against ‘Otoniel’ suga have dictated 168 arrest warrants for all kinds of heinous crimes and crimes. And although the United States has requested his extradition, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to send him outside the borders without first confessing in Colombia everything he has done. Without forgetting that there will be many policemen, soldiers, judges, prosecutors and local authorities nervous about what they can tell about the corrupt relationships they established with the AGC.

It is not clear, in any case, what it might mean for his armed band not to have a mythical head of the troop or who to be his successor.

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