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Colombia’s most wanted drug trafficker arrested following decade on run

President Ivan Duque likened the arrest of Dairo Antonio Usuga to Pablo Escobar’s capture three decades ago.

One of Colombia’s most wanted drug traffickers, Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” leader of the violent Clan del Golfo cartel, is presented to the media while flanked by armed soldiers at a military base in Necocli
One of Colombia’s most wanted drug traffickers, Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” leader of the violent Clan del Golfo cartel, is presented to the media while flanked by armed soldiers at a military base in Necocli
Image: Colombian presidential press office via PA Images

COLOMBIA’S MOST WANTED drug trafficker has been captured by security forces after evading arrest for more than a decade.

President Ivan Duque likened the arrest of Dairo Antonio Usuga, who has avoided imprisonment by corrupting state officials and aligning himself with combatants on the left and right, to the capture three decades ago of Pablo Escobar.

Colombia’s military presented Usuga, better known by his alias Otoniel, to the media in handcuffs and wearing rubber boots preferred by rural farmers.

Usuga is the alleged head of the much-feared Gulf Clan, whose army of assassins has terrorised much of northern Colombia to gain control of major cocaine smuggling routes through thick jungles north to Central America and onto the US.

He has long been a fixture on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted fugitives list, for whose capture it had been offering a $5 million reward.

He was first indicted in 2009, in Manhattan federal court, on narcotics charges and for allegedly providing assistance to a far-right paramilitary group designated a terrorist organisation by the US government.

But like many of his gunmen, he’s also cycled through the ranks of several guerrilla groups, most recently claiming to lead the Gaitanist Self Defence Forces of Colombia, after a mid-20th century Colombian leftist firebrand.

Authorities said intelligence provided by the US and UK led more than 500 soldiers and members of Colombia’s special forces to Usuga’s jungle hideout, which was protected by eight rings of security.

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His arrest is something of a boost for the conservative Duque, whose law-and-order rhetoric has been no match for soaring production of cocaine.

Land dedicated to the production of coca — the raw ingredient of cocaine — jumped 16% last year to a level unseen in two decades of US eradication efforts, according to a White House report.

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