Colombian military forces have captured the head of a major drug cartel, considered by the government to be the most wanted man in the country, President Iván Duque announced on Saturday.
The arrest of the man, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, was a victory for Mr Duque, who is struggling to contain the continued violence by activists.
Mr Úsuga, 50, had been wanted by military and police officials as the leader of the Clan del Golfo, a violent Colombian drug cartel that has also been targeted by the United States for cocaine trafficking.
Mr. Duque described Mr. Úsuga as the world’s most feared drug dealer responsible for the killings of police, soldiers and civic leaders.
“It is the hardest blow that has been dealt to drug trafficking in this century in our country”, Mr. Duque said in a national address. “This blow can only be compared to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.”
According to the national police, a 34-year-old officer died during the operation which led to the capture of Mr. Úsuga in the remote mountains of Colombia.
The US State Department has offered up to $ 5 million for information leading to the capture or conviction of Mr. Úsuga, who has been charged with international distribution of cocaine and other crimes.
The ministry described him as the head of a “heavily armed and extremely violent” cartel made up of members of terrorist groups who have not demobilized as part of the peace and justice process in Colombia.
The Clan del Golfo uses violence and intimidation to control drug trafficking routes, cocaine processing labs and clandestine airstrips, according to the State Department.
The group is also known to treat migrants in the Colombian countryside as property that its members can tax and control.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said the group has become a threat in recent years due to the tons of cocaine it distributes around the country and ships to the United States and Europe.
If Mr. Úsuga opens up to investigators, he could be an essential tool in helping the Colombian government unravel the inner workings of its complex criminal organization.
Paul J. Angelo, Latin America studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Úsuga has been Colombia’s most wanted man for a decade, “and his capture is good news for Colombians who suffered violence from him. . “
“His arrest also represents a major victory for Colombian security forces, who face growing public mistrust of allegations of human rights abuses, the rise of coca cultivation and the increase in coca cultivation. crime and violence, ”Dr Angelo said in an email.
He warned, however, that simply removing the kingpin of an organized criminal group could spawn more fragmented gangs seeking to control lucrative drug routes.
“Maintaining the pressure on the remaining factions of the Clan del Golfo in the months to come, while expanding the state’s footprint in the territories where illegal armed groups operate, will be essential to prevent an upsurge in predatory crime”, did he declare.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution and specialist in drug trafficking groups, called the arrest significant, but said the effect it would have on violence and drug trafficking in Colombia was not clear.
“Will this put an end to drug trafficking from Colombia?” Certainly not, ”said Dr Felbab-Brown in an interview. She also warned that the capture could spark infighting between rival factions within the Clan del Golfo, leading to more violence.