Dairo Antonio Usuga David, also known as ‘Otoniel’, was the leader of the Gulf Clan, one of the largest military groups in Colombia.
A former Colombian drug trafficker has admitted to overseeing a major gang and cocaine trafficker, including the violent Clan del Golfo or Gulf Clan cartel.
Dairo Antonio Usuga David, popularly known as Otoniel, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and running a criminal enterprise in the United States federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday.
“Tons of cocaine were moved with my permission or on my instructions,” he told the court.
“There was a lot of violence and gangs and criminals,” he added, admitting that “military operations, massacres took place”.
Otoniel was one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers and was arrested by Colombian authorities in October 2021 after years on the run. It was shipped to the US in May 2022.
The Gulf Clan brought violence and brutality to the northern regions of Colombia, using brutal force to control major cocaine smuggling routes.
Prosecutors have accused Otoniel of smuggling “cocaine” into the US, and he faces up to 20 years in prison. As part of Colombia’s plea deal, US prosecutors agreed that he would not want to spend the rest of his life in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
The Gulf Clan, also known as the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces, has recruited thousands of people to fight against Colombian officials, militias and rival gangs.
Otoniel admitted that the group imposes “taxes” on cocaine produced, stored or transported by other groups. Prosecutors say he ordered the killing and torture of people he thought were enemies.
“With today’s indictment, the blood reign of Colombia’s most important and violent trafficker since Pablo Escobar has come to an end,” Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
Usuga’s defense lawyer Paul Nalven said his client was “deeply disturbed” by what he had done in a “violent” act. Nalven said that Usuga only studied in the 4th grade and was drawn to fight “guerrillas” in Colombia when he was 16 years old.
Over the years, drug trafficking has led to violence that has affected the lives of millions of Colombians, and authorities have used harsh measures to track down criminals like the Gulf Clan.
However, this military approach has had mixed results and has helped the government to report human rights violations.
In a report released in June detailing the country’s nearly 60-year civil conflict, the Truth Commission in Colombia said the government’s drug policies have prolonged the war. More than 450,000 people have been killed in the conflict between government forces, armed groups, cartels and left-wing rebels.
Under the plan called Plan Colombia, which was launched in 2000, the US poured money and military aid into the country to fight left-wing terrorists and drug cartels.
The Colombian government’s attitude changed in the mid-2010s, when officials signed a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest rebel group at the time.
Still, the illegal trade in cocaine remains popular in Colombia, the world’s largest producer of the hypnotic drug. In 2022, the United Nations reported that last year’s cultivation of coca, which is made from cocaine, amounted to 204,000 hectares (500,000 acres) – the largest area not reported in decades.
The Truth Commission report recommended major changes to Colombia’s drug laws, and current President Gustavo Petro, a former member of an armed gang, has sought to negotiate with armed groups since his election in June 2022.
Earlier this month, Petro announced that the government would ease enforcement efforts to eradicate the coca plant, which has been a key part of its anti-drug policies for years.