Dairo Antonio Usuga, better known as Otoniel and the leader of one of Colombia’s most feared narco-terrorist organizations, was captured on October 23. Otoniel is the head of the Clan del Golfo or the Gulf Clan, an armed terrorist and drug trafficking group that poses a serious threat to the Colombian State.
Colombian authorities captured Otoniel, however, his capture generated retaliation from the Gulf Clan against the Colombian security forces. In recent days, armed forces members have suffered terrorist attacks in revenge for Otoniel’s capture. Additionally, this event will likely start a wave of violence between the factions of the organization as they seek to seize power.
The Gulf Clan is a drug trafficking organization that stems from the demobilization of paramilitary forces. They currently operate in areas such as the Gulf of Urabá and the departments of Antioquia and Chocó. It is estimated that the group currently has about 6,000 troops and is present in more than 211 municipalities throughout the Colombian territory. Their primary income comes from illicit drug trafficking and illegal mining.
The financial power of this organization has allowed them to increase military capabilities, expand into new territories, strengthen alliances with other criminal groups and grow their income. Today, the Gulf Clan presents one of the most significant barriers to the stability and security in many of Colombia’s territories.
Consequently, the strengthening of the Gulf Clan in recent years represents a rising threat to the Colombian State and the civilian population. As a result, the Gulf Clan will continue its narco-terrorist activities until action is taken against them. While Otoniel’s capture is a major blow to the organization, there is still much work to be done to defeat it.
OTONIEL’S CAPTURE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
After several months of tracking and intelligence, Otoniel was captured in Antioquia, a rural area in the municipality of Turbo. His capture created a power vacuum in the Gulf Clan, so it is to be expected that there will be internal disputes for control of the organization, mainly among its mid-level leaders.
However, the most worrying implications of Otoniel’s capture are the current retaliations his organization is taking against the Colombian military. On October 26, army soldiers were attacked by members of the Gulf Clan in the department of Antioquia with explosives and gunfire. In the terrorist attack, three soldiers were killed and three others were wounded.
A few hours later, another military platoon was ambushed by the Clan, leaving one soldier dead and another wounded.
For this reason, it is feasible to affirm that retaliations against the Colombian armed forces will continue in the coming days. It is also highly likely that an increase in homicides and displaced persons will result from disputes within the organization’s factions.
Given the demanding public order and security situation in Antioquia, which will likely escalate, in the short term it is recommended that the Colombian State deploy more troops in the area. This is necessary as greater territorial control is required, and operational results are needed to reduce regional violence.
On the other hand, in the medium and long term, more effective intervention strategies are needed against this narco-terrorist group due to the risk level it represents. From an operational and tactical perspective, it is necessary to attack its sources of financing, such as illicit crops, strengthen intelligence capabilities to anticipate terrorist attacks, and prevent this organization from forcibly recruiting young people from vulnerable populations.
Finally, in terms of public policy, it is necessary to improve the living conditions of the populations in areas such as the Urabá region of Antioquia. This can be achieved through the generation of formal employment, the provision of public goods and services, and an improvement in the health and education systems. In other words, comprehensive state action is required to guarantee security, but also better living conditions, so risk factors, such as the emergence and strengthening of these groups, disappear or are considerably reduced.
Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace
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