Colombia’s infamous drug lord, Otoniel, once considered one of the world’s most dangerous criminals, is set to face sentencing in a U.S. court. Dairo Antonio Úsuga, as he is known legally, pleaded guilty earlier this year to high-level drug trafficking charges, confessing to his involvement in smuggling tons of cocaine bound for the United States. His reign of terror as the leader of the notorious Gulf Clan left a trail of violence and fear in northern Colombia.
Prosecutors are seeking a significant prison term of 45 years for the 51-year-old Úsuga, who has faced a myriad of health issues. In a recent court filing, they highlighted his insatiable desire for control and revenge, emphasizing the incredible harm he inflicted during his decade-long leadership of the Gulf Clan. Known for their military-grade weapons and thousands of members, the group held power in the region by imposing “taxes” on cocaine production, storage, and transportation, amassing incredible wealth.
While his lawyers seek to portray Úsuga as a product of his troubled homeland faced with poverty and guerrilla warfare, the prosecution argues that understanding his crimes necessitates exploring the violent history and trauma that shaped Colombia as a nation. Over the years, Úsuga formed alliances with both left- and right-wing combatants in Colombia’s internal conflict, further fueling his thirst for power.
Úsuga’s capture in 2021 marked the end of a long-standing manhunt. Evading authorities by rotating between rural safe houses, he managed to evade capture despite being the country’s most-wanted kingpin. The Gulf Clan, also known as the Gaitanist Self Defense Forces of Colombia, ruled with an iron fist in an area replete with smuggling routes for drugs, weapons, and migrants.
Prosecutors argue that Úsuga’s reign was characterized by ruthless violence and intimidation, as he ordered the killings of perceived enemies and unleashed terror upon the public. Following a police raid that claimed his brother’s life, he called for a dayslong, stay-home-or-die “strike” in retaliation. In court documents, grieving relatives of slain police officers detailed the immeasurable suffering he caused, pleading for justice and closure.
In a shocking turn of events, Gulf Clan members attempted to poison a potential witness against Úsuga with cyanide and targeted the witness’s lawyer, underscoring the lengths to which the criminal organization would go to protect their leader.
As Úsuga faces his sentencing, it is a significant moment in Colombia’s ongoing battle against drug trafficking and organized crime. The outcome of this case will send a message regarding accountability and the pursuit of justice for those whose lives were forever changed by the reign of Otoniel.