Colombia’s government announced Sunday it is working towards extraditing the country’s most-wanted drug trafficker “Otoniel” to the United States, a day after he was captured in a major operation in the jungle.
“There is an extradition order against Otoniel, and this extradition order… remains in progress,” Defense Minister Diego Molano told the daily El Tiempo newspaper in an interview.
“This is the path for all those who commit transnational crimes,” Molano told reporters later, adding that nearly 30 percent of the many tons of cocaine exported from Colombia went through the so-called Gulf Clan, the country’s largest drug trafficking gang, led by Otoniel.
The 50-year-old drug lord, whose real name is Dairo Antonio Usuga, was arrested Saturday in northwest Colombia’s dense jungle in an operation involving some 700 uniformed agents backed by 18 helicopters, according to the army.
The United States had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel, one of the most feared men in Colombia.
“This is the hardest strike to drug trafficking in our country this century,” President Ivan Duque said Saturday, adding that the arrest was “only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar,” the notorious Colombian narco-trafficking kingpin.
“We are going for more, we are going for victory against all high-value targets,” Duque vowed from a military base in the country’s northwest.
The government accuses other armed groups such as the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and rebels who walked away from the peace pact signed with the FARC guerillas in 2016, of financing themselves with drug trafficking revenue.
Born to a poor family, Otoniel joined the EPL, a Marxist guerrilla group that demobilized in 1991. A paramilitary fighter, he ultimately headed the Gulf Clan, with a force of some 1,600 men and a presence in almost 300 municipalities nationwide, according to the independent think tank Indepaz.
In Colombia Otoniel had 128 outstanding arrest warrants for drug trafficking and recruitment of minors, among other crimes.
“He murdered more than 200 members of the security forces… Many soldiers have suffered because of this murderer and his friends,” Duque said.
Otoniel also preyed on minors, “intimidating families and extorting them in order to take their daughters’ virginity,” the president added.
In five decades of a US-backed drug war, Colombia has killed or captured several drug lords, including kingpin Escobar, who was shot by security forces in 1993.
But the country remains the world’s leading cocaine producer, with the United States its biggest buyer.