Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” has a long and bloody history of working for various illegal armed groups in Colombia and reportedly began his military career as a member of the now defunct guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL). Otoniel is the head of arguably Colombia’s most powerful neo-paramilitary organization, the Urabeños, and is considered the country’s most wanted criminal.
Though he demobilized in 1991 at the age of 19 along with some 2,500 other EPL members, he returned to fighting only a few months later with his brother, Juan de Dios Úsuga, alias “Giovanni.”
Dairo Antonio Úsuga later began associating with right-wing paramilitary groups. He is accused of having participated in the 1997 massacre in Mapiripán, Meta, with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) when the Castaño brothers sent a team of fighters to the Eastern Plains to begin a war campaign against alleged guerrillas and killed dozens of suspected rebel supporters.
At some point during his time with the AUC, Úsuga joined his brother Giovanni in working for drug trafficker Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias “Don Mario,” as part of the AUC’s Centauros Bloc, laundering funds and handling extortion payments. He again surrendered arms, this time under the AUC’s demobilization process in 2005. However, this demobilization was also short lived and he soon reunited with Don Mario to help form the Urabeños.
DOB: May 22, 1971
Criminal Activities: Drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion
Area of Operation: Urabá region (northwest Colombia)
After Don Mario’s capture by Colombian authorities in 2009, Otoniel and his brother assumed complete control of the Urabeños. There are some rumors that Úsuga tipped off the security forces, leading to Don Mario’s capture.
Since then, he and his brother greatly expanded the Urabeños’ operations in Urabá, a territory long prized by drug traffickers given its access to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, as well as making a push into the Eastern Plains and the Rastrojos stronghold province of Valle del Cauca, on Colombia’s Pacific coast.
With Giovanni’s death at the hands of Colombian security forces in January 2012, Otoniel is now the top leader of the Urabeños.
Otoniel is the leader of one of Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization, which smuggles on average 2 tons of cocaine per week, according to Colombian police. Otoniel was also involved in money laundering and extortion operations while working with the Centauros Bloc. Otoniel was indicted by the Southern District of New York in 2009, with the US State Department offering $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
Otoniel is believed to operate in Colombia’s northwest region of Urabá, which is an Urabeños stronghold. Otoniel reportedly uses guerrilla tactics to avoid capture, including traveling only by foot or mule and never sleeping in the same place on consecutive nights.
Allies and Enemies
Otoniel’s Urabeños are known to hire local street gangs who carry out microtrafficking, extortion, and assasination on behalf of the criminal organization. The Urabeños agreed to a truce with rival criminal group the Oficina de Envigado in Medellin in mid-2013. The Urabeños also buy coca base from left-wing guerrilla group the Revoultionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), but that is believed to be the extent of their business relationship.
Despite a reported non-agression pact signed in 2012 between the Urabeños and rivals the Rastrojos and the Paisas, violent confrontations between these criminal organizations continue.
Otoniel is considered Colombia’s most prominent drug trafficker not behind bars, but there are signs authorities are closing in on him. Several of Otoniel’s family members have been captured in recent years, including his wife, Blanca Senobia Madrid Benjumea, alias “La Flaca,” in February 2015. Later that same month, authorities initiated an offensive that sent top anti-drug officials and over 1,000 police and military officials to Urabá to hunt down Colombia’s most wanted man.