Juan de Dios Usuga, alias “Giovanni,” headed the Urabeños‘ military wing while the group was under the command of Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias “Don Mario.” After Rendon’s arrest, Usuga and his brother Dario Antonio took command of an estimated 250 loyal combatants. They began expanding their recruitment and drug trafficking operations in the Uraba region near the Panamanian border, where the Usugas are originally from. Juan de Dios was killed by security forces on January 1, 2012.
Alongside his brother, Dario Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” Juan de Dios was a member of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) before the guerrilla group demobilized in 1991. Juan de Dios later joined the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and worked for drug trafficker Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias “Don Mario,” as part of the paramilitary’s Centauros Bloc.
Criminal Activities: Drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping
Area of Operation: Uraba region (northwest Colombia)
Juan de Dios demoblized once again in 2005 as a member of the AUC, but quickly joined the Urabeños under the leadership of Don Mario. Following the arrest of Don Mario in 2009, the Usuga brothers became the leaders of the criminal organization based in Colombia’s northwest region of Uraba.
With Usuga in charge, the Urabeños escalated a violent turf battle with the Paisas and the Rastrojos in southern Cordoba and in the Lower Cauca region, northern Antioquia. In 2009, the towns of Caucasia and Taraza saw soaring murder rates, as Usuga tried to take control of these drug distribution centers, both located on a major highway connecting Medellin to the Caribbean coast. The amount of land used for coca cultivation in Cordoba also doubled between 2008 and 2009, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Colombian anti-narcotics police have said this may be related to the expanded Urabeños presence.
According to police, Usuga ran the Urabeños operations in northern Colombia, and oversaw drug routes and distribution points, as well as illicit crops in the region. Authorities have offered 500 million Colombian pesos ($278,000) in return for information leading to the capture of him or his brother. In March 2010, the US Treasury Department added Usuga to its drug “kingpin” list.
Usuga operated in the Urabeños stronghold of Uraba in northwest Colombia. Usuga was very security conscious, and reportedly only moved between a small area of land in northern Antioquia that was firmly under the control of his criminal organization.
Allies and Enemies
Usuga reportedly had contact with all the major drug traffickers in northern Colombia. The Urabeños worked closely with Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, alias “Mi Sangre,” who joined the criminal organization in 2009 and expanded the group’s presence into the city of Medellin. At the time of his death, the Urabeños were battling rival criminal group the Rastrojos.
Usuga was taken down in a raid by security forces on his ranch in Choco province, near the border with Panama, in the early hours of January 1, 2012. Following his death, the Urabeños declared an “armed strike” and offered a reward of roughly $1,000 for every police officer killed in Antioquia.
Usuga’s brother, Otoniel, has become the top leader of the Urabeños as well as Colombia’s most wanted criminal.