Authorities in Colombia continue to home in on the Urabeños crime group, arresting the brother of boss Dairo Antonio Úsuga.
On August 22, Colombia’s President Iván Duque announced the capture of Carlos Mario Úsuga David, alias “Cuarentano,” who is said to be the chief financial operative for the group. He is also the brother of Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” one of Colombia’s most wanted men.
Úsuga David was arrested by police in the city of Montería, the capital of northwest Córdoba department, after a months-long hunt that had mostly focused on the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia, the group’s base of operations.
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Otoniel had reportedly named his brother to lead the group’s finances after the arrest of their former financial operative, Nini Johana Úsuga, alias “La Negra,” in December 2013.
“Cuarentano collected the money from illegal mining, extortion and handled all the finances of drug trafficking to Central America and Europe,” said Colombia’s police director, Óscar Atehortúa Duque.
The evidence collected by authorities indicates that Úsuga David operated across the departments of Chocó, Antioquia, Córdoba, Bolívar, Sucre, Atlántico and Magdalena, from where he coordinated the flow of drugs out of Colombia to international markets.
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Úsuga David’s capture has dealt another critical blow to the Urabeños’ top leadership and is likely to weaken his brother’s ability to operate, especially at a time of increasing government efforts to dismantle his organization.
Antonio Úsuga’s closest circle of advisers is mostly made up of family members, and Úsuga David is the third of his brothers to fall in the last year. In August 2018, two other brothers who held top positions within the Urabeños were captured, Eusebio Úsuga David, alias “Chengo,” and Fernando Umbeiro Úsuga, alias “Palillo.” Nini Johana Úsuga, Cuarentano and Otoniel’s sister, has also been jailed since 2013.
In less than six years, Otoniel has seen at least 16 relatives captured, usually in joint police and military operations.
These unified efforts are the result of Operation Agamemnon, launched by police in February 2015 to dismantle the support structure around Otoniel. Its success was such that Agamemnon II began in June 2017, this time with extra backing from the army.
But while the operations have neutralized many key Urabeños leaders, Otoniel has remained at large.
Otoniel is wanted by Interpol, while Colombian officials have put a $1 million bounty on him. Reports of his whereabouts have surfaced over the years but intelligence sources say that he may now be hiding in the Paramillo Knot, a mountainous jungle region in Antioquia department.
Duque’s government has shown no signs of wanting to dialogue with Otoniel, as had been contemplated during the previous administration of Juan Manuel Santos. The strengthening of Operation Agamemnon II and the launch of a new task force, called Achilles, in Antioquia are clear signals of the confrontational strategy that Duque intends to follow.
Such measures are likely to reduce Otoniel’s room to maneuver. Still, the Urabeños remain among the largest criminal groups in Colombia with around 1,500 armed men, and are experienced in replacing leaders.