Colombia Intensifies Search for Urabeños Leader

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Colombia has deployed significant resources to a mahunt for the leader of drug trafficking organization the Urabeños, one of the few remaining high-profile drug lords still on the loose in the country. 

A recent report by investigative magazine Semana describes the scale of the ongoing search for Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” the head of the Urabeños, currently the largest drug trafficking organization in Colombia. 

The group’s core leadership has traditionally made the northwest region of Uraba their primary base of operations. On February 15, authorities announced an offensive dubbed the “Taking of Uraba;” sending top officials from anti-drug and intelligence agencies to the region, with instructions not to return until Otoniel was found.

Over 20 Black Hawk helicopters and 1,200 police and military officers have been sent to support the mission in Uraba, reported Semana. Police have also been using a dog formerly owned by Otoniel that has been retrained to track his scent.

Recent raids have apparently come close to capturing Otoniel, with police often finding his favorite lotions and clothing brands, as well as an orthopedic mattress used to alleviate pain from a herniated disk in his back. Additionally, security forces have discovered further evidence of Otoniel’s exploitation of girls between the ages of 12 and 14 as sex slaves (watch video below, in Spanish).

SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profiles

To avoid capture, Otoniel is said to use guerrilla tactics, never using a cell phone or sleeping two nights in the same place, and moving on foot or by mule with no more than five bodyguards. 

Following his capture in 2012, notorious drug lord Daniel “El Loco” Barrera told authorities that he himself feared Otoniel, calling him “an animal” that “kills just to kill.” (See Barrera’s remarks in a video below, produced by Semana, about the manhunt for Otoniel).

Since 2009, around 6,700 members of the Urabeños have been arrested, with authorities seizing 2,282 weapons, 55 tons of drugs, and around $26.2 million from the group. 

Authorities have estimated that the core membership of the Urabeños is approximately 1,800 people.

InSight Crime Analysis

The region of Uraba — which includes the departments of Antioquia, Cordoba, and Choco — is the stronghold of the Urabeños and a strategically important territory for drug trafficking, given its access to Caribbean and Pacific maritime smuggling routes.

While several of Otoniel’s close associates have been captured, Otoniel himself has so far managed to elude authorities — partly due to Uraba’s difficult jungle terrain and Otoniel’s experience in guerrilla tactics from his time with Colombia rebel group the Popular Liberation Army (EPL).

SEE ALSO: Otoniel Profile

Nonetheless, even if the security forces finally locate and arrest Otoniel, it is unlikely the Urabeños’ network will collapse. Otoniel’s life on the run has made it difficult for him to exercise direct oversight of the group’s illicit activities, and subsequently his other associates and family members have assumed greater leadership roles within the Urabeños.

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