- Daniel Brown *
- BBC Mundo correspondent in Colombia
“This coup marks the end of the Clan del Golfo,” said Colombian President Evan Duc on the day of the arrest of the leader of the criminal organization, Tairo Antonio Usuka.
In the same speech, in October 2021, the Duke announced that he would negotiate the deportation to the United States of the man who had led the country’s largest illegal organization until then: Ottoniel, a former guerrilla, paramilitary and drug trafficker. He belonged to a powerful family involved in illegal activities in the northwestern part of the country.
After numerous demands against deportation and in support of his version being heard in Colombia, Otoniel finally flew to the United States last week under the supervision of the Duke, who followed the direct transfer via video call.
But when the authorities celebrate the “victory of justice over impunity” they are also called members of the clan Colombian Guidanist Defense Forces (AGC), Were preparing to shut down half the country. This is in the middle of the presidential election campaign.
For four days, dozens of cities and highways in various parts of Colombia – especially in the north of the country – were cordoned off by the Armed Forces’ strict curfew, preventing commercial, social and mobile activities. The reason: they were against the deportation of Usuka.
On Monday, the AGC’s statement announced the end of the armed strike, a routine counter – mechanism by Colombian armed groups. Another outspoken contact from the group rejected it. Only a return to daily activities will ensure the end of the strike.
Duke, for his part, visited the shops in Uraba, the cradle of this new paramilitary group, and Announce new surrenders and a series of attacks against criminal leadersYes
“The Gulf Clan has suffered severe blows since the birth of that criminal organization,” he said. They said 300 people were arrested, the items searched and more than 60 tons of cocaine were seized, he said.
Severe blows, but determined by the strike, did not mark the end of the organization: at least 74 communities were locked up in 11 different regions, nearly 200 vehicles were burned and at least eight people were killed, some by criminal group and others in attacks on civilians for failing to carry out orders.
Federal, but organized
Uraba, a large area rich in agriculture and livestock, is located in a corner of the Caribbean Sea around a bay on the border with Panama. It also has access to the Pacific Ocean. This is a strategic point for any business venture; Drug and arms trafficking in Colombia has been going on for decades.
The area was dominated by guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL) and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in the 1990s. Colombia’s United Defense Force (AUC), a paramilitary force fighting the insurgency, followed.
The EPL and the AUC marked the emergence of the AGC because former members of both sides, who were ideologically opposed and mobilized, joined together in becoming a criminal rather than a political group.
“The Clan del Golfo is a sustainable organization, a sophisticated organization with an extensive portfolio of criminal activities such as anchoring in legal businesses such as animal husbandry, and extortion or selling forced services,” says Victor Barrera. Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP) in Bogot.
In addition, “because the movement has a great potential in the AGC region They operate according to the needs of the situation through subcontracting of specific services.“.
Experts warn that not much is known about this group. The diversity of the Armed Forces across the country — some of them permanent, others contract, some self-employed, and others non-existent — does not determine the extent of their power.
There are estimates that there are 3,000 members; Others count up to 13,000, Number of the largest guerrilla FARC From the countryAt its peak.
The AGC, then, seems to be a federal body with enough bureaucracy to replace those arrested or released.
In fact, since the arrest of Ottoniel (who claimed to have transformed himself as part of a deal with the government), the names of his alleged heirs have begun to appear in the local media.
One of them was Jesus Avila, aka Little BatAccording to official intelligence, a former paramilitary force managed the export of cocaine and was asked to surrender by the United States.
Another, Wilmer Giraldo of Syopas, who was part of the guerrillas, was mobilized and soon joined the AGC, where he rose rapidly from his ill experience.
Otoniel’s arrest in October may have created an internal war for control of the AGC, but no: “There is an invention clan that other organizations that have conquered paramilitaryism have, which is to ensure the legacy of their leadership. Prevents internal conflicts,” says Barrera.
The root of the problem
Even before he was arrested, Ottoniel’s authority was questioned by security experts. The siege imposed by the army forced him to isolate himself.
The Peace Foundation’s Ideas Foundation (FIP) described the situation as “urgent and far removed from reality”, signaling the AGC’s decision to seize Otony.
According to the Conflict Research Center, the AGC retained its power without Otoniel for four reasons: they continue to control part of the Urabá, they have not lost territory or revenue-related conflicts with other armed groups, and they have expanded to areas far from their territory. The nucleus and they integrate a structure that allows them to function in different ways, simultaneously and in different regions.
For this reason, FIP experts have rated “The effects of otorhinolaryngology on the drug market may be minor and limitedBut the consequences in terms of violence – murder, displacement, imprisonment, juvenile delinquency or sexual violence – can make a significant difference. “
Duque said he would emphasize a strategy that had an impact on the conflict with the FARC during the Alvaro European government: overthrow the leaders.
But according to Mauricio Romero, a consultant to Fundación Paz y Reconciliation and a former adviser to the Truth Commission, harassment is not the only solution: “You have to remember that these companies create jobs, provide income and maintain the economy. The areas in which they operate.
“To put an end to them, we need to create regional economies linked to the legal business“.
Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine exporter, despite efforts to transform regional economies.
* Andrea Thias contributed to the investigation of this report.
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