Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan) Clan Usuga / Autodefensas Gaitanistas
A paramilitary group known as the "Clan del Golfo" (Gulf Clan) has become Colombia's largest and most powerful criminal organization, according to a report by the country's intelligence services that mapped out the structural coordination between members of the organized Gulf Clan paramilitary group. According to the document, the Gulf Clan has control across all Colombian territory and funds its activities with drug trafficking, illegal mining and extortion, thanks to money-laundering in sectors like real estate business and international franchises.
The organization emerged in 2007, as a result of the 2005 demobilization of paramilitary groups then known as the United Self-Defenses Forces of Colombia, leaving a void in the drug trafficking and extortion business. Colombia’s largest and most influential BACRIM (banda criminal or criminal group), Clan Usuga was formerly referred to as Los Urabeños, a nickname given by the Colombian government.
Colombian authorities have recorded their presence in at least 17 departments of the country. According to the report, the clan has a particularly dense concentration in Colombia's northern region, especially in the Pacific departments of Antioquia, Choco and Cordoba, meaning that the clan's activities affect especially Afro-Colombian populations who as a result of that are routinely displaced. The illegal organization also has presence in the central region of Meta as well as the borders with Venezuela and Panama, including their cradle region in Uraba.
Dairo Antonio Usuga-David, also known as "Otoniel," is known to be the group's leader and has a 3,000-strong force under his command, including permanent members and occasional mercenaries. Cocaine trafficking being their main source of revenue, the clan's area of influence includes most Colombian ports and its members reportedly charge drug dealers and producers for each kilogram of cocaine departing from their areas of control.
Clan Usuga and many of its principal leaders have been previously designated by the President of the United States and the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control as specially designated narcotics traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
Usuga-David, aka "Otoniel", "Mauricio", or "Mao", is one of the leaders of Los Urabeños or the Autodefensas Gaitanistas, a heavily armed, extremely violent criminal organization comprised of former members of terrorist organizations that did not demobilize as part of the Colombian government’s justice and peace process. The organization uses violence and intimidation to control the narcotics trafficking routes, cocaine processing laboratories, speedboat departure points and clandestine landing strips. The organization operates in 13 of Colombia’s 32 departments, most of which are in the northwestern part of the country. During a turf war with a rival criminal organization for drug trafficking routes, homicides shot up 443% over two years.
Besides its local alliances with criminal organizations and gangs, the Gulf Clan has extended its network and is in good business relations with drug cartels in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala and Mexico, including the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, whose head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is on trial in the United States, according to the report.
The organization has also been responsible for terrorist attacks against the public, including threats and murders against social leaders. The Colombian government faced the clan in the "Agamenon I" and "Agamenon II" military operations, arresting about 1,500 of its members and killing 12 of its highest ranking officials, including second-in-command Roberto "Gavilan" Vargas and his replacement Luis Orlando "Inglaterra" Padierma. The third-in-command called "el Indio" was also killed during one of these operations, leaving Otoniel and Carlos Antonio "Nicolas" Moreno Tuberquia as the group's remaining leaders. The United States is offering a US$5 million reward for Otoniel, while the Colombian government is offering US$1 million.
Los Urabenos is the largest and most influential BACRIM currently operating in Colombia. It is organized as a network of smaller, loosely affiliated regional groups engaged in cocaine and arms trafficking, money laundering, extortion, and drug debt collection. Numerous members of the group utilize “go-fast vessel operations” – operations that employ small, fast boats which can be difficult to detect and intercept – to move drug loads between Colombia’s Caribbean coast and various locations throughout Central America and Mexico. Additionally, Los Urabenos has extended its drug trafficking and money laundering operations to Spain.
According to a June 2015 indictment, from at least October 2006 through February 2012, the group used airplanes and other means of transportation to ship multiple loads of cocaine from Colombia to Central America. The loads ranged anywhere from 300 to 600 kilograms each. From there, the cocaine would be delivered to representatives of other organizations, who would take the cocaine and ultimately import it into the United States.
As detailed in one of the Brooklyn indictments, between June 2003 and December 2014, leaders of Clan Usuga, conspired to import more than 73 metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Clan Usuga coordinated the production, purchase and transfer of multi-ton shipments of cocaine, as well as the receipt of shipments of cocaine in Mexico and Central America, for ultimate importation into the United States. Clan Usuga also controlled territory in various areas in Colombia and imposed a tax on any drug traffickers operating in those territories – a set fee for every kilogram of cocaine that was manufactured, stored or transported through areas under their control. The indictment further alleges that these defendants employed sicarios, or hitmen, who carried out acts of violence including murders, assaults, kidnappings and assassinations to collect drug debts, maintain discipline, control and expand drug territory and to promote and enhance the position of the organization.
The Gutierrez-Rendon drug trafficking organization, a cocaine trafficking and cocaine-debt collection organization based in Cali, Colombia, was aligned with Clan Usuga. The Gutierrez-Rendon’s organization was involved in multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, El Salvador and Panama for ultimate importation into the United States. The organization is also alleged to have acted as a collection agency, using violence and murder to collect payments and outstanding debts related to cocaine shipments on behalf of Clan Usuga. In exchange for its role in collecting funds, the organization received ownership interests in the cocaine shipments. Palomino Araujo, an organization responsible for cocaine trafficking, cocaine-debt collection and a paramilitary organization based in Cali, Colombia, was aligned with Clan Usuga. The organization allegedly facilitated the transfer of multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and Central America for importation into the United States, controlled territory in various areas in Colombia, imposed a tax on any drug traffickers operating in regions under its control and employed sicarios, or hitmen, to collect debts. Palomino Araujo is also charged with conspiring to murder numerous drug rivals.
In 2017, a joint report published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, IDMC, and Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, found that Colombia has the largest internally displaced population in the world. The government believes the Gulf Clan is planning attacks on police in the form of shooting ambushes and the use of explosive devices in what has been said to be retaliation for the killing of Aristides Manuel Mesa Paez, one of the main leaders of the Gulf Clan organization.
In January 2018, the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC, the armed forces branch of the Gulf Clan, threw a grenade into an Antioquia dance club, injuring 30 people and breaking the unilateral ceasefire they had announced for the Christmas celebrations. While the Colombian government continues to deny the existence of other paramilitary groups, the brutal groups continue to cause internal disturbances and kill human rights defenders. Colombia’s landmark peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that was widely hailed as an end to the longest-running civil war has done little to stop paramilitary violence.
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