The capture last October of Dario Antonio Úsuga, alias OthnielIt was almost like a TV show. “This coup is comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar,” said President Iván Duque before the cameras announcing the success of the operation against the leader of the Clan del Golfo. The United States requested the extradition of him to answer before courts in New York and Florida for charges related to drug trafficking. After the arrest, the Government promised to start the process. And it was soon fulfilled. This week, Duque signed the document that puts days on Otoniel’s stay in Colombia. The victims reject the measure and ask that he not be extradited before he tells the truth about hundreds of crimes and human rights violations committed by the EPL guerrillas or the paramilitary groups of which he was also a part. After Duque’s announcement, the victims protest: “This is a blow to us.”
The victims protest, but they have to do so wearing masks, they cannot show their identity and if they speak to the press they ask that their names not be revealed. They are afraid. The Othniel case, which has been shown as a triumph of the Government, has generated discomfort among the communities that suffered from its war. A social leader from Apartadó, a banana zone historically hit by violence, says by phone that they feel at risk. “All of us who were in Bogotá in a sit-in this week had to cover our faces so that we would not be identified, as if we were the ones who had done something wrong,” she says.
The Otoniel process, which only began six months ago, has had several worrying moments for the victims. On February 28, a group of men —unidentified until now— broke into the house of an investigator from the Truth Commission, who has accompanied the process and has listened to the leader of the Clan del Golfo. According to the entity’s complaint, tape recorders, with records of their interviews, and a computer were stolen. The Commission denounced harassment: “We want to know the truth without intimidation. We request guarantees from the competent authorities and control agencies, from the United Nations and the international community, their support,” the entity said in a statement.
The leader, who insists that her name and that of the human rights organization she represents not be published, recalls that days before the robbery, a hearing in which Otoniel was to be heard was cancelled. The police suspended the appointment before the Truth Commission due to “suspected escape”. The victims say that it is a sabotage. “They interrupted when he was going to speak, they stole the information from the investigator’s house and there is a desire to extradite him. Why don’t they want us to know the truth? Who gave the orders?” says the woman, who insists so much that the situation of the victims is “delicate” it is because she has seen how her colleagues have been killed for claiming their lands. “The threats come by pamphlet, by phone, they threaten us, our children. When the peace process with FARC was signed, I had to leave”, says the human rights defender who had to remain in exile for several months.
Duque, after signing the order for the powerful leader of the Clan del Golfo, held in a Bogotá jail, to appear before a court in the Southern District of New York, tried to calm the victims. “Once he completes his sentence for drug trafficking, he will have to come to Colombia to serve the sentences for the crimes that he has also committed in our country,” said the president. But the victims believe that they are going to miss an opportunity to learn the truth about the murders of their relatives, the forced displacement and the rape of women and girls, among many other crimes that they are accused of. “We believe that the story will stay there. In the United States they will only judge him for drug trafficking, and what is going to happen with all the other cases, with the murders or with the young people recruited, ”questions the leader.
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The Colombian Justice accuses Dario Antonio Úsuga of homicide, terrorism, recruitment of minors, kidnapping and sexual crimes, crimes that he would have committed during his long criminal career. He was a guerrilla and paramilitary before becoming head of the Clan del Golfo, responsible for trafficking about a third of the Colombian cocaine that leaves the country. The government coup, after months of persecution through the jungle, was announced almost as the beginning of the end of drug trafficking in Colombia. The reality is that this war no longer depends on a single leader. there are already others otonieles, and the community that suffers drug violence does not find justice. “There is no peace here. Otoniel is no longer leading this war, but there are already others”, denounces the woman from Apartadó. The drug lord directed a structure of more than 3,000 men and, according to the Government, is responsible for moving more than 160 tons of cocaine per year. The police mega-operation to catch Otoniel in northwestern Colombia, near the border with Panama, was intended to reduce violence, but so far the population has not seen the first sign, and, on the contrary, they denounce that the situation has turned worse.
The Victims Roundtable in Antioquia has been one of the organizations that have courageously denounced directly that sending Otoniel to the United States only seeks to hide the truth. “We do not agree with the extradition of the truth and he has the truth. We express it, because the law says so and it is a right that the victims have”, pronounced the group of victims. The director of the search unit for the disappeared, Luz Marina Monzón, also spoke out against the decision: “The extradition puts additional obstacles on top of those that the victims have already faced for decades, who have pursued that truth, information about which was luck and what is the whereabouts of their loved ones”.
Otoniel has sought to be heard by justice in Colombia, but his requests have been denied. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created by the peace agreement, rejected his submission request. Dario Antonio Úsuga, against whom there are 122 arrest warrants and six convictions in Colombia, had asked to be tried by this special court, which can grant non-custodial sentences, and not be extradited to the United States. Otoniel has said that he wants to tell the truth and the victims ask to be allowed to speak. “From today many powerful people who ordered, planned and benefited from Otoniel will sleep peacefully”, criticized the Truth Commission, after Iván Duque signed the extradition.
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