Colombia: manhunt for paramilitary warlord

Authorities in Colombia are carrying out their biggest manhunt since the campaign that brought down the legendary Pablo Escobar in 1993. Dario Antonio Usuga AKA "Otoniel" is leader of the Urabeños, a blood-drenched paramilitary network which is said to control much of the cocaine trade in Colombia's northern region of Urabá. The hunt, dubbed the "Siege of Urabá," has mobilized over 2,000 soldiers and National Police troops to the jungles and peasant villages of the northern region. Under a new reward just announced by President Juan Manuel Santos, Otoniel now has a $580,000 price on his head, while his associates "El Galivan," "Nicolas" and "Guagua" each have a price of nearly $200,000.

The Urabeños constitute "a high value target and we will not stop until we have fully dismantled it," Santos said March 19 in a speech at the opening of the Regional Center for Attention to Victims in Apartadó, a town long under siege by Los Urabeños' reign of terror.

"So far the operation has resulted in 75 captures. Amongst those are key people who are providing the government with valuable information," Santos assured. He also said six tons of cocaine had been seized in the operation over the past month, and nine cocaine laboratories busted.

Otoniel began his career with the leftist Popular Liberation Army (EPL) in the 1980s. After the EPL demobilized in 1991, Otoniel switched sides to the right-wing paramilitary network known as the United Colombian Self-Defense Force (AUC), where he worked under the warlord Daniel Rendón AKA “Don Mario”—who would found the Urabeños after the AUC demobilized in 2006. Los Urabeños inherited much of the AUC's cocaine operations in Urabá—which were in turn inherited from Pablo Escobar's old Medellín Cartel. Urabá, with its access to both the Pacific and Caribbean, remains a key transfer point for cocaine exports.

Otoniel's brother Juan de Dios Usuga assumed control of the Urabeños after Don Mario’s capture in 2009. Otoniel has been in charge since Juan de Dios was killed on Jan. 1, 2012, when police raided the New Year's Eve party at his sprawling Urabá ranch. (BBC News, March 24; Colombia Reports, March 22; El Colombiano, March 19)