BOGOTA, Colombia – The Gulf Klan drug cartel closed dozens of cities in northern Colombia for four days in response to their leader being extradited to the US for trial. It warned that anyone who disobeyed a stay-at-home order runs the risk of being shot or burning their vehicle.
Businesses closed, schools remained closed, intercity bus service was suspended and a professional football match could not be played after one team refused to travel to the game.
The Gulf Clan’s “armed stoppage” decree was issued in pamphlets and WhatsApp messages on Thursday, following the extradition of Dario Antonio Usuga – also known as Otoniel – to the United States, where he was convicted of drug abuse. faces smuggling charges.
The crackdown appeared to come to an end on Monday, according to reports from human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church, after underlining that the cartel still poses a major security threat, despite Otoniel’s highly publicized arrest last year.
Analysts said the cartel’s ability to shut down several cities exposed shortcomings in the government’s long fight against drug trafficking groups.
“The security strategy of focusing on high-profile targets does not guarantee safety for citizens,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group.
Camilo González, president of Colombian think tank Indepaz, said: “Drug trafficking will not end with the capture of Otonial. When he captured Pablo Escobar he said that drug trafficking would end, and today it was the first. more than that.”
According to Colombia’s Defense Ministry, three civilians and three police officers were killed during the four days of the shutdown and more than 180 cars were burned, mostly on rural highways, for clearly violating the cartel’s order.
Even worse numbers were reported by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a tribunal created after a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group.
The tribunal said that 24 civilians were killed in the areas covered by the stagnation of the Gulf tribe, which it said forced people to stay indoors in 138 municipalities in the northern provinces of Choco, Sucre, Bolivar, Antioquia and Córdoba. Was.
In Montería, the provincial capital of about 500,000 residents, commerce was closed for four days and the local gas company stopped delivering cylinders to homes. A football match between local team Jaguares and a club from Medellin was postponed on Sunday after visitors refused to travel to Montería, fearing their bus would be attacked by cartel enforcers.
The Gulf Clan, also known as Colombia’s Gatanista Self-Defense Forces, were founded in the first decade of this century by leaders of paramilitary groups who refused to join a demilitarization agreement in which other groups participated. Had taken.
Otoniel, the most recent leader of the Gulf Clan, has long been on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Most Wanted list.
He was first indicted in Manhattan federal court in 2009 on drug charges and for allegedly aiding a very correct paramilitary group designated by the US government as a terrorist organization. Subsequent indictments in Brooklyn and Miami federal courts accused him of smuggling at least 73 metric tons of cocaine into the United States between 2003 and 2014.
Colombian officials tried to defuse the cartel’s standoff, saying they had deployed 52,000 troops to the affected areas to ensure the safety of civilians.
President Ivan Duque said on Saturday that the actions by cartel members were “isolated incidents” aimed at intimidating locals that the organization is now weak and that its leadership is fragmented.
Police offered prizes of more than $1 million to apprehend the three men, who have been identified as the new leaders of the clan. But critics of the government said the days of the clan were not over.
“The government can eliminate important leaders,” said Gonzalez, president of the Indepaz think tank. “But this is a mafia network which also includes politicians and money laundering. And it is also involved in human trafficking, illegal gold mining and other businesses.”