A picture of Colombian drug lord Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, aka Otoniel, is displayed on a screen in New York Attorney during a press conference about his extradition in New York City on May 5, 2022. Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images.
Dairo Antonio Úsuga David was the biggest Colombian drug lord since Pablo Escobar, according to the country’s former president. But now, Úsuga David, also known by the pseudonym Otoniel, will spend 45 years in a U.S. prison.Úsuga David, 51, was sentenced on Tuesday morning after pleading guilty in January to smuggling 96,865 kilos of Cocaine from Colombia. He agreed to pay over 200 million in drug proceeds to the U.S. government as part of his plea deal.
Úsuga David was the head of the Gulf Clan since 2009, also referred to as the Urabeños: a drug trafficking outfit founded by ex-paramilitary fighters. Over the next decade the Gulf Clan grew into arguably the largest and most powerful Colombian cartel of the 21st century, focusing primarily on facilitating the production and shipment of cocaine for other drug trafficking organizations who would move the drugs mostly to Europe and North America. U.S. authorities said that Úsuga David worked with organized crime networks all over Latin America, including Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and elsewhere, according to the superseding indictment.During his reign, however, Úsuga David remained an elusive figure in the Colombian underworld. Compared to Pablo Escobar, known for his flamboyant lifestyle and public persona before his death in 1993, Úsuga David lived a near-off-the-grid existence in the jungles of South America.The convicted drug lord was born during Colombia’s decades-long civil war in 1971 and joined a Colombian Marxist guerrilla organization called the Popular Liberation Army (EPL for its Spanish acronym) at the age of 16, according to his lawyer. He later went on to join a right-wing paramilitary group before splitting off to start trafficking drugs with the burgeoning Gulf Clan, founded by a paramilitary associate named Daniel Rendon Herrera, aka Don Mario. When Rendon Herrera was arrested in 2009, Úsuga David succeeded him in running the organization.
Úsuga David evaded arrest for years even with a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, along with an additional $800,000 reward offered by Colombian authorities. But his luck ran out on October 25, 2021, when an estimated 500 members of Colombia’s special forces finally found the elusive crime lord in his jungle hideout. Colombian president at the time, Iván Duque, said “the arrest was only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar.” Úsuga David was extradited to the U.S. roughly six months later. The 45 years behind bars is relatively light, considering that others charged with similar crimes generally receive life in prison, but the 45-year-sentence handed to the former drug lord is an effort at diplomacy. Colombia does not allow life imprisonment, so U.S. officials agreed not to sentence him that harshly in exchange for his extradition to face trial in the U.S. Still, Úsuga David is now 51 years old, so this sentence would keep him incarcerated until his mid-90s.Úsuga David is expected to be immediately deported back to Colombia if he is eventually released from prison after finishing his sentence.