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 teleSUR has reviewed.
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. The group is also known 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 Usaga 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.
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 has 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. Last year, 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 it 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, 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.