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Capture Of Drug Kingpin Otoniel, What It Means For Colombia

The capture of Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker shows that in spite of the cartels' resilience, the state can and will fight crime at the highest levels, writes top Bogotá daily El Espectador.

Photo of drugs being guarded by a soldier after a major bust at the border between Colombia and Panama

Drug bust at the Colombia-Panama border

Alejandro Bolivar/EFE/ZUMA

-Editorial-

BOGOTÁ — The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.


The capture of the kingpin is also a demonstration of a strong state able to confront the worst of the cartel chiefs in person. While the war on drugs' focus remains outdated and power vacuums will fuel more violence, in the overall strategy Colombia must show that those who the oppose public institutions will face the full force of the law.

Vacuum left by El Chapo

Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts).

The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

A monumental victory.

Regardless of the destabilizing effects on Colombia of the existence of such a powerful trafficking gang, the impact of its violence cannot be overlooked. Otoniel was sought for dozens of crimes and subject to six confirmed convictions and at least two extradition orders to the United States. His crimes include extortion, assassination of community leaders, expulsions, corruption and armed acts against civilians and the police.

Video footage of the capture of Colombian drug lord

Nobody is above the law

As the police and army declared when he was captured, "his criminal finances are tied to international trafficking of cocaine to Central America and Europe [...]. The result of this operation directly impacts the Gulf Clan's strategic, structural and financial component, and duly destabilizes the criminal organization's chain of command through neutralization of its main articulator and head of international trafficking."

There's a limit to hard-line response.

Otoniel's capture is thus a monumental victory. Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough.

Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia. The key is to be able to convert this police and military superiority into the state's physical presence, to further weaken criminal structures. The fight continues, but Otoniel's capture is a big step forward.

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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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