Colombian Police Make One of the Largest Cocaine Seizures in Nation’s History

Colombian Police Make One of the Largest Cocaine Seizures in Nation’s History

By Dialogo
May 20, 2016

In one of the largest and most significant drug seizures in Colombia's history, the National Police confiscated 9.3 tons of cocaine, valued at around $250 million, as part of Operation Agamemnon on May 15th. Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, who reportedly is Clan Úsuga’s second-in-command, allegedly owned the cocaine, which police confiscated during a raid at dawn on a farm near the port town of Turbo in the department of Antioquia.

The seizure was the result of surveillance and undercover work that culminated with a raid carried out by more than 50 police commandos who received aerial support. “This is one of the most resounding blows against organized crime,” General Jorge Hernando Nieto, the National Police's director, said in a press conference after overseeing the operation’s final hours from a command center near Turbo.

Operation Agamemnon's first seeds were planted more than three months ago when an undercover police officer infiltrated the farm where Clan Úsuga stored its drug shipments. For nearly 12 weeks, the officer toiled as a day laborer at a nearby plantain plantation, collecting fruit and slowly earning the trust of his co-workers.

The officer learned that about three times a week a truck carrying food – and between 100 and 250 kilograms of cocaine – would arrive at the farm. The officer was told by the other laborers that the cocaine belonged to Vargas Gutiérrez, who goes by the alias "Gavilán," and Clan Úsuga was desperately buying as much cocaine as possible to ship internationally to offset the criminal organization's financial losses caused by police interdictions throughout Colombia.

Plan into action

In the days leading to May 15th, the undercover officer sent a message urging his superiors to move, since the criminal band was planning to send a 1.6-ton cocaine shipment to Central America in a boat called the “Niña Adriana.” In preparation for the assault, the Police sent a surveillance plane that recorded the comings and goings of the drug traffickers and the unloading of the cocaine from the food trucks, according to Police.

On the night of May 14th, Gen. Nieto ordered law enforcement to converge on the farm. At about 2 a.m. the next morning, the swarm of police commandos descended onto the property in a Black Hawk helicopter and rushed towards an underground hideout where the 9.3 tons of cocaine had been stockpiled.

The seizure represents possibly the most important strike against Clan Úsuga’s finances and confirms the partial success of Operation Agamemnon, a nationwide effort against the criminal organization that started in February 2015. Since then, authorities have killed or captured more than 800 Clan Úsuga operatives, seized more than 32 tons of cocaine, destroyed more than 100 drug laboratories, and confiscated over $64 million in assets, according to Antioquia’s Police Commander, Colonel Wilson Pardo Salazar.

The setbacks have forced Dario Antonio Úsuga, Clan Úsuga's leader who goes by the alias "Otoniel", to offer heavy rewards for the deaths of the police commanders in charge of leading Operation Agamemnon, according to police intelligence. The government has pledged to increase the pressure and ultimately destroy organized crime gangs like Clan Úsuga.

“Crime will be punished in a clear and decisive fashion,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on May 17th. “With the security forces and the rest of the state, we are making every effort (…) to dismantle these criminal organizations.”