By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski (Faculty Member, Criminal Justice) and Efren Munoz (Major, Criminal Investigation Directorate and INTERPOL, National Police of Colombia)
Over 30 years after the violence and devastation caused by Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel, Colombia is now dealing with another formidable transnational drug cartel once again wreaking havoc on the country. The Clan del Golfo (the “Gulf Clan”), currently Colombia’s largest drug cartel, is a dangerous and prominent organization. Like the Medellin cartel, it is based out of Antioquia, a part of Colombia with large, remote jungle areas that can be used for cocaine production.
Clan Del Golfo Encouraging the Murder of Police Officers in Colombia
Sadly, Clan del Golfo has followed the lead of Pablo Escobar by targeting police officers. Following the arrest and extradition to the United States of its leader Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, Clan del Golfo has terrorized Colombia’s residents and police officers.
According to Major Efren Munoz from the Criminal Investigation Directorate of the National Police of Colombia, the cartel began terrorizing over 100 municipalities in 10 departments in Colombia after Otoniel’s arrest, using violent acts such as bombings and murders. They have also blocked roadways, shut down businesses and confined residents to their homes.
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Clan del Golfo has also initiated what its leaders call the Gun Plan. Under this plan, the cartel will pay a reward of four to 22 million pesos or more (about $1,000 to $5,000 USD) for the murder of a police officer, according to the Latin American Post. As a result, 10 Colombian police officers were killed this August, and 36 officers have been killed this year, according to Major Efren Munoz from the Criminal Investigation Directorate of the National Police of Colombia.
Cocaine Production in Colombia Has Increased
Clan del Golfo is the largest criminal organization in Colombia, with links to Mexican cartels and other international criminal organizations located in South and Central America. Their main goal to supply international cocaine markets and as well as their principal cocaine market, the U.S.
Clan del Golfo members control most of the cocaine production in Colombia. According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, coca crops in Colombia increased to 245,00 hectares in 2020, a 15% increase from 212,000 hectares of coca cultivation in 2019.
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Drug Trafficking Profits Allow Clan Del Golfo to Maintain Its Control
Drug trafficking profits have enabled Clan del Golfo to corrupt government officials in Colombia. The money also allows cartel members to impact local economies, creating a lawless culture that affects social values in old and new generations.
Clan del Golfo uses money laundering as its principal tool to hide its drug money. The cartel’s profits allow its members to acquire sophisticated weapons, influence thousands of people around the country and train them in combat tactics.
Sympathizers of serve as the cartel’s private army. According to Major Efren Munoz, “Colombian authorities have registered a total of 3,167 members of Clan del Golfo and divided them into two large groups. One group is in urban areas with 1,256 members, and the other group is in rural areas with 1,911 members.”
The Presence of Clan del Golfo within Colombia
Clan del Golfo has a presence in 13 departments and 151 municipalities in Colombia. It is organized into four structures, 23 substructures and one commission.
The cartel’s main stronghold is in the Gulf of Urabá, between the departments of Antioquia, Chocó, and Córdoba that share a border with Panama. The cartel also has a presence along the Caribbean coast and in the city of Medellín. Clan del Golfo is also in other departments such as La Guajira, Santander, Valle del Cauca and Norte de Santander, which share a border with Venezuela.
Combating the Clan del Golfo in Colombia
Despite the criminal power of Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s government, military forces and national police have declared a war on the cartel to combat drug trafficking. They are leading efforts to stop Clan del Golfo by working together with Colombia’s General Prosecution Office and U.S. law enforcement agencies with a presence in Colombia such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
There has been some success in combating the cartel’s activities. Major Efren Munoz found that during 2022, the Colombian authorities carried out 482 operations against Clan del Golfo, arrested 817 members and neutralized 48 members in addition to Otoniel’s extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges. Unfortunately, these activities provoked violent retaliation against Colombian civilians, soldiers and especially police officers.
To stop Clan del Golfo activities, it is necessary to create a strong alliance among America’s countries with effective transnational policies that control the cocaine market. An emphasis is needed to mitigate the money laundering that funds this organization.
Authorities can arrest thousands of Clan del Golfo members. However, there will always be thousands more who are ready to be part of this criminal organization.
In addition to hindering Clan del Golfo finances, the best solution is for the Colombian government to create special programs to generate more education and employment opportunities for Colombian citizens. Better education and more employment opportunities will provide local residents with more motivation to avoid a life of crime.
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