Colombia’s most powerful cartel is making millions ‘helping’ desperate migrants get through a deadly South American jungle

Haiti migrants in Necocli Colombia stranded migrants from Haiti at a stopgap tent in Necocli, Colombia, September 24, 2021.

In late October, Colombia captured a strong kingpin known as “Otoniel, ” head of Clan del Golfo. Clan del Golfo has been slipping migrants to Colombia’s border with Panama, where they continue to the US. Thousands of migrants have represented that trek in recent months, and Clan del Golfo continues ferrying them even after Otoniel’s capture.

Necocli, Colombia – The biggest criminal administration in Colombia, Clan del Golfo, likewise called Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia( AGC ), is building millions of dollars off of frantic nomads trying to make their way to the US.

Although AGC’s main generator of revenue is cocaine trafficking, it recently gained dominance of the migrant routes between Colombia’s perimeters with Ecuador in the south and Panama in the countries of the north, according to a report from Indepaz, a Colombian nongovernmental organization that promotes serenity and justice.

As thousands of migrants from the region and from as far away as Africa and the Middle East pass through Colombia in their attempts to reach the US, the AGC have found another criminal gold mine.

AGC is considered by Colombian authorities as a “Class A Organized Armed Group, ” and US arbiters claim it is the main Colombian ally of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel, partnering with it to profit from drug-trafficking and human-smuggling peals worth millions of dollars.

Dairo Antonio Usuga with military personelle who captured him. Dario Antonio Usuga with Colombian military personnel after his capture.

Colombian authorities recently arrested the head of the AGC, Dario Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, whose capture was “only equivalent” to that of Pablo Escobar in the 1990 s, Colombia’s chairwoman said.

Otoniel was running a slipping peal from Necocli, a sea town in northern Colombia where migrants start their trek to the US by leading into the Darien Gap, 66 miles of perilous forest between Colombia and Panama.

That smuggling ring relies on hundreds of foot soldiers, fishermen, business owners and complicit Colombian governments, and it profits is not simply from slipping nomads but also from providing them housing, transportation, security, and even liquid to drink.

Colombian and Panamanian approvals reopened their borders this year after more than a year closed due to Covid-1 9 restraints. They agreed to let 650 nomads go from Colombia to Panama each day in an effort to relieve the hectic impediment in Necocli.

In order to help nomads get to Panama, Colombian authorities permitted a private marine-transportation company to sell 650 tickets to Haitians only, allowing them to cross the Uraba Gulf to Acandi, from where they could head to Panama.

Haiti migrants in Acandi Colombia Haitian immigrants arrive in Acandi, Colombia, to begin their overland journey through the Darien Gap into Panama, October 4, 2021.

But Insider witnessed ferries stop in the middle of the sea to knowingly hand the migrants to several small-time fishing crafts owned and operated by AGC smugglers.

Once the migrants reached the other side, hundreds of men, all either member states or hired by AGC, approached the migrants to take them on a two-hour bike ride to the base camp in Las Tecas, at a cost of about $50 to $80 each.

“There is no one going to the US and through Colombia that we don’t know of. We have full control of the migrants now, ” said Breiner, an AGC operative in Las Tecas, an enclosed basi tent where thousands of migrants wait their turn to enter the deadly jungle of the Darien Gap.

Breiner, employing a pseudonym to avoid retaliation, told Insider that each nomad offer the cartel about $1,500 to cover transportation from Necocli to Las Tecas, access to Wi-Fi, and “guides” who make the migrants through the jungle into Panama.

“In early September we would have around 3,000 nomads arriving at this camp, and every single one of them had to pay, with no option” not to, he said.

Migrants in Colombia Migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and various African societies arrived here Capurgana , northward of Acandi, to try to cross into Panama, February 4, 2021.

According to Colombian officials, by late September, around 20, 000 migrants were stuck in Necocli waiting to get through the forest into Panama. That would want approximately $30 million in revenue to the AGC.

“Here they have everything – food, liquid, internet, cellphones, even machetes and boots to go through the Darien, ” Breiner said.

But Leonel, a Haitian trip with his wife and young daughter, said it is almost impossible to keep paying for everything.

“We don’t bring much fund. We don’t got money, so we are asking and expecting our clas in the US to keep sending more fund, and we too borrow from friends who are also migrating, but it is impossible to keep paying, ” he said.

The big migrant population in Necocli has attracted merchants from all over the country to sell from boots, nutrient, or irrigate, as well as illegal boat outings across the Uraba Gulf in the middle of the night. But they all pay their share to the AGC.

“Everything is extremely expensive. Just to sleep in a little tent we have to pay roughly 30 dollars every day, ” Leonel said.

Haiti migrants in Necocli Colombia Stranded migrants from Haiti on the street of Necocli, September 24, 2021.

The AGC operative said most of the street vendors and the people working for the organization are over charging for everything, in part due to the high demand but also “because they have to share.”

It is unclear how much each merchant has to pay the AGC to allow them to sell to the migrants, but the operative said it was a “small percentage” of each sale.

“It’s not bad if you really think about it. It is to keep the town safe and at peace. Do you meet any violence? No one could steal even a glass of water because we are watching, ” he said.

After Otoniel’s arrest, Colombian authorities hope to dismantle his smuggling ring in Necocli, but the organization has continued “working under a brand-new administration, ” the AGC operative said.

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