For colombian drug mules, trip to china can be lucrative but deadly _ south china morning post

More than 140 Colombians are serving drug trafficking sentences in mainland jails, some awaiting execution. Fast food restaurants near my current location For their families back home, the pain of the separation is made worse by a near black hole of information

In a tiny brick apartment above a lottery shop, Martha Antivar waits for a sign of life from her husband, who is languishing in a Chinese prison an ocean away.

Five years ago, Oscar Hilarion, a 45-year-old taxi driver, told his wife and family in Colombia that he was going to China on a business venture with a friend. Seafood restaurants near my location Weeks later, Antivar received a call from a Colombian official in China, informing her of a darker truth: Hilarion had been detained for trafficking drugs, a desperate act she believes he committed in order to stop the bank from seizing their home.

Drug trafficking can be punished with death in mainland China, and Hilarion’s family – along with those of an estimated 145 other Colombians – is left to wait in an almost total vacuum of information about whether their loved one will be spared. Best seafood restaurants in san francisco Colombian embassy officials who visit Hilarion every few months pass along sporadic updates. Best mexican food restaurants But few details about charges are shared, even once a sentence has been handed down.

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Most of the relatives of accused Colombian drug mules in mainland China are too poor to make the 17,000km journey to see them or send money. Best soul food restaurants Many have received no phone calls.

Instead they are left waiting for letters written on simple white Chinese prison stationary.

“To my great love,” Hilarion’s letters to his wife always start.

The plight of Colombians in Chinese prisons has taken on a heightened urgency since authorities executed last week a retired Colombian journalist convicted of smuggling almost 4kg of cocaine in exchange for US$5,000. Best seafood restaurants in los angeles Despite a last-ditch diplomatic effort by Colombia’s government to save Ismael Arciniegas, the 72-year-old was put to death by lethal injection, becoming the first Colombian, and probably the first Latin American, executed in mainland China for drug offences.

The number of Colombians in mainland jails climbed from just a handful in 2006 to 146 this year, according to the Colombian government. Best seafood restaurants on long island Fifteen have been sentenced to death and an equal number have been condemned to life in prison.

Mainland China is the world’s top executioner, although most foreigners it has executed for drug trafficking have been from Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia, according to a Chinese state media report in 2015.

The issue of the death penalty for drug crimes was hotly debated last year at the United Nations’ first special session on global drug policy in almost two decades. Seafood restaurants in the area Countries from Europe and Latin America, where the practice is banned, clashed with governments across Asia that consider capital punishment a key tool in drug control efforts.

The bulk of Colombia’s cocaine ends up in the United States and Europe, but a smaller amount is also trafficked to China, where living standards have risen, drug users have gotten younger and a number of substances, including cocaine, have become more available. Fast food jobs hiring near me A United Nations report last year found cocaine seizures in Asia tripled over the previous decade.

Trafficking cocaine by plane from Colombia to China is considered one of the more difficult journeys for a drug mule to make, and consequently it’s more heavily rewarded, said Blanca Henriquez, a law professor at the Autonomous University of Colombia who has filed repatriation requests for 18 Colombians currently in Chinese prisons.

In speaking with more than two dozen families, she said a similar pattern emerges: most Colombians caught are men older than 40 from poor families. Chicago soul food restaurants In several cases, the men had been lent money they were unable to pay back and then were forced to carry drugs by criminal organisations that threatened their families.

A single journey typically pays about US$3,000, which “for many people, is a lot of money”, Henriquez said.

Mainland China executes more people than the rest of the world combined, and its judicial authorities have been cracking down recently on drug trafficking. Dallas soul food restaurants The nation’s harsh stance against drugs can be traced to the 19th century opium wars and the start of the “Century of Humiliation”, during which Chinese nationalists believe British imperialists purposely tried to get Chinese hooked on opium for commercial advantage.

“This is the actual reason why China is so adamant that no narcotic under any circumstance be introduced by foreigners,” said Lars Laamann, author of Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China.

Diana Perez’s father had a small farm where he grew blackberries and passion fruit, but a pest wiped out his crop and he went bankrupt. Seafood restaurants nearby She believes he took out a loan and was pushed to “make a trip” when he could not pay it back.

Luis Perez, 57, boarded a plane for Shanghai in 2013, his first time to leave Colombia. Chinese food restaurants nearby When he touched down in China, he was arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine.

Perez was sentenced to death, but his punishment was later reduced to a life sentence.

When she visited her father last year, Diana Perez found him in a delicate state. Fast food restaurants in washington dc He was kept with a dozen other foreign inmates, none of whom spoke Spanish. Fast food restaurants in australia Instead they communicated in hand signals. Best seafood restaurants in san antonio He complained especially about the food.

“A lot of spices. Fast food restaurants A lot of rice. Food restaurants near me Vegetables we don’t know as vegetables but as plants,” she said.

His 11-year-old daughter, Nikol, wears a tattered red, yellow and blue thread bracelet he made her. Fast food restaurants near me The mother and daughter journeyed to mainland China to visit him last year, but Nikol Hilarion said she did not recognise him.

In his letters, Hilarion talks about the dismal prison conditions, like the one roll of toilet paper he is given each month to share with another inmate.

He writes in black ink, using wobbly letters in a Spanish sprinkled with phrases he has learned in English.

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