Close to 1,100 foreigners locked up in overcrowded Peruvian jails for cocaine smuggling

The promise of a fast buck has quickly turned into a nightmare for 1,094 foreigners who are awaiting trial or serving sentences in Peruvian jails, on charges of operating as drug mules or traffickers.

Most drug mules, or ‘burriers’ as they are called in Peru- a fusion of “courier” and “burro,” or donkey – are Latin American.

But a significant number are European, and this week Spaniard Jonathan Martínez Rico, 24, Dutch citizen York Leenders, 18, and German Cristina Mars, 22, were arrested at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, after a failed attempt to fly home with 26 kilograms of cocaine.

Since the beginning of this year, 281 drug smugglers have been arrested, caught concealing cocaine in their luggage or souvenirs, taped to their torsos or legs, hidden in diapers or body cavities, or even swallowed in latex balls. Of those arrested, 112 were Peruvian, 48 Spanish, 11 Dutch, nine Mexican, eight Portuguese, seven South African, four Italian, and one Canadian.

And the numbers are on the rise. In 2004, 235 drug mules were arrested, 249 in 2005, then 451 in 2006 and 752 in 2007.

This makes Lima’s Jorge Chavez airport a ‘hot spot’ for drugs, ranking first in Latin America for the quantity of drugs seized from smugglers.

Trapped by a snail-paced legal system, most foreigners – and Peruvians – are locked up for years awaiting trial, facing drug trafficking sentences that range anywhere between five and 15 years. Exposed to corruption, drugs, prostitution, overcrowding and sometimes rat-infested cells, most smugglers say they have “made the mistake of a lifetime.”

Such is the case of Rachel Franklin and Sarah Jackson, who tried to smuggle drugs to Britain from Peru. The latter is now facing a possible ten-year sentence.

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