Friday, April 10, 2009

Locked Up Abroad: Cuzco

National Geographic has begun the new season of their show Locked Up Abroad. In the last few weeks they have aired two shows about people (US and UK) who have been thrown into Peruvian jails. A couple of weeks ago they aired the story of Simon Burke. It was titled "Locked Up Abroad: Cuzco".

In December of 2008, I was surprised to see this article on Living in Peru. I wasn't sure of the details at the time, but getting thrown in Peruvian jail because you were a boyfriend/girlfriend of someone who did something illegal without your knowledge seemed pretty scary to me. At the time, Living in Peru reported that "British citizen Simon Burke can now go home a free man and spend the holiday season with his family".

This statement was mistaken and published a bit too soon. Simon was released from the overcrowded prison in Callao. Before his passport was returned and he was allowed to go home, the prosecution appealed (I have no idea on what grounds). This appeal is expected to take until May 2009 to be heard and ruled on. During that time, Simon cannot leave Peru and the government of Peru continues to hold his passport. As far as I know, he does not have a work Visa for Peru. So he may be stuck in Peru; unable to legally work to support himself.

You can find some of the videos that cover the show here. But the basic idea is that his girlfriend of some number of months, invited him to Peru with her. Drug smuggling by single women is very common in Peru, so she brought him to reduce suspicion.

While in Cuzco, she had people line her bags with cocaine (not his) while she distracted him. She was caught while checking her bags onto her flight in Lima (they were not detected on the flight from Cuzco to Lima). They found her kilos of cocaine and a fake passport and arrested her. They also arrested and questioned Simon because he was seen entering the airport with her. His bags contained no cocaine and his passport was legal.

She was thrown into a minimum security woman's prison in Chorillos (the kind that has fashion shows). Simon was thrown into an overcrowded, extremely dangerous prison in Callao. Gangs run the prison and assaults are common and not punished. Mostly the guards just make sure that no one gets out... needless to say white meat is very rare inside those walls.

Simon's family and friends have a Facebook page here. I wouldn't encourage anyone to donate money, but certainly it is a frightening story. Anyone traveling abroad should take notice. It has been over 2 years since Simon left the UK for a short vacation to see Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

I have requested that Living in Peru post another news update to correct their previous mistake and update this story. But that has not happened yet.


Blake said...

I also wrote to the editor of Living In Peru. I hope they post an up to date story. It seems that Simone is still waiting for the appeal by the prosecutor to be heard and is not allowed his passport. I'm glad that poeple worldwide have taken an interest in this and hope only the best for Simone.

From Cambridge, MA USA

Mochaman said...

This was possibly the saddest episode of this show for me due to the fact that Simon wasn't involved in the smuggling operation, or even aware that it was taking place. He went through hell on Earth just by going on vacation. Glad he's back home now.