China executes Colombian drug mule despite pleas for mercy

A photograph of Ismael Arciniegas, who was arrested in China in mid-2010 and sentenced to death after confessing that he had smuggled nearly four kilos of cocaine into the country. The Colombian government “deeply lamented” the sentence, which was carried out on Tuesday despite repeated requests for mercy and commutation of the death penalty. Photo: AFP

A retired journalist who joined the criminal underworld while researching a book on South America’s drug cartels became the first Colombian, and possibly the first Latin American, to be executed in China for drug offences.

The execution Monday night of Ismael Arciniegas occurred amid a last-ditch diplomatic effort by Colombia’s government to save the 72-year-old’s life. Arciniegas was arrested in 2010 arriving by plane to the southern port city of Guangzhou trying to smuggle almost 4 kilogrammes of cocaine in exchange for US$5,000.

But his downfall came decades earlier, in the 1980s, when he began researching a book on drug cartels in his native Cali, according to his son, Juan Jose Herrera, who described to local media the heart-breaking, 20-minute phone conversation he and family members had with his father shortly before he was taken to a room to be killed by lethal injection.

“God has opened his gates for me,” a calm Arciniegas said in the tear-filled conversation, an excerpt of which was broadcast by Blu Radio. “Remember me warmly, with love. I’m going very tranquil, very relaxed. Nothing worries me.”

Angela Arciniegas, 35, the niece of Ismael Enrique Arciniegas, who was arrested in China for drug trafficking, reacts to his impending execution, which was carried out hours later by the Chinese government. Photo: AFP

Colombia’s government expressed its condolences to Arciniegas’ family and reiterated its objection to China’s use of capital punishment. Since November, China has repatriated two convicted Colombian drug traffickers for humanitarian reasons so they could complete their sentences back home.

“We fought…