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. 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. Colombian embassy officials who visit Hilarion every few months pass along sporadic updates. But few details about charges are shared, even once a sentence has been handed down.
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. Many have received…