The Chinese government has executed a Colombian citizen for drug trafficking, amid indications that Colombia's role in the internal drug trade of the world's most populous country may be growing.
Ismael Arciniegas, a 74-year-old native of Cali, Colombia, was killed by lethal injection on February 27 on orders from the Chinese government. He had been detained in a prison in China since 2010, when he was arrested for trying to enter the Asian country with approximately four kilograms of cocaine, El Tiempo reported.
According to the Associated Press, Arciniegas is "the first Colombian, and possibly the first Latin American, to be executed in China for drug offenses."
Colombian officials vehemently protested the Chinese government's decision to execute the septuagenarian, who appears to have been a low-level player in the drug trade.
Unlike in China, the death penalty for criminal convictions is constitutionally outlawed in Colombia. However, an online poll carried out by Colombian media outlet Blu Radio showed that a slight majority of the more than 7,700 respondents agreed with the Chinese government's application of the death penalty in this case.
In February 28 comments reported by the Associated Press, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry responded to a question about Arciniegas' case by saying, "Chinese judicial authorities have been cracking down in accordance with law … China always attaches importance to the protection of human rights and the right of life. The legitimate right and interest of the individual involved in the case has been guaranteed."
In a public statement, Colombia's foreign ministry said that 15 Colombians have been condemned to death in China for drug trafficking, and that another 15 have received life sentences.
Officials from both countries have previously attempted to reach agreements that would help repatriate Colombian citizens convicted of crimes in China. And according to the Associated Press, China has repatriated two Colombians convicted of drug trafficking since November 2016 for humanitarian reasons. However, no formal agreements governing the handling of such situations currently exist between the two nations.
According to Colombian foreign ministry officials, the number of Colombians imprisoned in China has risen from just four in 2006 to more than 160 today, with some 90 percent of the total detained on drug charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
China has long been known for its harsh anti-drug policies. In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report describing compulsory "rehabilitation" centers for people convicted of drug crimes "that deny them access to treatment for drug dependency and put them at risk of physical abuse and unpaid forced labor." In subsequent years, the Chinese government has made some reforms to its penal system, but reports suggest inhumane conditions persist in many facilities.
Accurate and up-to-date statistics on drug use in China are difficult to obtain, but the Chinese government is clearly worried that demand for illicit substances could be increasing as the country's middle class grows. The Asian nation currently has the world's second-largest consumer market after the United States, meaning there is huge potential profit to be made from the drug trade.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration
As China's political and economic ties to Latin America have strengthened in recent years, indications have surfaced of growing links between criminal organizations on both sides of the Pacific. Chemical manufacturers in China have reportedly supplied precursor drug materials to Latin American crime groups; Latin American criminals have allegedly laundered money through China; and Chinese "mafias" are known to operate in Latin American countries like Argentina.
China's main drugs of choice -- namely, opiates like heroin and synthetic drugs like methamphetamine -- are produced either within China or near its borders. This means that it would likely be difficult for crime groups from Latin America to break into the Chinese market with drugs like cocaine, which is produced almost entirely in South America's Andean region. Nonetheless, the exponential rise in detained Colombians in China suggests the drug may be starting to see an uptick in popularity.