The Czech authorities warn that the number of young Czechs serving tough sentences for drug smuggling in countries such as Peru and Brazil is on the rise. Few have any hope of ever being extradited to the Czech Republic and Czech embassies abroad say there is little they can do to improve their lot in the often-atrocious conditions of local prisons. Despite this, every year more young Czechs are tempted by the vision of a free holiday and several hundred thousand crowns in cash.
Michala Potocskova is just twenty years old. Last summer she was living the carefree life of a student making plans for her summer holiday in Spain and telling her parents her rich boyfriend was footing the bill. A couple of weeks later she called them from Brazil and then her phone went dead. She and her boyfriend were arrested after customs officers found eight kilos of cocaine in his luggage. After ten excruciating months in prison Michala convinced the court of her innocence and last week arrived back home a shadow of her former self. Her boyfriend got eight years in prison. She says the experience changed her forever.
“I came to realize how precious life is and how precious family bonds are. I was shocked to hear before I left that two other young Czechs were imprisoned on smuggling charges in the same prison last month. I really though no one else could do something so stupid.”
Currently there are over a hundred young Czechs serving tough sentences for drug smuggling abroad, whether or not they knew about the drugs in their luggage. Brazilian police say that Czechs are often used as decoys –to be caught with a small amount of drugs in order to draw attention from the real goods coming in their wake. One way or another, once they are caught red-handed there is little the Czech embassy can do to help. Pavel Prochazka, the Czech consul in Sao Paolo says the conditions in local prisons are hard to get used to.
“If they do not have supportive families at home who are ready to send them money for basic necessities such as food, medicine and hygiene products, then they suffer a great deal.”
At present the authorities know of 22 young Czechs serving time in Peru, eight in Brazil and others scattered elsewhere. Those in Peru have practically no hope of being extradited to their homeland because the Czech Republic and Peru do not have an agreement on the extradition of prisoners. Moreover, the number of Czechs caught in dire circumstances abroad could be much higher – the Foreign Ministry says it is only informed of those who turn to the Czech embassy for assistance.
The national anti-drug centre has even mapped the areas where people are most at risk –the heavily industrialized regions of north Bohemia and east Moravia, towns with high jobless rates where recruiters often handpick candidates who are known to be desperate and deeply in debt. Few of those who accept the offer calculate the risks – knowingly playing Russian roulette with their lives.