The imprisonment of British national Samantha Orobator in Vientiane, Laos, some nine months on drug charges highlights the fact that youthful foreigners continue to make very bad life choices that irreversibly change their lives forever. Of course, the top story now being covered is Orobator's imprisonment without notification of the British Foreign Office.
When Orobator was arrested, as she was preparing to board a flight from the Laotian cpaital for London, she was found to be carrying 680 grams of heroin, which made her eligible to face the death penalty, which is the prescribed penalty for possessing more than 500 grams. What further complicates her case, however, is the fact that five months after being imprisoned, she became pregnant, reportedly as a result of a rape behind bars. Fortunately for her, Laotian all prohibits a death sentence for a pregnant offender. Her bigger problem now, if that is possible, is obtaining competent and objective counsel. Although the legal assistance group, Reprieve, is endeavoring to help Orobator.
Although Orobator's case is now a top story everywhere, one that is not involves another young British national, Laura Hill, who died under mysterious circumstances last year in Buenos Aires (Argentina). For 18 months, Argentine authorities have claimed that Hill, 25, died from a self-inflicted cocaine overdose. That being said, an investigation initiated by Hill's parents, and in concert with British law enforcement, indicates that the dental nurse may have died after being attacked by a criminal gang who was forcing her to become a drug mule. By the time Hill was having second thoughts to serve as a mule, it is possible that the gang concluded that Hill knew too much.
Hill reportedly died six weeks after arriving in Buenos Aires in October 2007. At the time, a local medical examiner stated that drug abuse and a lifestyle of excess was the cause of Hill's death, although Hill was never known to use drugs of any kind. Admittedly, Hill did leave the UK suddenly for Argentina, and never told her parents about her trip until she was already in Buenos Aires. Investigation has disclosed that Hill was approached by drug traffickers to transport drugs to London. Initially, she agreed to co-operate but later changed her mind, a decision that may have cost her her life. Phone conversations, secretly taped by the undercover detectives who had been monitoring the gang, confirm Laura objected to their plan for her to smuggle cocaine into Britain hidden in a laptop. Subsequently, Hill was arrested by police who interviewed her and then released her without being charged, but they did arrest and charge several members of the drug gang, which may have led to Hill's death.
A bizarre component of this case surrounds the fact that when Hill's body was sent back to the U.K. for her parents, it was determined that an autopsy could not be conducted because several of Hill's major organs were not present in the body. Yet, the victim's heart, brain and other organs were subsequently found in a morgue in Buenos Aires.
Although Hill's body was found in the building in which she lived, the British Consulate in the Argentine capital told Hill's parents that she had died of "natural causes" brought on by drug abuse. An Argentinian autopsy report later revealed she had swallowed a huge and lethal dose of cocaine, but British authorities the amount of drugs was too large for a person to single-handedly administer to themselves. Notably, there was no trace of the drug on Laura's hands or nails, and a nasal swab showed "non-quantifiable" traces. Argentine medical reports also reveal Hill had drunk no alcohol before her death and had not touched any drugs before the fatal "overdose." This gives pause for the local police conclusion that Hill was a heavy drinker and drug user.
British forensic photographer, Paul Canning, who worked for Scotland Yard for 14 years, has examined the photographs of death scene and others of her body in the morgue. As a result, Canning has concluded that the scene and the body reflect a violent assault, to include rape, although local reports conclude that Hill died from a suicide.
COMMENT: Both the Orobator and Hill cases demonstrate that naive foreign travelers, often those that are not well-traveled or knowledgeable as to the risks they face abroad, make poor choices that can have irreversible results.
U.S. and British nationals, in particular, invariably get into trouble with the law abroad far more so than do other foreign travelers, and many do make the decision to commit a crime, often because they think they can get away with it. Most travelers not only underestimate the police in foreign countries, and many fail to realize just how corrupt and prejudicial to foreigners that some foreign cops can be.
It is strongly urged that all foreign travelers educate themselves and/or obtain pre-departure security advice or training in how to travel safely abroad. It is cases such as those described above that led me to write Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working and Living in a Post-9/11 World, in the hope that the book would help head off a lot of unnecessary tragedy and unpleasantness.
If foreign travelers did just one thing while traveling abroad, it would be to NOT VIOLATE THE LAWS OF FOREIGN COUNTRIES. Failing to do so, can put into motion results that have been described in this posting. Over 3,000 Americans are arrested abroad every year and many assume that U.S. diplomats are waiting anxiously to get them out of the predictaments in which they find themselves. This assumption is rarely correct.