Belfast Telegraph

Massive interest in Peru, but little sympathy

ByClaire Murphy

There are thousands of narcotics cases each month in Peru.

And yet the case of the young, pretty Tyrone backpacker and her travelling companion caught with 11kg of cocaine has captured the country's attention.

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid are virtual media darlings – despite the serious allegations they face.

Their faces are instantly recognisable and the public is following every aspect of their story with keen interest.

Dozens of journalists are camped outside Dirandro – the anti-narcotics police station where the girls are being held in San Isidro, Lima – waiting to speak to Michaella's lawyer and family.

Ornella Palumbo Valdiva, a television journalist for Punto Final – a prime time Sunday programme in Peru – reported on the women's case throughout this week.

"It is unusual to see two beautiful girls caught with a case of drugs that huge. There are a lot of drug mules caught in our country every day, but the story of these girls is different."

Ms Palumbo Valdiva added: "We found out that their families have been looking for them for days in Europe. Suddenly, there was a story that they were recruited by Phil Collins' nephew, who is in Piedras Gordas jail for drug trafficking.

"The big picture is that this is not the regular story about drug mules."

However, despite the massive interest, there is little sympathy for the duo. Peru is going through a powerful economic boom right now.

There is a major clampdown on the terrorism and narcotic crime which has blighted the South American country for so long.

Although corruption is rife within the justice and political systems, there is an exception in the areas of terrorism and narcotics.

Judges and lawyers are well paid in this area, so there is little incentive to accept bribes. Drugs trafficking is massive business – worth tens of millions of pounds a year to crime lords – but Peru wants to demonstrate zero tolerance.

The two young women face a lengthy sentence if found guilty.

Later this week they could be sent to Santa Monica – a female prison which is overcrowded.

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