Friday, September 30, 2005

Just too bizarre

LIMA, Peru (AP) -
It was an elegant beauty pageant lineup - especially for a Peruvian prison - where contestants showed poise on the catwalk and patience awaiting sentencing.

As an audience of Peruvian dignitaries applauded, a 24-year-old Thai woman was declared the winner of the annual Miss Spring contest at Santa Monica Women's Prison in Lima.
Like many of her rivals in Thursday night's event, Onuma Chumsri was imprisoned for drug trafficking in Peru, the world's second largest producer of cocaine after Colombia. She is awaiting formal sentencing.

Reflecting Peru's sluggish legal system, only 133 of Santa Monica's 927 inmates have been sentenced, officials said.

Prison officials said preparations for the contest started two months ago. Entrants were required to have good conduct, attend psychological therapy sessions, and participate in some of the prison's permanent workshops, such as cosmetology, drawing, and fabric painting.
"Sex appeal is important but it is not as if we are seeking just the physical aspect but rather the value as a woman, the value of the person is the essence of all of this," said Maria Jaen, director of the prison.

The prisoners themselves chose their representative of their cell areas. Of the 28 semifinalists 11 women were picked for the final, including five foreigners from Thailand, Belgium, Bolivia and Mexico.

Their stories are all-too similar. Lured by the promise of easy money, they came to Peru to smuggle cocaine only to be intercepted at Lima's international airport. Of the more than 700 foreigners imprisoned in Peru, most were caught smuggling cocaine taped to their bodies, swallowed in plastic pouches or hidden in luggage.

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