Caught Up in the South American Drug War

Many tourists traveling to Peru are drawn to the ancient monuments of the Norte Chico civilization and the Inca Empire—one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The rich history has made Peru’s cultural tourism the fastest growing tourism industry in South America. Tourism is the third largest industry in Peru with mining and fishing taking the lead.

When Tom Hanaway, the subject of Locked Up Abroad: Chilean Prison Break was visiting Peru he was not just taking in the historical sites, he was reveling in the world of cocaine, an addictive stimulant drug. In the 1970s Peru was the world’s largest producer of cocaine. However by the 1990s it was surpassed by Colombia as cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, began to shift due to eradication of coca farming. Peru has made a comeback in recent years with coca production up by 45% since 1998. Of the cocaine produced by Peru, 60% of it is exported to the United States and Europe.

Tom Hanaway returned to California with an addiction to the drug which resulted in making several trips to South America for more. His luck eventually ran out in Chile, one of South America’s most prosperous countries, when he attempted to exchange 500 doses of LSD for one kilo of cocaine. LSD or lysergic acid diethylamide is a psychedelic drug made popular by the 1960s counterculture. The drug is known to alter thinking, enhance senses, and cause visual hallucinations. At the time of Hanaway’s excursion, one dose of LSD could be sold for $10 in South America, $9 more than a single dose in the United States.

The 500 doses of LSD Hanaway was attempting to exchange  for cocaine were confiscated by police and he was sentenced to five years and one day in Arica Jail—a former high school which housed 1400 prisons at the time of its closing in 1999. In the United States the penalty for possessing and/or selling LSD varies from state to state with most recognizing it as a Schedule I drug. In California, where Hanaway was from, LSD is considered one of the most dangerous drugs under state law and thus penalties are harsh. Individuals possessing LSD with the intent to sell face lengthy jail or prison sentences, heavy fines and probation.

Chilean prisons are known for their deplorable conditions that have many prisoners attempting to escape the overcrowded walls. Prior to 1979, only one prisoner had successfully escaped from Arica Jail before being caught one year later. Other prisoners have been shot and killed while trying to escape thus making Tom Hanaway’s successful prison break an incredible feat.

Back in California, Hanaway changed his ways as a result of his risky adventure in Chile. Unfortunately cocaine production is still on the rise in South America and government officials are coming up with new ways to approach the war on drugs. In recent months discussion over potentially legalizing the consumption and production of drugs has created tension between the United States government and South American countries.


Tune in to Locked Up Abroad: Chilean Prison Break July 30th at 10P et/pt


  1. tina myers
    January 5, 2013, 5:10 am

    I was arrested on an american airlines flight with 9 kilos strapped to my body. I spent 10 months before I tried to escape I took advantage of a riot in santa monica prison and climbed the wall. I fell and broke my leg almost amputated.

  2. tina myers
    January 5, 2013, 5:11 am

    this was in peru

  3. Phillip Gray
    United States
    September 20, 2014, 8:16 pm

    I wish I knew who composed and played the musical score at the end of this episode, a beautiful guitar piece that was especially soothing. Someone please tell me where I can find it.