Almost Strip Searched in the Peru Cusco Airport ! WTF?!
On Saturday Oct15,2011. It was 12:50pm and I was at the Cuzco airport checking in at the LAN counter for my flight LA 2042 which was to depart at 13:35. I put the luggage on the scale and obtained my boarding pass from the LAN check-in agent. As soon as the check-in agent put the luggage tag sticker on my suitcase, one male was standing behind her and looked as though he was a luggage guy, showed me his police badge and told me they wanted to check my luggage. I agreed thinking it was a routine security check. Although this was the first time I have had a police officer approach me right at the check-in counter.
They took me to a room located to the left of the check-in counters and brought my checked luggage along and asked to see my passport and wrote down the details. In the room another man and one women came into the office. Neither of them spoke any English. They opened up my checked luggage, and carry on luggage, and went through my belongings. There was nothing but dirty laundry and used toiletries or extra shoes. Then they said I could repack everything. I kept a close eye on them when they searched my stuff. Who knows if they would have set me up and snuck in a packet of cocaine or something. Remember Brokedown Palace with Claire Danes? A badge, uniform and the word ‘police’ does not mean the same in every country. I cooperated with everything they asked hoping they would let me leave soon. I had less than 25 minutes to go through security and board my flight before it would take off.
The male officer who spoke basic English tried to intimidate me.
Asking me questions such as “why are you so nervous? Are you hiding something?”
I was not nervous. Why should I be? Security checks happen all the time at airports. Or so I assumed.
I was curious why they selected me. Apparently the fact that this was my 2nd time to Peru, was suspicious. Even though the last time I was there was in 2009. Both times I went to Machu Picchu, which is clearly stamped in the passport pages he flipped through.
The officer asked me “why do you travel to Peru?”
I said “just to travel”
Then he said “do you like Peru?”
Then I said “Yes”
Then the officer asked me “why do you travel to peru?”
Then I said “ to travel”
Then he said “again”
Then I said “to travel”
Then he said “again”
Then I said “to travel”
We played this game several times before it got old ( I am being very synical and sarcastic in this statement).
At first I thought the officer had horrible hearing, but soon realized this was a tactic to try to make me make a mistake so he could have more reason to incriminate me.
The men checked my luggage and found nothing except dirty laundry and toiletries. The English speaking office said they would do have to do a “body check” which I assumed was his basic English for a “pat down”
The female officer patted me down through my clothes, checked the waistline of my pants, and under my bra. Then they male officer said I had to take my clothes off. I refused. Then he tried to intimidate and threaten me by saying “this is Peruvian law. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem”. I declined and requested to speak to someone else with better English. The officer had scripted English but could not answer complicated questions. The female officer got aggressive, and the male officer tried to intimate me further into following their orders. I refused and told them to call my fellow travelers as some of them have been to South America. I told them to call Gate 3 now. None of the officers tried to explain the situation to me calmly, but instead tried to scare and intimidate me with the hopes of incriminating me.
I was getting frustrated by the treatment I received from local police officers that are supposed to be protecting people, not trying to use their power or authority to intimidate. I wanted to have a look at all of their badge ids and names, but they refused. If they are not doing anything illegal, I do not see why they would refuse. I looked around the room. There were no cameras. I had no one on my side. All three of these badged Peruvian police officers could lie through their teeth and get away with it. It was three to one.
When I tried to get the badge information of the female officer she grew aggressive, and yelled at “no viaje! No viaje!”, which means in English, “no travel. No travel” Why should an officer be so afraid of having their identity recorded? They had my passport details and had searched through all my luggage. They even patted me down. Yet it’s wrong for me to know the identity of my persecutors?
I then feared that they would put me in a holding cell and stuck in Peru forever. Oh well, free accommodation and Spanish lessons, and a low calorie diet for a few years was starting to sound a lot better and I slowly warmed up to this option. I felt as though I had no rights and no one to turn to for support. I could not believe that police officers were acting like this.
I was visibly not comfortable with the situation and got angry and worried and wanted to leave the room. The male officer kept saying “tranquilo tranquilo”, meaning “calm down”.
In the end the male officer told me to follow him. I thought to myself “oh shit. This is it. This is where I disappear and no one has a freakin clue where I am. But surprisingly he walked me back to the same check-in counter he took me from and allowed me to check-in my luggage again at the counter. Then I was told to “go away” by that male officer. They never called the friends I was traveling with. They never contacted anyone at gate 3. They never contacted another person who spoke fluent English.
I understand that other countries to things differently, but have never heard of a strip search or full body search without reason. Nothing was found In my luggage and I have no criminal record. I am concerned that other young women, who might have been intimidated, would follow their orders. The incident was emotionally stressful and traumatizing. I checked into the LAN counter as a passenger, not expecting to be handed off to be interrogated as a criminal. The LAN check-in agent did not warn me that they may ask me to remove my clothes. I did not feel comfortable with the request, given that there were two men there as well. I am requesting that these 3 officers be put out of duty and investigated for their conduct. When I told others what happened, people sort of said “well, I guess they can sort of do that”, but until it’s your ass on the line (pun intended), you don’t realize how messed it is that they can search your orifices without explanation or just cause. The incident happened on Saturday, Today is Monday. I have written the Canadian Embassy in Peru, The Aviation Authority in Peru, LAN Airlines, and the Peruvian airport and the Peruvian Tourist board. I highly doubt I will get a satisfactory response and expect to get bullshit that will only cover their reputation. I will keep you updated on what response I get, if any.
Please pass this around to anyone you know that travels. This could happen to anyone.
What would you have done? Would you have stripped down or fought it?
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