Juan Rodríguez lives in the small Panamanian town of Bugaba with his grandmother, who washes his clothes, irons them with starch and stores them in drawers stuffed with mothballs.
When the 34-year-old doctor travelled to Spain to take up a three-month training scholarship at a Madrid hospital, airport border guards decided there was something suspicious about the strange-smelling and neatly-folded clothes in his suitcase.
A routine spray test for cocaine on all 108 items came up positive, but Rodríguez protested that he was in no way involved in drug trafficking.
Six months later, after he had spent the entire period of his training course and three more months remanded in a Madrid prison, a laboratory report proved the testers had come to the wrong conclusion. His clothes were clean.
Police had to drop their claim that he was yet another drugs mule who had soaked his clothes in a cocaine solution with the intention of smuggling them through customs and removing the drug later, and Rodríguez was released.
Now questions are being raised about the spray test, and Rodríguez is demanding €280,000 (£245,000) in compensation.
"It was a Kafkaesque situation. And if it can happen to him, then it could happen to any of us," his Spanish lawyer, Jaime Ingram, said. "Obviously this raises questions about the system they use for testing in the airport, as well as why the second test took so long and how such a well-respected person could be treated this way."
Scientists have yet to explain which chemical produced the reaction to the spray, which turns blue on contact with cocaine.
"I travelled to Spain full of hopes, but it all turned into a nightmare," Rodríguez told El País. He is back working at his hospital in Panama and still deciding whether to reapply for the scholarship.
Guardian 5th Sept 2011
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