BOGOTA, Colombia — A retired journalist who joined the criminal underworld while researching a book on South America’s drug cartels became the first Colombian, and possibly the first Latin American, to be executed in China for drug offenses.

The execution Monday night of Ismael Arciniegas occurred amid a last-ditch diplomatic effort by Colombia’s government to save the 72-year-old’s life. Arciniegas was arrested in 2010 arriving by plane to the southern port city of Guangzhou trying to smuggle almost 4 kilograms of cocaine in exchange for $5,000.

But his downfall came decades earlier, in the 1980s, when he began researching a book on drug cartels in his native Cali, according to his son, Juan Jose Herrera, who described to local media the heart-breaking, 20-minute phone conversation he and family members had with his father shortly before he was taken to a room to be killed by lethal injection.

“God has opened his gates for me,” a calm Arciniegas said in the tear-filled conversation, an excerpt of which was broadcast by Blu Radio.

“Remember me warmly, with love. I’m going very tranquil, very relaxed. Nothing worries me.”

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