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Peru’s Ex-President Kills Himself Ahead of Corruption Arrest

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  • Former Peruvian president Alan García shot and killed himself when police arrived at his house to arrest him on bribery charges.
  • García was accused of taking bribes from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, but had repeatedly denied the allegations.
  • In 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty to paying $788 million in bribes to officials in Latin America for infrastructure contracts in what the U.S. Justice Department called “the largest foreign bribery case in history.”
  • Many Latin American leaders were implicated in the scandal, including three other ex-presidents of Peru.

Former President Alan García Dies

Peru’s former president, Alan García, died on Wednesday after shooting himself in the head when police arrived at his house to arrest him over bribery allegations.

Peru’s Interior Minister Carlos Morán told reporters that García asked to make a phone call when police arrived at his house. He then went into a room and locked the door. After hearing gunshots, police forced the door open and found García with a bullet wound in his head.

García was rushed to a nearby hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, according to Peru’s health ministry. Peru’s Health Minister, Zulema Tomá, said García had three heart attacks was in “very serious and critical” condition.

Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra confirmed the death and expressed his condolences in a tweet.

@MartinVizcarraC

García served as the president of Peru from 1985 to 1990, and again from 2006 to 2011. He has been accused of taking bribes from the Brazil-based construction firm Odebrecht during the construction of Lima’s metro in his second term as president.

He has denied receiving money from Odebrecht.

Odebrecht Corruption Scandal

Odebrecht is one of the biggest construction firms in Latin America and is known for being the main force behind infrastructure projects all over the world, including the venues for the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup in its home country of Brazil.

Odebrecht is also at the heart of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal. In 2016, Odebrecht admitted to paying $788 million in bribes to elected officials all across Latin America in exchange for lucrative infrastructure contracts. Odebrecht pleaded guilty to the charges as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department. The department called the corruption scandal “the largest foreign bribery case in history.”

García is not the only Latin American leader who has been under investigation in connection to bribes paid to Odebrecht. The corruption allegations involving Odebrecht have encompassed numerous leaders in Latin America and has lead to many jailings in the region.

This is especially true in Peru. Odebrecht has admitted paying almost $30 million in bribes to Peru alone since 2004.

Involvement in Peru

Four former presidents, including García, have been accused of involvement in the Odebrecht corruption scandal. All four have been the subjects of investigations into campaign donations and bribes they allegedly took from the construction giant.

Just last week, former Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who served from 2016 to 2018, was detained as part of a money-laundering investigation involving his ties with Odebrecht. Kuczynski is being investigated for undisclosed payments to Odebrecht worth $782,000 more than a decade ago.

Former president Ollanta Humala, who was in office from 2011 to 2016, is currently in pre-trial detention in Peru after being accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht to bankroll his election campaign.

The Peruvian government is also seeking extradition from the United States for another ex-Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, who was president from 2001 to 2006. Toldeo has been charged with accepting $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht for public works contracts.

Peru’s current opposition leader, Keiko Fujimori, is also in pre-trial detention on charges of taking $1.2 million in bribes from Odebrecht.

According to Peru’s state-run newspaper, Andina, the accusations against García also involve his former Secretary General of the Presidency and the former Vice President of Petroperú, Peru’s state-owned petroleum company, among others.

García’s Legacy

García denied any involvement in the corruption scandal in his final tweet, which he posted on Tuesday.

@

García, who was 69-years-old at the time of his death, was known as a skilled speaker and was described by some as “Latin America’s Kennedy.” He governed as a nationalist during his first term in the 1980s, which was marred by hyperinflation, corruption, and the rise of a prominent guerrilla movement.

When García took power again in nearly two decades later, he returned as a free-market conservative who lead Peru to an investment boom that was largely supported by Odebrecht contracts.

He also’s accused President Vizcarra of trying to jail him for political reasons. In November of 2018, García requested asylum at the Uruguayan embassy in Lima after he was banned from leaving the country during the investigation, but was denied by the Uruguayan government.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Los Angeles Times) (The Washington Post)

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Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric

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  • Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.  
  • Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
  • Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life. 
  • After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.

Controversial Address

Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks. 

Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.

“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”  

Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.

“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”  

The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.

Reactions to Alvim’s Speech  

It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination. 

Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.” 

But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.

President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.” 

The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role

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  • Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. 
  • Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations. 
  • While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled. 

Appointment of Di Giovanni

Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.

Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.  

“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media

“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.

Milestone for Women in Catholic Church

Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant. 

Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.

On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind. 

“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”

Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.

“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”  

See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)

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Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane

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  • Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
  • Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
  • Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable. 
  • There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.

Backlash from the Plane Strike

Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board. 

Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.

During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.

According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.

In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran. 

After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.

The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion. 

“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”  

A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.

“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.

Escalating Protests

Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.

They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.

“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.

Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration. 

Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press. 

Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (CNN)

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