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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.

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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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Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws

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  • Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
  • Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.” 
  • Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
  • As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.

American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy

Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.

The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.

According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.

Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help

Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.

Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.” 

“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.” 

Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.

Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].

Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.

As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.

See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)

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American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali

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  • In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
  • The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
  • “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”

Kristen Gray Goes Viral

Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.

Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.

Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.

She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.

Backlash

The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.

Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.

However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.

Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.

“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.

“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.

Government Responds

The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.

Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.

According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.

In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.

Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (Vulture)

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