- 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.
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 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)
Canada Hires Company to Remove Its Trash After the Philippines Announced Plans to Send It Back at Its Own Expense
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to ship tons of trash back to Canada that he says was illegally dumped in the Philippines.
- However, shortly after this announcement, Canada said that it would hire a shipping company to remove the trash by the end of June.
- The trash was originally sent to the Philippians between 2013 and 2014 by Chronic Plastics, Inc., a private Canadian company.
The Philippines announced Wednesday plans to ship tons of trash that it says was illegally dumped in Manila, back to Canada after years of waiting for something to be done.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to take 69 containers of trash back. “The government of the Philippines will shoulder all expenses. And we do not mind,” said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores.”
“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with the other countries of the world.”
Between 2013 and 2014, the approximately 2,450 tons of trash was sent to the Philippines by Chronic Plastics Inc., a private Canadian company, under the guise of being recyclables. Once it arrived in Manila, inspectors found that the containers were filled with “non-recyclable plastics, household wastes, and adult diapers,” according to the Philippine News Agency.
After Duterte’s announcement, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that the government had hired Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the trash by the end of June.
McKenna also said that all the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste will be covered by the Canadian government.
As of now it is unclear which country’s plan will be implemented.
Over the years Canada and the Philippines have been in multiple talks to find a solution for the trash. Last month, Duterte threatened to go to war over the trash.
“We’ll declare war against them,” Duterte said, “I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”
Earlier this month, Canada missed a May 15th deadline to repatriate the trash and the Philippines removed top diplomats from the country. This trash issue is not the only conflict the two countries have had. Last year the Philippines canceled a multimillion-dollar agreement for 16 helicopters after Canada questioned their intended use.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CBC) (CNN Philippines)
Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists for Controversial Holocaust Video
- Al Jazeera posted a video on their youth-focused channel AJ+ that said Jewish people had intentionally misrepresented how bad the Holocaust was for them, and claimed that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”
- The video, which was in Arabic, attracted widespread condemnation after a U.S.-based nonprofit called The Middle East Media Research Institute posted a translated version of it.
- Al Jazeera removed the post and suspended two journalists involved with making the video.
Qatar-based multination publication Al Jazeera suspended two journalists who published a video that claimed Jewish people deliberately exaggerated the Holocaust so that Israel could benefit.
The video was posted on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, Al Jazeera’s youth-focused channel that creates short video explainers designed for social media. It was reportedly posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for AJ+ and received hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down.
The video was posted in Arabic, but it started to get backlash after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, posted an English translation of the video.
After the video started receiving criticism, Al Jazeera tweeted that they deleted the video because it “violated the editorial standards of the Network.”
The following day, the publication said in a statement that it “has taken disciplinary action and suspended two of its journalists” over the video.
“Dr. Yaser Bishr, Executive Director of Digital Division, stated that Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material on any of the Network’s platforms,” the statement said. “In an email to staff he also called for the mandatory bias training and awareness program.”
The statement also said that Dima Khatib, the Managing Director of AJ+ Channels, claimed that “the video was produced without the due oversight,” and added that workflows were being reviewed.
According to MEMRI’s, the video was posted with the caption, “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?”
Based on MEMRI’s translations, the video starts out with the narrator saying, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement.” The narrator then goes on to explain what happened in the Holocaust, describing the persecution of Jews and other groups.
Then the narrator says that the Jews were only part of the many groups murdered by the Nazis and asks, “So why is there a focus only on them?”
“Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” she continued.
She then claims that the number of people who died in the Holocaust is still being debated today and asks the question: “How did Israel benefit from the Holocaust?”
The narrator goes on to discuss the 1933 Transfer Agreement, where Zionist groups negotiated with Nazis to allow thousands of German Jews to leave for Palestine, and then makes the argument that Israel greatly benefited from this.
“Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians,” the narrator said.
She concludes the video by asserting that the idea behind the “State of Israel” comes from concepts “that suckled from the Nazi spirit and its main notions.”
Following the incident, numerous people took to Twitter to condemn Al Jazeera.
Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the video “the worst kind of pernicious evil” in a tweet, and argued that it “perpetuates hatred of Israel and the Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, also expressed disdain in a tweet, writing that the video was “spreading lies about it & about Israel, specifically on #Ramadan in order to incite the masses.”
Others outside of Israel also criticized Al Jazeera. Donald Trump Jr. joined in on Twitter, writing, “Al-Jazeera is now openly publishing Holocaust Denial videos on their facebook page. Will @facebook take action & ban them for this like they’ve done to conservatives for far less?“
Al Jazeera English v. Al Jazeera Arabic
Others who criticized Al Jazeera on Twitter highlighted the differences between the publication’s English networks, like Al Jazeera English and AJ+ English, and their Arabic-language networks and content.
One user posted screenshots of the video posted to AJ+ Arabic next to a video about a Holocaust survivor posted on AJ+ English the same day.
“Don’t be fooled by AJ‘s polished facade for its gullible Western audience,” another user wrote on Twitter. “AJ isn’t news, it’s state-controlled propaganda.”
This discussion was also hit on in an article published by BBC. In the article, BCC notes that Al Jazeera English is known for its “varied coverage,” and shining a light on “underreported stories.”
However, that reporting “comes in stark contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic,” the article stated, continuing that Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks often include “friendly coverage of Islamist groups – particularly favouring those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
This compare and contrast is interesting because Al Jazeera is considered a very reliable source among U.S. audiences, but at the end of the day, it is a multinational media network that is funded by the Qatari government.
If Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage is catered so differently to its Middle Eastern audiences, it inevitably raises questions about its legitimacy and reporting in the U.S.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Haaretz) (The Guardian)
Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
- Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
- The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
- Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.
Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill
Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.
The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”
The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.
Taiwan’s Progressive History
Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.
Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.
In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.
The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.
Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.
Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.
While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”
Potential Implications for the Region
Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.
With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”
However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.
Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.
Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.
Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.
That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.