December 2, 2022

LGBTQ activists call for protests at Peruvian embassies after death of Harvard student in Bali

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(CNN) — The death of a student transgender Harvard graduate in police custody in Bali is causing anger in his native Peru, where activists are calling protests outside Peruvian embassies and consulates around the world to demand an independent investigation.

Rodrigo Ventosilla, 32, was detained by customs police shortly after arriving on August 6 at the popular Indonesian tourist destination with his new husband Sebastián Marallano on a planned honeymoon. He was later charged with possession of cannabis.

Ventosilla died five days later in hospital in circumstances that remain unclear. A Bali police spokesman said Ventosilla became ill after ingesting medicine that was not part of the items seized by police and died from “failure of bodily functions”.

Their family alleges that both Ventosilla and Marallano were subjected to “racial discrimination and transphobia” during their time in police detention, claims that angered Peru’s LGBTQ community and sparked protests in the capital of Lima on Friday last week.

Rodrigo Ventosilla Trans Peru

A protester places a flyer in front of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Lima.

The police spokesman denied threats of violence towards Ventosilla.

Peru’s Foreign Ministry reiterated Indonesia’s tough stance on drugs and appeared to dismiss the family’s accusations of “racial discrimination and transphobia” by local police towards the couple. “It is widely known that Indonesia has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to possession of drugs and their derivatives,” the ministry said in a statement.

Follow-up calls and emails from CNN to the Peruvian consulate in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, also went unanswered.

However, the ministry’s stance has fueled anger and the Lima-based group Diversidades Trans Masculinas, a network of activists founded by Ventosilla, has called for more protests.

“Following Rodrigo’s death in Bali, we call on supporters to join us in a sit-in in front of Peruvian embassies and consulates around the world to demand justice,” the group said on Facebook.

The group accused the Peruvian consulate of not acting on the case and ignoring the pleas of both Ventosilla’s family and the “international (trans) community.”

Luz Manríquez, an LGBTQ activist who was at the protest on Friday, criticized the Peruvian government for not demanding an independent investigation.

“He lacks empathy because he does not recognize that a Peruvian has died at the hands of police from another country,” said Manríquez.

Luzmo Henríquez, a lawyer for the family, told CNN that they would file a complaint against the Indonesian police and anti-drug agencies alleging torture and would also seek redress from the Peruvian consulate in Indonesia, which he accused of failing to fulfill its duties to two men.

Ventosilla had been pursuing a Master of Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Dean Douglas Elmendorf said in a statement that it was “a very painful moment for many at the Kennedy School” and supported the family’s call for an immediate and thorough investigation into Ventosilla’s death. “The statement from Rodrigo’s family raises very serious questions that deserve clear and precise answers,” Elmendorf said.

“The school stands with all of Rodrigo’s friends and colleagues and with the LGBTQ community,” he added.

The Bali police spokesman told CNN that arrangements were being made for Rodrigo Ventosilla’s body to be taken back to Lima.

Unlike some of the more conservative areas of Muslim-majority Indonesia, such as Aceh province, where gay sex is punishable by public flogging, Bali, which is majority Hindu, is generally seen as tolerant of LGBTQ tourists.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was important for Bali to investigate the death.

“The police must carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Rodrigo Ventosilla,” Harsono said. “His family and friends deserve to know why and how he died.”



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