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In Reversal, Peruvian Government Calls for ‘Official Report’ from Indonesia About Harvard Student who Died After Arrest in Bali

Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, left, and his spouse, Sebastían Marallano.
Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, left, and his spouse, Sebastían Marallano. By Courtesy of the Ventosilla and Marallano Families
By Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writer

In a sharp reversal, the Peruvian Foreign Affairs Ministry on Friday asked for an “official report” from authorities in Indonesia “to clarify the circumstances” surrounding the death of Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, a Peruvian Harvard Kennedy School student who died in police custody in Bali earlier this month.

Peru’s request came just two days after the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement rejecting allegations from Ventocilla’s family that he was arrested in an act of “racial discrimination and transphobia” in Bali and that Peru’s consular services failed to support him.

In a statement issued Friday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry called Ventocilla a “brilliant Peruvian student” and a “renowned activist for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community” — a stark contrast to a press release it issued just over 48 hours earlier that largely backed up explanations authorities in Bali have offered for Ventocilla’s arrest.

But Ventocilla’s family remains unsatisfied with the government’s response. His mother, Ana Ventosilla, criticized the Peruvian government’s handling of the situation in an interview with The Crimson on Monday, saying the family is still receiving inadequate support from Peruvian authorities.

Ventocilla died after he and his spouse, Sebastián Marallano, were detained by police on Aug. 6 in Denpasar, Indonesia, where they were traveling on a honeymoon. Ventocilla was arrested at the airport for bringing an herb grinder, items containing marijuana, and prescription drugs into the country, according to the Bali Police.

Ventocilla’s family has disputed the police’s account and criticized the Peruvian consular services’ handling of the situation. At a press conference on Monday, lawyers representing the family said they had filed a legal complaint in Peru accusing authorities in Indonesia and Peru of torture and human rights violations.

In its initial press release on Wednesday, the Peruvian government rejected the family’s allegations that its officials failed to provide support, saying they acted “with due diligence.”

In its reversal on Friday, the Peruvian Foreign Affairs Ministry did not admit wrongdoing. But the Peruvian foreign affairs minister, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Mackay, said he regretted the government’s initial press release in a meeting with family members just hours before the Friday statement was released, Ana Ventosilla said.

“The first press release was really aggravating and humiliating for us,” Ventosilla said, adding that it was difficult to read the statement when “we knew first-hand that it was not like that.”

She said the Peruvian consular services in Indonesia have delayed the return of her son’s body.

Ventocilla’s body was most recently expected to arrive in Peru on Aug. 30, but is now scheduled to arrive Sept. 2 because the consular services in Indonesia did not translate a document into Spanish, Ventosilla said.

“We continue to see this lack of interest,” Ventosilla said.

Ventosilla said the Peruvian government’s call for an official report falls short of the family’s demand for an investigation into the Peruvian consular services in Indonesia and Ventocilla’s cause of death.

“Really, we need an investigation by the Peruvian government,” Ventosilla said, “so we can bury Rodrigo with dignity and clear his name.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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Harvard Kennedy SchoolLGBTQ