Statue of Je­sus dam­aged by fire be­fore pope visit

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Mauri­cio Munoz and Martin Me­jia Mauri­cio Munoz and Martin Me­jia are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

LIMA, Peru — A gi­ant Christ statue in Peru’s cap­i­tal that was do­nated by a con­struc­tion com­pany at the cen­ter of Latin Amer­ica’s largest cor­rup­tion scan­dal was dam­aged Satur­day in a fire, days be­fore Pope Fran­cis is to ar­rive in the South Amer­i­can na­tion.

Peru­vians awoke to find nearly the en­tire back of the statue, perched on a bar­ren desert bluff over­look­ing the Pa­cific Ocean, charred black.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Peru’s fire­fight­ing corps told RPP Noti­cias that two dozen fire­fight­ers re­sponded to the blaze. The cause of the fire re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but one work­ing the­ory is that “Christ of the Pa­cific” was pur­posely set aflame.

But po­lice later told state news agency An­d­ina that elec­tri­cal ca­bles for the statue’s light­ing had short-cir­cuited be­cause of hu­mid­ity.

The 69-foot statue was do­nated by Brazil­ian com­pany Ode­brecht in 2011, and for many Peru­vians it has be­come a sour re­minder of the com­pany’s il­le­gal ma­neu­ver­ings to court and bribe high-rank­ing of­fi­cials in ex­change for lu­cra­tive pub­lic works con­tracts.

In Jan­uary 2017, van­dals cov­ered the statue in mes­sages like “Out of the coun­try Ode­brecht.”

Two for­mer Peru­vian pres­i­dents are ac­cused of ac­cept­ing money from Ode­brecht, and cur­rent Pres­i­dent Pe­dro Pablo Kuczyn­ski nar­rowly es­caped im­peach­ment in De­cem­ber over his ties to the com­pany. Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers un­cov­ered doc­u­ments show­ing Kuczyn­ski’s pri­vate con­sult­ing firm re­ceived $782,000 from Ode­brecht more than a decade ago when he was serv­ing as a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter.

Kuczyn­ski has de­nied know­ing any­thing about the pay­ments, say­ing he re­cused him­self from all con­sult­ing busi­ness while in the po­si­tion.

The Christ statue’s burn­ing comes five days be­fore Fran­cis is sched­uled to ar­rive in Peru. The pope hopes to high­light the need to pro­tect the Ama­zon rain for­est dur­ing his visit, but Peru­vians will be pay­ing close at­ten­tion to whether he ad­dresses cor­rup­tion. It’s an is­sue close to his heart, and he has called graft more in­sid­i­ous than sin and a plague that hurts the poor­est the most.

The statue cost about $1 mil­lion, Ode­brecht said in 2011.

Fran­cis will ar­rive first in Chile on Mon­day. Au­thor­i­ties there are on guard af­ter sev­eral Ro­man Catholic churches in the cap­i­tal, San­ti­ago, were fire­bombed, with pam­phlets left at one scene threat­en­ing the pon­tiff: “The next bombs will be in your cas­sock.”

Martin Me­jia / As­so­ci­ated Press

A cy­clist stops near the “Christ of the Pa­cific” statue in Lima, Peru. The replica of the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro burned just days be­fore Pope Fran­cis is to visit.

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