Fire scorches Christ statue in Peru as pope visit nears

Ar­son ini­tially feared, but po­lice blame short in wiring for lights

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Mauri­cio Muñoz and Martin Me­jia,

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 by fire Satur­day, five days be­fore Pope Fran­cis’ sched­uled ar­rival 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 spokesper­son with Peru’s fire­fight­ing corps told RPP Noti­cias that two dozen fire­fight­ers re­sponded to the blaze and that an early work­ing the­ory was that the Christ of the Pa

cific was pur­posely set aflame. How­ever, po­lice later told the state news agency An­d­ina that elec­tri­cal ca­bles for the statue’s light­ing had short­cir­cuited be­cause of hu­mid­ity, spark­ing the blaze.

“Po­lice se­cu­rity for the holy fa­ther’s visit is as­sured,” Col. Manuel Rivera said.

In Chile, where the pope ar­rives Mon­day, author­i­ties are on guard af­ter sev­eral Ro­man Catholic churches in the cap­i­tal, San­ti­ago, were fire­bombed and pam­phlets left at one of the churches threat­ened the pon­tiff: “The next bombs will be in your cas­sock.”

The 69-foot statue in Peru was do­nated by the 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 such as “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 that Kuczyn­ski’s pri­vate con­sult­ing firm re­ceived $782,000 from Ode­brecht more than a decade ago, when he was a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter.

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

The pope has hoped to high­light the need to pro­tect the Ama­zon rain­for­est 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.

Alan Gar­cía, whose sec­ond stint as Peru’s pres­i­dent ran from 2006 to 2011, is un­der pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether he took Ode­brecht bribes. He has said he con­trib­uted about $30,000 of his own money for the statue’s con­struc­tion.

“I want it to be a fig­ure that blesses Peru,” Gar­cía said at the time.

Martin Me­jia/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Cy­clists looked to­ward the Christ of the Pa­cific statue in Lima af­ter the back of the fig­ure was black­ened by fire on Satur­day.

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