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Peruvian Government Rejects Allegations of Negligence from Family of Harvard Student who Died 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

The Peruvian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday rejected allegations that the country’s consular services in Indonesia failed to support Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla, a Peruvian Harvard Kennedy School student who died in police custody in Bali this month.

Ventocilla, a transgender man and a prominent trans rights activist, died five days after he was detained for alleged drug possession upon his arrival in Bali, where he was traveling on a honeymoon with his spouse. Ventocilla’s family alleged in a press release Tuesday that he was mistreated by police while Peruvian consular services in Indonesia “hindered the family’s request for help” before he died.

On Wednesday, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry defended its consular services, writing in a press release that officials “acted with due diligence.”

“The Consular Section of the Peruvian Embassy in Indonesia has been providing consular assistance and following up on the case, within the framework of its competencies and with respect for local laws, while maintaining uninterrupted communication with their families,” the Peruvian Foreign Ministry said.

A representative of Ventocilla’s family, Luzmo Henríquez, said Thursday that the ministry’s statement was “biased, insufficient and not very empathetic.”

“The families are psychologically very affected by the revictimization they are suffering,” Henríquez said in a statement, demanding “a process that determines those responsible for the torture, extortion and violation of human rights that led to the death of Rodrigo.”

The Bali Police have said Ventocilla died at a hospital in Denpasar, Indonesia, on Aug. 11, about three days after consuming unseized drugs while in custody. A police spokesperson, Stefanus Satake Bayu Setianto, said the cause of death was “a complete failure of body function that causes impaired kidney function and impaired liver and nervous system function to the patient’s brain,” according to the Indonesian news outlet detikBali. But Ventocilla’s family says they do not know the true cause of death because officials in Indonesia have not allowed for an independent autopsy.

Ventocilla’s family called on the Peruvian Foreign Affairs Ministry to investigate officials in the Peruvian Embassy in Indonesia and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Ventocilla was arrested upon arrival on Aug. 6 at the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Indonesia. Authorities seized several items suspected to contain marijuana, including an herb grinder and edibles weighing 231.65 grams, according to the Bali Police. In their statement Tuesday, Ventocilla’s family said he was arrested in an act of “racial discrimination and transphobia” for carrying prescribed medication “linked to his mental health treatment.”

Ventocilla’s spouse, Sebastián Marallano, was also detained, but has since returned safely to Peru.

The Peruvian Foreign Ministry on Thursday disputed the family’s allegations about the arrest, backing up the police’s account.

“The arrest had taken place because the airport customs had found among the belongings of one of them, in addition to pills with their respective medical prescription, objects containing traces of cannabis, as well as various products made with that substance,” the Peruvian Foreign Ministry wrote in the press release.

The dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, Douglas W. Elmendorf, said on Tuesday that the school supports the family’s call for an investigation into Ventocilla’s death.

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

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