Nicaragua Opposition Demands Conditions for Resuming Talks

Opposition delegates to talks on resolving Nicaragua’s political standoff said Tuesday they will not return to the table until the government shows “signs of goodwill” on demands such as the full release of hundreds considered political prisoners.

 

Lawyer Azahalea Solis said opposition negotiators are ready to resume talking when conditions are right, but that’s not the case right now. She added that the opposition remains committed to finding a solution nearly a year after protests erupted demanding President Daniel Ortega’s exit from office.

 

About 160 people have been released to house arrest in recent weeks, but government opponents say there are about 770 political prisoners and they should all be freed with their cases dismissed.

 

Authorities and the opposition traded mutual accusations of undermining the talks after protesters held a weekend anti-government rally and over 100 people were temporarily detained.

 

Ortega officials have accused demonstrations of being tantamount to “terrorism” and an attempted coup d’etat, and the president has steadfastly refused to step down and allow early elections.

 

Solis said the opposition Civic Alliance has presented a five-point agenda for the talks: freeing the prisoners; electoral reform establishing “early, free, fair, transparent and observed elections”; justice for victims; international guarantors to ensure compliance; and government action on 18 formal recommendations from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

 

“The Alliance counts with the pressure of the citizenry for there to be a civic solution here, because citizens decided they want to be free of this dictatorial government through peaceful struggle,” Solis said.

 

There was no immediate reaction from government officials.

 

At least 325 people were killed last year amid a security crackdown on the protests, according to the Inter-American Commission. Thousands more were wounded, arrested or fled into exile.

GM to Invest $2.7B in Sao Paulo, Brazil Factories Over 5 Years

General Motors said on Tuesday it would invest $2.7 billion in two Brazilian factories over the next five years, sparing them from a shakeup of the automaker’s operations, a decision hailed by the governor of Brazil’s largest state.

Sao Paolo state Governor Joao Doria told a joint news conference with GM executives that the plants in Sao Caetano do Sul and Sao Jose dos Campos had been slated for closure last December, and said he convinced GM to reverse the decision, saving jobs.

Last November, GM said it would slash thousands of jobs around the world and would close two unspecified plants outside of North America by the end of 2019.

The company declined to say whether its restructuring plans had referred to the two Brazilian factories, and declined to comment on whether the two plants had been slated for closure as Doria claimed.

Sitting next to Doria at the news conference, GM’s CEO for South America, Carlos Zarlenga, also did not directly address Doria’s recounting of the negotiations with GM.

Doria, a former businessman and reality TV show host, took office in January and became a vocal advocate for the state’s auto industry. Earlier this year, he said he would find a buyer for a Ford Motor Co. plant that is slated to close, after the U.S. automaker said it had tried and failed to find one.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Doria said GM told him in a call days before his inauguration that it planned to close the plants.

“I thought it was going to be good news,” Doria said. “But to my surprise I was told that the next day GM CEO Mary Barra would announce the closing of two factories in Sao Paulo. I fell off my chair.”

He said he dispatched his future state finance minister to fix the situation and landed a meeting in Miami with GM executives. He said 65,000 workers employed directly and indirectly by GM would have lost their jobs without his intervention.

Earlier this month, Doria announced an incentive plan granting automakers a 25 percent reduction in value added taxes if they created at least 400 jobs and invested at least 1 billion reais. At the news conference, GM announced it was creating 400 new jobs.

Zarlenga said the future of its Sao Paulo factories had presented GM “a really serious problem,” but did not confirm that the automaker had considered closing them down.

GM, the sales leader in Brazil, South America’s largest market, had warned local employees it was dealing with heavy losses and “sacrifices” would be necessary.

As announced, the plan pales in comparison to GM’s most recent investment plan in Brazil in 2014, which totaled $4 billion. However, the announcement does not include potential future investments in the automaker’s plants elsewhere in the country.

US-Russia Talks on Venezuela Stall Over Role of Maduro

High-level U.S.-Russian talks on how to defuse Venezuela’s crisis ended on Tuesday with the two sides still at odds over the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro.

Russia has said Maduro remains the country’s only legitimate leader whereas the United States and many other Western countries back Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who invoked a constitutional provision in January to assume an interim presidency.

“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” U.S. special representative Elliot Abrams told reporters.

The Russian side also said the two sides now understood their respective standpoints better after the two-hour talks in Rome but Moscow’s delegation chief, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was blunter.

“Perhaps we failed to narrow positions on this situation…,” Russian state news agency TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying. “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

Ryabkov was quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying the talks were difficult but frank and that Moscow had warned Washington not to intervene militarily in Venezuela.

Abrams said “who gets the title of president” in Venezuela was still a point of contention.

He called Tuesday’s talks useful, substantive and serious and said both sides agreed “on the depth of the crisis.” Ryabkov said Russia was increasingly concerned by U.S. sanctions on the Latin American country.

Hours earlier, the United States imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run gold mining company Minerven and its president, Adrian Perdomo.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela, a position Abrams said the Russian side brought up at Tuesday’s meeting.

High-ranking military officers are seen as crucial to keeping Maduro in power in the face of a hyperinflationary economic meltdown that has spread hunger and preventable disease and led to an exodus of some 3 million people since 2015.

Maduro’s government, which retains the backing of Russia and China, drew widespread international condemnation after he was re-elected last year in a vote widely regarded as fraudulent.

Abrams cited recent estimates that over the next few months Venezuela’s vital oil exports would fall below a million barrels a day and that the country’s oil exports were declining by about 50,000 barrels a month.

“This a catastrophe for Venezuela,” Abrams said.

Indigenous Land Activist Shot Dead in Costa Rica

Unknown attackers shot dead a well-known Costa Rican activist who defended land for the Bribri indigenous people in the Central American country, the government said on Tuesday.

Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said in a statement, calling the killing “regrettable.”

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.

Rojas had survived at least one previous assassination attempt. In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.

“He made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.

In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.

Salitre has experienced land conflicts for generations, with Bribri activists trying to remove non-indigenous farmers from the land in recent years.

Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.

Trump Backs NATO, OECD Membership for Brazil

The leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s two largest economies are pledging closer trade ties and enhanced military cooperation, with U.S. President Donald Trump even suggesting Brazil should be able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).

Trump said for that to happen, however, he would “have to talk to a lot of people.”

The U.S. president, at a joint news conference with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, also pledged American support for Brazil to join the 36-member Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), which includes most of the highly-developed economies.

Bolsonaro, speaking in Portuguese, said his visit begins a new chapter of cooperation between Brazil and the United States, adding that with his recent election, “Brazil has a president who is not anti-American, which is unprecedented in recent decades.”

The retired military officer is known as the “Trump of the Tropics” for his far-right agenda of cracking down on crime and corruption, and nostalgia for Brazil’s era of military dictatorship.

The two leaders, who met for the first time Tuesday, also discussed their mutual support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by most Western countries, including the United States and Brazil.

“All options are open,” Trump reiterated when asked by a reporter in the White House Rose Garden if military intervention in Venezuela by the United States is possible.

Trump noted that Washington has yet to apply really tough sanctions on Caracas, where Nicolas Maduro — who the U.S. president called “Cuba’s puppet” — remains in power with the backing of Venezuela’s military.

In oil-rich Venezuela there is no food, water or air-conditioning, according to Trump, while Bolsonaro said “people are starving to death” there.

“We need to put an end to this,” Bolsonaro added.

Space launches

Just ahead of the meeting between the two leaders, the United States and Brazil signed an agreement to support American space launches from Brazil. The State Department says the pact will ensure the proper handling of sensitive U.S. technology consistent with U.S. nonproliferation policy, the Missile Technology Control, and U.S. export control laws and regulations.

The two leaders “agreed to take the steps necessary to enable Brazil to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Global Entry Program,” according to a joint statement issued following the news conference.

​’Common ground’

The two countries have never had particularly close relations, with Brazil traditionally wary of American influence in Latin America. But now their two leaders find themselves in sync on concerns about the Maduro regime in Venezuela, Cuba’s involvement in that country, and the threat from China’s rising influence on domestic politics in South and Central America.

Until now, Brazilian diplomacy was a zero-sum kind of relationship, not aligned with U.S. interests and “sort of hostile in certain ways, at least at the bureaucratic level,” former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega told VOA.

“If we can find common ground with them on some key specific initiatives,” the U.S. relationship with Brazil and South America, as a whole, can be realigned, according to Noriega, an American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow.

VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara and VOA’s Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report.

As Venezuela Crisis Deepens, US Sharpens Focus on Colombia Rebel Threat

As the United States makes its biggest diplomatic push in Latin America in years to try to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the U.S. military is zeroing in on a byproduct of the crisis: a strengthening of Colombian rebels on both sides of Venezuela’s border.

U.S. Admiral Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command that oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, told Reuters the United States had sharpened its focus on the rebels and increased its sharing of intelligence with Colombian officials.

U.S. officials see a growing threat from both Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that refuse to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement to end five decades of civil war.

The United States believes the rebels are taking advantage of Venezuela’s crisis to expand their reach in that country and the scope of long-standing illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

“Our principal role working with our Colombian partners is to assist in intelligence sharing. What we know, we share,” Faller said. Asked whether the intelligence sharing on the rebels had ramped up as Venezuela’s crisis deepened, Faller responded: “Absolutely.”

The risks from the insurgents on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border add another layer of complexity to the crisis in Venezuela, where U.S. President Donald Trump says all options are on the table to remove Maduro from office.

U.S. officials have uniformly emphasized diplomatic and economic tools to accelerate Maduro’s departure, like sanctions, but Faller acknowledged the U.S. military stood ready to provide options if needed.

At the same time, he noted that no U.S. allies in the region were seeking a military solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

“My job is to be ready, be on the balls of my feet, at all times. But we’ve been talking to our partners and no one, no one, thinks that a military option is a good idea,” Faller said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido says the May 2018 vote in which Maduro won a second term was a sham and he invoked a constitutional provision on Jan. 23 to assume the interim presidency. Most Western nations including the United States have backed Guaido as head of state.

Maduro, a socialist who has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup, retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

Jeremy McDermott, a Colombia-based expert on the insurgencies and co-founder of the Insight Crime think tank, said he believed the Colombian insurgents were operating in Venezuela with at least the blessing of Maduro.

The rebels’ aim is to exploit Venezuela’s lawlessness for safe haven and for economic gain, he said. But he noted there could be an added benefit for Maduro.

“If the Americans invade, or if Colombia promotes a military intervention, then they (Maduro’s supporters) would be able to call upon an insurgent force with more than 50 years of combat experience,” McDermott said.

Asked whether the United States had any evidence of communications between Maduro and the guerrilla groups, Faller said: “I’d rather not discuss the details of the exact connections but we’re watching it very closely.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry and ELN contacts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, former Vice President Francisco Santos, said ELN and FARC factions had long been present in Venezuela but had grown stronger and more integrated into the country as a result of Venezuela’s crisis.

“They have become the paramilitary groups of the Maduro administration,” Santos told Reuters.

ELN expansion

A Cuba-inspired Marxist insurgency formed in 1964, the ELN claimed responsibility for a January car bomb attack against a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 cadets. It was an escalation by insurgents who have kidnapped Colombian security forces, attacked police stations and bombed oil pipelines.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the ELN is increasingly using Venezuelan territory to carry out narco-trafficking and illegal mining of minerals like gold and coltan.

The Venezuelan security forces were believed to be getting kickbacks from the guerrillas, they said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. collection of intelligence on the guerrilla groups had increased in recent weeks, including looking at the militants’ activities on the Venezuelan side of the border with Colombia.

Several U.S. officials said they believed senior leaders of both the ELN and the so-called FARC dissidents who do not adhere to the peace agreement were now located inside of Venezuela.

“Their leadership is there,” a second U.S. official said, who also declined to be named, without providing evidence.

An International Crisis Group report cited estimates that the ELN had been active in a minimum of 13 of Venezuela’s 24 states, “absorbing new recruits and shifting from a guerrilla force that embraced armed resistance against Colombia’s ruling elites to one with many core operations in Venezuela.”

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela also regularly denounce growing ELN activities in Venezuela, but Reuters has been unable to independently verify the extent of its presence or its operations.

Faller declined to discuss any specifics about the collection of U.S. intelligence or identify which insurgent leaders were in Venezuela.

But he acknowledged the trend and added that the flow of illegal narcotics “from Colombia into Venezuela, and then from Venezuela out in the region, has risen as the misery of the Venezuelan people has risen.”

“It’s essentially a lawless region now inside Venezuela along the border and the FARC dissidents and the ELN have taken advantage of that,” Faller said, adding: “They operate with impunity inside Venezuela.”

Santos said the big concern for Colombia was that the strengthening rebel forces would upend efforts to crack down on narcotics trafficking.

“That’s a big worry because in this situation of chaos, obviously they are going to grow. They are growing,” he said.

Nicaragua Talks on Hold as Both Sides Trade Accusations

Nicaragua’s government and opposition accused each other of undermining the latest round of political dialogue Monday, after police arrested more than 100 at a weekend protest.

 

The opposition Civic Alliance condemned the government’s “violent repression” of Saturday’s march, in which it said some 164 people were arrested. The group said in a statement that it was frustrated that the talks had not produced results, including the release of hundreds of people it considers political prisoners.

 

The government complained that opposition representatives participating in the negotiations were part of the march, which it labeled a “provocation.” Protests against President Daniel Ortega’s government have been effectively banned since September.

 

The government said opposition negotiators’ participating in Saturday’s protest was “inconceivable, contradictory and unbelievable.” It said there were 107 arrests and the detainees were released hours later.

 

The sides had met Friday, and before Saturday’s protest were expected to resume talks Monday.

 

Mario Arana, an economist participating in the dialogue as a representative of the private sector, said the talks were suspended for the time being. “The mediators have work to do,” he said.

 

The Vatican’s ambassador to Nicaragua, Waldemar Sommertag, who has mediated the talks, asked for patience Monday. Responding to criticism that he seemed to be siding with the government, Sommertag said he had no personal interest and was giving his all to brokering the talks.

 

Luis Rosadilla, representative of the Organization of American States, called on those involved to build a good atmosphere for dialogue. “The government must show the political will to overcome the crisis,” he said.

 

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have died in protests or related violence since April 2018. Some 700 are believed to be in government custody.

 

Also Monday, Robert Palladino, a U.S. State Department spokesman, condemned the repression of Saturday’s march and the arrests. In a statement, he called for the government to immediately release those who were “arbitrarily” detained, guarantee freedom of expression and assembly, and commit to holding early elections.

Cubans Frustrated Over US Move to End 5-year Visitor Visas

The Trump administration’s move to end five-year visitor visas for Cubans has left residents of the island angry and frustrated that it will be even harder to see their relatives, shop, or undertake cultural and academic exchanges in the United States.

The State Department on Friday said the measure, which became effective on Monday, was taken for reasons of reciprocity because Cuba currently issues only one-time temporary visas to visitors.

Tens of thousands of Cubans had used the five-year visitor visa to travel, often repeatedly, to the United States. They now can only get a visa that is valid for one trip during a three-month period.

Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman and head of the Cuban Study Group, which advocates engagement with Cuba, said ending the visa program was mean and counterproductive.

“It will cause great harm to Cuban civil society, the very sector driving changes to the island’s political and economic structures,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to end the detente and engagement policy that was begun by the Obama administration in 2016 as part of its effort to end more than five decades of hostility between Washington and communist-run Cuba.

The U.S. embassy in Havana is operating with a skeleton crew because of an outbreak of mysterious health problems among its diplomats, and last year it shut down most councilor services, forcing Cubans to seek visas in third countries such as Mexico.

The Trump administration says the U.S. diplomats were the targets of “attacks.” Cuba has denied any involvement or knowledge of what caused the illnesses, whose symptoms included tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, headaches and fatigue.

Cuba on Saturday blasted the reasoning behind the U.S. visa change, saying it issued visitor visas immediately in the United States, while Cubans had to spend large amounts of money and time to travel to third countries, and then often were rejected.

“My five-year visa runs out next year and I cannot afford to travel to Mexico every year just to try to get a one-time visa,” said Marlen Calabaza, a retired telephone operator who visits Pennsylvania to help her daughter and five grandchildren.

“I feel worse for her than for me,” she said.

Yosmany Moudeja, who runs a small business helping Cubans fill out forms near the U.S. embassy, said his only customers now were people seeking permanent residence in the United States.

“If before it was difficult, now it’s impossible. If before people came to get visas to visit, now there is no one,” he said.

 

Venezuela Opposition Takes Control of Diplomatic Properties in US

Representatives of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido have taken control of three of the country’s diplomatic properties in the United States, Guaido’s U.S. envoy said on Monday, as the opposition presses its bid to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The envoy, Carlos Vecchio, said the opposition had gained control of two buildings belonging to Venezuela’s defense ministry in Washington and one consular building in New York. He added that the group expected to take control of Venezuela’s embassy in Washington “in the days to come.”

Guaido, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States.

“We are taking these steps in order to preserve the assets of the Venezuelans here in this country,” Vecchio said from one of the buildings, the office of Venezuela’s military attache to Washington, after removing a portrait of Maduro from the wall and replacing it with one of Guaido.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters the United States was “pleased to support these requests.”

In a statement, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called on U.S. authorities to “take the necessary measures to immediately reverse this forcible occupation” of its diplomatic offices. It said the transfer of possession violated international law on the protection of diplomatic properties.

Maduro, who has branded Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, broke off relations with Washington after it recognized Guaido, calling diplomatic and consular staff back to Caracas.

Of 55 staff members, 12 decided to remain in the United States and support Guaido, Vecchio said on Monday. He added that his staff would work out of the attache building, which is in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood and has an assessed value of $2.2 million, according to Washington property records.

Vecchio spoke alongside Colonel Jose Luis Silva, Venezuela’s military attache to Washington who recognized Guaido on Jan. 27.

Few other high-ranking members of the military have heeded Guaido’s call to break with Maduro, who retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

On Monday, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters an army general had defected and fled to Colombia. Vecchio said he was confident that Venezuela, which is undergoing an economic and humanitarian crisis, was in “an irreversible process of change” but that “it won’t come easily.”

The United States withdrew all its remaining diplomatic personnel in Venezuela last week.

Ex-Peru President Arrested in California Drunkenness Case

Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, wanted in his home country in connection with Latin America’s biggest graft scandal, was arrested in California on suspicion of public intoxication and spent the night in jail before he was released Monday morning, authorities said.

Alejandro Toledo, 72, was arrested Sunday night at a restaurant near the San Francisco Bay Area city of Menlo Park, said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade.

Toledo was released without charges Monday morning, which Blankswade said is routine for most public drunkenness arrests. Toledo was Peru’s president from 2001 to 2006 and moved to Northern California shortly after leaving office to work and study at Stanford University in Palo Alto, according to a 2007 San Francisco Chronicle report.  

Toledo earned a doctoral degree in education and two master’s degrees from Stanford, where he delivered the commencement speech to the school’s graduating class of 2003 while still in office. He has held a variety of fellowships and visiting scholar positions at Stanford until 2017, according to university announcements. In 2017, the same year Peruvian officials announced they were seeking to arrest Toledo, Stanford spokeswoman Brooke Donald told a Latin American media outlet that the college was severing its ties with Toledo, who she said was an unpaid “volunteer” who didn’t teach.

Stanford officials didn’t respond to email and phone inquiries Monday.

Toledo is wanted in Peru where authorities have offered a $30,000 reward for his capture. Peruvian prosecutors accuse him with of taking $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht while he served as president. He has denied wrongdoing.

Peru is seeking Toledo’s extradition from the U.S. In February 2017, then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski asked President Donald Trump to deport the ex-Peruvian president.

Blankswade said the international police organization Interpol had issued a “warning” to law enforcement agencies around the world to notify it if and when Toledo was arrested. But Interpol officials told officials in the sheriff’s office they had no immediate plans to extradite Toledo and he was released, she said.

“After reaching out to Peruvian officials and Interpol, we learned that the existence of charges in Peru alone does not authorize the subject’s arrest in the United States,” Blankswade said.

She did not disclose details about what led to officers being sent to the restaurant where Toledo was arrested, and did not name the restaurant.

Toledo brushed off questions about his arrest on suspicion of public drunkenness during a brief radio interview with Peru’s RPP radio Monday afternoon.

“I’m at my home, writing my book,” he said when a reporter reached him on the phone.

Asked if he could clarify whether he had been detained, he said, “I’m not falling into that trap.”

It’s not the first time Toledo’s apparent love for booze has caught the public’s attention.

During his mandate, Toledo’s presidential aircraft became known as the “party plane” after a government official was caught on camera drunkenly singing a popular tune called “Pass me the Bottle” while aboard a flight to Europe.

After leaving power, incoming President Alan Garcia published a tally of Toledo’s liquor purchases during his time in the presidential palace: a total of $164,000 in spirits, whisky, wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Interpol officials did not immediately return phone messages left with the organization’s U.S. office in Washington D.C. seeking comment

In a statement, Peru’s foreign ministry said Toledo’s detention “has no relation with the extradition process underway, which is being handled with the utmost zeal and in coordination with various institutions.”

Odebrecht in 2016 admitted in a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to paying some $800 million in bribes to politicians throughout Latin America including $29 million.

The scandal has hit a particularly rough note in Peru, where nearly every living president is suspected or under investigation for ties to Odebrecht.

Former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned last year after opposition lawmakers revealed that his private consulting firm had previously undisclosed ties to the construction giant.

Prosecutors are also investigating ex-President Alan Garcia after revelations that bribes were made during the construction of Lima’s subway under his tenure. Former President Ollanta Humala was also briefly jailed in connection with the case.

All of Peru’s former presidents have denied wrongdoing.

The public drunkenness arrest marks the latest chapter in what has been a stunning fall from grace for a man who rose out of poverty to become Peru’s first president with indigenous roots.

Toledo grew up shining shoes and selling lottery tickets in northern Peru, one of 16 children, at least seven of which did not survive to adulthood. A happenstance meeting with a U.S. humanitarian worker couple set his life on an unexpected trajectory: With their help, he applied and won a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.

His jovial nature, ease with the masses and opposition to strongman Alberto Fujimori helped him clinch the presidency in 2001. He proudly called himself “El Cholo” — a term referring to his indigenous ancestry, which is sometimes considered derisive — and championed policies emphasizing the free market and attracting foreign investment.

The nation’s economy boomed under his leadership, with gross domestic product rising from 0.2 percent to 6.8 percent.

But his reputation as a hard-partying president trailed him: One Lima newspaper said it obtained receipts showing Toledo’s administration bought 1,753 bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch whisky during his tenure.

He dismissed the report when he unsuccessfully ran for president again in 2011.

“This is part of the dirty games of the election. I don’t even drink whisky,” he said in a TV interview, calling the receipts “manipulated.”