Peruvian judge suspends expulsion of British activist who gov’t says incited unrest in Amazon

By Carla Salazar, AP
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Judge suspends British activist’s ouster from Peru

LIMA, Peru — A Peruvian judge halted the expulsion Wednesday of a British religious activist accused by the government of inciting unrest among indigenous groups protesting environmental damage to the Amazon rain forest.

Paul McAuley will be allowed to stay in Peru while his challenge to the government’s revocation of his residency is considered by Superior Court Judge Alexander Riojain in the provincial jungle capital of Iquitos, the activist’s lawyer, Constante Diaz, said.

Riojain ruled on a petition filed on McAuley’s behalf Wednesday, the same day he had been ordered to leave the country.

The judge could take two to three months to rule on the appeal, Diaz said.

McAuley, 62, is a lay activist with the La Salle Christian Brothers who has worked in Peru for two decades. In 2004, he founded the Loreto Environmental Network, a group that works on behalf of indigenous groups.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and human and indigenous rights groups led by Amnesty International backed McAuley in his challenge to the expulsion order.

In the order issued last week, Peru’s government said it was revoking McAuley’s residency because he was engaged in activities “that put in risk the security of the state.”

Cabinet chief Javier Velasquez told reporters Monday that the government could not “accept that foreigners can continue furtively to stir up people to shatter democratic values.”

McAuley denies breaking any laws.

McAuley and environmentalists oppose President Alan Garcia’s moves to open up the Amazon to unprecedented mining and oil exploration and drilling. They also complain that Garcia’s government has done little to impede rampant logging, which they say threatens the existence of indigenous groups.

In a letter to the Interior Ministry protesting the expulsion order, Amnesty International said it “appears to be one step further in a campaign of intimidation by the government against indigenous communities and human rights defenders who work with them.”

Amazon Indians say Garcia has granted carte blanche to multinational oil and mining interests. The Indians’ opposition exploded in violence in June 2009 when police tried to dismantle a road blockade by protesters outside the Amazon city of Bagua. At least 33 people were killed, most of them police slain by Indians.

McAuley has long worked to help Peru’s historically downtrodden indigenous communities organize themselves economically and politically to defend their rights.

He began in Lima by helping them sell handicrafts abroad and, in recent years, traveled deep into the rain forest to give workshops in villages on international and national law that helped empower the Indians politically.

In February, McAuley helped Kichwa Indians file complaints with Peruvian prosecutors charging contamination of the Tigre River and its tributaries, allegedly by 35 years of oil drilling by the Argentine company Pluspetrol. McAuley told the AP he is still awaiting a response.

While he said he had no hard data on the alleged contamination, McAuley said studies published by Peru’s health ministry in 2005 found that Achuar Indians living along the Corrientes river “all had cadmium and lead in their blood.” He blames the oil drilling.

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