British priest stops Amazon logging giants

Fr Paul McAuley has assisted his parishioners in the Peruvian Amazon region to gain an injunction against logging companies to protect large swathes of rainforest, containing valuable tropical timber.

The London Independent reports that, a year ago, 57 year old Oxford-educated Fr McAuley helped some 70 of his parishioners in the little settlement of Mazan, on one of the Amazon's main tributaries, to seek an injunction to protect large swathes of rainforest, containing valuable tropical timber. Last week a court in Iquitos, the capital of Peruvian Amazonia, ordered a halt to the government's sale of 40-year leases of forest land for only 22p an acre.

The judgment could affect logging operations all over the region, but the priest, who has received celebrity endorsement for his campaign from television cook Delia Smith, says he is concerned that the authorities have as yet taken no steps to enforce the decision.

"The government first sold off the oil to foreign companies, then the forests, and now they say they'll be selling off the rivers," he told The Independent on Sunday.

"The authorities are supposed to make economic, social and environmental surveys before timber concessions are granted, but none has been carried out."

Since April last year the government in Lima and the local authorities of the department of Loreto in Iquitos have decreed the sale of concessions over 4.9 million hectares. Timber merchants bought 3 million hectares. In the next round, 9.33 million hectares were due to be put under the hammer.

Although Peru signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which includes flora and fauna, in 1975, timber is sold with no reference to the treaty, which was put in place to reduce deforestation. To evade regulations, some Peruvian woods are sent to the US through Mexico. "There's timber laundering as well as money laundering," said the priest, who served at a slum parish in Lima before moving to Iquitos.

Fr McAuley said the privatisation of the rainforest was part of a scheme demanded by the World Bank and other financial institutions of the Peruvian President, Alejandro Toledo, a former World Bank employee, as a condition for loans. Though he succeeded the enormously corrupt Western-backed autocrat, Alberto Fujimori, in 2001 on a wave of popular enthusiasm, Mr Toledo has himself been tainted by reports of widespread government corruption.

English priest stops Amazon logging giants in their tracks (The Independent 29/5/05)

30 May 2005