The reaction by the Peruvian authorities does not surprise me at all and legally they have clearly executed the present laws. It is very common in most Latin-American and Central-American countries that foreigners are not allowed to participate in any political activities regardless their immigration status (including legal residents within that country!). No surprisingly the topic “mining” is very sensitive in Peru as it represents apart from the tourism the biggest income source. The conditions in some areas are appalling and the government has a massive task to clean up and control the national and international operations. Small scale illegal mining contaminates the natural resources on a devastating level and there are areas you won’t find representatives of the government as they fear the organized groups behind them. Any foreign organizations or activist groups should be focusing on supporting local efforts and use their power to denounce malpractices through international channels.
Last Friday, April 21, 2017 Canadian national Jennifer Moore and US citizen John Dougherty, were arrested by Peruvian Police and immigration authorities for disturbing the public order and the national security.
A day later the Peruvian Ministry of the Interior published a statement informing that the behavior and actions of the two foreign citizens that visited Peru as tourists, violated existing Peruvian immigration laws and instigated social unrest.
Soon afterwards this statement went viral in social media and without question what really happened triggered a wide-ranging discussion about freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right of foreigners to participate in protests and demonstrations in Peru.
So, what’s the real story behind the Jennifer Moore and John Dougherty case?
Even though both entered Peru a few days prior to their arrest as tourists, they surely weren’t coming to visit Machu Picchu or the Manu National Park.
Jennifer Moore is the Latin America Program Coordinator for Mining Watch, a pan-Canadian initiative that aims at changing public policy and mining practices to ensure the health of individuals, communities and ecosystems. Her job is to support communities, organizations, and networks in the region struggling with mining conflicts.
John Dougherty however is a US journalist and filmmaker, who made the investigative documentary Flin Flon Flim Flam - Hudbay's Hoax which reveals the operations of the Canadian transnational mining company Hudbay in Canada, the US, Guatemala and Peru, and includes disturbing background info and shocking images about mining protests in Peru.
Moore and Dougherty came to Peru to support the public screening of above mentioned documentary in communities around Hudbay’s Constancia open pit copper mine, as well as in Lima and different locations in the area of Cusco - regions where in 2016 protests against mining companies turned extremely violent. After the screening, they shared further information and discussed the controversial topic of mining, mining companies and their sometimes questionable operations with the viewers.
In principle, a noble and necessary cause, as we all know how these large companies operate.
But Peru isn’t just not amused when foreigners participate or are involved in any kind of political activities, actually it’s against Peruvian law. Tourists and even foreign residents aren’t allowed to publicly protest, demonstrate and engage in any political activities. This is often considered as inference and won’t be taken lightly, especially in case of mining related issues, a sector in Peru that heavily contributes to the countries income.
The Peruvian legislation quite clearly states that foreigners doing so can be arrested, their immigration status reevaluated and, if their actions are considered a disturbance to public order and national security, they as well can be extradited.
In the past several other foreign environmental and human rights activists came into conflict with the Peruvian law due to their activities and were asked to leave the country. Working in this controversial area Jennifer Moore and John Dougherty must have been aware of all of this and knew what they are getting themselves into.
So, even though filmmaker John Dougherty sees the detention as “dangerous step of using the state to criminalize a journalist” and implies that Hudbay ordered it, because the mining company “does not want the Peruvian people to know the truth about its long history of environmental contamination, allegations of serious human rights abuses and conflicts with local communities” and it additionally “had a contract to pay the Peruvian National Police for security services” – by the way a usual practice in Peru to employ police officers in their off time to provide security to all sorts of companies -, the arrest appears to be legally grounded.
And considering the often violent and brutal history of mining protests in the country even the charges of disturbing public order and inciting violence aren’t so far-fetched.
Knowing all that three questions remain: were Moore and Dougherty really unaware of the Peruvian legislation and the implication a screening of the docu would have? If so, that doesn’t reflect well on the activists. Or did they just wanted to test, how far they can go with their actions? Or thinking even further, did they intentionally provoked the incident and accepted the consequences to increase the media attention as well on an international level to boost the documentary and the cause? Looking on the numbers of views of the docu and posts on social media, it worked.
By the way, Jennifer Moore and John Dougherty were arrested last Friday night after the screening of the documentary in municipal cultural center in Cusco and brought to the immigration office. As probably anywhere in the world under these circumstances, they were questioned and asked to make a declaration about their real activities in the country as they surely didn’t visit Peru for touristic purposes. Depending on how you look at it, luckily or astonishingly in no time on a Friday evening there was an English-speaking lawyer present and both were released after 4 hours – actually for Peruvian standards extremely quickly.
An immigration hearing was scheduled for Monday, April 24 at immigration offices in Cusco. But even though both contest the allegations and plan to file an appeal, Ms. Moore and Mr. Dougherty left the country already shortly after their release upon advice of their legal counsel and are represented at the proceedings by their attorney; somehow this leaves an even bitterer taste.
Anyway, one thing this case once again quite impressively shows: as a foreigner, tourist or even resident, best stay out of internal Peruvian affairs while being in the country, even if you believe it’s your duty to denounce malpractices and reveal uncomfortable truths.
It’s not up to us foreigners to change Peru; it’s something that has to be done by Peruvians themselves.