On December 17, an indigenous Peruvian woman and her family, after suffering violent beatings and threats, won a lawsuit filed against her by a multinational mining corporation that tried to force her off her land, claiming the family had “invaded” the territory the company wanted for an open pit gold mine.
“I will stay on my land because now I don’t fear the daily threats from the Yanacocho Company,” said Maxima Acuña de Chaupe upon learning of the judicial decision against the mining company.
The Yanacocha Mine, co-owned by Newmont Mining Corporation of Colorado, had attempted to sue Acuña de Chaupe and her family for “usurping territory” that Acuña de Chaupe had acquired in 1994. Their 18-acre property is located by Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon), one of the lagoons that could be impacted by the controversial Conga Mine project in the Cajamarca region of northern Peru.
The Conga project, which has faced massive protests and is currently suspended, seeks to remove between 480,000 to 780,000 ounces of gold and 54,000 tons of copper over the next 20 years. Towards that end, four lagoons have been destroyed, two are slated to be emptied and mined, and two others, Laguna Azul and Laguna Chica, will be used to store waste from the mining process.
Two years after the family had moved into the area the Yanacocha company purchased 667 acres of land beside the Acuña de Chaupe property. Several years later the conflicts began between the family and the company.
According to Acuña de Chaupe it was on May 24, 2011 when the company came to her house with construction vehicles and police and they proceeded to destroy the house and attempted to force them off of their property. She asserted that police and private security returned and violently assaulted her and other family members on a number of occasions. Later that same year the Yanacocha Company filed the lawsuit against the family for usurping territory.
On August 5, 2014 a judge found them guilty, sentencing the family to two years of “suspended imprisonment” and the equivalent of U.S. $2,000 in penalties.
The Acuña de Chaupes appealed the decision with the support of national and international human rights groups that included a petition drive held at the Peoples Climate Summit in Lima (also in December) that got close to 117,000 signatures.
“I want to thank the judges of the court of justice of Cajamarca for being impartial and applying justice and for not permitting that we the farmworkers suffer at the hands of Yanacocha,” said Acuña de Chaupe following her acquittal. “I pray to God to take care of them. During the four years this process has lasted, many authorities tortured me, defamed me, and persecuted me. But here we have good authorities.”
Last week, for her activism and courage, Acuña de Chaupe was voted Woman of the Year by the Union of Latin American Women, an international women’s rights organization.