Máxima Acuña has been beaten, robbed and sentenced to prison for fighting to protect her property from mining behemoth Newmont. But last week, she finally got justice.
Acuña, a Peruvian farmworker, won in a lawsuit against Newmont, which sought her land to build its proposed Conga mine in Cajamarca. The appeals court hearing her case absolved charges brought against her by a lower court.
It's fair to say that the odds were stacked against Maxima Acuña, who, along with her family, have been subject to harassment and violence from both company employees and Peruvian police forces.
The struggle started when Newmont sued Maxima for “land invasion.” Newmont needed this land for its proximity to the Blue Lagoon lake, which could supply water to the proposed Conga mine. (Newmont's current proposal for Conga is to drain four lakes and replace them with reservoirs, which as far we know is an unprecedented proposal). In 2011, they tried to purchase her property but Acuña refused.
Said Acuña of the decision, “I also thank the judges who have done justice. At no time did I ever sell my land, but they [Newmont] took advantage because I am a humble peasant woman. I will never forget you. Thank you very much” (Translated from Spanish).
Acuña never had the support of the Peruvian government in her struggle to protect her land. In fact, since Newmont filed the lawsuit, Maxima reported multiple instances of maltreatment in the hands of the Peruvian police. In January 2013, 60 agents allegedly invaded her home and beat up her and her family. In an open letter to Peruvian First Lady Nadine Heredia, signed on by many civil society groups including Earthworks, she also reported that mine staff employees invaded and even destroyed and burned her house.
This is a huge victory for not only Acuña and her family, but also her community, which is largely opposed to the Conga mine. Still, the fight against Conga that Acuña has come to symbolize is not over.
Newmont also faces another lawsuit from local organization Grufides over the proposed mine’s environmental impacts and conflicts of interest that have come up during the permit approval process. Earthrights International filed an amicus brief, also signed by Earthworks and CIEL, supporting Grufides' arguments.
Meanwhile, Newmont continues to move forward with the Conga mine, despite wide community opposition and a cloud of uncertainty over its impacts and the replacement of lakes with artificial reservoirs.