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Happy Mother’s Day! 

Large scale, industrial mining disproportionately impacts women.

So they’re often on the frontlines, fighting dirty mining projects and demanding responsible behavior from mining companies. Perhaps because they’re fighting for their children’s future, these women are often moms.

This Mother’s Day, we’re highlighting two mothers’ fight to protect their kids in the Peruvian province of Cajamarca. Their fight? Making America’s largest gold mining company, Newmont, behave itself.

As Executive Director of community organization Grufides, Mirtha Vasquez has been working to protect her community from the impacts of industrial mining for more than 10 years. In addition to being a persuasive spokesperson and advocate for her community, Mirtha is the mother of two young children, ages 1 and 3.

Mirtha has spent years dealing with Newmont’s Yanacocha mine, the largest gold mine in Latin America. Among her many efforts, she has spoken out against Yanacocha’s repeated pollution of soil and water supplies, and the government’s failure to stop it. 

Mirtha and her organization have been threatened numerous times due to their activism. Her house was broken into twice in 2012. She also received death threats and was allegedly put under surveillance by private security forces.

These threats haven’t stopped Mirtha. In April, she came to the United States to attend the Newmont annual shareholders meeting to tell the company and its shareholders about the risks posed by Newmont’s Conga gold mine proposal – risks to scarce water supplies, to community health, and to Newmont’s shareholders. Conga is a risky investment because it is broadly opposed by the community and because of Newmont’s 20 year track record at the nearby Yanacocha mine.

The people of Cajamarca have so far successfully blocked development of Conga through widespread protest. In 2012, the Peruvian government ordered Newmont to suspend the mine in response to one such protest. The mine has remained suspended ever since.

Mirtha and her son Nicolas
Mirtha and her son Nicolas

Mirtha is also an attorney representing Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, an indigenous farmer who has been embroiled in a legal battle with Newmont, who sued her for ownership of her land.

In Peru, Máxima has become nationally known for her unflinching resistance to Newmont’s efforts to take over her land. Her land is located near one of four mountain lakes that the company would drain to build its proposed Conga gold mine. If built, the mine would permanently alter the watershed in the arid páramo ecosystem of the high Andean region, contaminate water with arsenic and heavy metals, damage soil and livestock – in short, irrevocably alter life in the highlands of Cajamarca, Peru.

Máxima is also a mother – and a new grandmother. She has faced many hardships in maintaining her resistance, as Newmont escalated its efforts to take over the land – including eviction attempts by police and security officers, who have harassed and even beaten her. Her daughters and husband have suffered similarly. 

Remarkably, Newmont-backed security officers harassed Máxima even after she won the lawsuit that the company filed against her, earlier this year.

This Mother’s Day – perhaps in honor of the moms in your life who look out for you and your loved ones – please take a minute to speak out on behalf of super-moms Máxima and Mirtha.