Note: This is an update of a previously published post.
Last December, we blogged about Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña who, after being beaten, robbed and sentenced to prison, won a lawsuit brought against her by mining behemoth Newmont over her property. The company sought her land to build its proposed Conga mine in Cajamarca, but an appeals court ultimately denied its claim to ownership of the land.
The court decision allowed Máxima to keep her property. But despite this victory, Máxima is still being harassed by police and security officers backed by Newmont . Last week, a contingent of 20 officers sent by Newmont invaded the farmer's home to prevent her from making repairs to her house. This Tuesday morning, the officers destroyed parts of her home.
Under Peruvian law, police officers are allowed to work for other companies when off-duty. As a result, Máxima and other farmers have been harassed by police officers protecting the interests of Newmont rather than Peruvian citizens. But Newmont is ultimately responsible for sendng police officers to invade Máxima 's home and and continuing to make claims of ownership of her land after the court decision.
We call on Newmont to respect the ruling and to immediately ensure that Maxima and her property are no longer harassed. We ask Newmont to denounce the intimidation of communities and ensure that it is not complicit in such actions.
It's fair to say that the odds were stacked against Máxima Acuña.The struggle started when Newmont sued Máxima 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, Máxima 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.