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News > Latin America

David and Goliath: Peru Farmer Fights US Mining Giant, and Wins

  • A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land.

    A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land. | Photo: 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize

Published 21 April 2016

A Peruvian potato farmer was awarded the Goldman prize after refusing to sell her farm to make way for a copper and gold mine. 

Peruvian farmers and community activists successfully managed to fend off a multi-billion dollar gold mining firm from building an open-caste mine next to a pristine lake in Cajamarca, Northern Peru, The Guardian reported Thursday.

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At the center of the David and Goliath esque battle is subsistence farmer Maxima Acuna de Chaupe, who owns a 60-acre plot of land precisely where Newmont Mining Corporation’s local joint-venture, Yanacocha, wanted to create a Conga copper and gold mine.

Acuna’s refusal to sell her land to the U.S. mining giant is testimony to her resilience and she has effectively halted the company’s US$4.8 billion plans. A spokesperson for Newmont released a statement saying it does not anticipate developing the mine in the foreseeable future.

Although the mother of four played a key role in thwarting the creation of the mine she received support from a network of national and international campaign groups.

Acuna accrued aid from Belgian charity Catapa, which ran a crowdfunding campaign late last year to raise money to buy her some cows to supplement her income.

Meanwhile, the Dublin-based Frontline Defenders charity brought the 47-year-old’s case to the attention of institutions such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights as her fight against the mine went global.

“Solidarity is essential. It’s the only way of bringing a counterweight to the power of economic might and the power of corruption,” says Mirtha Vasquez, a lawyer with Peru-based charity Grufides, which offers legal assistance to landholders threatened by extractive projects.

Maxima Acuna, a Peruvian farmer, mother of four and grandmother, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America | 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize

Acuna says she and her daughter have suffered physical assaults, surveillance and have been taken to court multiple times by Yanacocha officials. She has also seen her crops “peacefully” destroyed in the past few months by Newmont’s joint venture, who say she was occupying the land illegally despite a judicial ruling that supported her land claim.

However, her resilience has paid off. The company appears to have given up its bid to create the mine and she picked up the Goldman prize, the world’s most prestigious environmental award in San Francisco Tuesday. She was given the prize for preventing the mine from destroying the two highland lagoons, her farm, and a supply of fresh water for thousands more people.

"I stayed on my land and wouldn't leave," Acuna told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a conference call. "Harassment from the mine and security guards is still heavy."

Each of the six winners for 2016 from across the world will receive US$175,000 to support their environmental activism and continuing local campaigns.

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