The Tragedy of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe

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Máxima Acuña is rural dwelling illiterate Peruvian woman. She is five feet tall, was born forty-five years ago, and lives on a property in Tragadero Grande, at 13,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra of Cajamarca in Northern Peru, along with her husband and two children.

“All I have left is my little house, two sheep, two sheep dogs, and they want to force us out dead or alive, to take the gold…”

Maxima y uno de sus perros pastores

Maxima and one of her sheep dogs

Her story is one of struggle, courage, and dignity in defense of what she humbly earned through her hard work, planting potatoes, oca, and gathering medicinal herbs to sell. This is how she and her husband purchased the plot of land they now live on, in 1994.

A dark cloud changed her life in 2010. When she returned home to rest after having been sick, she found that rural path that crossed through her property was now a widespread paved road.

Máxima, offended that the construction took place without her permission, immediately addressed the corresponding offices in Yanacocha. Like every explanation, they told her that the property deed she cherished as her most prized possession, had no value. The land was owned by the miner.

The conflict has been the same since the Spanish arrived in America five hundred years ago, expropriating lands and taking gold. However, this time the usurpers are a partnership formed by Newmont Mining Corporation (51.35%), Minas Buenaventura (43.65%), and International Financing Corporation (run by the World Bank).

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe

The Tragedy of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe

“The Yanacocha partnership can hire all the lawyers in the world so that they can produce documents to show that I sold my land, they say I’m occupying their property, they claim that they’re the legitimate owners, but they don’t show any documents indicating that I sold them my land.”

To carry out the so called “Conga Project”, the Yanacocha partnership plans to dry out four lakes, causing a terrible environmental impact. One of those lakes (a lake called Laguna azul) is on Máxima’s property.

The Laguna Azul (blue lake) gives life to one of the main rivers in the Celedín region, and the company is trying to turn her into dump. The San José channel where many rural residents obtained their drinking water, is now being heavily contaminated.

The community gathered at one of the lakes that the Conga Project plants to destroy

The community gathered at one of the lakes that the Conga Project plants to destroy

“Máxima is a stone in the Yanacocha mining company’s show and for the Conga Project. Máxima’s land is in the heart of Conga mining project, right in front of the Laguna Azul”

(Milton Sanchez, Celedín Environmental Director)

This is the motive for a persecution that threatens her life. Her home was destroyed twice in 2011. In August of that same year, she and her daughter were beaten by police until they lost consciousness.

In 2012, state security agents attempted to evict her, and Yanacocha began a lawsuit against her family. In January of 2013, sixty DINOES agents (National Division of Special Operations), destroyed the camp of “agitators” who supported them, and killed the majority of their animals.

In January of 2014 they suffered another eviction attempt at the hands of the special operation agents, as well as multiple death threats. In 2015, two hundred members of the special operations division and private police from Yanacocha entered her property and destroyed what was left of her home, even after the court had legitimized Máxima’s property deed.

In sight of such abuses and in response to the request of numerous organizations, the Inter American Commission for Human Rights implemented precautionary measures for her, her family, for “agitators” that support her, and for forty six human rights and community leaders in Celendín, Cajamarca and Hualgayoc-Bambamarca.

Nevertheless, the Peruvian state has not met these precautionary measures granted by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights, neglecting the safety and protection of the citizens they swore to protect.

The violence continues. Máxima continues to receive new death threats and the Yanacocha miner established a watch post in front of her property which is now surrounded, they also destroyed her kitchen which she had already been forced to rebuild several times.

Máxima Acuña de Chaupe receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize 20066

Máxima Acuña de Chaupe receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize 2006

Violence builds itself on top of the least protected again and again. Mercenary interests seek to impose themselves on the wellbeing of small farmers, in search of an all-lying “progress”.

However this is not the case of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, because she is not alone. She is accompanied by the immense value of a dignified mother, guardian of the Earth, she is accompanied by the World Conscious Pact, and we’re sure she can also count on you.

We invite you to watch more videos of the brave life of Máxima:

Máxima Acuña: “Me dijeron: Una pulga nunca le va a ganar a un elefante”

Máxima Acuña – Goldman Environmental Prize 2016