Maxima Acuña won the Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America for her activism against the Conga gold and copper project in Cajamarca.
Acuña was one of six regional recipients at yesterday’s Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in the United States which recognizes grassroots activism in defense of the environment.
“A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Maxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a plot of land sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine,” reads a press release.
Acuña captivated the audience in San Francisco when, instead of delivering prepared remarks in her acceptance speech, she sang a Peruvian folk song telling her story in Spanish. The audience in San Francisco gave a standing ovation to the indigenous farmer from rural Cajamarca dressed in a sombrero and traditional dress.
Acuña rose to national prominence in a land dispute with Newmont Mining and Buenaventura, the companies licensed to develop the Conga gold and copper mine in Cajamarca. The companies believed Acuña was squatting on a plot of land near a lake which it would convert into an open pit. Acuña claimed that her family had bought the 56 acres of land in 1994.
A video showing police violently dislodging Acuña and her family circulated in 2013 after a Cajamarca court ordered the family evicted. With help from an environmental NGO, Acuña legally recovered her land with a 1994 document issued by the local indigenous community granting her family the right to live in the plot overlooking the lake.
Violent protests against the Conga project resulted in five deaths in 2011 and 2012, prompting President Ollanta Humala to declare martial law in his government’s first crisis. Local opposition say the Yanacocha mine, operated by Newmont and Buenaventura, contaminated farmers’ water. The mine has been paralyzed ever since construction was suspended in 2011.
“Under the current social and political environment, the Company does not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future,” reads Newmont’s annual SEC filing for 2015 published this week. “Given recent expiration of operating and construction permits and the related uncertainty around the renewal of those permits, as well as the deferral of the project, the Company has removed Conga from its Reserves statement [on the balance sheet] …”
The filing which many believe helped seal the Goldman prize for Acuña left the door open for Newmont to write down an impairment on its Conga assets.
“Despite the trauma and exhaustion, Acuña maintains a remarkable sense of optimism in her continued fight for justice,” reads the Goldman profile of Acuña. “The community has rallied behind Maxima and her victory has brought new life to the struggle to defend Cajamarca’s plains, water supplies, and people from large-scale gold mining.”
The other prizewinners include Edward Loure from Tanzania, Leng Ouch from Cambodia, Zuzana Caputova from Slovakia, Luis Jorge Rivera from Puerto Rico and Destiny Watford from the United States.
Máxima Acuña (Goldman Environmental Prize)
2016 Press Resources (Goldman Environmental Prize)
Máxima contra Goliat (La Mula)