MAC: Mines and Communities

Peru: Máxima Acuña wins the Goldman Prize

Published by MAC on 2016-04-19
Source: Earthworks, SumOfUS, Goldmanprize.org, Mining.com (2016-04-19)

And Santos wins again in his home region, Cajamarca

Among this year’s Goldman winners is Máxima Acuña, who refuses leave from her farm in the Peruvian highlands despite the many threats she has faced for opposing the Conga project.

The imprisoned Peruvian politician Gregorio Santos has achieved electoral success again in his home region, Cajamarca, and also with a 4% of the national vote in the presidential first round held in Peru last week.

Meanwhile, internal reports quoted by Earthworks and SumOfUS show that Nemont Mining has removed Conga from its Reserves statement and reclassified the project as "mineralized material". [http://d1lge852tjjqow.cloudfront.net/CIK-0001164727/050eb34a-9eba-4984-a379-7684d1ab4d2e.pdf?noexit=true]

Gold beneath the waters

Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña wins Goldman Environmental Prize while fighting for her land.

http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/gold-beneath-the-waters/

Angela K. Evans
 
May 26, 2016

When the Spanish came to the Cajamarca region of Peru looking for gold, they found the vast Incan empire instead. By 1532, Francisco Pizzaro and his men had captured the last indigenous emperor, taken his gold, and the Spanish conquest of the Incas was all but complete.

According to myth, however, the Incas hid some of their wealth in nearby lakes, counting on spirits living in the water to protect the gold.

Centuries later, these lakes are still the cultural and spiritual epicenter for the indigenous campisenos who survive as subsistence farmers nearby. And in recent years, four lakes above Cajamarca have been threatened once again by foreigners looking for gold.

Máxima Acuña lives in the hills above Cajamarca, roughly 500 miles north of Lima, in the heart of the Andes. Along with her husband, four children and granddaughter, Acuña spends her days cultivating the land and tending to her sheep, making daily walks to Laguna Azul and the other three lakes nearby.

“I walk around nature, I love being here with my plants, my animals, being outside. I go walk down to the lakes,” she says in a translated email to Boulder Weekly. “The lakes are life. The water, nature, environment is life. We go down to the lakes, drink the water, we use the water for everything, the lakes give life to everyone here.”

Acuña and her family live and work a 60-acre plot of land in Tragadero Grande, claiming they purchased the property in 1994 with the land deed to prove it. But Denver-based Newmont Mining Company, along with its Peruvian partner Minas Buenaventura, says it purchased the Tragadero Grande land in 1996/97 from the Sorochuco community, with plans to access the gold buried beneath the lakes by developing the $4.8 billion Conga mine.

An ongoing land dispute has ensued, gaining both national and international attention, most notably when Acuña received the Goldman Environmental Prize on April 18.

“I am a woman from the highlands who lives in the mountain ranges/Tending to my sheep in mist and heavy rain/ When my dog barked, the police arrived,” Acuña sang at the Goldman awards ceremony. A woman short in stature, her traditional wide-brimmed hat barely rising above the podium, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sang. “My hut, they burned down/My things, they took away/Food, I did not eat only water I drank/A bed, I did not have with hay I covered myself/Because I defend my lakes, they want to take my life.”

Acuña has told her story countless times — police arriving at her door, destroying her crops, beating her and her family, threatening them unless they vacate the land. She says they continue to threaten her, at one point almost killing her dog, and continue to destroy her property while also maintaining a fence around her plot, causing her to feel trapped on her own land. She says the police (sometimes calling them “thugs”) are working at the behest of the mining companies.

“Here in Peru there is a law that permits the companies to hire the police as their private security forces,” says Ximena Warnaars, Amazon program coordinator for EarthRights International, a nonprofit seeking to protect both human rights and the environment through legal actions and advocacy campaigns. “That is also one of the issues … When are the police working as a civil servants and when are they working as private security?”

While Acuña and her family maintain the mining company burned their house and took their belongings, Newmont argues the family is illegally squatting on the land. In 2011, local courts ruled on the side of Newmont, charging Acuña and her husband with aggravated usurpation, or taking land through the use of force.

She was sentenced to almost three years in prison, charged a reparation fine of almost $2,000 and was issued an order of eviction. Through a variety of appeals, a judge in Cajamarca later ruled there was no evidence that Acuña and her family committed a crime and overturned the order of eviction in 2014. But Newmont has appealed to the Peruvian Supreme Court, says Omar Jabara from Newmont’s corporate communications office in Denver, and land ownership has yet to be determined.

The company first proposed the nearby Conga mine project in 2010 with plans to significantly alter four mountain lakes in order to access the gold buried beneath the waters. Newmont and Buenaventura already operate the nearby Yanacocha mine, South America’s largest open pit gold mine producing roughly 471,000 ounces of gold a year. The Conga mine was expected to yield 680,000 ounces of gold and 235 million pounds of copper each year.

“Two lakes would’ve had to been relocated. Essentially the water would have been moved into a new reservoir and there were two lakes that would’ve been expanded,” Jabara says. The company has already spent $20 million in order to expand Chailhuagon Lake into a reservoir. The Chailhuagon Reservoir now provides water to the community year-round, where as the lake didn’t produce enough water to sustain the six month dry season, Jabara says.

“The plan was to quadruple the volume of water to make up for the relocating of the lakes,” he says. “Part of the plan was to expand the available water capacity from what it was as an improved benefit so that local communities would gain some benefits from the mine.”

However, opponents of the project say Acuña’s beloved Laguna Azul would have been drained and turned into a waste storage pit, threatening significant headwaters and the surrounding wetland ecosystem. The community has also resisted the mine’s development.

As Newmont began the process of environmental studies and permitting through Peru’s Ministry of the Environment, a small community of local farmers calling themselves the Guardians of the Lakes began holding vigils in 2012, funded in small part by Boulder’s Global Greengrants Fund (GGF). Acuña and her family often joined the protests.

“She doesn’t really aspire to be a leader or be a political figure,”Warnaars says about Acuña. “She’s just a farmer who is protecting her land. She’s just become a symbol for all of Peru of these struggles.”

The Guardians of the Lakes also organized a national march in opposition to the project, with support of the regional government,Warnaars says. Along with her work at EarthRights,Warnaars is also an advisor for Andes Board at GGF.

“People walked from Cajamarca all the way to Lima demanding that water be protected,” she says. “This water march was national and it was really strategic that people mobilized not around being anti-mining but being in favor of protecting their water. So with this kind of discourse they were able to gain loads of support from different organizations and communities, even people in the outskirts of Lima who have issues with water. It brought a lot of attention to the issues related to Conga.”

In addition to water issues, the proposed Conga mine has also raised questions of indigenous peoples’ rights under international law. Although the people of the Amazon region of Peru are recognized as indigenous, with certain rights and privileges such as consultation over land use,Warnaars says the people of the Andes don’t have the same recognition, as they identify more with their cultural lifestyle than with their indigenous ethnicity.

“They’d rather recognize themselves through activity as farmers,” she says. “But their identity as farmers doesn’t obviously have the same weight as being indigenous people under the law.

“The farming communities in Cajamarca have a difficult time saying they are indigenous and these are our rights,” she continues. “The government also has a difficulty recognizing them as indigenous people even though there are certain laws that could be interpreted in that way. In this kind of situation, the only thing that people have living there is the titles to their land and this is what Maxima has.”

While Newmont continues to contest land ownership through the courts, the company announced in February 2016 that the Conga mine project would be suspended, with no foreseeable plans to develop the site further amidst the social backlash and in light of expiring permits.

“Conditions for moving forward with the project would need to be securing social acceptance, project economics and bringing in a third partner to help pay for the cost and defray risks,” Jabara says. “Without those conditions, we’re not moving forward with the project.”

While this is seen as a victory for the indigenous and environmental communities, Acuña’s fight is far from over. Regardless, she’s said she will continue her struggle against corporate power, although she’d rather go back to living peacefully on her land.

“I feel proud and the [Goldman] Prize gave me more courage and encouragement so that we don’t have to feel fear anymore,” she says. “I am hopeful to have peace and tranquility, and to continue defending life, nature, water.”


Máxima Acuña 2016 Goldman Prize Recipient

http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/maxima-acuna/

April 2016

A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Máxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own property, a plot of land sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine.

Peru’s race for mining

Over the past two decades, the mining industry in Peru has been growing at breakneck speed. With promises of jobs and economic prosperity, the Peruvian government awarded mining licenses across the country. Despite these promises, rural campesinos, who were rarely consulted in the development of mining projects, largely continue to live in poverty. In many communities, mining waste has polluted the local waterways, affecting local people’s drinking water and irrigation needs.

In the northern Peruvian highlands of Cajamarca, where almost half of the region’s land has been given away in mining concessions, Colorado-based Newmont, along with Peruvian mining company Buenaventura, owns and operates the Yanacocha Mine. It is one of the largest—and at its height, one of the most profitable—open-pit gold and copper mines in the world.

As the company tapped out the deposit, it began looking for expansion options. In 2010, it proposed developing a new mine to extract a gold deposit just 10 miles away from Yanacocha. The project, dubbed the Conga Mine, called for draining four nearby lakes. One of these, known as Laguna Azul, would be turned into a waste storage pit, threatening the headwaters of five watersheds and Cajamarca’s páramo ecosystem, a high-altitude biologically diverse wetland.

A peaceful life, interrupted

In 1994, Máxima Acuña and her husband bought a plot of land in a remote corner of Peru’s northern highlands known as Tragadero Grande. They built a small house on the property and lived a peaceful life raising their children. The family lived off the potatoes and other crops they grew, and kept sheep and cows for milk and cheese. Occasionally, she made the long trek into town to sell vegetables, dairy, and woolen handicrafts. Acuña never learned to read or write, but she understood that the land was her lifeblood.

One day in 2011, the mining company came to the Acuñas’ door, demanding that she leave her land. When Acuña refused, she was met with brutality. Armed forces came and destroyed her house and possessions, and beat her and one of her daughters unconscious.

The persecution continued. The company sued the family in a provincial court, which found them guilty of illegally squatting on their own land. Acuña was sentenced to a suspended prison term of almost three years, and fined nearly $2,000—a huge sum for a subsistence farmer in Peru.
Traumatized, homeless, but undeterred

Acuña sought legal help from GRUFIDES, an environmental NGO in Cajamarca that was representing local community members in cases against mining companies. With help from her attorney, Mirtha Vásquez, she appealed the ruling and began gathering documents such as her land title that proved she held legitimate property rights to the land claimed by Newmont.

In December 2014, the courts ruled in Acuña’s favor. Her prison sentence was overturned and the court halted her eviction. As a result of this legal victory, the Conga mine has been kept out of Tragadero Grande. Newmont has been unable to move forward with any mining in the area around Laguna Azul.

Acuña continues to face threats and harassment from the mining company and its militarized security contractors. The mining company has built a fence around Acuña’s land, restricting her ability to move about freely. They have destroyed her potato crops, and maintain a close watch on her property to prevent her from planting more. Meanwhile, the legal fight continues to play out in the Peruvian Supreme Court, with more appeals and lawsuits a near certainty.

Despite the trauma and exhaustion, Acuña maintains a remarkable sense of optimism in her continued fight for justice. She has become widely known throughout Latin America for her inspirational courage in standing up against a multinational mining company. The Conga mine has not moved forward. The community has rallied behind Máxima and her victory has brought new life to the struggle to defend Cajamarca’s páramos, water supplies, and people from large-scale gold mining.


Community opposition forces Newmont to mothball Peruvian Conga mine proposal

World’s 2nd largest gold miner removes proposal from list of reserves in SEC filing after key permits expire.

Earthworks and SumOfUS

https://www.earthworksaction.org/media/detail/community_opposition_forces_newmont_to_mothball_peruvian_conga_mine_proposa#.VxKiPEd1fIU

14 April 2016

Cajamarca, Peru & Washington, D.C. -- Newmont (NYSE: NEM) -- the world’s 2nd largest gold mining company -- removed the Conga mine in northern Peru from its list of reserve assets in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Local communities opposing the proposed mine, and the international coalition that supports them, welcomed this announcement.

The Denver-based company’s 2016 10-K filing declared: “Under the current social and political environment, the Company does not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future.”

Conga is a US$4.8 billion gold and copper deposit located in northern Peru’s Cajamarca province. Newmont proposed developing Conga in 2010 near its existing Yanacocha project, Latin America’s largest gold mine. The project threatened 4 mountain lakes in these arid Andean highlands, and drew significant opposition from the local community. Mine construction was suspended in late 2011 after lengthy protests.  With key construction permits having expired, Newmont has de-listed the deposit from its reserves.

“We are happy that Newmont has finally faced facts and abandoned Conga,” said Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, who has been embroiled in a struggle with the multinational mining company for control of her land. She continued, “The fact is our way of life, and the clean water we need to sustain it, is more important to us than Newmont’s new gold mine ever could be. We know from Newmont’s Yanacocha mine that, no matter their promises, we can’t have both the mine and our way of life.”

Ms. Acuña de Chaupe gained international attention over her struggle to maintain control of her land in the face of legal threats and violence from Newmont’s subsidiary, Minera Yanacocha, and its hired security forces.

“By taking the Conga mine off the table, Newmont is honoring its stated commitment to respect community consent,",  said Earthworks Mining Program Director Payal Sampat. She continued, “That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Newmont must immediately call off the security forces and lawsuits that threaten and harass Máxima and her community.“

In April 2015, Earthworks, and EarthRights International attended Newmont’s shareholder meeting along with Cajamarca-based NGO Grufides to deliver a petition of more than 150,000 signatures generated by the global corporate watchdog SumOfUs.org in support of Máxima. The petition is part of a much-larger international effort to convince Newmont to respect local community opposition to the Conga proposal.

“We applaud Newmont for mothballing its misguided Conga mine proposal,”  said Angus Wong, lead digital strategist for SumOfUs.org. “This globally important decision occurred only after years of local opposition against a multi-million dollar corporate interest and a groundswell of international support, but the work is not over yet.  SumOfUs members around the world will continue to speak out against Newmont and other Conga mine backers until Máxima, her family, and her community are left in peace.”


Community opposition forces Newmont to abandon Conga project in Peru
 
Cecilia Jamasmie

Mining.com

18 April 2016
 
Newmont Mining Corp's, the world's 2nd largest gold miner, is walking way from its $5 billion Conga copper and gold project in Peru after year of relentless community opposition.

In its annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Colorado-based miner said that due to current social and political conditions, the company “did not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future.”

While Newmont acknowledges that local opposition was an important factor in their decision, a company's spokesman noted there were many other factors involved.

“At the end of the day, our decision to reclassify Conga’s reserves as resources was a business decision triggered by certain operating and construction permits expiring at the end of 2015, uncertain prospects for future development and permitting and market conditions,” he told MINING.com.

Locals welcomed the news, which granted Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña de Chaupe the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Acuña, who has been at the forefront of the opposition against the Conga project since it was first proposed in 2010, said in a statement she only has one more wish. “I want to return to the peaceful life I had on my land with my family for almost 20 years.”

Newmont decided to halt construction work at the project in November 2011, after violent protests led by governor Gregorio Santos forced the country's government to declare a state of emergency.

Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has won the Goldman Environmental Prize after Newmont removed its proposed Conga gold mine in northern Peru from its list of reserves in its annual filing with the SEC. (Image provided)
Minera Yanacocha, one of the two local companies working with Newmont in the now mothballed project, tried hard to win local support, but was unable to secure it.

Social pressure continued in the following years, to the point that Peru’s government had to hire international consultants to determine the viability of a revised water strategy proposed by Newmont. Eventually, authorities decided to order a suspension of all work at the site, except for the construction of water reservoirs.

Conga, which had the potential to generate up to 350,000 ounces of gold and 120 million pounds of copper a year, during its 19-year life, was going to be built by Newmont’s existing Yanacocha mine, Latin America’s largest gold operation.

Newmont will hold its annual shareholders’ meeting in Delaware on April 20.


Peruvian farmer wins David-and-Goliath battle against US mining giant

Oliver Balch

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/apr/21/peru-farmer-wins-battle-newmont-mining-corporation?CMP=share_btn_tw

21 April 2016

As owner of some of the largest and most lucrative gold mines in the world, Newmont Mining Corporation is used to getting its own way. Not in Peru though. In a David-and-Goliath battle, community activists have, so far, succeeded in seeing off the creation of a $5bn (£3.8bn) open-caste mine next to a pristine lake.

At the centre of that battle is Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a 47 year-old subsistence farmer who owns an 60-acre plot of land precisely where Newmont’s local joint-venture, Yanacocha, wants to dig. Acuña’s refusal to sell up, despite huge pressure and persistent threats, has effectively stalled the proposed Conga mine. A spokesperson for Newmont has said that it does not anticipate developing the mine in the foreseeable future.

As Newmont’s shareholders gather at the corporation’s Denver, US, headquarters, mother-of-four Acuña has been in San Francisco to receive the prestigious Goldman Environment prize. Of the prize’s six winners this year, she is among three involved in resisting land grabs by private companies – a stark indication of the rise in land-related conflicts around the world.

Acuña’s resistance is testimony to her own resilience. Her refusal to sell up has resulted in claims of physical assault, surveillance and being taken to court multiple times. Despite judicial support for her land claim, Newmont’s joint venture has “peacefully” destroyed all her crops twice in the last few months.

But, with all due respect to Acuña’s dogged determination, responsibility for stopping a multibillion-dollar mine does not fall to her efforts alone. Credit must also be given to the network of national and international campaign groups that have mobilised in support of her cause over recent years.

“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.

Such solidarity expresses itself in a variety of ways. A human rights observer working for the Belgian charity Catapa recently spent a month at Acuña’s family home working as a human rights observer. The charity also ran a successful cowfunding campaign late last year to raise money to buy Acuña’s some cows to supplement her income.

Another charity coming to the aid of small landowners such as Acuña is Front Line Defenders. This Dublin-based campaign group offers grants of up to €7,500 (£5,907) to cover the cost of satellite phones, CCTV, temporary rehousing and other measures required for landowner’s personal security. It also offers training to build up the campaigning and communications’ capacities of local non-profits.

“One of the tactics that they [corporations] use is to divide and conquer by pitting communities against one another. And because a lot of these communities aren’t plugged in technologically, it’s very easy for misinformation and disinformation to spread,” says Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at Front Line Defenders.

Direct advocacy is another way international non-profit groups can have influence. This time last year, Acuña’s lawyer Vasquez attended Newmont’s annual shareholder meeting at the invitation of the charities Earthworks and EarthRights International. Similarly, Frontline Defenders has brought Acuña’s case to the attention of institutions such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Raising international awareness and public support is arguably where the impact of global solidarity networks really kicks in. In the age of the internet and social media, the ability for marginalised voices to be quickly amplified is vast. In February last year, for example, Acuña’s story was tweeted, shared on Facebook and emailed as part of a World Day of Action dedicated to her.

Social media has revolutionised the reach of campaign groups, says Hannibal Rhoades, European co-ordinator for Yes to Life, No to Mining, a global coalition of 55 charities and non-profit networks. “A good newspaper article could be shared maybe 10,000 times, say, but if you get a video out there [online] that touches a cord and is used at the right time you can get millions of views,” he says.

Global corporations are litigious beasts, however, and can be quick to sue land rights activists for defamation. Getting your facts right is therefore essential. Leng Ouch, another winner of this year’s Goldman Environment prize, has dedicated most of his adult life to precisely that end: digging up hard data on corporate collusion that is leading to the destruction of Cambodia’s rainforest.


Goldman prize winner: 'I will never be defeated by the mining companies'

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe has won a major environmental prize for defending her land from the biggest gold-mining project in South America

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/19/goldman-prize-winner-i-will-never-be-defeated-by-the-mining-companies

19 April 2016

Environmental activism may not have been what Maxima Acuña de Chaupe had in mind when in 2011 she refused to sell her 60-acre plot of land to the biggest gold-mining project in South America.

She did not belong to any movement or organisation but she doggedly held on to her land in spite of her claims of beatings, death threats, intimidation and court proceedings, becoming a symbol of resistance in her native Peru and above all its northern region of Cajamarca which rejected the $4.8bn Conga gold mine after five demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police in 2012.

In 2011, the Peruvian government granted a 7,400-acre mining concession for the Conga Mine to US-firm Newmont Mining, the majority shareholder, and Peruvian mining company Buenaventura. The plan was to mine two freshwater lakes for gold and copper while draining two more to use as dumps for toxic mining tailings.

But Maxima Acuña - and the farm where she grows potatoes and rears guinea pigs - stood in the way.

The Goldman prize – the world’s most prestigious environmental award - is in recognition of the courage she has shown in so far preventing the mine from destroying the two highland lagoons, her farm, and the supply of fresh water for thousands more people.

“In Cajamarca, we know what mines can do. In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future,” she told the Guardian. Since refusing to sell her home she claims she has been constantly spied on by Peruvian police working as security contractors for the mine; she and her daughter have twice been beaten unconscious and her home twice demolished.

She recalls the first time: “I was grabbed my six police men, three on each arm grabbed me from behind and they beat with their batons, they threw me to the ground then beat my son, who was taking photos, on the arms and chest and took away his cell phone.

“The special forces police hit my daughter in the head with the butt of the machine gun. Four of them cornered my youngest son and pointed their machine guns at him, warning him not to shout, not to call out, not to try and run,” she said.

In a bid to evict her, Newmont took Acuña to court in 2012 accusing her of illegally squatting on the land which it claims to have bought. The local court ruled in Newmont’s favour, giving Acuña and her family a suspended prison sentence of almost three years and a fine of nearly $2,000 - a large sum for a subsistence farmer in Peru.

Acuña appealed the decision in 2014, arguing that they had owned the land since 1994. A higher court lifted the criminal charges against Acuña and Newmont was ordered to stop its eviction proceedings.

But, the issue of land ownership was not settled and Acuña continues to be summoned to a local court accused of illegally squatting on the mine’s land, says her lawyer Mirtha Vasquez, of local NGO Grufides. Mine security personnel intimidate bus drivers not to allow her or any of her family onto their buses, forcing them to walk for up to eight hours to nearest town, she claimed.

As recently as February this year she says thugs raided her home, destroying her crops and slitting her dog’s throat. It survived after emergency veterinary treatment. She says that after living with intimidation and harassment for more than five years she says she feel “energised and encouraged to know there are people standing beside me”.

“I never had the chance to go the school, I never had to chance to learn even a letter but I know how to resist, to fight and that’s why I will never be defeated by the mining companies,” she said.

A spokesperson for Newmont said that it no longer anticipates developing the mine in the foreseeable future, and that several of the allegations made against it are “just factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.”

In a series of documents, it said that the dog appeared to have been injured by barbed wire and not by company personnel, the company had removed potatoes from its property but not the family’s land, and it says it has acted lawfully, in the presence of Peruvian police, removing illegal structures from its land.

It said it was not monitoring the family with a video camera it had installed as it was not facing their building, but it was monitoring company property following a number of incidents of vandalism and theft. Newmont said that it had acted in good faith showing respect to neighbouring communities and there is no evidence of violence having been used against the Chaupe family.

“Regretfully, despite repeated direct and indirect attempts, we have not succeeded in securing agreement from the Chaupe family or civil society organisations to establish a dialogue to reach a resolution. However, we will continue to seek ways to establish good-faith dialogue,” the company says in the documents.

At least 61 activists have been killed in Peru over the last decade, with almost 80% of deaths related to mining, according to human rights NGO Global Witness, making the country the fifth most dangerous place to be an environmental activist.

Peru recently weakened its environmental laws in order to boost mining investment. It also made it easier for the police and army to get away with killings by reducing their criminal responsibility if they cause injury or death on duty.

“The miners are taking the gold from Cajamarca but that gold is bathed in blood, so many tears have been shed by poor people here, people have been killed for defending the water and the land. The miners don’t assume their responsibility for that,” Acuña said.

Information revealed through the investigative efforts of Ouch and his colleagues at the Cambodia Human Rights Task Force contributed to a national moratorium on new land concessions in forest areas. It also helped mobilise international campaign groups such as Global Witness to launch investigations of their own.

The law can be used in support of land rights activists as well as against them. Acuña’s ability to prove the legality of her land claim in court is what’s fundamentally prevented her eviction. All too often marginalised groups lack secure land rights, however, leaving them vulnerable to counterclaims by companies.


One woman’s victory against a mining giant in Peru

http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2016/04/27/one-womans-victory-against-a-mining-giant-in-peru/

27 April 2016

Máxima Acuña has just won the Goldman Prize for her resistance against a gold mine – but why are women’s bodies on the frontlines of resistance to extractivism? asks Sian Cowman.

Máxima Acuña, a farmer from Peru’s northern highlands, recently won the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize for her resistance against the mining consortium Yanacocha in Cajamarca, Peru.

At the prize acceptance ceremony in San Francisco on 18 April, in lieu of a speech Máxima sang her story: ‘Because I defend my lakes, they want to take my life.’

Yanacocha is the largest gold mine in Latin America and fourth largest in the world, operating since 1993. The mine is now owned by the US Newmont Mining Corporation, a Peruvian mining company, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Gold mining causes ‘toxic mine drainage’ – when you break up rock that’s been underground for a long time chemical reactions cause it to release toxic metals and acids. And at Yanacocha cyanide-laced water is used to separate the gold from the rock.

Locals have been complaining for years of contaminated water and the disappearance of fish in the rivers, lakes and streams. Reinhard Seifert, an environmental engineer who spent years investigating the effects of the Yanacocha mine on the area’s water quality found traces of lead, arsenic, cyanide and mercury in the drinking water, linked to the rising rates of gastrointestinal cancer amongst residents of Cajamarca.

One Woman’s Story of Resistance

In 2011, Yanacocha bought up lands in Cajamarca in order to expand their operations into a new mine, Conga. Yanacocha claims legal ownership of Máxima’s land while Máxima says she never sold any of her land to the company, and the land deeds bear her name.

Quoted in these pages in 2012, Máxima said: ‘I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure… Are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?’

The Conga mine had plans to dry up five lakes, including the one that Máxima’s land borders. It became the highest profile environmental conflict in Peru amongst an estimated 200 such conflicts in 2012, with several deaths of defenders at the hands of the police.

In 2012, Yanacocha sued Máxima and her family for alleged illegal occupation of their own land, and the court ruled in Yanacocha’s favour. The judge sentenced four members of the family to suspended jail sentences, which were then overturned in December 2014 with a verdict that saw Máxima victorious against Yanacocha’s claim to her land.

The family had already suffered numerous eviction attempts and physical violence on their property, and after the 2014 verdict things intensified. On 3 February 2015, agents from the Peruvian police special operations division and private security forces destroyed parts of Máxima’s house that were undergoing construction. One year later, and the family was still suffering intimidation: on 5 February 2016 Máxima’s home was again stormed by security forces, this time to destroy her crop of potatoes.

But since then, the company has said ‘We do not anticipate development of Conga for the foreseeable future,’ a statement which has been hailed as a victory for Máxima and those who are resisting Conga.

What Does Extractivism Mean In Latin America?

Sadly, this story is not unique to Cajamarca. Mining for minerals such as gold, silver and copper is common across the continent – Latin America consistently tops the global list for mining exploration, and in 2014 had one of the largest shares of total global exploration budget, at over 26 per cent. Fossil fuel extraction shows a similar picture. In 2011, the Latin American Energy Organization released figures that placed Latin America as the region with the second largest oil reserves after the Middle East, with 20 per cent of global reserves.

This kind of mining and fossil fuel exploitation is referred to as extractivism in Latin American contexts. It is the base of many Latin American neoliberal economies such as in Peru and Colombia. In countries like Ecuador and Bolivia, it’s referred to as neo-extractivism – when government taxes from extractive activities are invested into health and education programs.

But the meaning of extractivism is not just about extraction: it is also about the conditions under which extraction takes place, and in whose interests. In Latin America, the conditions are often situated within a rural and/or indigenous context. This means communities in these areas live principally off the land and are subject to the forces of nature to access water and grow crops, forces of nature that become distorted by extractive activities and ever more sharpened by climate change impacts.

Why Does Extractivism Affect Women More?

Because of socially assigned gender roles, women are often the principal caregivers of the family – responsible for growing or providing food – in the kinds of community contexts where extractivism usually takes place. And so when water is contaminated and/or scarcer, women feel the negative impacts more. The declaration from the 2014 Gathering of Women against Extractivism and Climate Change in Ecuador said that ‘the impacts of extractive activities alter the cycle of the reproduction of life, whose regeneration falls on the shoulders of women.’ The altering of natural cycles, such as the contamination of water near the Yanacocha mine, manifests as more work in women’s lives.

The impacts of extractivism on women not only include an increased burden to the work women do to provide food and water to their families, but permeate deep into the social fabric of communities. At the gathering on extractivism in Ecuador, women gave testimonies: ‘When the mining and fossil fuel companies come to our territories they cause huge problems, they break the social weave and replace it with conflict in families, division in the communities, and confrontation between us.’

In these situations, the gendered divisions of labour show up in starker relief as men take on jobs in the industry. The local economy now revolves more around the masculinized wage labour in the mine and reduces importance of the shared economy of caring for the practical and emotional needs of the community. The existing gender divide of labour creates power imbalances, worsened by extractivism: as ‘women’s work’ mostly goes unpaid, the waged work in the mine that men can access lends increased power to men’s voices in the community (though they also suffer from extractivism in a dangerous, unhealthy, exploitative workplace).

Extractivism breaks the social fabric of communities in other, more violent, ways. As respected Uruguayan environmental analyst Eduardo Gudynas writes: ‘There is no such thing as neutral or inoffensive extractivism…Violence is always present in one way or another, ending up affecting above all the weakest, the local communities, especially campesino small farmers and indigenous groups.’

The violence permeates the entire community, but affects women particularly because of gender-based violence. Melissa Wong Oveido, a representative of the Latin American Union of Women (ULAM, a regional network of women affected by extractive activities and policies), quoted in El País said:

‘In Latin America psychological, physical and environmental violence against indigenous, rural and Afro-descendent women on the part of extractive industries is on the rise. Women are dispossessed of their lands; they are victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.’

Rising Up In Resistance

With the upswing in extractive projects in Latin America and its negative impacts on local communities there’s been a corresponding rise in socio-environmental conflict on the continent. Resisting extractive projects is a dangerous business, and more land and environmental defenders died in 2014 in Latin America than anywhere else in the world, with 88 out of 114 total recorded deaths.

More and more women are joining and leading resistance movements: and as women, this comes with certain risks linked to their gender. In a comprehensive 2015 report (PDF) on criminalization of women environmental defenders in the Americas, the authors state that:

‘In all of the cases presented women suffered an attack linked to their gender: rape threats, public shaming linked to sex and sexuality, harassment of several types, and infamies against their honour. These attacks prevent women from developing their activism in surroundings favourable to the rights of people, of territory, and of nature.’

It might not be immediately apparent why the intimidation in Máxima’s case is particular to her being a woman. But when women resist extractivism, they become easier targets for retaliation by those in power. For example, they are less likely than men to have the resources to deal with court cases – as Máxima herself has said, she is illiterate. For a woman who doesn’t have the title deed to her land, as Máxima has, the outcome is likely to be dispossession. And much of the intimidation that Máxima has suffered focused on destruction to her home and crops - women’s traditional domain, and Máxima’s source of income.

Violence Against Women Is Linked To Violence Against The Earth

Women feel negative impacts of extractivism more because of their roles as caregivers. But there are more subtleties at play here: why are women obliged to take care of the family, the home, the sick, and children? Similarly, why is the earth obliged to be a provider of ‘environmental services’; to give up its buried riches to profit transnationals? The logic of exploitation of women’s work and of the earth is the same: they are resources to be profited from. The struggles of women to free themselves from the cycle of unpaid labour as caregivers are linked to the struggles to protect the earth from desperate over-exploitation.

There is another subtlety. Extractivism is inherently violent, and tears not only at the earth but at the fabric of whole communities. Women already experience everyday gender-based violence, which is exacerbated by extractivism with impacts such as sexual harassment from migrant workers. But when women resist in their communities, the violence they already face increases: it is used as a tactic against them.

Máxima’s refusal to bow to the intimidation she faces because of her struggle only increased the violence against her. But she, like so many women, is not going to give up the fight. Máxima’s connection to her land underlies her decision to fight the corporation. As she said to El País: ‘I won’t be quiet. I know they’ll come after me and they’re going to disappear me. But on the land I was born and on the land I’ll die.’


Gold beneath the waters

Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña wins Goldman Environmental Prize while fighting for her land

By Angela K. Evans

http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/gold-beneath-the-waters/

26 May 2016

When the Spanish came to the Cajamarca region of Peru looking for gold, they found the vast Incan empire instead. By 1532, Francisco Pizzaro and his men had captured the last indigenous emperor, taken his gold, and the Spanish conquest of the Incas was all but complete.

According to myth, however, the Incas hid some of their wealth in nearby lakes, counting on spirits living in the water to protect the gold.

Centuries later, these lakes are still the cultural and spiritual epicenter for the indigenous campisenos who survive as subsistence farmers nearby. And in recent years, four lakes above Cajamarca have been threatened once again by foreigners looking for gold.

Máxima Acuña lives in the hills above Cajamarca, roughly 500 miles north of Lima, in the heart of the Andes. Along with her husband, four children and granddaughter, Acuña spends her days cultivating the land and tending to her sheep, making daily walks to Laguna Azul and the other three lakes nearby.

“I walk around nature, I love being here with my plants, my animals, being outside. I go walk down to the lakes,” she says in a translated email to Boulder Weekly. “The lakes are life. The water, nature, environment is life. We go down to the lakes, drink the water, we use the water for everything, the lakes give life to everyone here.”

Acuña and her family live and work a 60-acre plot of land in Tragadero Grande, claiming they purchased the property in 1994 with the land deed to prove it. But Denver-based Newmont Mining Company, along with its Peruvian partner Minas Buenaventura, says it purchased the Tragadero Grande land in 1996/97 from the Sorochuco community, with plans to access the gold buried beneath the lakes by developing the $4.8 billion Conga mine.

An ongoing land dispute has ensued, gaining both national and international attention, most notably when Acuña received the Goldman Environmental Prize on April 18.

“I am a woman from the highlands who lives in the mountain ranges/Tending to my sheep in mist and heavy rain/ When my dog barked, the police arrived,” Acuña sang at the Goldman awards ceremony. A woman short in stature, her traditional wide-brimmed hat barely rising above the podium, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sang. “My hut, they burned down/My things, they took away/Food, I did not eat only water I drank/A bed, I did not have with hay I covered myself/Because I defend my lakes, they want to take my life.”

Acuña has told her story countless times — police arriving at her door, destroying her crops, beating her and her family, threatening them unless they vacate the land. She says they continue to threaten her, at one point almost killing her dog, and continue to destroy her property while also maintaining a fence around her plot, causing her to feel trapped on her own land. She says the police (sometimes calling them “thugs”) are working at the behest of the mining companies.

“Here in Peru there is a law that permits the companies to hire the police as their private security forces,” says Ximena Warnaars, Amazon program coordinator for EarthRights International, a nonprofit seeking to protect both human rights and the environment through legal actions and advocacy campaigns. “That is also one of the issues … When are the police working as a civil servants and when are they working as private security?”

While Acuña and her family maintain the mining company burned their house and took their belongings, Newmont argues the family is illegally squatting on the land. In 2011, local courts ruled on the side of Newmont, charging Acuña and her husband with aggravated usurpation, or taking land through the use of force. She was sentenced to almost three years in prison, charged a reparation fine of almost $2,000 and was issued an order of eviction. Through a variety of appeals, a judge in Cajamarca later ruled there was no evidence that Acuña and her family committed a crime and overturned the order of eviction in 2014. But Newmont has appealed to the Peruvian Supreme Court, says Omar Jabara from Newmont’s corporate communications office in Denver, and land ownership has yet to be determined.

The company first proposed the nearby Conga mine project in 2010 with plans to significantly alter four mountain lakes in order to access the gold buried beneath the waters. Newmont and Buenaventura already operate the nearby Yanacocha mine, South America’s largest open pit gold mine producing roughly 471,000 ounces of gold a year. The Conga mine was expected to yield 680,000 ounces of gold and 235 million pounds of copper each year.

“Two lakes would’ve had to been relocated. Essentially the water would have been moved into a new reservoir and there were two lakes that would’ve been expanded,” Jabara says. The company has already spent $20 million in order to expand Chailhuagon Lake into a reservoir. The Chailhuagon Reservoir now provides water to the community year-round, where as the lake didn’t produce enough water to sustain the six month dry season, Jabara says.

“The plan was to quadruple the volume of water to make up for the relocating of the lakes,” he says. “Part of the plan was to expand the available water capacity from what it was as an improved benefit so that local communities would gain some benefits from the mine.”

However, opponents of the project say Acuña’s beloved Laguna Azul would have been drained and turned into a waste storage pit, threatening significant headwaters and the surrounding wetland ecosystem. The community has also resisted the mine’s development.

As Newmont began the process of environmental studies and permitting through Peru’s Ministry of the Environment, a small community of local farmers calling themselves the Guardians of the Lakes began holding vigils in 2012, funded in small part by Boulder’s Global Greengrants Fund (GGF). Acuña and her family often joined the protests.

“She doesn’t really aspire to be a leader or be a political figure,”Warnaars says about Acuña. “She’s just a farmer who is protecting her land. She’s just become a symbol for all of Peru of these struggles.”

The Guardians of the Lakes also organized a national march in opposition to the project, with support of the regional government,Warnaars says. Along with her work at EarthRights, Warnaars is also an advisor for Andes Board at GGF.

“People walked from Cajamarca all the way to Lima demanding that water be protected,” she says. “This water march was national and it was really strategic that people mobilized not around being anti-mining but being in favor of protecting their water. So with this kind of discourse they were able to gain loads of support from different organizations and communities, even people in the outskirts of Lima who have issues with water. It brought a lot of attention to the issues related to Conga.”

In addition to water issues, the proposed Conga mine has also raised questions of indigenous peoples’ rights under international law. Although the people of the Amazon region of Peru are recognized as indigenous, with certain rights and privileges such as consultation over land use,Warnaars says the people of the Andes don’t have the same recognition, as they identify more with their cultural lifestyle than with their indigenous ethnicity.

“They’d rather recognize themselves through activity as farmers,” she says. “But their identity as farmers doesn’t obviously have the same weight as being indigenous people under the law.

“The farming communities in Cajamarca have a difficult time saying they are indigenous and these are our rights,” she continues. “The government also has a difficulty recognizing them as indigenous people even though there are certain laws that could be interpreted in that way. In this kind of situation, the only thing that people have living there is the titles to their land and this is what Maxima has.”

While Newmont continues to contest land ownership through the courts, the company announced in February 2016 that the Conga mine project would be suspended, with no foreseeable plans to develop the site further amidst the social backlash and in light of expiring permits.

“Conditions for moving forward with the project would need to be securing social acceptance, project economics and bringing in a third partner to help pay for the cost and defray risks,” Jabara says. “Without those conditions, we’re not moving forward with the project.”

While this is seen as a victory for the indigenous and environmental communities, Acuña’s fight is far from over. Regardless, she’s said she will continue her struggle against corporate power, although she’d rather go back to living peacefully on her land.

“I feel proud and the [Goldman] Prize gave me more courage and encouragement so that we don’t have to feel fear anymore,” she says. “I am hopeful to have peace and tranquility, and to continue defending life, nature, water.”

 

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