This week we’re celebrating two momentous wins for environmental justice and human rights in Peru.
First, we’re toasting the victory of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a subsistence farmer from the Andean highlands of northern Peru, who has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her brave stand against Newmont, the mining company that has tried to evict her from her land to build the giant Conga gold and copper mine.
Second, we’re cheering the quiet announcement by Denver-based Newmont Mining, that its construction permits for the Conga mine have expired, forcing it to take the Conga mine off the table for now. Tucked away on page 22 of its 10K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is this sentence: “Under the current social and political environment, the Company does not anticipate being able to develop [the] Conga [mine] for the foreseeable future.”
Newmont’s heavy-handed community relations and its checkered environmental track record with its Yanacocha mine drew massive community opposition against Conga. Sustained protests and road-blocks drawing thousands of demonstrators resulted in Peru’s decision to suspend the project in late 2011.
Over the past 5 years, the company continued to try and take over land from local farmers and campesino communities. Key to the development of the mine was access to 4 mountain lakes.
Máxima and her family live by one of these lakes, the Laguna Azul, on an 18-acre plot of land in Tragedero Grande. They have steadfastly refused to move from their land despite the company’s persistent efforts. The company’s security forces used heavy-handed tactics to scare her off her land, including destroying their crops, demolishing portions of their home, and physical threats. Meanwhile, the company filed lawsuits against Máxima for trespassing on her own land – which Máxima won.
Máxima is considered a hero in Peru and across the continent for her undaunted resistance to one of the world’s largest mining companies. But she has suffered greatly for her resistance, and continues to. Her life and property continue to be at risk, and the company has threatened her with more lawsuits in Peruvian courts.
These lines in Newmont’s filing to the SEC in advance of its April 20th shareholders meeting are thus cause for celebration in Tragadero Grande, around Cajamarca and far beyond:
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.”
Now it’s time for the company to drop its lawsuits against Máxima and remove their security forces from her land. Its shareholders must insist that their investments not be used to harass poor communities – a strategy that has clearly backfired and hurt the company’s reputation and bottom line.
It’s time for Newmont to instead invest its time, energy and financial resources into figuring out what meaningful community engagement looks like everywhere it operates and to only move ahead with a project if affected communities have given it their free, prior and informed consent.
As for Máxima, she told us: “I have a simple wish. I want to return to the peaceful life I had on my land with my family for almost 20 years.” She added: “I hope that all who are in solidarity with me do not forget about our struggle and our fight.”
This is a big day for justice, but as Máxima says, the fight is not over.
We hope you will support Máxima’s legal defense fund if you are able, and stand in solidarity with Máxima in the next phase of her struggle. Máxima no está sola!