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Peru’s Goldman Prize winner Máxima Acuña denounces attack

  • On the morning of September 18, Máxima Acuña and her husband were attacked and injured by Yanacocha’s security guards.
  • The mining company claims they entered the property and removed Acuña’s crop field because it invaded a portion of Yanacocha’s territory.
  • The international community and the National Human Rights Coordinator have called for prompt action by the Peruvian state to protect the safety of Acuña’s family.
  • Acuña was named the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner after her peaceful defense of the land she purchased in Cajamarca and for stopping Yanacocha mining company from extracting copper and gold as part of its Conga project.

An attack on Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, farmer and environmental activist, took place on her property the morning of September 18.

“She has fainted!” are the last words heard in a video recorded by Yanacocha’s security personnel. According to the video, between 15 and 20 security guards of Yanacocha mining company — owned and operated by Colorado-based Newmont Mining and Peruvian Buenaventura mining company — entered Acuña’s property. While part of the security team dealt with Acuña and her husband, Jaime Chaupe, who were protesting the guards’ intrusion, the other removed a 200-square-meter crop field where the family planted potatoes and yucca. Yanacocha claims the family is illegally occupying the field.

Back in 2011, Máxima Acuña defended the land she purchased in Peru’s Cajamarca region – an area in the northern highlands known as Tragadero Grande – against Yanacocha mining company. Yanacocha claimed to own the land and went to trial with Acuña in order to extract copper and gold as part of its Conga project. In December 2014, she won the legal battle and asserted her right to her land and halted the Conga Mine operating in Tragadero Grande.

In total, 80 people entered the Chaupe-Acuña property on September 18, according to Julia Ortega, manager of Grufides, a Peruvian non-profit that defends human rights and the environment and has legally advised the Chaupe-Acuña family for the past five years when the dispute over the ownership of the land began.

As seen in the video, when the married couple saw people on their crop field, located 300 meters from their house, they scared them away, shouting, throwing stones, and using slingshots. Meanwhile, the security personnel blocked the attack, shielding themselves while circling the couple until they surrounded them.

In the ensuing struggle, Acuña suffered multiple contusions to her body and her clothes were ripped apart by the security guards’ shields, which impacted on her body multiple times.

“Even though in the video we can observe 15 members of Yanacocha security guards, in reality, 80 people were involved in Máxima Acuña’s assault. Along with her husband she peacefully approached the staff that destroyed her crops to figure out what was going on, that’s when the security guards started to attack them,” Ortega told Mongabay Latam.

According to an official statement from Yanacocha released after the incident, the mine’s security personnel exercised “possessory defense removing seeds peacefully (…) The company is acting within its property and in defense of their rights, and protecting the physical integrity and human rights of our workers and Chaupe family members, who do not have legal authorization to expand their activities inside Yanacocha’s property. So the action today responds to the strict compliance of the law.”

Undercover police?

The video shows Yanacocha’s personnel carrying equipment similar to that used by the Peruvian National Police, prompting the family’s supporters to question the police’s role in the incident.

“This is not the first time they have attacked Máxima Acuña. However, this time, the attack is more questionable because the law states that these interventions must be accompanied by the police force; this was not the case. The security staff seen in the video could be confused with the police; something that should be clarified,” Ana Maria Vidal, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Coordinator of Human Rights of Peru, told Mongabay Latam.

Yanacocha private security personnel enter Máxima Acuña’s property. Photo courtesy of Mirtha Vásquez

Meanwhile, Peru’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Carlos Basombrío, stated on his Twitter account that the participation of the Peruvian National Police in private activities is illegal. Thus, Basombrío disavowed that the members of the police had joined Yanacocha’s security staff in attacking the Chaupe-Acuña family.

Carlos Basombrío, Minister of Internal Affairs, replies on Twitter.

Yanacocha corroborated this in a statement: “the prosecution and the National Police were not involved in this altercation because it is a civil action that can be performed by the company affected, within the time limits provided by the law (fifteen days after confirming the invasion, as indicated by the Article 920 of the Civil Code).”

Private security guards with shields. Photo courtesy of Mirtha Vásquez

More than five years of attacks

“Since 2011 my family has been the victim of physical and psychological abuse. We demand that the State take appropriate measures to halt the company’s [Yanacocha’s] activities. Guarantees or protective measures stay only on paper. It is not true that we were growing crops outside our property, as Yanacocha claims; our fields are inside the permitted area. They have no right to do this to us. First, they attack us and when my mother defends herself they record her to make her seem as an offender so they can then accuse her. Any charge against her is false,” Isidora Chaupe, Acuña and Chaupe’s eldest daughter, told local media.

The latest attack on Acuña took place despite precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ensuring the personal protection of the environmental leader since 2014.

“So we keep wondering where the State was to protect Chaupe’s family. She was battered and bruised. There is a systematic attack. We demand a thorough investigation of the altercation,” said Vidal.

International organizations, such as AIDA, Amazon Watch, and the Goldman Environmental Foundation, which awarded its 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize to Acuña, have spoken out on social media condemning the attack.

Yanacocha private security forces inside Máxima Acuña’s property. Photo courtesy of Mirtha Vásquez

According to Ortega of Grufides, Acuña was admitted to a hospital in the city of Cajamarca at 8 p.m. on Sunday, the day of the attack. At midnight she was discharged after being treated for contusions to her head, arms, chest, and legs. “She was given painkillers because she was in a state of shock. Now, she is with Grufides’ team of lawyers, who are preparing the complaint and the initiation of the investigation,” Ortega said.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on September 19, 2016.