- The Judiciary indicates that the sentence that acquits the Chaupe Acuña family of the crime of encroachment is indisputable.
- There are two judicial processes under Máxima Acuña’s case: the criminal one that referred to the aggravated encroachment which already finished; and the civil one regarding the ownership of the disputed land.
- Yanacocha’s vice president Javier Velarde said they will respect the Judiciary’s judgment, but will continue to pursue property rights through pending civil lawsuits before the courts.
LIMA, Peru – The Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Peru acquitted Máxima Acuña and her family of the crime of aggravated encroachment of the land known as Tragadero Grande, in the community of Sorochuco, Cajamarca region. The lawsuit was brought by the mining company Yanacocha in 2011.
Yanacocha asserted that they owned the land in dispute—close to the Conga mining project—while Máxima Acuña showed the sales contract as proof of land ownership.
In 2014, a second-instance ruling by the courts of Cajamarca (the Superior Court of Cajamarca) declared Máxima Acuña and other members of her family, such as Jaime Chaupe Lozano, Ysidora Chaupe Acuña and Elías Chávez Rodríguez, innocent of aggravated criminal encroachment. The mining company filed an appeal to declare the ruling null and void. The judgment of May 3 stated that the appeal was unfounded.
In 2016, Máxima Acuña won the Goldman Prize, known as the Green Nobel, “for defending her right to live peacefully on her property,” as stated on the international award website. Since 2011, Máxima Acuña, a farmer and environmental activist, has battled mining company Yanacocha to defend her land, which adjoins a lake, Laguna Azul, a source of water for the peasant community of Sorochuco in Cajamarca. With the defense of Tragadero Grande, Acuña protects the ecosystem and the water resource for the local population.
For María Elena Foronda, president of Peru’s Congressional Commission on the Environment, Ecology and Andean, Amazonian and Afroperuvian Peoples, the sentence issued by the Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court sets an important precedent. “As a congresswoman who is vigilant for the rights of the Andean peoples and the environment, I receive reports every day from community members who are sued by extractive companies when they try to defend their territory. This ruling establishes a precedent that in Peru justice can still be done,” Foronda told Mongabay-Latam.
Juan Carlos Ruiz Molleda, a lawyer at the Legal Defense Institute (IDL), told Mongabay-Latam that the ruling of the Supreme Court has established a significant legal recourse in defense of the environment, but there is still no legal basis to prove that Acuña is the owner of Tragadero Grande.
Ruiz Molleda explained that there are two judicial processes under Máxima Acuña’s case: the criminal one that referred to the aggravated encroachment which already finished; and the civil one regarding the ownership of the disputed land.
“Today’s ruling does not prove that Máxima legally owns the property in litigation, that is seen under a civil procedure which has no ruling yet. Today’s sentence is regarding the crime of land encroachment,” he explained.
The Judiciary indicates that the sentence that acquits the Chaupe Acuña family of the crime of encroachment is indisputable. “Judgment of the Máxima Acuña case, issued by the Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, has a definitive character in an ordinary national procedure,” as detailed in the official Twitter account of the Judiciary.
“The sentence can be challenged through a protective action that shows that the alleged occupation affected a fundamental right, but there is no basis for that, there is no evidence,” continued Ruiz Molleda.
Yanacocha indicates through a statement that although a sentence has been issued in the criminal judicial process for encroachment of land, it does not determine that Máxima Acuña and her family are property owners of Tragadero Grande.
Yanacocha’s vice president Javier Velarde said they will respect the Judiciary’s judgment, but will continue to defend property rights through pending civil lawsuits before the courts. “We will also continue to work towards a fair and lasting solution to this land dispute through dialogue with the Chaupe family.”
Banner photo by Red Muqui
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on May 3, 2017.