On the morning of Sept. 18, an altercation was reported between private security forces and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient Máxima Acuña on contested land in the Andes of Peru. While the her family reports the private security forces attacked Acuña and her husband Jamie Chaupe, the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation and its Peruvian subsidiary Minera Yanacocha, who hired the security personnel, claim no such beating occurred. As indigenous subsistence farmers, Acuña and her family have garnered international support in their land dispute with the mining company as it seeks to develop the Conga gold and copper mine project in the area.
“When Máxima and Jaime approached them and demanded they stop invading the property, the mining firm’s security staff violently attacked Máxima and Jaime, hitting Máxima in the head and body with a weapon, leaving her seriously hurt,” Ysidora Chaupe, Máxima and Jamie’s daughter, told the South American news outlet, TeleSur. Amnesty International confirmed Máxima received medical treatment for “a variety of injuries” as a result.
The international NGO, along with countless others including the Denver Peace and Justice Center and EarthRights International are calling on Newmont Mining to remove security forces from the land and end its harassment of the Chaupe family. Boulder-based Global Greengrants Fund points out that similar scenarios are playing out all around the world — and wherever they occur, the responsible parties should be brought to justice.
“The people who did this to Máxima and her family must be held accountable,” says Justine Reed, vice president of Global Greengrants Fund. “It is another reminder of the growing violence being perpetrated against people who stand up for their basic human rights to land, water and a healthy environment. The international community must challenge Goliath interests that sanction brutality against environmentalists all over the world.”
In a written statement to investors, the mining company denied any wrong-doing, saying the Chaupe family had illegally planted crops and the security forces were simply defending workers who were replanting the area with native grasses in an effort to protect its land rights on the plot of land that is not part of the legal dispute.
Furthermore, Minera Yanacocha released a 20-minute video of the confrontation which shows armed security guards outfitted in riot gear. “They made claims that Máxima and her family were severely beaten and that’s just not true, it’s false,” says Omar Jabara from Newmont’s corporate communications office in Denver. “If you watch the video, Ms. Chaupe (Acuña) and her husband are attacking the security personnel. They did not at any time strike the Chaupes.”
There are moments during the video when the Peruvian couple is not shown, but to argue this is when Acuña was being beaten defies logic, Jabara maintains.
“You can’t make the leap to say, ‘Well, she wasn’t on video therefore she was getting beaten,’” he says. “That’s kind of a stretch of logic.”
While Newmont continues to contest land ownership with Acuña in court, the company suspended the Conga mine project for the foreseeable future in February 2016. The mining company already operates the nearby Yanacocha mine, South America’s largest open pit gold mine.
Correction: This story previously included Global Greengrants Fund as one of the organizations calling for action by Newmont Mining Corporation. While the organization denounces the attack on Máxima and her family, it cannot speak to the guilt or innocence of Newmont in this situation.