Peruvian Farmworker Defeats US Multinational Mining Company

Date of publication: 
18 December 2014

Maxima Acuña, a farmworker from Cajamarca, has won a legal case against the U.S. based Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont is known in Peru by the name of its operations in the area, Yanacocha.

The company sued Maxima for alleged land invasion in an attempt to expel her and her family from her property. Yanacocha wanted her land in order to pursue their massive gold mining project, known as Conga.

Nevertheless, the Appeals Court of Justice of Cajamarca ruled in favor of Maxima, thus absolving her from the lawsuit.

Maxima built her home in 1994 on property she had purchased in front of the Blue Lagoon of Celendin.

In 2011, Yanacocha attempted to buy the land, but Maxima did not give in. The company is interested in her land because it is strategically located in front of the lake. The lake’s water is necessary for the mining operations.

Given that Conga is an open-pit mining project, the lake would have been detrimentally affected if Yanacocha had been successful in gaining access to Maxima’s land.

Open pit-mining is a technique whereby a massive hole is dug to extract mineral resources. However, approximately 70 pe cent of materials obtained during this process is waste. This technique therefore causes permanent damage to the ecosystem. Maxima’s refusal to sell her land thus helped to safeguard the Blue Lagoon.

The case was not easily won and went through many appeals. In August of this year, a judge sentenced four members of Maxima’s family to two years and eight months of suspended imprisonment for not vacating the land. The judge also ordered the family to pay close to US$2,000 in penalties. All of these verdicts were overruled this Wednesday with the absolution of Maxima and her family putting and end to the legal battle.

During the legal process, Maxima repeatedly claimed to have been a victim of police aggression. In January of 2013, approximately 60 agents from the Division of Special Operations invaded her property, and beat up her husband and son.

After the verdict , Maxima’s lawyer announced that “it has been determined that there is no evidence to prove what the mining company has been saying, that they [Maxima and her family] are usurpers that took their land by beating the police. All those lies have proven unsuccessful … Justice has prevailed thanks to perseverance. What was happening to [Maxima’s Family] was an act of injustice.”

Maxima also made public statements after the acquittal, saying, “I want to thank the judges of the court of justice of Cajamarca for being impartial and applying justice. And for not permitting that we the farmworkers suffer at the hands of Yanacocha. I pray to God to take care of them. During the four years this process has lasted, many authorities tortured me, defamed me, and persecuted me. But here we have good authorities.”

Wednesday’s ruling is being celebrated by people across Cajamarca, where a recent election resulted in the victory of a candidate whose main campaign agenda opposes the expansion of mining in the area.