Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.