Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Takes David vs. Goliath Battle with Newmont Mining to US Court


La ganadora del Premio Ambiental Goldman 2016, Máxima Acuña. Source: Guaricha/Creative Commons

They should have known.

Newmont Mining Corporation executives should have known that when they hired the Peruvian National Police and security company Securitas to essentially act as their private paramilitary force to quell resistance to an unpopular gold mine that human rights abuses would be committed and people would die.

Why should the Colorado-based mining giant have known this?

Because there was a well documented paper trail of violence and abuses against protestors across the country, and specifically in the Cajamarca region where the company’s $4.8 billion Conga gold and copper mining project is located.

And they could have stopped this ongoing violence and harassment, but chose not to.

Now 48-year-old Indigenous campesina Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, whose family has been on the receiving end of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Newmont security for years and who the company has tried to force off their land, is seeking justice in U.S. courts to end the violence and impunity.

“We seek justice against Newmont in the United States to end these abuses and to obtain recognition of the harms we have faced.”

“Apart from these physical attacks, we have suffered emotionally and psychologically. Our dignity and reputation has also suffered,” said Acuña, who filed a lawsuit with EarthRights International in a Delaware federal court on Sept. 15 against Newmont and three of its corporate affiliates.

The 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner added, “We seek justice against Newmont in the United States to end these abuses and to obtain recognition of the harms we have faced.”

In an emailed statement to in response to the announcement of the lawsuit Newmont stated, “We continue to be respectful of the Chaupes while lawfully protecting our property rights, avoiding confrontation and respecting human rights.”

According to the lawsuit, this is just not true.

This case is about Newmont Mining Corporation and several of its subsidiaries instructing, authorizing, aiding and abetting, conspiring in and/or ratifying a violent harassment campaign” against Acuña’s family, the lawsuit states, while other community members opposed to the mining project have been caught in the crossfire.

And another inconvenient truth for the mining giant is that its own commissioned “independent” review found that Newmont “has not discharged its responsibility to respect human rights.”

In August 2011, armed security showed up to Acuña’s home in an attempt to forcibly evict her and her family, and after she refused to leave her land at their request, the agents beat her and one of her daughters and destroyed her home. Then in November 2011 and July 2012 the Peruvian National Police, under contract with Newmont, attacked protestors demonstrating against Newmont’s project, injuring several people and killing five. Acuña was attacked again in February 2014 and September 2016 by Yanacocha security.

As the lawsuit states, “Defendants’ agents hired and continued security contracts with these forces even after they knew that these forces were implicated in attacking campesino communities and protestors in Cajamarca.”

Now, even though the company abandoned the project in December 2015 due to community opposition after suspending construction four years earlier in the wake of 11 straight days of massive protests rocked the region of Cajamarca, Newmont hasn’t stopped using Peru’s court system to further harass Acuña and attempt to steal her land. However, in May, Peru’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the company against a previous ruling to a suit filed in 2011 that ruled Newmont’s claims that Acuña “usurped” company land were unfounded. The EarthRights lawsuit refers to this as part of “a series of sham lawsuits” as part of a broader judicial campaign of harassment.  

Remarking on May’s court ruling, Amnesty International Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosas noted: “Many environmental defenders in Peru have been criminalized through the use of groundless criminal proceedings which seek to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate work to defend human rights, by exhausting their physical and emotional strength and their limited resources, in addition to publicly portraying them as criminals.”

“Latin America is considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world for human rights and environmental activism and repression against those who are involved is rampant.”

EarthRights lawyer Maryum Jordan told Upside Down World that the campaign waged by Newmont and its Peruvian subsidiary Minera Yanacocha against Acuña and her family show how the companies “will do anything to remove people who will stand in their way.”

In addition to the prospect of this case offering solace and justice to her family and the wider community in Cajamarca with a favorable ruling, it could have broader implications for the region classified as “the most dangerous region for anyone wanting to protect rivers, forests, mountains and oceans.”

“Latin America is considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world for human rights and environmental activism and repression against those who are involved is rampant,” said Jordan. “A lot of these times these incidents are linked to these security forces of a multinational corporation and I think that a favorable outcome would hopefully deter future abuses in the region.”

If the lawsuit actually goes to trial, it could take months before reaching a ruling. In a region where there were 60 assassinations of environmental defenders last year, time is not on Acuña’s side.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at Follow him on Twitter @cmychalejko

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