The noted indigenous activist from Peru, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, was one of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners for her battles to protect her land from a multinational mining company that has sent private security and police to harass and assault her and her family.
Acuna de Chaupe was selected for the 2016 prize for “years of principled resistance to the Colorado-based gold-seeking conglomerate Newmont Mining Company.”
“During my struggle I felt very sad, like I was alone, but now I know I am not alone,” Acuña de Chaupe said at a gathering on April 16 before the awards ceremony.
“People are becoming aware and understand what I’m fighting for: the land, water and life, not only my own, but the population in general.”
Acuña de Chaupe has been struggling for five years against the efforts by owners of the Yanacocha Mine, co-owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation of Colorado, to evict her or have her fined and arrested for not leaving her land.
The conflicts with the mine owners began in 2011 and continued well into 2015 despite winning a legal battle in late 2014 initiated by the Newmont Company. The company had charged Acuña de Chaupe with illegally squatting on the land and a provincial court agreed in August of 2014, sentencing her to a 2-year suspended prison term and a fine of $2,000.
Four months later, with the help of the NGO GRUFIDES and other activists, Acuña de Chaupe was found not guilty on all charges and the order of eviction was removed. Even with this development however, the activist and her family was subjected to further violent assault –where she, her daughters and husband were severely beaten – and destruction of her property and crops by Newmont security forces and Peruvian police.
Acuña de Chaupe has also filed official complaints against the company and national police. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights had already issued an order of precautionary measures to the Peruvian government to take steps to protect the life of the activist in 2014 after Amnesty International and activists from around the world advocated for her safety and rights to stay on her land.
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, as well as for combating destructive development projects often at great personal risk.
Along with international recognition and greater visibility Goldman award winners receive $175,000 to continue their grassroot advocacy efforts.