Peruvian woman wins Goldman Environmental Prize

World Today

Maxina Acuna de Chaupe is a symbol of resistance against unwanted mining across the Peru, and now, the world. But de Chaupe, a peasant farmer from Cajamarca in northern Peru, did not plan on becoming an environmental activist.

She said she was just defending her home. In April, she was the Latin American winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s most prestigious award honoring grassroots environmental activists.

CCTV America’s Dan Collyns spoke to de Chaupe in Peru.

Peruvian woman wins Goldman Environmental Prize

Maxina Acuna de Chaupe is a symbol of resistance against unwanted mining across the Peru and now the world.

In 2011, the $4.8 billion Conga mine wanted to mine two highland lagoons and use two more as dumps for toxic waste material. But de Chaupe and her family’s farm stood in the way.

“Where would we get the water from if there’s no lakes, if its contaminated? Neither animals nor people would be able to drink,” de Chaupe said. “That’s what this mine would have left behind.”

She refused to leave her land in spite of her claims of beatings, death threats, intimidation, and court proceedings. She told CCTV how the company forcibly evicted her.

“The company came with heavy diggers to raze our property to show the people that they were the owners not me,” de Chaupe said. “When the police took me by the arms and they beat me with their batons. My daughter knelt in front of the heavy digger, which was moving onto the property, and a special forces policeman hit her in the head with a rifle butt and she fell to the ground. I thought my daughter had died.”

Newmont Mining Corporation denies its employees used force. In 2012, the company tried to evict her through the local courts. But in 2014, a higher court lifted the criminal charges against her.

But de Chaupe said the systematic harassment still continues.

“They stripped all our potato crops, all that we had to eat, everything has been destroyed,” she said.

The company said it lawfully destroyed crops and constructions on its property not the family’s land.

“The majority of people reject the company and give a lot of support to Maxima due to the previous experience we’ve had with this company,” Mirtha Vasquez, de Chaupe’s lawyer, said. “They believe in Maxima, a poor, illiterate peasant farmer, simply because the company’s history works against its credibility.”

For Maxima the struggle continues.

“I will continue to be an example in the world to other poor women like me to show that they can defend their rights,” de Chaupe said. “With or without a prize, I will keep fighting. As long as I live or until they take my life, I will never stop.”

Her exemplary courage has been rewarded with the world’s most prestigious environmental award.