| Moises Avila |
LIMA (AFP) – With her straw hat and peasant dress, Maxima does not look like the type to take on a global mining giant, but as she gazes out from her small house in the Peruvian highlands she is adamant: this is her land.
Maxima Acuna de Chaupe lives with her husband, four children and son and daughter-in-law on a small farm that sits on the land where Yanacocha, a subsidiary of US mining giant Newmont, wants to expand South America’s largest open-pit gold mine.
The firm is facing widespread opposition to the $4.8-billion gold- and copper-mining project from the local community and the regional government of Cajamarca in northern Peru, which says the mine expansion will put the water supply at risk.
Maxima, 48, has become the face of that resistance. For four years the illiterate peasant farmer has been fight-ing the mining company in a court battle that took a dramatic turn last week when she tried to build an addition on her house and Yanacocha tore it down.
“I can show that we have owned this land since 1994. All my papers are in order,” Maxima told AFP.
“What counts here are documents. Let them show their documents! If they’re the owners, let them present the bill of sale, the document with my signature that says I sold this land,” said Maxima, an indigenous woman with a chiseled face who wears bright traditional clothing and the wide-brimmed straw hat that is customary in the region.
Maxima’s farm is a 25-hectare (60-acre) plot at an altitude of nearly 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) in the hamlet of Tragadeogrande. Yanacocha claims it bought the land in 1996 from the local department of Sorochuco.
It pressed charges against her for invasion of property, but Maxima was acquitted. Her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez of environmental defence group Grufides, says the matter should have ended there.
But when the family tried to expand its small house, Yanacocha workers demolished the cement addition, with the help of the police, according to Maxima.
“They want to make me leave by force. They see that I’m poor, that I don’t know how to read and they think I can’t stand up for my rights. But I have my documents. I’ve got no reason to be humiliated or afraid,” she said by telephone.
With her lawyer’s help, Maxima has now brought charges of her own against Yanacocha for invasion of property.
Since 2011, the mining company has had to suspend prospecting in the region over concerns about the environmental impact of its plans to drain the area’s high-altitude lagoons and replace them with artificial reservoirs.
Those plans have only strengthened Maxima’s resolve.