Prize for Maxima Acuna de Chaupe

24 April 2016

The Peruvian farmer and grassroots leader, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, was one of six people honoured this week with the world’s most prestigious prize for environmental activism, the Goldman Environmental Prize for 2016. The other winners came from across the world: Cambodia, Czechoslovakia, Puerto Rico, Tanzania and the USA. She is the third Peruvian to receive the award, which was established in 1989. It is notable that all three are women.

Máxima has been leading the local community in Cajamarca for years in its opposition to the Conga mine, owned by Newmont. Mine construction was halted in 2011 following huge protests, but the company continued pressure to gain control of the terrain it needs to take the project forward, and there have been numerous instances of violence. In 2014 Máxima was finally able to prove her ownership of the land the company was trying to control in order to carry out its planned mine development.

The NGO Earthworks notes that after much resistance and a massive mobilisation of international support for the communities, Newmont announced (before the prize was made known) that “under the current social and political environment, the Company does not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future.” In the company filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the deposit is no longer listed. See

Máxima is happy with the outcome. She is quoted as saying: "...our way of life, and the clean water we need to sustain it, is more important to us than Newmont’s new gold mine ever could be. We know from Newmont’s Yanacocha mine that, no matter what their promises, we can’t have both the mine and our way of life.”

Máxima travelled to San Francisco to receive the prize in the company of her daughter and grandson, and the lawyer working for the NGO Grufides, Mirtha Vásquez. Grufides has given Máxima support throughout.

Two important events have thus come together and will have an impact on key issues for Peruvian communities and the development of mining. However, it appears that neither the lawsuits threatening the community nor the security presence in the area have ceased, so this should in no way be seen as the end of the story.

And as a poignant final note: one of last year’s winners was Berta Cáceres, the Honduran human rights activist. She was assassinated in March of this year.

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