Peruvian farmer sues Newmont in US court over alleged use of violence, threats

Peruvian farmer Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a vocal opponent to Newmont Mining’s activity in her home country, is now suing the company in a US federal court over allegations it used violence and threats to try evicting her from her home to make way for its Conga gold and copper project.

The suit filed on Sept. 15 by Acuña and her family in Delaware, where Newmont is incorporated, seeks to stop “a pattern of harassment and physical and psychological abuse” they have allegedly suffered at the hands of security personnel working on behalf of Newmont and its affiliates, the environmental group representing Acuña said Tuesday.

Acuña, a potato farmer who was at the forefront of the opposition against Newmont’s $5bn Conga project since it was first proposed in 2010, says the miner has used violence and threats to try evicting her from her land.

Newmont told MINING.com it only learned of the lawsuit today, through the press release issued by Earth Rights International, adding it has yet to be officially informed of it.

Acuña, a potato farmer who was at the forefront of the opposition against Newmont’s $5 billion Conga project since it was first proposed in 2010, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016 for her efforts “to protect her home and community from the Conga mine.”

In May this year, Peru’s Supreme Court ruled in her favour in a case in which Newmont had alleged she had illegally occupied the company’s property. However, two civil cases to determine ownership of the land are still winding through the courts.

In the recently filed lawsuit, Acuña says her home was destroyed as part of the mine’s construction, and that the family’s attempts to rebuild it have been blocked through the use of harassment and violence.

“Apart from these physical attacks, we have suffered emotionally and psychologically. Our dignity and reputation has also suffered,” she said in a statement distributed by Earth Rights International. “We seek justice against Newmont in the United States to end these abuses and to obtain recognition of the harms we have faced.”

The family is seeking damage compensation for each affected member of at least $75,000, according to the lawsuit.

"We continue to be respectful of the Chaupes while lawfully protecting our property rights, avoiding confrontation and respecting human rights," the company said in an email statement to MINING.com.

"In 2011, 14 years after Yanacocha purchased the land parcels, Ms. Chaupe and other members of her family invaded the property and made numerous incursions into other Yanacocha land parcels — not under dispute — in an effort to establish adverse possession under Peruvian law," it added.

Newmont decided to halt construction work at Conga in November 2011, after violent protests forced the country's government to declare a state of emergency.

Minera Yanacocha, one of the two local companies working with Newmont on the now mothballed project, tried hard to win local support, but was unable to secure it.

Social pressure continued in the following years, to the point that Peru’s government had to hire international consultants to determine the viability of a revised water strategy proposed by Newmont. Eventually, authorities suspended of all work at the site, except for the construction of water reservoirs.

Community opposition ended up forcing Newmont to walk away from the project last year.

Conga, which had the potential to generate up to 350,000 ounces of gold and 120 million pounds of copper a year, during its 19-year life, was going to be built close to Newmont’s existing Yanacocha mine, Latin America’s largest gold operation.

Peruvian farmer sues Newmont in US court over alleged use of violence, threats

Newmont Mining, the world's 2nd largest gold miner, walked away from its $5 billion Conga copper and gold project in Peru in 2016 due to relentless community opposition. (Image courtesy of Golda Fuentes | Flickr.)