by Eduardo Gudynas – The enormous mining corporation tried every which way they could to evict this family of subsistence farmers. They used the police, guards, journalists, judgements, and many other weapons. But this is a steadfast family, with a woman deeply rooted in her land in Peru’s northern Andes, who resisted with all her strength and would not give up. When they couldn’t evict them, they destroyed their farmland and their dog was found stabbed. In this way, their malice was laid bare.
This is the atmosphere in which Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family live, in the sierra mountains of Cajamarca, cornered and harassed by mining company Yanacocha, which is claiming possession of their lands. The corporation has tried everything in its power to subdue the Chaupe Acuña family over the last several years, from judgements prohibiting them from entering their farmland, to slandering them in the local press in order to ruin some of their buildings.
Yanacocha, Latin America’s largest gold mining company, a consortium composed of Newmont Mining, Minas Buenaventura of Peru, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, appears so obsessed with the situation that over the last few months it has resorted to surveilling the Máxima Acuña plots with a drone flying over and filming them, in addition to installing stationary cameras to watch over them.
In another occurrence this past 2 February, the family’s potato crops were destroyed by mining company employees (shielded by a controversial legal measure). According to Daniel Chaupe, some 150 men, including Yanacocha private security agents and national police, entered one of the plots, destroying potato plantings the family had counted upon harvesting in two months for their own food consumption. A few days prior, on 30 January, the family guard dog was found stabbed. Not to mention that when he reported the damage to his crops to the police and farm protection officials, Daniel Chaupe related that he was only met with jeers and threats: “You already saw what we did to your dog, now it’s your crops, and tomorrow it’ll be you,” they told him (1). It was a very clear threat.
These and other examples of harassment have led many to react in defense of the Chaupe Acuña family. In just one example, Amnesty International issued a statement demanding an end to the aggressions (2), while others debate whether this is a case of torture or a violation of the right to food, and further organizations have delivered their complaints to the corporation’s partners, Newmont in the United States and the World Bank.
The company, of course, denies any connection to many of these events while considering some to be legitimate (3). This is common throughout the continent, as the major corporations insist that it is they, on the contrary, who are defending sustainable mining as they parade their corporate social responsibility programmes. The executives of these companies, working in Lima or other capitals, always reject that type of violent practices.
In contrast to what they say in their corporate offices, in the fields of Latin America, social conflicts against mega-mining projects are multiplying. Disregard for the environment and persecution of social leaders, including the use of violence, are very frequent. Major corporations are behind all of these events, and not just the transnationals, but also those of national, state, mixed and even cooperative ownership.
On the few occasions where violent events have been investigated and results obtained, blame is almost always laid upon a small third party company in charge of a single job or security, or upon a local boss, while corporate executives deny responsibility. “We had nothing to do with it, and these events go against the company’s policies and commitments” is what they repeat, followed by their defense of their company’s profession of social responsibility.
But what is certain is that mega-mining and other high intensity extractivist industries are advancing in an atmosphere of increasing violence. Corporate responsibility codes remain relegated to good intentions to placate activists in the North and politicians in the South. But in the field, as is happening in Peru and other Latin American countries, these extractivist activities are only made possible by violating the rights of human beings and of nature. Immersed in a climate of violence, there is always a willing local person, businesspeople who want to break down the “obstacles” to their investments, police willing to help, and thus little by little a web cloaking the violence is woven. Local communities have a hard time accepting projects that destroy their lands, wreck their local economies, contaminate the ground and water, and erode their ways of life. But sooner or later, these major extractive projects are only possible when they do not comply with rights such as access to information and consultation, and also hostilely persecute social movements, including the use of violence against their leaders or those who best represent them (4).
Among the hundreds of similar cases, the story of Máxima Acuña and her family has become an icon for popular resistance to extractive industries and the defense of human rights, both in Peru and on an international level. Acuña received the Defender of the Year award from the Latin American Women’s Network and the National Special Award for Human Rights by the Human Rights Coordinator of Peru, and her situation has gained the support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).
We are now witnessing a new escalation against a family of subsistence farmers, and the entire episode exemplifies the malice that envelopes these types of conflicts. This is malice as defined by its meaning as actions and intentions contrary to virtue. On the one hand, a gigantic mining consortium that has not been able to evict these subsistence farmers from these lands has now devoted itself to surveilling them by drone and cameras and does not hesitate to destroy the potato plantings that feed a family. We find ourselves faced with an evil that makes us shudder. Someone stabbed the family dog, demonstrating a malice that has seeped out of years of impunity. You will be next, is the anonymous threat. There are those who deny the links between all of these events, possibly few of which can be proven, but many others will interpret it as a mobster’s message intended to stoke fear.
It is hard to understand this situation. Will there be some executive, educated at a prestigious business school, who is bothered by the fact that an illiterate woman subsistence farmer could become such an enormous obstacle? Are there businesspeople and politicians so obsessed with her and devoted to preventing her from becoming a worldwide symbol of resistance to extractive industries? Are the Acuña and Chaupe families so dangerous that they need to be monitored by drone?
Promises of corporate social responsibility or the supposedly infallible technologies to avoid environmental damage are ultimately buried beneath the most primitive forms of violence. It’s as if on the one hand, there is the embodiment of a visceral hatred that says if we cannot evict you from these lands, we’ll wipe out your farms, we’ll kill your animals, we’ll make your life a living hell; and on the other hand, there is a family, made strong by an ethic deeply rooted in their land, defending life, with tens of thousands of supporters behind them. This all makes the Máxima Acuña case so important. It was not an isolated incident in a forgotten corner of the Peruvian sierra, but is representative of the drama of many families throughout the continent.
(1) Testimony appearing in a statement by the Muqui network of Perú at: http://www.grufides.org/blog/minera-yanacocha-deja-sin-cultivos-y-alimento-hijo-de-m-xima-acu
(2) Amnesty International launched a campaign by writing to the Ministry of the Interior and the National Prosecutor’s Office in Lima: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr46/3392/2016/es/
(3) The company released a statement declaring that on 2 February 2016, they “removed” plantings on a terrain they considered to be illegally occupied by the Chaupe Acuña family, typifying their action as a “peaceful defensive possession”; their statement at: http://www.yanacocha.com/yanacocha-ejercio-defensa-posesoria-pacifica/
(4) Extrahection is the term proposed to describe extractive industries that rip out the earth’s natural resources in violation of human rights and those of nature; the definitions appear at: http://ambiental.net/2013/03/definiciones-extracciones-extractivismos-extrahecciones/
Eduardo Gudynas is a researcher at the Latin American Center for Social Ecology (CLAES) in Montevideo – www.ambiental.net; twitter: @EGudynas
Published in ALAI (Latin American News Agency), on February 11, 2016; translated by Danica Jorden, a writer and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and other languages – danica.jorden1[at] gmail [dot] com