Maxima Acuña, a campesina grandmother from Peru's northern Cajamarca region, has been named the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for South and Central America for her struggle to defend her family's lands from Newmont Mining. "A subsistence farmer in Peru's northern highlands, Maxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a property sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine," the prize's official webpage indicates. At the award ceremony in San Francisco April 18, Acuña denied being a social leader, saying: "I only want them to leave me in peace on my land and that they do not contaminate my water." Considered the "Green Nobel," the Goldman Prize honors grassroots activists for significant achievements in protecting the environment worldwide.
Despite her protestations, Acuña became an icon for anti-mining struggles throughout Peru after her battle against Newmont's attempted land-grab. Stated the Goldman Prize website: "With promises of jobs and economic prosperity, the Peruvian government awarded mining licenses across the country. Despite these promises, rural campesinos, who were rarely consulted in the development of mining projects, largely continue to live in poverty. In many communities, mining waste has polluted the local waterways, affecting local people's drinking water and irrigation needs.
Last year, Acuña won her legal battle against Newmont in Peru's courts, but has since continued to face threats and intrusions by company workers.
Other 2016 Goldman Prize winners are Edward Loure (Tanzania); Leng Ouch (Cambodia); Zuzana Caputova (Slovakia); Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera (Puerto Rico); and Destiny Watford (US). Among last year's winners was Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous leader slain by assassins in March. (EcoWatch, April 19; Peru This Week, Andina, BBC Mundo, April 18)
On the same day the prize was awarded, Newmont, the world's second largest gold miner, stated that it is abandoning its $5 billion Conga project in Cajamarca after years of relentless community opposition. In its annual filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Colorado-based miner said that due to current social and political conditions, the company "did not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future." (Mining.com, April 18)