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  • A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land.

    A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land. | Photo: 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize

Campesino activist Acuña refused to sell her land in 2011 as the Yanacocha firm was setting up the largest gold-mining project in South America.

Peru's internationally-renowned environmentalist Maxima Acuña and her partner were severely hurt Sunday morning in an attack by alleged hitmen hired by the mining company they are fighting against, reported Acuña's daughter.

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At around 9.30 a.m. local time, “people hired by mining firm Yanacocha illegally broke into the property and started damaging the lot with various tools,” said Ysidora Chaupe, daughter of Acuña and Jaime Chaupe.

“When Maxima and Jaime approached them and demanded they stop invading the property, the mining firm's security staff violently attacked Maxima and Jaime, hitting Maxima in the head and body with a weapon, leaving her seriously hurt,” she added.

Acuña's husband, who was badly injured, managed to report the attack to the police at around 12 p.m. But the police did a routine check, leaving both campesinos in critical condition and in urgent need of medical attention.

Acuña won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for stopping Yanococha, a subsidiary of U.S.-based mining giant Newmont, from constructing an open-pit gold mine that threatened to contaminate the water supply and cause water shortages for thousands of people living in this agricultural and cattle-rearing region.

Acuña was one of the few campesinos who refused to sell her land in 2011 in the northern region of Cajamarca as Yanacocha was setting up the largest gold-mining project in South America called Minas Conga. The International Finance Corporation, the lending arm of the World Bank, owns a 5 percent stake in the project.

She is still fighting in court for the property rights for her piece of land, although a December 2014 appeals court decision overturned an earlier sentence of three years in prison for her and her husband for allegedly invading Yanacocha's property.

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In April, Acuña told teleSUR about the daily fear she and others were forced to live under, saying the mining company kept intimidating any campesinos leaders who dared to protest for the right of land and water.

Foreign mining companies operating in Peru often hire police as security guards, while the Peruvian government often deploys police, military and intelligence personnel on behalf of mining, gas and oil companies to crush any dissent and local resistance.

On March 3, Berta Caceres, one of last year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Latin America is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists. In Peru alone, 61 activists were killed in the past 10 years, according to the human rights organization Global Witness.

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