Peru's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of Maxima Acuña, a campesina and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, acquitted of land misappropriation charges backed by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp.
Wednesday's decision dealt a blow to the company's long-stalled efforts to build a US$5 billion gold mine in the Andean country.
"I feel happy and relieved that here in the capital (the court) has also provided justice," Acuña told reporters after the hearing.
"I only hope not to suffer more abuse from the company."
The charges were officially laid on her by the Yanacocha mining company, the subsidiary of Newmont, that since 2011 has claimed ownership of the subsistence farmer's land, demanding that she and her family leave. Acuña has repeatedly claimed her home was destroyed as part of the mine's construction and that the family's attempts to rebuild it have been blocked.
Acuña was one of few campesinas 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.
After various attempts to evict the family, Yanacocha took the case to the court, and Acuña was promptly sentenced to suspended prison for two years and eight months and slapped with a US$1,692 fine.
However, in December 2014, Cajamarca's Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Acuña's favor and overturned the previous sanctions. That ruling also dismissed her eviction, which was sought by the mining company in order to develop their US$4.8 billion open-pit gold and copper mining project.
In the course of her battle, Acuña faced harassment and death threats, with gunmen opening fire at her house while she was away to receive her Goldman prize.
In April 2016, Acuña told teleSUR about the daily fear she and others were forced to live under, saying the mining company intimidated any campesinos leaders who dared to protest for their right to 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.
Still, her resistance has successfully halted the Conga mining project for the “foreseeable future.” The proposed Conga mine project would threaten the local ecosystem with contamination of the cyanide-leaching open-pit mining process and transform at least one local lake into a waste pit.
Acuna’s fight has been an inspiring story as a victory for small Indigenous farmers against transnational corporate power.
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 human rights organization Global Witness.