The “Arco Minero”, a development initiative that undermines Indigenous Peoples’ Rights



Wednesday 24th February 2016 marked yet another great leap backwards for environmentalists and the indigenous people of Venezuela. Accompanied by representatives of 150 mining companies from 35 different countries1, including China, Canada and the Republic of Congo, the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro signed a series of agreements that aim to boost mineral extraction in Venezuela, which until recently has been mostly sidelined by the country’s over-reliance on petroleum. Cornered by recent falls in oil prices and soaring foreign debt, Venezuela has hit bankruptcy2 and tapping into its mineral wealth seems to be the only possible way of obtaining cash in the short term.

The mining plans announced towards the end of February are therefore in line with this prospect, seeking to increase the extraction of minerals such as gold, bauxite, coltan and copper over an area of 114,000sq km in the region of the Orinoco belt, at the heart of the country. Gold particularly will receive much attention, as the intention is to propel Venezuela as the second largest gold producer worldwide.

In the first part of this article, LAMMP explores the inherent inconsistency between the government’s ecological rhetoric and its desire to expand mineral extraction projects. In the second part LAMMP looks into the impact that resource extraction activities will have on indigenous communities given the absence of free, prior and informed consultations.

Eco-Socialism: Nowhere Beyond the Political Discourse

As part of his campaigns in the early days of his electoral campaigns in 1998, the late president Hugo Chavez spoke with pride of a sustainable and participatory Bolivarian development model, respectful of the country’s ecosystem. In Chavez’ view, his model offered a radical break from a predatory neo-liberal and capitalist system, where mining policies are both detrimental to the planet and to humanity– or so he claimed.

Dubbed “eco-socialism”, the proposed model adopted by Chavez and later by his ideological successor Nicolas Maduro, has moved very little beyond the political discourse. Instead, despite promises to tackle the threats of climate change in particular, the tendency has been to turn backs on environmental issues and push further for an intensive extractivist model, well-known for its devastating impact on the planet.

The decision to develop with (Canadian-based) Gold Reserve Inc. a joint venture to exploit and expand mining activities embodies this legacy of U-turn politics. Throughout 2015 in particular, President Maduro carried out several pledges to take more dramatic action to address the environmental degradation linked to climate change by creating a new ministry of “eco-socialism and water” tasked with protecting the environment in line with the transition towards a 21st Century form of socialism4. Moreover, ahead of the Paris negotiation in December 2015, Venezuela committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 20305.

Maduro’s latest decision brings to mind two very important questions. First of all, how can the government reconcile its mission to save the planet through eco-socialism with the agreement to exploit the “Las Brisas”, an open-pit mine of very low grade (0.69 grams of gold per tonne and 0.13% copper) located within the Imataca forest reserve in south eastern Venezuela? Given that low-grade ore has less gold, the returns of extraction will be low. The solution is to process greater amounts of ore, which in turn means more damage to a fragile ecosystem, more hard rock waste and greater demand for water and energy at a time when the nation as a whole experiences frequent blackouts.

Some people may argue that the real change is in the government’s position regarding payments for properties that had been expropriated by the late president Chavez. Soon afterGold Reserve Inc lost “Las Brisas”, the company initiated proceedings against Venezuela before the International Centre for Settlements (ICSID) but in those days a euphoric Venezueladismissed compensation in no uncertain terms. Fast track to 2016 and we find that through the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Gold Reserve Inc, Venezuela not only agrees to pay the award (including interest accrued since 2014 plus legal expenses of the company) granted by the ICSID in favour of the company in compensation for losses arising from the expropriation carried out in 2009 but it also reinstates the company as legal owners of 45% of “Las Brisas”. That is not all: in the MOU Venezuela also throws in as a bonus “Las Cristinas”, a much sought-after project with an estimated 17 million ounces of gold.

The question is, given that “Las Cristinas” is considered to be one of the most important copper-gold deposits in Latin America, didn’t Venezuela know that such a deposit is worth far more than mere 5 billion US dollars. Why did Venezuela sign a MOU that is not favourable to the country? The only possible explanation left is that after Venezuela’s efforts to preventGold Reserve from taking steps to enforce payment of the award were unsuccessful, it became painfully clear that Venezuela would have to pay nearly one billion dollars in compensation for the 2009 expropriation. At a time when the country is not able to borrow, where was the money going to come from? What this extraordinary deal with Gold Reserve shows is how desperate the government is for cash.

The “Arco Minero”, a development initiative that undermines Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Despite an official narrative that promotes indigenous peoples’ rights (Articles 119 and 120 of the National Constitution), the country ratifying the right to free and prior consent for indigenous peoples (protected by the ILO 169 Convention and the UN Declaration on the Rights of IndigenousPeople), no legal provision has been taken to ensure and monitor consultation with indigenous peoples regarding agreements signed in February by Maduro’s government. Decisions have been made to exploit their lands, but communities were neither consulted nor their rights and demarcation of their territories recognised 6.

Dubbed the “axis of development”, the Orinoco Delta, the designated area for the mining projects, is a strategic location for Venezuela; yet it is also the ancestral home of a number of indigenous peoples and communities such as the Warao, Pemon, Karina, Akawaio, and Arawako. For a long time, the Orinoco river was one of the last of the world’s great rivers that was unspoilt by modernisation and development projects, and was considered by its indigenous population as the “father god”7.


This sacred status however seems to be from a past long gone, as the Orinoco Belt is now home to some 250 crude oil fields, and has been a target for illegal miners that have carried out unregulated activities across the territory8. Indigenous peoples in this area have since been greatly exposed to imminent health risks, and have witnessed the rapid deterioration of their ancestral lands9.

Without consultation and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) there is no doubt that decisions over natural resource extraction are made in collusion between the state and private companies, with little opportunity for indigenous peoples to protect their livelihoods and survival. Furthermore, indigenous people’s concerns about the presence within their territories of members of the FARC – Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group – with the apparent consent of the government adds a new dimension to their vulnerability, in particular as the FARC is fighting for control of indigenous territories already with heavy presence of illegal miners. For these threatened communities, the new mining agreements reinforce the widespread perception that the economic growth of Venezuela is prioritised over their well-being and their rights, pushing them further into invisibility and social, economic and political exclusion.

The plight of indigenous people is all the more concerning when taking into account the shrinking space for civil society and social movements in Venezuela. Community leaders and human rights defenders face sustained attacks and government-led acts of intimidation as they raise their concerns over the encroachment on their territories. Activists and defenders have repeatedly reported the excessive use of force by national police and military, as well as unlawful killings of protesters and political opponents across the country10. Given the severity of the economic crisis that is tearing the country apart, the indigenous people are currently struggling for survival and their agenda for demarcation and human rights have been put on hold. But how will they react to attempts to evict them from their ancestral territories in order to give way to new mining projects

Finally, although new mining investment is pursued by the government as the solution to a cash-strapped economy, there is doubt about the government’s ability to meet the industry’s demands. At a time when the government is unable to guarantee essential services such as water and electricity, how will the needs of the mining industry for these resources be met?












“Anche in Svizzera oro intriso di sangue”

Articulo di 20 Minuti in Ticino su Maxima Acaupe

Articulo di 20 Minuti in Ticino su Maxima Acaupe

L’appello di Associazione per i popoli minacciati e alla Valcambi di Balerna: “Si impegni per cambiare la situazione in Perù”

BERNA/BALERNA – Anche l’oro che arriva in Svizzera fa scorrere sangue nei paesi del Terzo Mondo. È quanto emerge dalla testimonianza di Maxima Acuña, una peruviana che oggi ha raccontato la sua esperienza a Berna in un incontro con la stampa organizzato dall’Associazione per i popoli minacciati assieme al Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme. Nel suo paese la donna si sta battendo per tenere quel poco che possiede: un terreno che aveva comprato, nel 1994, assieme a suo marito. Il possedimento è infatti attualmente tra quelli minacciati, come racconta lei stessa, dall’ampliamento di Yanacocha, una delle più grandi miniere peruviane per l’estrazione dell’oro. Maxima, come altri cittadini della regione, non è però disposta a perdere la sua terra e per questo starebbe subendo minacce, intimidazioni e gesti di violenza.

Ora la donna è giunta in Svizzera, dove domani si recherà all’Organizzazione delle Nazioni Unite a Ginevra per denunciare la situazione. Ma la Svizzera è anche il paese in cui ha sede una delle maggiori acquirenti dell’oro proveniente dalla miniera di Yanacocha. Negli scorsi anni, come rendono noto le due organizzazioni non governative, fino al 70% del metallo esportato dall’impianto peruviano sarebbe infatti stato consegnato alla Valcambi di Balerna.

La raffineria ticinese in questione non è accusata di procurarsi l’oro nella miniera peruviana ma viene piuttosto invitata a intervenire presso la Yanacocha, perché si possa giungere a una soluzione pacifica della situazione. La Valcambi, affermano le due ong, dovrebbe pertanto impegnarsi affinché in Perù venga rispettata la volontà dei cittadini.

Sulla questione la società di Balerna, da noi contattata, non rilascia comunque nessuna dichiarazione.

Guarda questo video é in inglese

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe: the defender of the water – from Mama Tierra on Vimeo.


Maxima Acuña: the defender of the water

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe in Bern

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe in Bern

Maxima lives in a remote town in the Northern Highlands of Peru, Tragadero Grande in the district of Sorochuco, three hours from the main town of Celendin, Cajamarca. She bought this land with her husband Jaime, in 1994; the transaction was officialised with paperwork proving their ownership. The Chaupe family have lived on this land for twenty-four years in which Maxima would weave and sew garments with her skilled knowledge of the local vegetation for the dying of fabric. She would also sell these products at the market as well as crops from their land.

However in 2011, Yanacocha mining firm undertook its expansion for the Conga project, an open-pit gold and copper with a total surface area of 2,000 hectares. Maxima refused to give her land away to this project. Since then, the Chaupe family became the target of forced eviction attempts, threats and intimidations from the Special Operations Division of the Peruvian National Police (DINOES).

One of these attempts took place on the 9th August 2012 when DINOES members intruded into the Chaupe’s land and violently assaulted the family, unmoved that women were victims of their abuse.

“They threatened my child with their machine guns, they threatened my husband from behind the Fuster, they beat my daughter in law, they took my daughter who knelt before the machinery to the road and beat her. When I saw my daughter passed out on the road, I went to see her and three policemen grabbed me by each arm and more police came ahead. I lost consciousness and they hit me with their sticks; my son took pictures with his phone and they beat him with a stick and he dropped the phone from which he was taking the photos”. Maxima Acuña Chaupe

Máxima’s legal battle to obtain Justice

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe: the defender of the water – from Mama Tierra on Vimeo.

Following these several incidences Maxima filed a complaint at the local Police Commissioner, denouncing the physical aggression from Yanacocha staff and DINOES, the impact these have made on her safety and wellbeing.Yanacocha representatives retaliated against the Chaupe family accusing them of usurpation. On the 29th October 2012, Maxima and her family were found guilty of ‘illegal occupation’ and were sentenced to three years suspended prison sentence. In addition they were ordered to pay 200 soles (72 USD) in compensation to Yanacocha.

In August 2013, a court annulled the 2012 ruling that accused Maxima and her family of usurpation. The judge found that the first ruling presented a series of irregularities, including the failure to consider evidence presented by Maxima Acuña’s family, such as their land purchase documentation. The judge ordered a new trial.

Although this is seemingly a positive step towards justice for the Chaupe family, the hearings are systematically postponed denying Maxima the right to Justice and freedom from these aggressions. Meanwhile, the violence against Maxima and her family, the virulent attempts at forcefully evicting her from her property and the infringements to her personal safety have continued.

Until now, neither Yanacocha nor any DINOES personnel have been charged for assaulting Maxima. She is frustrated at seeing that her denunciations are not taken seriously and feels that the Peruvian government and judicial system has failed its own citizens in siding with the mining company.

“The municipalities are just as guilty as the mine because they had not informed us that the mine will come to our community. […] They had not looked for dialogue at all. It is such a great pain all that we have been through with the mine.” – Maxima Acuña Chaupe.

Advocates are calling on the authorities to “thoroughly investigate all acts of human rights violations, intimidation, threats and harassment to Maxima Acuña Chaupe and her family, committed by the Yanacocha mining company, its private security forces and the National Police of Peru.” They are also requesting investigations on a series of alleged illegal evictions and acquisition of property.

Maxima and lawyer Mirtha Vasquez after sentencing was declared void. Source: Red Ulam, 2013

Insecurity and urgent need for protection

Maxima alleges she still fears for her life, that she is scared to leave her house and to be followed by Yanacocha personnel or DINOES.  ‘I fear for my life, for the life of my husband, for the lives of my children and for the lives of the people in my community who defend us and our water’, says Maxima Chaupe.

As a measure of protection, Máxima has allowed local Ronderos to 4 camp on her land since October 2013. Sadly this has not protected her. Maxima reports that DINOES and workers of the mine frequently record her as she goes about her daily activities. This constant surveillance and restriction of movement has made Maxima concerned for her and family’s safety. She is extremely isolated and scared to leave her land for fear that DINOES and mine workers will destroy her home and crops – everything she has.

Maxima’s concerns are real, on various occasions she has suffered targeted attacks although the trial is still underway; for example, at 10:30am on the 30th January 2014, Maxima received a phone call from a private number telling her “leave your property or you will be killed” (Salga de su propiedad, si no, vas a morir).

One hour later, she was farming with her daughter when two DINOES entered her land and told her to stop working the land as it is not theirs. Two further DINOES were standing on the side of her land and a further four remained in pick-up trucks parked in front of her home. At 12pm on the same day, one armed DINOES and one police officer entered Máxima’s home and told everyone to leave immediately and to stop cultivating the land. When Maxima rang the local radio station to denounce their actions, the officers left.

Facing these threats, Máxima has yet to be offered protection by the Peruvian government. However, with the help of her family and other residents of Cajamarca, opposed to the Conga project, Máxima is keeping on the fight to defend her land and its resources.

In view of the above Maxima, and MAMA TIERRA demand:

– Guarantee her physical safety and that of each member of her family and all human rights defenders that oppose the mining project. Ronderos are Campesinos/Campesinas en Peru who traditionally provide protection in rural areas

– Guarantee that police and DINOES officers stop entering her home and land without her consent as well as halting all acts of intimidation including the recording and monitoring of her activities.

-Give an explanation as to why Peruvian National services are intimidating and harassing a citizen who has not broken the law.

-Carry out an in-depth investigation into all violations of human rights, intimidations, threats and harassment that she and her family have been subject to, committed by the mining company Minas Yanacocha, their private security forces, and the National Police of Peru. Maxima and her family, Source: El Cajamarquino, 2013

What you can do to support Maxima?

– Send a letter to Valcambi,the Swiss raffinery which buys 70% of the gold of the Yanachocha gold, asking them to force their suppliers to follow sustainable policies which respect human rights. Valcambi via Passeggiata 3, 6828 Balerna. 

– Send a letter to Peruvian Ambassador in your country of residence and/or Ollanta:

Humala, President of the Republic of Peru, Ollanta Humala, Presidente de la Republica de Peru, Casa Presidencial, Jirón de La Unión s/n, Lima, Peru

 Stating your dismay at the mistreatment of Maxima and her family and urging them to put a halt on forced eviction for the expansion of mining industries.

– Send a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and/or the InterAmerican Commission Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders  informing them of Máxima’s battle to protect her livelihood and her land.

Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Palais Wilson, United Nations Office CH 1211Geneva 10, Switzerland

– Send a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and/or the InterAmerican Commission Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

 Sr. Jose Jesus Orozco Henriquez, Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Inter-American, Commission on Human Rights, 1889 F St., N.W. , Washington, D.C., 20006, US

– Send a letter to Yanacocha (see contact below) urging them to cease their intimidation Campaign against Máxima and to recognise their responsibility in these attacks.

Minera Yanacocha S.R.L, Av. La Paz 1049, Edificio Miracorp, Piso 5, Miraflores, Lima,San Isidro

– Support Red Ulam, a network of Women Human Rights Defenders to which Maxima belongs to and subscribe for updates on the Campaign.



Maxima Acuña Chaupe – Die Beschützerin des Wassers

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe ist Analphabetin aber ein Leader ihrer Gemeinschaft

Die Quechua Maxima Acuña Chaupe hat in Bern die Gewalt geschildert, der sie in Peru täglich ausgesetzt ist. Maxima sitzt buchstäblich auf einer Goldmine, reich ist sie aber nicht; im Gegenteil.
Die grösste Goldmine weltweit droht ihr mit Mord, falls sie ihr Land nicht verlässt. Die peruanische Bergbaufirma Yanachocha plant den Bau der Conga-Mine auf  ihr Anwesen. Dieses Anwesen hat Maxima unter grösster Mühe zusammen mit ihrem Mann gekauft. “Mein Schweiss ist in jedem Zentimeter Land, das ich besitze. Es ist einfach nicht fair”, sagt sie.
70% des Goldes importiert ein Schweizer Unternehmen. Maxima wünscht sich deshalb Unterstützung von der Schweizer Bevölkerung und Regierung, da es in ihrer Heimat keine Gerechtigkeit gebe. 
Schweizer Goldraffinerie mitverantwortlich
Die grösste Käuferin des Goldes der Minera Yanacocha, der Bergbaufirma, die Maxima das Leben schwer macht, ist die Tessiner Raffinerie Valcambi in Balerna: In den letzten Jahren kaufte Valcambi zwischen 60% und 70% des gesamten exportierten Yanacocha-Goldes, so die Gesellschaft für Bedrohte Völker in Bern. Alleine im ersten Quartal von 2014 importierte das Tessiner Unternehmen 5,9 Tonnen Gold im Wert von 157 Millionen USD von Yanacocha. Sowohl Minera Yanacocha als auch Valcambi werden vom amerikanischen Goldkonzern Newmont Mining kontrolliert. Recherchen der Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV) zeigen: Die Goldproduktion der alten Yanacocha-Mine geht deutlich zurück – die Mine brauche angeblich einen neuen Standort. LAMMP und die GfbV befürchten, dass Minera Yanacocha den Bau der Mine Conga aus diesem Grund – auch gegen den Willen grosser Teile der Bevölkerung – durchzusetzen versucht.

Ein Kampf zwischen David und Goliath

Zusammen mit ihrer Tochter Ysidora kämpft Maxima gegen die Vertreibung durch das Yanacocha-Unternehmen. Ständig sind die Frauen Einschüchterungen ausgesetzt. Manchmal stehen 300 Polizisten vor dem Haus von Maxima und fordern sie auf, ihr Land aufgrund von illegaler Besetzung zu verlassen. Die Eigentumspapiere von Maxima kümmern die Polizei nicht. Der öffentliche Bus, der sie in die nächste Stadt bringt, hält auf Anordnung der Yanacocha-Mine meistens nicht. Manchmal müssen sie Tage in ihrem Haus eingeschlossen bleiben, weil Männer vor ihrem Anwesen lauern, die ihnen etwas antun könnten. Männer haben ihr Haus verwüstet und in Brand gesetzt. Nicht einmal ein Löffel ist ganz geblieben. Maxima bleibt stark. Als Beschützerin des Wassers, wie sie sich nennt, weigert sie sich, ihr Land zu verkaufen.

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe: the defender of the water – from Mama Tierra on Vimeo.


Vor dem Bergbau, nach dem Bergbau (Venezuela)

Zerstörung der Umwelt

Der Bau der Mine Conga hat massive Eingriffe in die Umwelt zur Folge: Vier Bergseen werden verschwinden und damit wird eine ganze Region in den Anden mit bedrohten Tierarten trockengelegt. Das Gebiet mit der reinsten Luft der Welt würde verseucht werden.

Das Einverständnis der betroffenen Bevölkerung wurde nie eingeholt

Die Macht der Akteure ist in Peru sehr ungleich verteilt. Im Dezember letzten Jahres zeigte die GfbV zusammen mit peruanischen Organisationen auf, wie Rohstofffirmen mit meist geheimgehaltenen Verträgen jederzeit Einsätze der Nationalpolizei gegen die Bevölkerung beantragen können. Diese Rohstofffirmen unterstützen die Einsätze finanziell, materiell und logistisch. Staatliche und wirtschaftliche Interessen verbünden sich damit gegen die Interessen der lokalen Bevölkerung, eine Lösung des Konflikts rückt in weite Ferne.

Brutale Auseinandersetzungen 

Seit Herbst 2011 nehmen die Konflikte um die Mine Conga zu; im Juli 2012 starben bei Protesten fünf Personen. Kurz darauf besetzten Dutzende von Polizisten ohne richterliche Genehmigung das Landgut von Maxima Acuña.

Maxima Acuña ist 150 cm gross

Maxima Acuña ist 150 cm gross


Maxima und Ysidora Acuña sowie die GfbV und LAMMP fordern die Schweizer Raffinerie Valcambi auf, sich bei ihrer Schwesterfirma Yanacocha für eine friedliche Lösung des Konflikts einzusetzen. Valcambi soll Einfluss nehmen, damit Yanacocha das Mitbestimmungsrecht der Lokalbevölkerung respektiert. Ausserdem wird das Schweizer Unternehmen aufgefordert, eine Sorgfaltsprüfung aller Aktivitäten durchzuführen und die Namen sämtlicher Rohgoldlieferanten zu publizieren. Denn die Firmen haben es in der Hand, ob einer der blutigsten Rohstoffkonflikte Perus friedlich gelöst wird oder weiter eskaliert.

Vom Opfer zur Aktivistin

Die Nichtregierungsorganisation Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP) schult Indigene und Bäuerinnen zu Aktivisten. So können Sie Eigenverantwortung übernehmen und selber für ihre Rechte kämpfen. Maxima beschützt weiter die Wasserquellen. Begleitet von LAMMP informiert sie die Menschenrechtsgremien bei der UNO in Genf über die massiven Einschüchterungsversuche.

Was kannst du tun, um Maxima zu helfen?

– Schreibe eine Postkarte an Valcambi, via Passeggiata 3, 6828 Balerna

Bitte die Raffinerie, die Menschenrechte der Quechua-Indigenen wie Maxima zu respektieren.

– Schreibe eine Postkarte an die peruanische Botschaft in Bern: Embajada del Perú en Suiza, Thunstrasse 36, 3005 Bern
Bitte die Regierung von Peru, die Menschenrechte der Quechua-Indigenen wie Maxima zu schützen.

– Spende hier, dieses Geld geht direkt an Maxima

Kein Blut am Finger!

Heiratest du bald? Recycle Gold, es liegt genügend Gold in den Banken oder in Antiquitätenläden. Gehe zu einem Goldschmied und lass dir daraus einen Ehering anfertigen. Ich persönlich boykottiere die Goldindustrie, weil ich den Gedanken nicht aushalte, Menschen das Leben mit meinem Kauf zur Hölle zu machen und dazu die Umwelt zu zerstören.

Ein Teil des Textes basiert auf einer Pressemeldung der GfbV