«You’re an ant. The mining company is an elephant,» police in Peru told farmer Máxima Acuña in 2011 when a corporation tried to physically intimidate her into giving up the land she owns. The metaphor is not a new one — nor is the manifestation of economic greed so corrupt and pervasive that the human right to dignity and survival is rendered near-powerless. The implication of the officer’s words was clear: acquiesce, as there is no point fighting, in such an unequal clash. Wholly rarer, however, was Acuña’s response. She stands less than five feet tall but has resisted the strong-arm tactics of the U.S. mining corporation Newmont and its relentless efforts to force her from her property ever since, with stoic courage that holds truth as an absolute, no matter what brutality is invested in contradicting it. American director Claudia Sparrow’s documentary Maxima embraces a glossy and conventional social-issue format. But it’s a David and Goliath tale that fully engages, through the formidable integrity of its namesake, and the stomach-churning topicality of the gold industry’s offenses against the environment, which are echoed by the practices of unethical multi-nationals worldwide, as the only planet we have is polluted to the point of imminent collapse.
Yanacocha, one of the world’s largest gold mines, is in Peru’s poorest region, Cajamarca. It is running out of its precious metal, and its majority American owners Newmont devised the 4.8 billion-dollar Conga Expansion Project as a way to tap new resources. They are not interested in the land or water there — they just want the gold. But indigenous communities depend on clean drinking water from Lake Perol and subsistence crops grown in the soil, their very livelihoods under threat by the massive contamination of toxic waste that mining would result …
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