All she wanted was to work her land in peace. However, without going after the title or the attention, Máxima Acuña became the face of the human rights struggle of the indigenous people of Peru.
Máxima Acuña fought a giant. When Peruvian gold-mining project Yanacocha wanted to expand, it needed the small piece of land owned by Máxima Acuña and her family. However, Acuña, who lives in Peru’s poorest province Cajamarca, refused to sell. ‘In Cajamarca, we know what mines can do,’ Acuña told The Guardian. ‘In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future.’ The mining company – owned by American mining mogul Newmont – then came after her, with police backing and very deep pockets.
Peru is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental activists. According to a Global Witness report, the killings of environmental activists increased 300 per cent between 2016 and 2017. Most of them were indigenous campaigners trying to protect their communities’ land. Often, multinational companies work hand in hand with the government. Like Acuña’s lawyer warns in the documentary Máxima: ‘Those in power will do anything to stop you.’
What followed was a frightening intimidation campaign. ‘I was grabbed by six police men,’ Acuña told The Guardian, ‘and they beat with their batons, they threw me to the ground then beat my son [and] hit my daughter in the head with the butt of the machine gun.’ The Acuña home was twice demolished and their crop was destroyed multiple times.
In a cynical turnaround, Yanacocha then pressed charges against Acuña for ‘invading its property’. But determined and full of strength, she fought them all the way to the Supreme Court. ‘I never had the chance to go to school, I never had the chance to learn even a letter but I know how to resist,’ she said. ‘That’s why I will never be defeated by the mining companies.’
Interested in helping Máxima Acuña? See Stand with Máxima.
Máxima was shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2020.