Peruvian subsistence farmer, Máxima Acuña, has now become a symbolic representative for grassroots activists. It is a David-and-Goliath- like story in which a humble illiterate woman dares to battle against an industrial bully, wins, and in doing so, inspires her community, both locally in Cajamarca, and globally in the name of environmentalism.
She and her husband bought their land back in 1994, near Lake Laguna Azul, in order to have clean drinking water, tend to livestock, make dairy products, and harvest vegetables like potatoes. But in 2012 an American Mining Company, Newmont, won a lawsuit against her to attain it. The Mining Company accused her of squatting after the land was granted to them by the Peruvian government. They were particularly interested in the Acuña land as they wanted to use Lake Azul as a “tailings pond” or mining dump, to dispose of the toxic waste left over from the mining process.
With the help of an NGO, Acuña was advised to appeal to a higher court, trekked the rough 10 mile journey to the court, and won the appeal in 2014. The company and the Peruvian police have harassed the Acuña family ever since, building a fence around their land, destroying their crops, and even beating Máxima and her daughter. Yet she refuses to give up her family’s livelihood and traditional way of life. Her story shows the power of determination, and how one person, albeit with little education, can triumph over industry. Considering this, she rightfully earned the 2016 Goldman Environmental prize for Grassroots Environmentalism.