Q&A with Máxima Acuña

May 11, 2016

A few months before winning the Goldman Environmental Prize in April, we spoke to Máxima Acuña and her attorney and head of the NGO Grufides Mirtha Vásquez, to learn more about Máxima’s life as a farmer, and the challenges she’s facing while standing up to Yanacocha Mining Company (a joint venture of the Peruvian Buenaventura and Colorado-based Newmont Mining Companies) to assert her right to her land, including walking up to 10 hours to attend court hearings.

Despite winning a Supreme Court criminal case against the company in 2014, Máxima is facing a new civil case brought against her which included a precautionary measure that she may not farm on the property to avoid ‘damaging the land’. After returning to Peru last month, this measure was revoked, but didn’t stop the daily harassment and surveillance measures that Máxima continues to bear:

Can you tell us about the importance of the earth to your way of life?

The land is important to us because we are farmers. We live off the land. We work on the land. That’s why we value the land. The land is our livelihood. It feeds us, gives us water…everything that we need.

What kind of crops do you grow, and animals do you raise, on your land?

Yes, we had lots of animals; bees, horses, pigs, chickens, rabbits. We also grew potatoes, oca and olluco [Andean tubers] and fava beans…and other crops to feed our cows.

Do you know how many people depend on the water of the various lakes in the region?

The entire population of Celendín, in the Cajamarca region. Nearby farmers, communities all live from the water as well.

Mirtha: Laguna Azul feeds into five streams serving Cajamarca and several other regions, supporting thousands of people.

How do the people use this lake water?

To drink. For everything. Because it’s natural, clean and uncontaminated.

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Máxima Acuña walking by the pristine Laguna Azul, an example of Peru’s high-altitude biologically diverse wetland. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

How old are your children and grandchildren?

My eldest daughter is 27. The second daughter is 24. Hilda is 22. The last one is 20. My little grandson is 10 months old.

Has being a mother or grandmother affected your activism?

I have to fight for everything; my children, my grandchildren and also for other people. We know we are at risk. We’re threatened because when the mining company came to destroy our water all of us will no longer have a healthy life or any peace. We will not be able to live. For this I will continue to fight.

What’s happening now on your land?

There are several problems because they [Yanacocha Mining Company, the police and security guards of the mining company] are moving closer and putting wire fences around my land. The company is not letting us leave and return to our property. There are also some tall steel structures where I think they have cameras. So they can see who’s coming and going, and that way, they can trespass on our land.

“They’ve tried to destroy everything that is material to us.”

They’re not letting us grow our crops or tend to our livestock. They don’t let us do anything. They won’t leave me alone with my family. Even though we won the case against us, they’ve tried to destroy everything that is material to us. So they started to destroy the house I was building to live in peace with my family. The company and the national police used all the force they had. They even destroyed the pillars that held up the roof of my house.

Other residents of Tragadero left, why did you stay and fight?

I am used to living from the land. I cannot live in the city. I’m not educated. I will never sell my land because my future lies there.

“The mining company is watching over my land with cameras…all the time.”

How is your fight helping other Peruvians?

The fight is for the water, for our land, our rights, our family, and our lives. That there be justice. Justice is what motivates me.

“I will never sell my land because my future lies there.”

Máxima has a simple wish: She wants to return to a peaceful life on her home, living off her land with her family. You can help her by calling on Newmont Mining Corporation to ensure her safety, withdraw security forces from the area, and drop legal actions against Máxima and her family.

Isadora Maxima e Maximo

Máxima Acuña (right) with her daughter, Ysidora Acuña and grandson Max Salvador, named after his grandmother won the Supreme Court case in 2014. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

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