Maxima Acuña Atalaya, a woman human rights defender from Cajamarca, Peru, was finally acquitted from the Tribunal of Appeals after being falsely accused of illegal occupation by mining company, Minera Yanacocha.
The 17 December 2014 was a day of celebration for Maxima Acuña Atalaya and her family: on this day she knew she would not be evicted and a step closer to justice was achieved.
The dispute which was initiated in 2011, when Yanacocha planned to expand its Conga project in Tragadero Grande, a remote rural area in the highlands of Cajamarca. Maxima, an illiterate campesina who until then was living a peaceful pastoral life, was suddenly at risk of being forcefully evicted and losing her main source of survival. The company has relentless tried to expropriate Maxima’s land, and for four years, Maxima was tortured, beaten, threatened and harassed by mine engineers and public security working for the company.
View this video to gain more information about Maxima’s struggle
In 2011, Yanacocha accused Maxima and her family of illegal occupation. An endless struggle ensued for Maxima who was dragged from one court to another. On each occasion she presented herself at the hearings, her claims were ignored including her allegations of human rights violations and the documents proving her ownership of the land.
A ruling passed on 5 August 2014 found Maxima guilty of illegal occupation and she was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months imprisonment, with an additional fine of 5500 soles to the company. Her appeal was finally granted in the latest hearing on 17 December.
“We are very grateful to the magistrates of this court in Cajamarca for being impartial, for abiding to rule of law and respecting our rights. On this day, they did not allow that us campesinos should suffer so from the people and engineers of Yanacocha. In the four years of this lawsuit, they tortured me, they defamed me, and I was persecuted. But today in Cajamarca, we can see there is finally justice. I am very grateful”
In the course of this land dispute, Maxima lived in constant fear of attacks. Her daily activities were closely monitored by mine security, and she and her family have received death threats. As such, she was denied the right to live in dignity and in security.
As an illiterate farmer in the highlands of Peru, Maxima defeated invisibility. She showed resilience and bravery in the face of attacks. The mining company has yet to respond to the human rights violations committed against her and her family.
Her struggle is symbolic and representative of the battle of many rural and indigenous peoples in Latin America demanding the right to self-determination and informed consultation in the face of the extractive industry.
Further information on Maxima Acuna can be found below:
The Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP) is a London-based charity dedicated to supporting Latin American women and their communities in their campaign for human rights, sustainable and participatory development, corporate social responsibility and gender mainstreaming in the mining industry.