To defend land and territorial rights in our region is a long and very difficult road to travel. Máxima Acuña knows this, but she is determined not to give up.
Among the hundreds of people who participated in the 2nd Annual Forum of Environmental Human Rights Defenders, the presence of Máxima Acuña did not go unnoticed. Protagonist of the documentary "The Illusion of Abundance," which was screened at the opening of the event, Máxima received numerous expressions of support and affection, and she was highlighted in the meeting's panels, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
"The film portrays what has happened, but it is not everything, it is only a part of it," says Máxima, seated on the edge of the stage in the main hall, where seconds before sustained applause reflected the enormous impact that watching the documentary had on its audience, especially while in the company of its protagonists. To recount everything she has lived through "I would need days, even weeks," she adds, emphasising, her voice on the verge of cracking, "it is one thing to narrate the conflicts once they have happened, but it is quite another to live through them."
"I have been beaten, mistreated, even attacked with stones, in a cowardly fashion, sometimes by 200, 300 people, including police and people from the company. What can I do against them?" she wonders aloud in front of the auditorium.
Many of the faces of those who listen to her are covered in tears, but they stay laser-focused on her story. Her courage and commitment moves and inspires.
STANDING UP TO A MINING GIANT
Máxima and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought almost 25 hectares of land in 1994 in front of the Laguna Azul, in the hills of Sorochuco, more than 3,000 metres above sea level. They built their adobe house there and have been living there ever since, with their children, working the land for a living.
THAT LAND IS NOT ONLY THEIR HOME, IT IS ALSO THEIR LIVELIHOOD.
In 2011, the Yanacocha mining company (now 100% owned by the US company Newmont) tried to evict Máxima from her home in Cajamarca, in the northern part of the country. Newmont argued that it bought the Acuña property and surrounding land from the local community in 1997. Laguna Azul, along with three other lagoons in the area, provides water for more than 40,000 people. The Yanacocha mining company, through its Conga Project, planned to dry up the lagoons in order to exploit the gold and copper deposits underneath.
Máxima peacefully resisted the intimidation and beatings that accompanied eviction attempts. "The company entered my land, burned my huts, my belongings, my food. I knelt down and cried, but they had no mercy. They took everything I had," she explains.
After several attempts to evict them, the company sued the Chaupe-Acuña family for aggravated usurpation. The Provincial Court of Celendín sentenced them to almost three years in prison, to pay almost USD 2,000 in reparations to the mining company and to leave their land. But in December 2014, the Cajamarca Criminal Court of Appeals acquitted the family.
HER FIGHT BECAME A SYMBOL OF RESISTANCE TO THE INTERESTS OF LARGE MINING COMPANIES AND THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN PERU AND AROUND THE WORLD.
In 2016  she won the Goldman Prize, a highly prestigious award in the field of environmental advocacy, which further boosted her notoriety. Articles about her case multiplied on international news portals.
THE DEMAND FOR JUSTICE REMAINS URGENT
SEVEN YEARS LATER, MAXIMA IS NO LONGER IN THE HEADLINES, BUT CONTINUES TO FACE THREATS AND HARASSMENT.
"If I raise a rabbit or a chicken, they come in, take them, and make them disappear. They have stolen my sheep. They have killed my guard dogs, who looked after me because they barked when the police and the company came in," Máxima laments. "It is very hard, very painful for me to be a humble woman and a peasant farmer and have nowhere to go, nowhere to turn to, and that there is no justice in my country".
Máxima has not only faced violence, but also endless legal obstacles. The Peruvian state has failed to recognise her rights. While Máxima has demonstrated the legitimacy of her possession of the land, legal processes are long and costly.
"THE TRIAL IS NOW 13 YEARS OLD. I HAVE BEEN SENTENCED AS IF I WERE A CRIMINAL, BUT I AM ONLY DEFENDING MY RIGHTS AND DEFENDING LIFE. I HAVE NO PEACE OR TRANQUILLITY. WHY? BECAUSE THEY ONLY WANT TO EXPAND THEIR PROJECT."
Despite the fact that the Constitution and national and international laws protect her right to land ownership, the lack of state action has allowed the mining company to continue with its attempts to evict her and violate the rights of Máxima and her family. She has sought justice and redress, but has been met with an impartial and flawed judicial system.
Today, her struggle continues. "To enter our home we have to identify ourselves to the company guards. We cannot enter freely as we did before the company came and started putting up their gates. We live under threat. I feel as if I am a prisoner within four walls, it is difficult for me, as a simple woman and a peasant farmer."
She has filed legal appeals and has taken her case to national and international bodies. The mining project violates her human rights and seriously affects the local ecosystem.
"This very big and powerful company is destroying the land and the beautiful lagoons that were there. I wonder what the land will look like after it is exploited. We know it's going to wipe everything out, leaving pollution, and that it won't be good for growing anything. What are we going to live on?"
Two court cases are still open. Máxima's family has been waiting for years for the Celendín Court of First Instance to issue sentences. "All the stages have already been carried out, within the corresponding deadlines and with all the required evidence. It is an outrage on the part of the justice system," explains Ysidora, Máxima's eldest daughter. They ask for support from the international community to urge the justice system to respond, and demand an end to the threats and harassment by the mining company.
Máxima's story is not an isolated case. In Latin America, land and environmental defenders face threats, intimidation, and violence for protecting their territories and natural resources from extractive projects.
It is because of this urgent situation that spaces such as the 2nd Annual Forum of Environmental Human Rights Defenders are so important. It is crucial that progress is made on concrete measures to recognise and protect defenders. As long as needed changes are not enacted, Máxima will continue to resist and fight. She leads by example, inspiring many others to defend their territories and the environment.
 In 2016, Máxima Acuña received the Goldman Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of environmental advocacy. This award helped to make her case internationally visible and strengthen her struggle for justice and land protection.