For Ruth Buendía, her biggest fight against indifference and exclusion is still in progress, she is this week’s “Game Changer”.
The Ene River in Central Amazon, Peru is home of the Ashaninka. It is the largest native group in the Peruvian Amazon. In the 1980’s, the Ashaninka tribe was caught in a civil war they didn’t understand. For ten years during the Shining Path revolt, they endured slavery and death. This week’s “Game Changer” is a woman who rose above that hardship. Her name is Ruth Buendía.
Ruth Buendía is the president of the Ashaninka Centre of the Ene River, which unites 17 Ashaninka communities. In a male dominated society, Buendía became the leader of the Ashaninkas, and it wasn’t easy. She says, “I put up with a lot of opposition from the men. Who elected me really, were the women that dragged their husbands to vote for me for one reason – the policies I was putting forward.” That was back in 2005, and she has been re-elected ever since. “They trust me,” Buendía says.
Ruth Buendía stopped the construction of the Pakitzapango and Tambo-40 dams in Peru. They were dams that she feared would flood the land of her people. She was inspired by a similar objection that took place in Brazil. In Brazil, the Belo Monte dam construction affected the indigenous land. Many protested the project, but construction still continued.
In Peru, the Ashaninkas fought in a different way. “We didn’t block roads, we didn’t come to Lima to cause disorder and burn tires. What we did was use the legal tools available and apply the national laws and international treaties which the Peruvian state had adulterated,” Buendía says.
She gave the community one strong tool: awareness of their civil rights. Her work with the community halted the construction of both dams. And in 2012, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. However, she says didn’t do it for the prize, she did it because she is obliged to help her people. “I am Ashaninka and to have lived through the violence due to the negligence of the government, I have a moral and spiritual commitment to help my people. I would do it with or without a prize.”
Ruth Buendía Game ChangerFor Ruth Buendía, her biggest fight against indifference and exclusion is still in progress, she is this week’s “Game Changer”.