By URI FRIEDMAN, APR 30 2014, The Atlantic

Ruth Buendía Mestoquiari has built her career, and staked the fate of her people, on the law.

But she doesn’t have a law degree. In fact, she didn’t even start elementary school until she was a teenager and didn’t finish high school until age 25. While her peers went to class, she spent her childhood in the 1980s and 90s shuttling between her native village of Cutivireni, the town of Satipo, and the city of Lima, as Peru’s two-decade civil war devastated her community and claimed her father, who was killed in the violence when Buendía was only 12.

What Buendía does have is five children, all 18 and younger, and a “wonderful husband.” She has the distinction of being the first female president of CARE, an organization representing roughly 10,000 indigenous Asháninka who live along the banks of the Ene River in the Peruvian Amazon. And she has a knack for blocking massive hydroelectric dams, having thwarted not one but two planned projects that she believed would displace the Asháninka and destroy the ancestral lands they depend on for their livelihoods. It’s a threat she characterizes as “economic terrorism,” in an allusion to the armed terrorism she experienced during the civil war.

Through it all, she’s managed to redeem what we’ve come to consider something of a dark art: the lawsuit.

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