Change and upheaval was central in Peru when Maria Elena Moyano was growing up. It was therefore no surprise that she would grow up to become an activist who defended the less privileged in her country.
Born in 1958, Moyano ventured into activism as a teenager when she joined a youth movement called Movimiento de Jóvenes Pobladores, in her neighbourhood, Villa El Salvador, which was populated by immigrants.
By 25, Moyano was appointed president of her home’s federation of women called Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador. She proved to be a formidable leader, initiating projects such as supplying milk to children and joining committees for various initiatives such as education.
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Her contribution to her society came at a time when Afro-Peruvian communities were working hard to improve their lives. She became a leader an influential figure of her time.
However, not everyone was happy about social movements. Shining Path was such an organisation. Established by Abimael Guzmán, it was a communist party that wanted to take over the government and replace it with a ‘New Democracy’.
Only, it continuously became suspicious of community organisations and eventually started an attack against them. As a community organiser, Moyano was in their way; they considered her work counter-revolutionary and against their plans.
Their spirited attack against Moyano started in 1991 when they planted a bomb in one of the distribution centres and blamed Moyano. They also started distributing anti-Moyano leaflets, claiming that she had mismanaged finances as the deputy mayor of the municipality of Villa El Salvador, a post she had held since 1990.
She continued defending her work, claiming that she would not destroy what she had been building. She also continued to speak out against Shining Path and other organisations that were against the people. In spite of these attacks, Moyano was named the woman of the year by the Lima newspaper “La República”.
The attacks did not stop and Moyano started considering her death as many people who rose against Shining Path were killed. She wanted to seek asylum in Spain. This did not come to pass as Moyano was killed on February 15, 1992.
The day before she had led a protest against the Shining Path. They retaliated by killing her in front of her son, Gustavo, and husband, David. They went ahead to blow up her lifeless body with a dynamite, in what many considered a way to warn others who were against them.
About 300,000 people accompanied her coffin, showing that she was a symbol of hope to her community.
Marie-Elena Moyano has now become one of the most influential African women in Peru. That she stood up against a powerful regime made her a pioneer in community organisation and activism by black women in a country with a history of racism and sexism.