Chincha Still Trying to Come Back from 2007 Earthquake with Little Help

barrios and squatters village built by Chincha citizens after 2007 earthquake

Lima   We drove 200 kilometers from Lima to visit the newest local group in ACORN Peru, Chincha, by the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, a straight shot on the Pan American highway.  This was a California climate, except drier perhaps with sand dune mountains along the way.  Grapes grow here and wine and Pisco makers abound.  A look at Wikipedia says there are 177,000 people who live here, but…

Only some of this is true anymore.  ACORN Peru’s head organizer, Orfa Camacho, estimates the population may only be 20,000 now since the 2007 earthquake devastated so much of this town, that too many have forgotten.  We spent most of our time going through the newly built barrios that had sprung up by the hardest hit areas in the last 5 years.  These were patchwork enterprises of thatch, plywood, and whatever.  There were signs everywhere of people trying to grow banana plants, trees, and flowers.

The committee told of a government program that was supposed to help in the rebuilding called Mi Techo Propio or My Own Roof.  Problem was that to access the program you had to put down 1000 soles or $400 roughly.  You also had to pay 20% interest and have a “formal” job which almost no one has anymore.   Worthless.

We were standing in the community center or what was supposed to be the community center some day.  The money had come from Venezuela, but someone messed up somehow and it was unfinished.

We heard about the issues of water where people were paying a fixed rate and could access water for only an hour or two per day and as more people came on there was less water.

There were industrial pig and chicken growing operations operating “informally” right in the barrio.  People would complain.  They would get a pig.

Most of the women were single mothers running households, but most of the governing councils making the priorities were all men.

Two story houses had been financed by Spain behind the unfinished plaza and the unfinished community center, but it was unclear if water connections had been provided.

ACORN Peru will have their work cut out for them here.

houses built by Spain without water connections

Leaving Bolivia

Evo Morales

Lima   Cochabamba is a very pleasant city in many ways, but La Paz and El Alto are what’s happening as unique political, social, and cultural environments which are hard to duplicate in the rest of the world.  The strategic and tactical power of El Alto over the country, because of its geographical stranglehold and emergence and sustained social movements are inspiring, no matter how fragile the future.

One of the hardest puzzles is the career and role of the Evo Morales as not only the first indigenous President of the country, but because of his role in the cocaleros and the water and gas wars, he is legitimately a creation of the social movements even as he was a shrewd politician that rode their wave to victory.  Is he manipulating and co-opting the leadership and energy of the social movements as the left argues or is he a captive of them as the right contends?

Surprisingly, the organizations and leaders we visited with were almost universally critical of Evo, even when they were often shock troops for his party, MAS, and seen as uncritically supportive.  There was not simply a feeling of disenchantment, but in the words of one former MAS member, “he is taking control of everything.”  There was a feeling that he had delivered on his promises, but had weakened the social movements sufficiently that there was no contender likely to prevent Evo from another term, or more.

There was unanimous support for Evo as a political symbol, much in the same way that Obama as the first African-American President of the US occupies unassailable ground that warrants unambiguous respect, but it was increasingly begrudging.  Even the FUEVE, thought to be the most powerful community organization in the country and certainly in El Alto, didn’t blink at the question that Evo had favored the rural areas of the country and not delivered to the cities.  FUEVE is also reportedly Evo’s strongest defender.

This is a difficult political boundary line because of the 10+ million people in the country; the urban population has soared due to the economic problems and dislocations of recent years.  Santa Cruz is the largest city with 1.5 million, El Alto is now likely larger than La Paz with probably a million inhabitants (the census is coming next year) with the La Paz (800,000+) and Cochabamba (650,000+) not far behind.  Add the metropolitan areas, and it screams “get it done!”

The comments about Evo’s isolation also warn that there may be a time when social movements could once again be called on to protect the democracy, if Evo is tempted to reach beyond his grasp, regardless of his current base support.