Full By Adriana E Allen, on 7 May 2014
Back in the early 1990s, the first settlements on the slopes were formed through collective occupations (or invasiones in Spanish), followed over the years by further waves of occupation further up the hills. Such invasiones are in fact the main mechanism by which the collectives of the poor have accessed land in Lima for many decades. At points in history this process was not only tolerated by the state but even encouraged and supported through what is known as the planned occupations that built most of the areas occupied nowadays by the popular sectors of the population. However, unlike the earlier collective occupations, the periphery of Lima is currently expanding through a complex web of practices that constantly reconfigure the actual border of the city. Some of these practices are still driven through collective organization as a means to reclaim the right to the city, others through what is often locally described as ‘informal speculation’.
During one of the field visits, one of the first settlers in the area explains who is driving the occupation of the slopes, how and why.
“This area is the outcome of four groups: the old settler, the newcomer, the tourist and the corrupt. The former are people like me… those who came to the area almost two decades ago in search of a place to live. The newcomers are those in need who keep on coming to the area because they have no alternative options elsewhere in the city. The tourists are people from the lower part of San Juan de Lurigancho and other parts of metropolitan Lima, who come to see how things go, hoping to grab a piece of land which could be turned into a plot either for their children, or to be sold to others. They come and go, and often give up before their dream materializes, this is why we call them the tourists.”
Last but not least, the ‘corrupt’ describes the land traffickers, those who speculate at scale, opening roads and carving the hills in search of profits through practices that range from negotiation with existing settlers all the way to intimidation and coercion.
These four groups – the old settler, the newcomer, the tourist and the corrupt – operate in the same territory but with very different rationales, motives and expectations. While some are just deploying individual and collective coping practices to claim a place within the city, others deploy different forms of speculation ranging from the individual expectation of capturing a small surplus by carving further plots on the slopes, to that driven by organized networks of land traffickers driving the expansion of the city in the interstices of the legal and the illegal, the formal and the informal. These practices are however often homogenized from the outside, feeding into narratives that render the current occupation of the slopes as a form of illegal informality.
Both the groups working in Jose Carlos Mariátegui and Huaycán set up to explore the different processes that drive the urbanization of the slopes, an understanding that holds crucial clues to seek transformative strategies capable of addressing the production and reproduction of sociology-environmental injustices.