Social Issues

Days numbered for wall separating rich from poor in Peru’s capital

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Jan 19 (EFE).- Ernesto lives near the summit of one of the hills surrounding Peru’s capital and just a short walk from the so-called “wall of shame,” a more than four-kilometer-long (2.5-mile-long) stone and wire barrier that separates his humble shantytown from the affluent district where he works.

A security guard by profession, he told Efe it will be strange to look over at the “rich people’s” side without his view being obstructed by that controversial urban wall, whose days are now numbered.

In a late December ruling, Peru’s Constitutional Court set a 180-day deadline for the demolition of the wall, which divides La Molina from Villa Maria del Triunfo, or in Ernesto’s words, “those who have money from those who don’t.”

“This wall identifies us as people from another class,” Ernesto said from the garden of his plywood, corrugated-roofed home, which was erected in one of the densely populated settlements in Villa Maria del Triunfo.

His wife, Monica, told Efe “there’s nothing” on their side of the wall. Most of the homes were built irregularly in a process controlled by land-trafficking gangs and lack potable water and plumbing.

The slum’s steep, sandy streets have no asphalt and any notion of town planning is utterly lacking.

By contrast, La Molina is a district with paved roads, green parks and exclusive homes furnished with all the modern conveniences.

“Over there, there’s everything,” the woman said, although she acknowledged that La Molina’s residents will be adversely affected by the demolition because “the land traffickers will move in,” take over brownfield sites and illegally sell small parcels to poor, homeless families.

Indeed, the fear of land invasions by people in Villa Maria del Triunfo was what prompted the construction of the controversial wall in 2011.

The office of La Molina’s mayor said the wall, which has become an iconic symbol of Latin American inequality, enhances public safety and prevents illegal settlements from being built in an area set aside for an eco park.

But many others say that barrier effectively criminalizes the residents of Villa Maria del Triunfo and violates several of their rights.

The Constitutional Court agreed, ruling that the wall restricts freedom of movement and is discriminatory.

While Ernesto acknowledged the symbolism of the tribunal’s ruling, he said that in practice “the wall doesn’t bother anyone” in Villa Maria, noting that one section free of stones and wire can be easily crossed by anyone needing to get to their place of employment on the other side.

One individual who uses that route is Adrian, a cabinetmaker whose customers are mainly located in La Molina.

“I don’t know why there’s a need to tear down the wall. For me personally, it doesn’t affect me at all,” Adrian said while pointing to a small vegetable garden he built a few meters from the barrier on the La Molina side.

Demolishing the wall will only lead to more hill invasions that benefit land traffickers, he said, adding that people on both sides should be allowed to vote on this issue affecting their future.

La Molina’s conservative mayor, Diego Uceda, also opposes the demolition plan, saying he is considering lodging an appeal with international bodies to block enforcement of the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

Uceda also is urging Congress to pass comprehensive measures to combat land usurpation and trafficking. EFE


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