By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Apr 21 (EFE).- Gladys Obregon began living about a week ago in a makeshift tent held up by wooden sticks in a vacant lot in Villa El Salvador, a low-income district on the outskirts of Peru’s capital.
Ever since then, the young woman has been safeguarding the piece of land she illegally occupied on Lomo de Corvina hill, a property owned by a mining company where hundreds of families have taken up residence over the past week in an improvised camp.
“The first day we slept in a hole in the sand, the third day we started making sticks,” Gladys, 23, told Efe while breastfeeding her one-year-old daughter next to the small tent she now shares with her sister and nephew.
Like Gladys, many other occupants of this tent community are street vendors whose already precarious economic situations were further imperiled by the pandemic, which caused their meager savings to evaporate and left them unable to afford their rents.
“We just want a place to live,” is the common refrain of these squatters, who deny any links to land trafficking, the biggest source of revenue for criminal organizations in Peru after drug trafficking.
The occupation of Lomo de Corvina began in the wee hours of April 12 and was part of a broader series of land invasions in Lima in recent weeks.
Since the first families set foot on that sandy and steep terrain in Villa El Salvador, authorities have urged the squatters to leave peacefully. The problem is that many of these people seemingly have no alternative.
“Where are we going to go? If they throw us out, we’ll be there on the street,” Celestina Landia Duran, a 38-year-old single mother of three, told Efe.
Peru has a housing deficit of nearly two million homes, according to official figures, and that explains why that Andean nation ranks second in Latin America (after Cuba) in terms of the expansion of informally occupied lands, according to a report by the Group for Analysis of Development (Grade).
In a bid to reverse the trend of recent decades, a period in which 93 percent of growth in the country’s cities has been the result of informal settlements, Housing Minister Solangel Fernandez this week submitted a draft sustainable urban development bill to a legislative committee.
The goal of that proposed bill is to provide a legislative framework for the planning, use and management of urban land.
The proposal comes just seven months after Congress passed a controversial bill that extended the amount of time that lands can be occupied informally and facilitates the process of formalizing people’s ownership.
That 2020 law, however, has proved controversial, with critics saying it will only encourage illegal land occupation and land trafficking by criminal groups.
One of the organizations most opposed to the law was the Red de Lomas del Peru, a group whose mission is to protect Peru’s coastal hills.
That organization’s president, Asencio Vasquez Gonzalez, told Efe that the underlying problem is the lack of social housing policies and stressed that the new law merely “formalizes the informal” and “benefits those dedicated to land speculation.” EFE