Terrorism in Peru forced people from the countryside, like Griselda, out from their lands to move to Lima capital. Fear congregated masses of farmers in the already-existing urban poor areas. They settled illegally in the surroundings of the southern and northern cones of Lima la hermosa. They settled where our story takes part: las invasiones.

Las invasiones, (the invasions), are the human settlements of suburban Lima. Located on hills of sand, houses threaten to fall apart due to simple gravity issues. Houses, as well as electricity connections slide down the hills creating dangerous and inhumane life conditions.  

Las invasiones are on hills of sand because they are on the coast of Peru. One of them, called Villa El Salvador, shares the sea and the sun with privileged areas like Miraflores, one of the richest districts of Lima, but is miles away in many terms; to name a few: clean water, electricity, sewage, education, income, lifestyle, skin color, etc.

Miraflores and las invasiones are both Peruvians, are both part of Lima. However the contrast between both of them represents the economic and social inequalities that we all have heard of Latin America. So, Lima is nothing more and nothing less than Buenos Aires, Bogotá or Santiago. But this thing with the sea and the shore is what got me thinking this, my first time in Peru. I’ve got to explain myself, or better I’ve got to explain the geography of both Miraflores and Villa el Salvador.

So far we have the sea, part of both areas. The shore, however, is different. In Miraflores the hills that face the sea are mountains of stone. The hills in Villa el Salvador are hills of sand. This difference in the geography became the beginning of our project.   

As described before, participatory budgeting is the process in which the people and the government meet and decide together what the priorities for public investment are. The people in Villa el Salvador decided that neither clean water, electricity, sewage, education nor higher wages where the priorities for public investment. Crazy, right? Well, the fact is not that lower-income Peruvians have distorted priorities (which in some cases we could say the have, considering cell phones rates per citizen or satellite TV in comparison to money spent on food) but in Villa El Salvador there is one thing that is more needed than anything we could have predicted for a shantytown: a wall, more specifically contention walls.

 

We came to know contention walls here in Peru. Being from Argentina myself, I knew what a shanty town looked like. But this was different. Contention walls were a new thing for me and for my South American friends. They occupied an irremovable first place on the list of priorities. This is, we learned, because they are the beginning for development. With a contention wall, that prevents the sand to keep falling down the hills and taking with it houses and electricity cables, you can install sewage, clean water pipes and solid electricity pillars.

 

Why, if contention walls are so obviously needed, does the government need participatory budgeting to decide allocation of resources on building them?

Because the promises of governments to the unprivileged people are many times as volatile as sand. “Earthquakes” caused by changes of administrations or political turmoil tend to affect more harshly the unstable areas built on sand. People need to get involved in civic life in order to hold their authorities accountable. Participation is the many-times forgotten ingredient of democracy. This is what this story is about.

 

Griselda, an old woman, together with Marisa a middle age resident of a shanty town and Daniela, a young adult Politician will show us that world of sandy instability and promise of rocky development.

 

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