LIMA, Peru—After decades of struggle, residents of the Carabayllo neighborhood have seen slow but promising reforms.
“The municipality promised [the residents] a boulevard, but never fulfilled it. They come around with the same promise during election time, to get votes and free personnel [to work in their campaigns], but after elections are over, it's ‘If I saw you, I don’t remember,'” said political activist and lawyer Antonio Tavarone.
The district of Carabayllo is the largest in the country’s capital. Though Carabayllo has grown tremendously in the past 40 years, residents still remember how life used to be in the neighborhood.
During the 1960s, most of the land was used to grow cotton and sugar cane, which was exported during World War I. This area was privately owned by a few local families, while farmers worked and lived on the land. Years later, in 1969, Law 17716 gave titles to the land to the farmers that worked the land.
This was just the beginning for the residents in Carabayllo. Following the law of 1969, residents fought for basic amenities like electricity, running water, roads and transportation. Their protests demanding a better standard of living lasted three decades.
Composed of five different zones, Carabayllo is now a highly urban area. One of these zones, El Progreso, was founded in 1960. Compared to the Villa Victoria zone, also in Carabayllo, El Progreso is “smaller and not as dangerous,” said Tavarone. This area is home to various small businesses and an extensive market on the main streets, while residential homes are located along the side streets.
As he drove around the El Progreso, Tavarone noticed the transformation: “Thirty-eight years ago," he said, "there was a lot of crime in this areas. Many dangerous kidnappers and robbers came out of this neighborhood.”
Local resident Alberto Cruzado Arrollo moved into the neighborhood with his parents and siblings when he was 3 years old. He agrees with Tavarone that there have been many changes.
“This used to be a neighborhood with lots of violence. Eight famous delinquents come out of here. Most of them are dead now, but there’s a lot of people [local delinquents] that are still alive.” One of the gangs Arrollo refers to is "Las Fieras de Gañango" ("The Beasts of Gañango). The gang gained its reputation by kidnapping wealthy businessmen and robbing banks—among other illegal activities.
Tavarone explained, “Once [housing] titles were given to the residents, many people from the commercial areas sold their properties, but some exchanged them for residential homes further inside the neighborhood.”
“They weren’t kicked out,” Arrollo said, “They’ve made a different life. They’ve moved to different countries or areas. Most of the people I know from the neighborhood have gone to another country.”
The homes for residents, called “invaciones” (squatter homes) came to be out of necessity. A committee was formed by the needy families of the area to fight for legal rights to land they called home.
Years later the residents received what they fought for, and in many cases the homes proved to be safe, with no risk of eviction. But that has not always been the case:
“Look I’m going to tell you,” Arrollo said, pointing to a small structure across the street, “that house right across the street belongs to a friend. It’s been like that since I was 3 years old. The one-story house with exposed bricks has an unfinished roof with pieces of wood sticking out of it, as if was staying put by a miracle. This small home has no visible windows—it almost looks abandoned.
"They are in trouble because the mom and dad, they were the owners, but they are deceased and all their kids are adults now,” Arrollo said. “One of the sisters took her dad to do a legal document before he died. So she made him do a bill of sale for the house [giving her the title]. She then came to the house with the police to try and evict her siblings. It was such a big deal—everyone was outside fighting with the police. The siblings have been living there their whole lives and here she comes to try and kick them out of their house.”
This sister had forged her father’s signature in order to get the title transferred to her, Arrollo explained to Tavarone. The residents are now involved in an annulment process which would give them back their home.
Confrontations among neighbors and family members over ownership can quickly turn violent. “It’s about gaining possession of the property,” Tavarone said. “The new law now gives authorities 15 days to evict the squatters” so those are the stories that make national news. Arrollo remembers that the day the police came to evict his neighbors across the street one of the sisters-in-law became violent. “[She] came with a butane cylinder and lit it on fire and she kept screaming, ‘No one is going to get us out of here!’ She blew it up,” he said.
But for now, El Progreso neighborhood seems calm. The residents have adapted, and continue to demand what they deserve. Safe and clean streets, better schools and a better quality of life. In 2013, the Peruvian government scheduled repairs for the public schools, which allowed 2,000 kids to return to class. Other assistance includes medical campaigns, and housing lot actions. Earlier this month, 266 lots were auctioned in the district of Carabayllo. The money collected will be used to maintain parks in the area.
Tavarone recognizes that there is progress on the housing front as well. Historically law enforcement had 24 hours to evict squatters, but in recent years laws regarding private or state land invasions have changed. “There are many ways of getting a title. One is by possession, the other is by acquisitive prescription [acquiring property by meeting statutory requirements of possession]. . . Now, there’s a new law that gives law enforcement 15 days to clear the area,” he said.
After the 15 days have passed and the resident has maintained possession of the terrain, then it is time to start the long process that will eventually result in title to the land.
Tavarone said that even though obtaining a title can take years of legal procedures, it is worth it. Financing the legal process is a lot cheaper than paying for the actual housing lot. “We are talking about $1,000 for residents to keep their house, instead of about $800 for a square meter,” he said.
The legal process is worth the time, Tavarone said, “if you have a good lawyer.” For the people of El Progreso, it took nearly 40 years for all the residents to receive titles to their homes. “[Arroyo's] parents started the process almost 40 years ago, it is he who has been able to see the official end of it all.”