Squatting in Peru

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Photograph of shacks
A pueblo jóven in 1997

Squatting in Peru is the occupation of unused or derelict buildings or land without the permission of the owner. From the 1940s onwards, land invasions to create shanty towns called barriadas and later pueblos jóvenes have occurred. At first they were repressed, then the government tolerated them and by 1998 it was estimated 2.5 million inhabitants lived in pueblos jóvenes in the capital Lima. In Lima there are also slum tenements in the centre known as solares or tugurios. A Wall of Shame has been built to separate rich and poor areas of the city. During the COVID-19 pandemic in Peru, an increase in the occupation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Caral and the Nazca Lines was reported.


Squatting in Peru follows the trajectory of other Latin American cities, in that factors such as internal migration to urban areas, lack of affordable housing and ineffective governance have resulted in large informal settlements.[1] Peruvian law states that squatters on publicly owned land cannot be evicted if they have stayed there for over 24 hours. Instead they can apply for legal title to the courts and if the land has not been developed over the previous decade, they are likely to win the case.[2] In the countryside, many haciendas (large farms) were squatted in the 1950s by mestizo peasants and most occupations were tolerated.[3]

From the 1940s onwards, groups of families made land invasions to acquire homes and were often evicted forcibly, until government policy changed to toleration.[4] These mostly squatted settlements known as barriadas made up 4% of new homes in 1940 and nearly 70% in 1985.[5][6] The rapid growth of the capital Lima is shown by estimates of the squatter population being 5,000 in 1942, 130,000 in 1958, 338,00 in 1962 and 500,000 in 1966.[7] By the 2000s, the shanty towns are known as pueblos jóvenes ("young towns") and housed an estimated 35% of the population of Lima in the 2000s. Most pueblos jóvenes are however assisted by the city authorities which try to provide infrastructure; others arise spontaneously as squats and a smaller proportion are built on land bought by cooperatives.[8] By 1998, almost 2.5 million inhabitants of Lima lived in pueblos jóvenes, out of a total population of over 6.8 million.[8] The term tugurio refers to the separate phenomenon of urban slum tenements, although residents prefer the official term solares. Around 25% of Lima's population lives in these dilapidated tenement blocks.[8]

From the 1980s onwards, a wall has been built in Lima to separate rich settlements such as La Molina and Santiago de Surco from pueblos jóvenes such as San Juan de Miraflores and Villa María del Triunfo. It became known as the Wall of Shame (Muro de la Vergüenza) and by 2019 was ten kilometres long.[9] The wall means that people who work service jobs in affluent areas must commute for several hours to work.[10] Villa El Salvador began in 1971 and quickly had a population of 25,000. By 2008, its population was 350,000 and many squatters had title to their land, although all expansion of the site continues to be illegal. The United Front of the Peoples of Peru (FUPP, Frente Unitario de los Pueblos del Perú) represents inhabitants of informal settlements and has its headquarters at Villa El Salvador.[11]

As part of the internal conflict in Peru, the Shining Path have used squatting as a tactic to gain support. On 28 July 1990 (Peruvian Independence Day), the Shining Path led an occupation in Ate-Vitarte, a district of Lima. The site was then named Raucana after Félix Raucana, one of two people who died in clashes with the police. A planned eviction in 1991 was called off after the Shining Path bombed a factory belonging to the owner.[12]

Two destroyed pyramids
The ancient city of Caral in 2017

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Peru, a national lockdown was announced. Squatters took advantage of the lessened security presence to move onto an archaeological site at Caral, an ancient city developed between 3,000 and 1,800 BC, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The occupiers planted trees and beans, and after being asked to leave sent death threats to archaeologist Ruth Shady.[13] Squatters also encroached on another heritage site, the Nazca Lines. Officials from the Ministry of Culture alleged that the shacks constructed by squatters had destroyed an ancient cemetery.[14]


  1. ^ Everett, Margaret (1999). "Human Rights and Evictions of the Urban Poor in Colombia". Land Lines (in Spanish). Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  2. ^ Levinson, David (21 June 2004). Encyclopedia of Homelessness. SAGE. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-7619-2751-8.
  3. ^ Bobic, Michael P. "Peru's Shining Path: Revolution's End". Encyclopedia.com. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  4. ^ Andrews, Frank M.; Phillips, George W. (1970). "The Squatters of Lima: Who They Are and What They Want". The Journal of Developing Areas. 4 (2): 211–224. ISSN 0022-037X. JSTOR 4189671. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  5. ^ Chambers, Bill (2005). "The Barriadas of Lima: Slums of Hope or Despair? Problems or Solutions?". Geography. 90 (3): 200–224. doi:10.1080/00167487.2005.12094134. ISSN 0016-7487. JSTOR 40574091. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  6. ^ Giugale, Marcelo; Cibils, Vicente Fretes (2007). An Opportunity for a Different Peru: Prosperous, Equitable, and Governable. World Bank Publications. p. 559. ISBN 978-0-8213-6863-3. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  7. ^ Manaster, Kenneth A. (1968). "Squatters and the Law: The Relevance of the United States Experience to Current Problems in Developing Countries". Tulane Law Review. 43.
  8. ^ a b c Riofrío, Gustavo. "The case of Lima, Peru" (PDF). Urban Slums Reports. UCL. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 January 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  9. ^ Campoamor, Leigh (29 March 2019). "Lima's Wall(s) of Shame: In the hills of Lima, a concrete wall divides a poor neighborhood from a wealthy gated community, marking a border def ined by centuries of structural neglect". NACLA Report on the Americas. 51 (1): 29–35. doi:10.1080/10714839.2019.1593686. S2CID 167067331.
  10. ^ Janetsky, Megan. "Lima's 'Wall of Shame' and the Art of Building Barriers". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 27 November 2020. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  11. ^ Dosh, Paul. "Incremental Gains: Lima's Tenacious Squatters' Movement". NACLA. Archived from the original on 10 August 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ Pike, Johen (September 1992). "Sendero File". Federation of American Scientists. Archived from the original on 16 November 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Oldest city in the Americas under threat from squatters". Science X. 19 January 2021. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  14. ^ Taj, Mitra (15 August 2012). "Pigs and squatters threaten Peru's Nazca lines". Reuters. Archived from the original on 20 December 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2021.

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