Brazil’s Protections for Relocated Slum-Dwellers Could Be a Model for Peru and Beyond

Lima | 08/07/2013 3:05pm
Manuel Vigo | Informal City Dialogues

For the past two decades Latin America has had its eyes on the soaring economy of Brazil, a country where growth has led not only to increased trade, but also more slums. The region’s largest economy, in recent years Brazil has seen significant investments in urban development and infrastructure, including the massive Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC), which will see the world’s largest slum upgrading initiative.

As Rio de Janeiro gears up for two major sporting events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, resettlement of informal communities has become more frequent. In a country already fraught with considerable inequality, the relocation plans have raised tensions. Some residents said they’ve only found out they were being evicted from their communities after their homes had already been marked for removal. Early last year, as the country tried to clear way for new urban projects, violent clashes broke out in some of the favelas. The opposition to these relocation efforts hasn’t been unwarranted – resettlement often leads to significant problems for slum-dwellers, many of whom are moved far from their original neighborhoods, leading to long-distance commutes to get to their jobs, according to a 2012 report by the Inter-American Development Bank.

Last month Brazil’s Ministry of Cities approved a policy that could ease these growing pains. The initiative, developed with support from the World Bank and Cities Alliance, is designed to protect citizens who are involuntarily resettled from their homes.

According to Cities Alliance key parts of the initiative include mandated assessment of the community, and “a study of alternatives to involuntary displacement as well as effective economic solutions.” People living or working in targeted areas will only be displaced if “the intervention is critical for infrastructure projects, ensures adequate housing, eliminates hazardous risk factors and protects environmental conservation areas.” In addition, in cases where displacement is inevitable, resettlement and compensation must be planned and approved by the Ministry of Cities beforehand.

Peru could learn something from this.

Over the past decade, Peru has also seen strong economic growth, averaging seven percent a year for the past eight years. And like Brazil, the increased economic activity has also brought an increase in informal settlements. Since the 1960s, Lima’s population has quadruped, mostly in the asentamientos humanos (human settlements) that have popped up on the city’s outskirts. Today about 35 percent of Lima’s residents live in these settlements.

A recent case illustrates how the initiative in Brazil could help protect Lima’s informal settlers. Last year the government announced that as part of plans to expand the city’s airport, it would take back adjacent land, which was home to over 800 families distributed over eight human settlements. Close to half of the families live in the El Ayllu neighborhood for over two decades, occupying parts of the 400 acres that had once been home to the Hacienda San Agustin. The hacienda belonged to one of Lima’s wealthiest families, and in recent decades settlers have constructed improvised homes, using bricks and recycled materials, sharing space with 19th century buildings.

In early 2012 the country’s Ministry of Transport formally announced that the site would be cleared to make room for the airport’s new runway, and families were to be relocated as well as given monetary compensation. The ministry also agreed to relocate some 250 families that wished to stay together to government-owned land in Santa Rosa.

In February, however, a local newspaper reported that dozens of families refused to leave El Ayllu, arguing that the land they had been offered was far away, and that their new homes were not even built. They were eventually evicted, and the way in which the process unfolded reflects the lack of protection that informal settlers have.

“The project to relocate El Ayllu moved very fast,” says Marco Gamarra Galindo, a law student who also heads Salvemos Lima, an organization that works to bring awareness to historic monuments that are at risk. In 2012 Marco spent months visiting El Ayllu, talking to local residents and studying the factors at play. The fast-tracked plans, Marco says, meant El Ayllu’s settlers could only negotiate the price of their land, which wasn’t much.

The vast majority of residents, he says, understood that the airport expansion was necessary, but only wanted to ensure their livelihoods. “In El Ayllu people were used to working the land — they worked in agriculture, and if they were relocated they needed to be relocated to similar or better conditions, but instead they were going to be relocated to an urban area.”

Since the Santa Rosa homes are not yet finished, many of El Ayllu’s former residents have been renting places to live using a government stipend, but many problems remain.

“What could have been a good example of modernizing the city was not undertaken in the best way,” Marco says, adding that policies such as those adopted by the Brazilian government could help protect informal settlers in Peru. “Something so sensitive like relocating human populations that have cultural practices, dating back years, families – it cant be done as simply as it was done.”

While the country continues to experience a surge in economic prosperity, Peruvian officials would be wise to look at Brazil’s involuntary resettlement policy. As the city literally looks for room to take off, it must also include the communities that enabled its growth.