Property development boom: Government sells civil airfield for housing megaproject, looks at psychiatric hospital grounds for Olympic village

More than half of of the grounds of Peru’s largest psychiatric hospital, where more than 600 long-term psychiatric inpatients are hospitalized, may be expropriated by the National Sports Institute for the construction of an Olympic Village if Peru wins its bid for the 2015 Panamerican Games.

Reducing the space so drastically will cause “overcrowding and high levels of stress for the patients,” said the hospital’s director, psychiatrist Cristina Eguiguren. “An important part of therapy takes place outside, in the open air, where patients take part in farming, caring for animals and playing sports.”

Hospital Víctor Larco Herrera, named after Trujillo-born philantropist Víctor Larco Herrera who donated the funds and land, is a hospital run by the Ministry of Health and specializing in the treatment of serious mental illnesses, usually for relatively long-term in-patients.

More than 600 psychiatric patients – of which 385 have been abandoned by their families – are currently hospitalized. Approximately 38,000 patients are treated or attended to each year.

“I was never informed about this, ” said Eguiguren, who claims she read about the proposal in the press.

“The idea is not only a total lack of respect for the institution, because decisions have been made without even consulting the hospital’s director,” said Eguiguren, “but (those involved) aren’t even considering philanthropist Víctor Larco Herrera’s wishes.”

The land and funds were donated to care for and rehabilitate those suffering from mental illness, disorders or addictions, said Eguiguren. “Using (the land) for anything else is illegal and immoral.”

Arturo Woodman, president of Peru’s National Sports Institutue, IPD, has proposed to tear down five of the hospital’s wings, including those where long-term inpatients, court-ordered patients and addicts are hospitalized, to build 1,200 apartments and a shopping center for the 2015 Panamerican Games’ athletes.

Woodman hopes to expropriate 12 of the 21 hectares.

“It’s only a possibility,” said Woodman, though the project was presented to the press as being supported by the government and by Lima’s mayor, Luis Castañeda Lossio.

“We will only be using the Olympic Village for 15 days,” added Woodman. “After that, the apartments will be sold and we could begin the construction of a much more modern and comfortable hospital for the patients on the remaining land (11 hectares).”

The land is “huge and not well distributed,” added Woodman. “All of the buildings are one-floored.”

“I really don’t think the IPD is best qualified to tell us what is best for our patients,” said Eguiguren.

Though Health Minister Oscar Ugarte has remained silent until now, members of the opposition are speaking up.

“This sale will not, under any circumstances, take place,” said UPP Congressman Isaac Mekler.

“Now (the government) is trying to overcrowd disabled people incapable of discernment, (treating) them just like animals, only to satisfy the voracious hunger it has to sell off anything found in its path,” he added.

“A few days ago, security guards at the hospital caught an IPD employee taking pictures of the property and when they cornered him said he was acting on Arturo Woodman’s orders,” said Mekler.

ANOTHER QUESTIONABLE SALE

Meanwhile, on Thursday this week Housing Minister Enrique Cornejo appeared before Congress’ plenary to explain the sale last August of a 64-hectare property that belongs to the Collique Aeroclub, in order to build a mass housing project.

The airfield and aeroclub, founded in 1944, is now surrounded by urban sprawl, in north Lima, the city’s commercially most interesting area.

The bid to develop a housing megaproject -Ciudad Sol de Collique- for 22,000 families and a shopping mall, was won at the end of August by the consortium of the Graña & Montero Group, Peru’s leading construction company, and BESCO of Chile. The bid project and the sale have been protested by the Collique Aeroclub since April 2007, when the Ministry of Defense transferred the property to the Ministry of Housing, in an agreement that initially mentioned building housing for military and police personnel.

The bidding process in August this year had its own questionable glitches, according to the daily Expreso, in which a change of date and venue for opening the bids was not informed to a congressional investigative commision and, according to Expreso, the Graña & Montero-BESCO consortium won the bid over better offers made by three other construction groups.

The sale is illegal, according to César Atala, the former president of Collique’s Aeroclub. “The land was donated, and its intended purpose is to promote civil aviation, nothing else, ” he said.

The heads of Mivivienda, the state housing program, and the private investment program, Proinversion, were in Congress in early September to explain the sale. According to El Comercio, the Collique airfield was sold for $41 per square meter, while the Peruvian Chamber of Construction, Capeco, values the land in the area at $301 per sq.mt.

The congressional commission investigating the issue, headed by Isaac Mekler and Víctor Andrés García-Belaunde (Unidad Nacional), consider the sale illegal. The property was purchased in 1944 with donations collected over three years from the general public, for the specific purpose of developing an airfield and a civil air reserve, following the Peru-Ecuador war. The property was managed by a National Aviation League and then given to the state in order to safeguard and guarantee that use. The aeroclub has since been the training center for almost all Peruvian commercial and civil aviation pilots who were not trained by the Air Force.

The sale of Collique, according to García-Belaunde, is part of a “tangle of underground interests” of the current government to sell off state property. “The Collique case is a scandal,” he said, explaining that the day after the congressional commission was installed to investigate the bid, the date and venue of the sale was changed, to an hour earlier and behind closed doors at the Housing Ministry, instead of the original location of a leading hotel. “This is a feast of auctions and allocations,” he said.

“The sale will provide employment for thousands of Peruvians and homes to thousands more,” said President Alan García. Those who oppose the sale or see irregularities are those who follow “junkyard dog” politics, he added.

At CADE, the annual private business executives conference, held in Lima September 24-26 this year, President García amused his audience by mocking the protests against the sale of the airfield, saying that “Collique had only one single-engined aircraft.” Atala refutes that number, and told TV political commentator César Hildebrandt the aeroclub has at least 20 aircraft, both single- and twin-engined.

Mid-week, 18 months after the battle between the aeroclub and the government began, the minister of Housing, Enrique Cornejo, promised that property has been found to give the aeroclub a new airfield. In September, the government said that US$ 9 million would be reserved for this purpose.

“I share the concern for aviation,” Cornejo said, adding that the government proposed that the income from the sale of the Collique field would be used to build a new aerodrome and school, “and that is what we are going to do.” He said that two trust funds have been opened for this purpose.

According to Cornejo, the government is looking at state-owned property, 3,261 hectares, in Grocio Prado, 181 km south of Lima, in Chincha. While the airfield and installations are being built, Cornejo said, the Air Force has offered to continue flight instruction for Collique students at their Las Palmas base, in Lima, and in Pisco on the south coast.

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