Peruvians in earthquake devastated zone protest lack of reconstruction a year later

Hundreds of angry residents carrying pots, pans, whistles and cardboard caskets took to the streets Friday in Pisco, Chincha and Ica, some of the towns hardest hit by the magnitude-8 earthquake that ravaged Peru’s southern coast on August 15 last year, to protest Peru president Alan García’s slow reconstruction efforts.

In Pisco, where some 50 families still live in tents and hundreds more in one-room shacks pieced together with particle board, sticks and plastic sheets, 2,500 protesters, including residents, community and school groups as well as labor unions, gathered in the city’s central plaza to demand faster access to aid and a step-up in the reconstruction of city infrastructure. Shops and markets closed down for the day, daily El Comercio reported.

“Alan is a liar!” residents shouted while banging pots and pans and holding up signs that read “where are the millions of dollars and euros of international aid?” and others, decorated with drawings of rats, that read “robbery and corruption came with the help.”

Protesters peacefully marched under the watchful eye of some 1,500 police, dispatched to Pisco along with at least 15 pickup trucks, 24 horses and some tanks, after residents threatened to throw eggs at Garcia if he came to make an anniversary speech. Protesters on Tuesday burned a shipment of donated clothing sent by the central government that they said was in dreadful condition.

The government is “provoking the population by sending so many policemen from Lima,” Pisco Regent Jimmy Huamán told daily La Republica.

The march ended, after some protestors momentarily blocked parts of the Pan-American Highway and burned tires at the city’s gates, in the San Clemente cemetery, where residents deposited flowers at the graves of nearly 600 loved ones on the anniversary of their deaths.

“The authorities haven’t dealt with things as they should have,” said a protester in comments to Radio Programas radio. “They forgot us. We have suffered from hunger and from the government’s indifference.”

But, according to Transport and Communications Minister Verónica Zavala, people aren’t seeing “the whole picture.”

Speaking from Pisco, the town hardest hit by last year’s quake, Garcia on Tuesday rejected the charge that his government has botched the campaign to rebuild Peru’s southern coast.

“There have been public works. What happened here is that Pisco was left virtually razed to the ground,” Garcia said, “and to rebuild a city is difficult. Of course I am not satisfied, but the unfair statement that nothing has been done cannot be accepted.”

He added that the government has invested more than 1 billion soles, or about $400 million, so far this year in the reconstruction effort, and that another 500 million soles will be spent before year’s end.

“This not the time for marches, protests, or wanting to take advantage of other people’s pain,” said Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima, Primate of Peru and longtime opponent of human rights activists. “This is not the day nor the moment.”

“It was everyone’s responsibility,” he added. “It doesn’t seem right to me to say that, yes, it was a minister or a mayor. I believe the country had a hard time because it still isn’t well organized… (but) it seems to me that it is not only a political problem, the problem is also that people don’t understand and should leave tentative approaches up to the politicians.”

But that reasoning is lost on residents who complain that Lima continues to ignore Peru’s provinces and has not done nearly enough to help them rebuild shattered homes, businesses and lives.When it hit, the magnitude-8 earthquake lasted more than two minutes, leaving Peru’s southern coast in ruins, cutting off electricity, water and communications. According to official figures, some 40,000 homes were destroyed.

Today, despite millions of dollars in emergency aid and the help of hundreds of local and international volunteers, construction of permanent housing has yet to begin and García’s administration has been dogged by constant delays and widespread accusations of mismanagement, profiteering and corruption.

In Ica, where a simultaneous strike was held, residents gathered in the city’s central plaza to demand the immediate resignations of South Reconstruction Fund, or Forsur President Julio Favre and other top officials.

“There is dissatisfaction because people are living in tents and (sleeping on) rush mats,” said Ica Mayor Mariano Nacimiento. “There has been a problem.”

“Forsur as an institution can continue to exist,” said Pueblo Nuevo Mayor Freddy Condori Flores, “what must be changed are the people that aren’t working.”

People don’t want more welfarism, Condori told CNR radio. “What they want are jobs to rebuild their own homes,” he said.

In Chincha, tensions flared when approximately 600 protesters tried to block off kilometer 199 of the Pan-American Highway, but were met head-on by police, El Comercio reported.

When some protesters began to throw stones and a labor union leader, William Sánchez, repotedly punched a Canal 17 TV reporter in the face, Peru National Police threw tear gas into the crowd.

Five people were arrested, but some other 5,000 residents gathered in Chincha’s central plaza for a meeting organized by the Sociopolitical Coordinator.

Friday was decreed a national day of mourning and the Peruvian flag flown at half-staff.

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