AF­TER­LIFE OF CUL­TURE Stephen Henighan

The di­vi­sions in Lima, Peru, are pro­nounced; they are not unique

Geist - - Geist - STEPHEN HENIGHAN

A City for All

Peru was cre­ated to di­vide its cit­i­zens. In 1532, when Fran­cisco Pizarro’s Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors in­vaded and col­o­nized the vast, pop­u­lous Inca Em­pire, they spurned its moun­tain cap­i­tal of Cuzco. The Spa­niards built a new cap­i­tal on the coast. The Span­ish Em­pire’s cen­tral­ized ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures de­creed that Lima would gov­ern all of Span­ish-speak­ing South Amer­ica. By ig­nor­ing Cuzco and be­gin­ning a new civ­i­liza­tion on the shores of the Pa­cific Ocean, the Span­ish crown in Madrid be­lieved it was unit­ing a con­ti­nent; in the end, it di­vided a coun­try. Coastal Peru­vian so­ci­ety grew more racially mixed in the nine­teenth cen­tury with the im­por­ta­tion of en­slaved Africans and Chi­nese in­den­tured labour­ers, and in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury with the ar­rival of Bri­tish and Euro­pean busi­ness peo­ple. Th­ese new­com­ers, how­ever, en­tered a so­ci­ety shaped by op­pres­sive colo­nial lega­cies, di­vided be­tween a coastal cul­ture that was Span­ish in its ar­chi­tec­ture, lan­guage and cus­toms, and an indige­nous cul­ture in the An­des. Lima lacked any con­nec­tion to Inca civ­i­liza­tion. The early twen­ti­eth­cen­tury Peru­vian cul­tural the­o­rist José Car­los Mar­iátegui wrote: “Lima has no roots in the indige­nous past. Lima is the daugh­ter of the con­quest.”

Lima to­day is a city of ten mil­lion peo­ple built in a desert that re­ceives less than five mil­lime­tres of rain a year. The Span­ish squares of the colo­nial cen­tre are spa­cious and im­pos­ing, yet the cap­i­tal is no longer obliv­i­ous to the coun­try’s large indige­nous pop­u­la­tion. From the late 1960s on­ward, indige­nous peo­ple came down from the moun­tains to seek em­ploy­ment

in the more vi­brant econ­omy of the coast. The nar­ra­tor of Mario Var­gas Llosa’s novel Aunt Ju­lia and the Scriptwriter (1977), re­turn­ing to Lima after years in Europe, finds the city trans­formed by the “peas­ant mi­gra­tions to the cap­i­tal which in that decade dou­bled the pop­u­la­tion of Lima and caused the out­break, on the hill­tops, in the desert, on the garbage heaps, of that cir­cle of neigh­bour­hoods which be­came the ar­rival point for thou­sands and thou­sands of be­ings who had aban­doned the prov­inces be­cause of drought, dif­fi­cult work­ing con­di­tions, lack of prospects, hunger.” The bru­tal war be­tween Maoist Shin­ing Path guer­ril­las and the Peru­vian Army, which raged in the An­des from 1980 un­til the late 1990s, ac­cel­er­ated the ex­o­dus from the moun­tains. In the wake of this in­flux, Lima re­mained a city in which two dis­tinct cul­tures re­garded each other with hos­til­ity: racism was the cur­rency of daily in­ter­ac­tion. Mark Mal­loch Brown, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant for Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher, who was sent to Peru to as­sist Var­gas Llosa when he ran for pres­i­dent in 1990, wrote of his first days in Lima: “When I looked be­hind the ven­er­a­ble Castil­ian façade of Peru, I found over­tones of white Rhode­sia. Many mem­bers of the ‘old elite’ were rel­a­tively new set­tlers who had ex­pected a Euro­pean life­style—built, if nec­es­sary, on the backs of the In­di­ans.”

Lima’s di­vi­sions are pro­nounced; they are not unique. Many cities in Latin Amer­ica are sur­rounded by shan­ty­towns that sprang up in the fi­nal decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. The prob­lems of poverty, ex­clu­sion, racism and gang vi­o­lence per­sist. The twen­ty­first cen­tury has dis­cov­ered that one of the keys to con­fronting th­ese dilem­mas is not to in­vest in the tra­di­tional Latin Amer­i­can reme­dies of gated com­mu­ni­ties and heav­ily armed se­cu­rity guards, but rather to con­nect peo­ple who fear each other via cheap, re­li­able trans­porta­tion. In the last five years, some of Latin Amer­ica’s most trou­bled cities have im­ple­mented in­no­va­tive trans­porta­tion sys­tems. Lima is in the fore­front of this move­ment. Not only has it built a sub­way, but, more im­por­tantly, it has cre­ated a sys­tem of long, ar­tic­u­lated, high-speed buses, known as the Metropoli­tano. Th­ese buses travel on four ded­i­cated lanes, speed­ing past cars stuck in traf­fic as they whisk peo­ple from priv­i­leged clifftop neigh­bour­hoods in the south through the colo­nial down­town to poorer neigh­bour­hoods in the north. For any­one with­out a car, get­ting across Lima on pub­lic tran­sit used to re­quire join­ing a huge queue on an an­cient av­enue and squeez­ing into a small, over­crowded bus that spent hours stop­ping and start­ing as it inched across the city. The motto on the card pas­sen­gers load up with credit to board the Metropoli­tano makes the aim of in­te­gra­tion ex­plicit: Lima, una ciu­dad para to­dos (“Lima, a city for all”). The Metropoli­tano’s fare of roughly one Cana­dian dol­lar may ex­clude the poor­est of the poor, but it at­tracts, and brings to­gether in the same place, a far broader range of the pop­u­la­tion than any pre­vi­ous Peru­vian trans­porta­tion sys­tem.

The in­sight that so­cial in­clu­sion im­proves the econ­omy is seep­ing into even the most hi­er­ar­chi­cal Latin Amer­i­can so­ci­eties, dis­plac­ing the no­tion that the poor are an ob­sta­cle to growth who must be kept out of sight. The city of Medel­lín, Colom­bia, once the world’s drug traf­fick­ing cap­i­tal and now an op­ti­mistic boom town, lies in a val­ley. The poor, perched in makeshift houses up the moun­tain­side, look down on the cen­tre; un­til re­cently, few could make the ex­haust­ing hike down­hill and back up again ev­ery day to work. The Metro­ca­ble, a se­ries of gon­dola lifts, hav­ing ex­panded from one line to five over the last dozen years, now car­ries 30,000 peo­ple a day to and from th­ese marginal­ized ar­eas, en­abling those who live in the hills to work in the cen­tre. Even in smaller coun­tries with very con­ser­va­tive elites, change is ev­i­dent. Two months be­fore my visit to Peru, I was in Gu­atemala City, one of our hemi­sphere’s least at­trac­tive, most dan­ger­ous cap­i­tals. Here I rode the Trans­metro, a new ded­i­cated-lane bus sys­tem sim­i­lar to, though smaller than, Lima’s Metropoli­tano. With a fare of about fif­teen cents Cana­dian, the Trans­metro is ac­ces­si­ble to all. In a coun­try whose so­cial di­vi­sions are among the harsh­est in the Amer­i­cas, I was sur­prised to see mu­nic­i­pal civil ser­vants in suits and ties sit­ting or stand­ing next to women who sold fruit in the street. The di­vi­sions that sep­a­rate th­ese peo­ple are not about to go away. Yet by cross­ing town in the same phys­i­cal space, peo­ple from dif­fer­ent so­cial classes ab­sorb the pre­vi­ously re­mote no­tion that this city be­longs to all of them. Stephen Henighan’s most re­cent nov­els are The Path of the Jaguar and Mr. Singh Among the Fugi­tives. Read more of his work at geist.com and stephen­henighan.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Stephen­henighan.

De­tail from Panorama de Lima (2017) by Mar­i­ano Man­tel. See more of his work at flickr.com/mar­i­ano-man­tel

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