Fire in Cantagallo leaves indigenous migrants bereft
6 November 2016
On 4 November, the Shipibo Conibo community that had established itself in a shanty town close to the River Rímac in central Lima was devastated by fire. More than 300 houses were burnt to the ground and more than 1,000 people lost everything they owned.
The fire appears to have begun in an area close to the market where a candle was left burning overnight. The indigenous people who lived in this community, who are particularly poor and vulnerable, have been left with nothing.
This human disaster has now turned into a highly-charged political issue. When Susana Villarán was mayor, the Lima city authorities had offered to move the community to a large alternative site in San Juan de Lurigancho. The land for this had been purchased by the municipality to enable the community to move to a more salubrious area where proper houses would have been provided. This was part of an ambitious project to clean up the riverside areas in central Lima and create a four-acre park in place of the shanty town.
When Luis Castañeda Lossio returned as mayor in January 2015, he annulled the project and diverted the funds to build a fly-over in central Lima. To do so Castañeda sold the property that the municipality had bought for 6 million soles for the much higher price of 15 million. This meant that the Shipibo Conibo communities would remain in the same precarious housing situation as before. For a fuller account, plus an aerial photo of the burnt-out township, go to
The Shipibo Conibo people first arrived in Lima in 2000 to participate in the big demonstration against then president Alberto Fujimori known as the ‘marcha de los cuatro suyos’. The march was spearheaded by the presidential hopeful, Alejandro Toledo. His aim was to bring people from all corners of Peru to protest against Fujimori’s re-reelection that year.
After a difficult trip to Lima from their homelands in the Amazon jungle, the Shipibo Conibo re-established their community on the banks of the river Rímac. In 2009, Castañeda (who preceded Villarán as mayor) signed a contract to build a road through the shanty town, but without any plans for relocation.
Castañeda, who has gained a reputation for ‘stealing but building’, has again put the interests of motorists before those of some of the poorest people in the city. Bad planning has led to the fly-over creating even more traffic congestion than before. The project has cost the city more than 58 million soles that could have been spent in far better ways.