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.

All articles

  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

  • Historical Overview

    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

  • Human Rights

    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

  • Why join the PSG?

    • Keep up to date with latest news and developments in Peru
    • Learn about key issues of poverty, development and human rights in Peru
    • Support the work of the Peru Support Group

    Become a member