Chincero, blessing or curse?

3 April 2017

Adorning the lamp posts of central Cuzco are placards thanking President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for his part in facilitating the go-ahead for the new airport at Chinchero. The problem is that the airport project, the subject of corruption allegations, does not appear anywhere near take-off.

It was over his role in agreeing to Chinchero that Vice-president Martín Vizcarra was going to be hauled over the coals in Congress last week; his interperlación was suspended (probably for good) because of the floods and landslides afflicting much of Peru. But given the controversy surrounding Chinchero and the contract with Kuntur Wasi, it seems improbable that the government will want to light that particular fuse for the time being.

Meanwhile in Cuzco, the issue of the airport remains pre-eminent. The existing airport, located near to the city centre, is unable to take large jets and this, so the city elders have it, is imposing a constraint on the development of the tourist industry.

Chinchero, it is argued, will enable wide-bodied long-distance jets to arrive direct from abroad, thereby increasing the number of tourists who will visit the city and helping to eliminate the stranglehold of Lima over the pattern of foreign visitors. Most wish to see Machu Picchu, one of the archaeological wonders of the world.
Property developers also stand to make a quick buck if the current airport is redeveloped for housing and commercial activities.

Both the mayor of Cuzco and the regional governor, who may be looking for re-election next year, are stalwart supporters of the Chinchero airport.

However, not all are so enthusiastic. Apart from the contract which, as it stands, gives a disproportionate advantage to Kuntur Wasi at the expense of the state, some doubt the utility of the project, arguing that (because of the altitude) planes taking off from Chinchero will not be able to fly direct to the United States without refuelling in Lima.

Some decry the disappearance under concrete of one of Peru’s most atmospheric and historical sites. Others say that tourists will simply go from Chinchero direct to Machu Picchu without ever visiting the city of Cuzco.

But few question the role of tourism itself as a motor for development in Cuzco. This once proud city is now overtaken with hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, handicraft shops and all the commercial flotsam and jetsam that accompanies tourism. There is a real risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

There is little discussion of how to broaden the economy, reduce dependency on tourism and to engage with a plan of development which will really serve the interests of the citizens of the former Inca capital.


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