Having been re-elected to serve a further four years, after his previous eight as Lima’s mayor, Luis Castañeda Lossio took office on the first day of the New Year. Many commentators have remarked on the significance of his inviting to his investiture not only President Humala but also the Archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani. Cipriani is one of the most prominent and enthusiastic supporters of right-wing causes in today’s Peru.
Castañeda’s first three weeks in office have already stirred controversy and he appears to be seeking to reverse many of the reform policies implemented by his predecessor, Susana Villarán. His first move was to fire 3,000 municipal employees, including those hired to oversee building and contracting work. He also dismissed those working on cultural projects and those hired to work in tandem with the police in tackling the abuse of women. The former mayor’s camp note that salary payment for all these employees had been secured until May.
Controversy also surrounds the municipal museum set up by Castañeda in his last term. His supporters claim they found a building wrecked and no longer fit for purpose. Villarán’s team point out that the original design of the museum had made it extremely expensive to run, and that they had tried to make it more inclusive. Exhibits in the museum that were running in coordination with foreign partners have been abruptly removed.
A key area as far as the public is concerned is urban transport. At the end of her period of office, Villarán had initiated a process whereby informal minicabs, known as ‘combis’, were replaced on key routes by large, blue, publicly-regulated buses. Although these prompted criticism at the outset, it is now widely acknowledged that they have helped ease traffic congestion and improve the service to passengers. It is as yet unclear whether the ‘combis’, whose drivers are well-known for their recklessness and disregard for passenger safety, will now be back in business. Castañeda’s candidacy had been enthusiastically supported by their drivers and owners.
Since taking office, Castañeda has responded to widespread complaints about the traffic chaos produced by the semi-closure of the road running along the Pacific coast by claiming that he “solved” this in 15 days. He has erected publicity to this effect all along the recently re-opened route, known as the Costa Verde. The project, initiated by Villarán, was almost complete when Castañeda took over.