Located in the Cono Sur of the Lima metropolitan area and populated by about 400 000 inhabitants, Villa El Salvador is the place where the dreams of a whole population have taken shape despite the many difficulties they had to face. The history of Villa El Salvador is more unique than rare, and it talks about the redemption of a population. Beginning from nowhere, this community after some years of hard’s fights, became a recognized district of the city of Lima thanks to the cohesion and determination of its people, becoming a model for the poor communities of South America. Its history began in the ’70, during an era where the phenomenon of invasion began to spread on a large scale. Driven by the need for better opportunities, thousands of Peruvians began to migrate from rural areas of the country to cities, occupying both land owned by the state and private, looking for a place to build their own home.
The largest invasion goes back to 1971 when numerous families occupied the lands in Pamplona Alta area, causing uprisings and riots, then violently repressed by the armed police.
The year of 1971 was the year of the new election campaigns for the presidency of Perù, and the President, Gen. Velasco Alvarado, in search of consensus that would have lead to his eventual reconfirmation, instead of keeping the repression’s policy adopted by the Minister of the Interior Armando Artola, tried to find a peaceful solution to this social problem that was slowly degenerating.
On 11th May of the same year, with the joint help of the army, he decided to move the families that had occupied the private lands to a desert land situated on the Cono Sur of Lima, called “Tablada de Lurin” promising a model city for the poor people where they could raise their children.
At the beginning of its creation, Villa El Salvador was an “Asientamento Humano” (or favela) located in a desert, without the basic services such as water, sewage or electricity, where the families who had settled, lived in huts called “Esteras”. The majority of the inhabitants, being without a fixed job, dedicated their time to the community, organizing assemblies and cooperating all together for the construction and the constant development of the reality in which they lived. Thanks to the determination and cohesion of its people, who desperately wanted to donate a better future to their children, Villa El Salvador began to grow quickly, taking the appearance of a real organized city. On July 1973, the need for an increasingly planned organization due to the rapid expansion of the community, led to the foundation of the CUAVES (Comunidad Urbana Autogestionaria Villa El Salvador), which had the task of involving all the members of the community in the future urban planning and social development of Villa El Salvador. For the first time in the history of South America, a young community created an open and integral development project. As time passed, the institutional authority of planning, production, marketing and services have began to form. All these elements made it possible for Villa El Salvador to become a workshop of popular mobilization based on values such as solidarity, social equality, compactness and especially urban planning. During this period, many architects from all over South America saw in Villa El Salvador the opportunity to build a city which would be a model for the other “Asientamentos humanos” of the Latin continent. Under the order of Gen. Velasco Alvarado, the architect Miguel Romero drew in record time the city’s distribution plan, calling it “Modulo del Grupo Residencial”, which envisaged the intelligent and organized division of the residential area, integrated with the creation of an agricultural area (Zona Agropecuaria) and an industrial sector (Parque Industrial), which would have provided work to the community thanks to the necessary manpower for the construction of the city and its services.
Within a few years Villa El Salvador, thanks to the planning, solidarity and the sweat of its people, passed from being an “Asientamento Humano” in the middle of the desert to a community equipped with all basic services as well as schools, public transport, green parks, until being recognized independent district of the city of Lima on June 1, 1983, contributing to transform into reality what seemed impossible. Villa El Salvador turned into an example for all the poor communities, a model of the so-called “Movimiento Barrial” formed by the young people, who always was the strength of this community.
Today, the community of Villa El Salvador is constantly expanding and developing in step with modern times, but always following the traces of its founders, based on solidarity and cooperation between neighbours.
It suffices to think that this community is so cohesive as to have a group of WhatsApp formed by thousands of people, which is quite unthinkable in other realities. Each week they organize evening meetings between neighbors in order to talk about the problems and new proposals to advance the community in the social sphere. The dominant theme of the meetings is often the space and the new activities to dedicate to the children and young people of the community, so that they can develop a mentality of healthy principles, away from drugs and crimes that is rampant in the metropolitan area of Lima, keeping alive the proactive spirit. Villa El Salvador is the example of a community that has never felt satisfied, that has never been resigned to see itself slipping the life on but which has always struggled to improve its living conditions. Its story has something extraordinary. In today’s world that often divides and puts barriers, it teaches us that cohesion, determination and solidarity are important qualities in everyday life, but above all teaches us to believe in our dreams and makes us aware that even if something seems hard, nothing is impossible.