ASUNCION – Tucked away in the heart of the Paraguayan capital is the venerable Chacarita neighborhood, whose history has been shaped by the periodic flooding of the Paraguay River and successive waves of migration from the countryside.
On the narrow streets of Chacarita, which appears on the maps as Barrio Ricardo Brugada, children play soccer or jump rope, while adults sip terere tea on their porches, customs that are virtually extinct on the higher ground just blocks away.
Homes with multicolored facades, reminiscent of the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, cluster on terraces around the three waterways that stream through Chacarita to reach Asuncion Bay.
But instead of facing the Pacific Ocean, the Chacarita houses look out on the wide Paraguay River.
The river is both the face and the burden of the neighborhood, as EFE learned from Nidia Narcisa Noguera, 79, who now dwells in what she describes as her “umpteenth” home since arriving in Chacarita more than six decades ago.
“There was a flood in 1983, then a bigger one in 1997, and a flood last year when we had to take refuge here,” she said.
In June 2014, the rain-swollen Paraguay River crested at 7 meters (23 feet) in Asuncion amid flooding that affected roughly 200,000 people nationwide, while floods this year forced the evacuation of some 42,000 people in the capital alone.
Noguera was only 17 when she made the trek from the countryside to Asuncion during the early phase of the 1954-1989 dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, as peasants streamed to the capital in search of economic opportunity.
“Then you could get a job as a maid at homes in downtown Asuncion,” she said. “When we first moved to Chacarita it was just mud, but later we made streets and it was a nice neighborhood. We settled here because we were close to the houses were we worked.”
That same proximity to jobs and services in downtown Asuncion is what, even today, makes Chacariteños stay in the neighborhood despite the rising waters, according to Noguera’s daughter, Milda.
The city government, however, has drawn up an ambitious redevelopment plan that calls for removing residents from the most flood-prone areas of Chacarita and settling them in communities on the edges of Asuncion.
While they wait to see what becomes of the municipal “master plan,” Chacariteños say they want to remain in the neighborhood, even with the floods that frequently force them from their homes.