LIMA – Less than two kilometers from the Government Palace in Lima, the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo tribe is an example of millions of Peruvians in coronavirus quarantine without basic necessities.
Around five minutes by car from the capital’s Plaza Mayor is the Cantagallo shantytown which is home to 250 families from the Shipibo-Conibo group.
The Amazonian tribe arrived in Lima around 20 years ago and settled on the shores of the polluted Rimac River.
Despite being so close to the seat of political power in the historic center of the Peruvian capital, Cantagallo’s 1,000 inhabitants live without electricity.
The water supply comes from two pipes that emerge from the ground and there is no drainage system.
Karina Pacaya, president of the Association of Shipibos Resident Artisans in Lima, told EFE: “It is a struggling community. The group came in search of opportunities in education, health and work and has self-managed socially and economically without support from the government.”
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent quarantine has reminded the group of the constant unfulfilled promises from the state over more than six years to provide them with suitable housing.
A fire swept through the crowded community in 2016 and they rebuilt their houses with whatever materials were on hand.
Wilson Valle, president of the Association of the Urban Community of Shipibo-Konibo in Metropolitan Lima, told EFE that authorities have repeatedly tried to force the group to leave.
“They have done a study saying that the soil has a lot of lead and arsenic contamination, a pretext to get us out,” he added.
“In 20 years nobody has died here because of that. They are not going to cheat us anymore. We no longer trust the government.”
Valle said members of the community would be happy with a title deed for the land and a drainage system.
“We will do the rest brick by brick. We do not want to be beggars from the state. We are an indigenous and fighting people.”
Families in Cantagallo have been confined in tiny houses, many no more than four wooden walls and a piece of corrugated material for the roof.
“We know that, in order not to get infected, we have to wash ourselves and that requires a lot of water, but the contamination continues because we do not have a drain,” Pacaya said.
“There is no place to dispose of the used water.”
Residents are forced to use the streets as an open sewer, throwing basins of dirty water onto the ground.
“With this epidemic we are in a very critical situation, more than any upper or middle class citizen who is in their pool and with all their basic services fully guaranteed,” Pacaya added.
None of the houses have toilets, with the nearest one around 300 meters away that cannot be used during the night because of a nationwide curfew.
Those living in Cantagallo have better conditions than many of the rest of Peru’s indigenous people.
In the Amazon, only 13 percent of the 2,703 registered native communities have access to the public drinking water network and only seven percent have a sewage system.
Most drink water from rivers, which may contain heavy metals as a result of illegal mining.
Despite these difficulties, indigenous people have gone into quarantine and have even closed their territories, aware that COVID-19 could wreak havoc on them.