Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

La Invación – The Invasion (Part II)

La Invación

Communal kitchen in the center

Family signing property title paperwork

I went to the municipality today to talk with the mayor and bullshit with my socio over there. The place was packed with the folks from a town called Santa Rosa up the quebrada (valley) a bit. I asked my socio what was going on and he told me all the townsfolk were there to apply for title to their property. Now these folks have been living in their houses in Santa Rosa for years. I don’t know how they acquired the property and built their houses but they were just now getting around to formalizing with the central government and lay title to their piece of Peru. The initiative was spear-headed by the Mayor of Rio Grande because he sees the value in it. That and he's also up for re-election.

Since the mayor was busy I decided to walk up to the invasion. I haven’t been up there in a while because every time I went up there the folks were always asking me for bags of rice (100 soles), cooking oil (8 soles), money, etc. I hated feeling like a dick by telling them “soy un voluntario no un millonario”. Besides, the last time I visited I donated a bottle of cooking oil they kind of looked at me like “What? That’s all?” and then told me to go back and buy them gaseosas (sodas). At that point I said f*ck this I ain’t coming back.

My host family has since retired from the invasion. They couldn’t spend 24/7 there because they had to work, go to college, and the gringo living in their house wouldn’t sleep out there. The folks in the invasion were giving them a ton of grief because they weren’t putting in their fair share by helping build roads, cooking meals, cleaning, keeping watch, etc. so they were sort of forced out.

But I was curious today so I went back. The folks had laid out plots of land, built one room houses out of cane supports with thatch walls and ceilings and tin doors. They had built a little road with a row of houses on each side. They had a communal kitchen near the center of the town. There is still no electricity. People bring in water in 35 gallon drums with wheelbarrows to the communal area. One pregnant lady was toting a five gallon gas can of water to her house. I’m not sure where they shit but I didn’t see any latrines. I stopped to talk with some of the ladies cooking lunch to see how it was going. They said the supposed owners still hadn’t shown up to discuss the options. Seeing that the folks from Santa Rosa are just now formalizing their properties, getting a proper title could take years.

I was reading the Mystery of Capital – Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando Soto when the invasion happened back in May. Soto did a lot of research in Peru and in other 3rd world nations about why capitalism hasn’t fully taken hold in these countries. The book is about 10 years old so some of the information pertaining to Peru is outdated but one of his theories about why capitalism fails is because of “dead capital”. People in these nations are extremely entrepreneurial, WAY more so than in the US. They have their businesses, have property, have housing but it’s extralegal - it works outside the legal framework of the country. It’s not that they don’t want to be titled property owners or have legitimate businesses. In most cases they do. It’s just that the process can be a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years and a ton of money so they have to live outside the bell jar. Because their property is not formalized they can’t leverage it to invest it and make it work for them hence the term “dead capital”.

In the US, if you want to build a house, you leverage what you have with your good credit (now anyways thanks to all those shady real estate brokers), buy property, lay claim to the title, and build. It’s not so with this invasion. Soto gave a good analogy - it’s like getting dressed by putting on your shoes and socks first then the rest of your clothes. The folks are squatting on some land, building on it little by little as resources trickle in, at some stage making an occupancy or purchase arrangement with the legitimate property owner or government, continue building, and finally lay claim to the title. From there I suppose they could leverage it for future investments.

By the way, they didn’t ask me for shit today but I’ll try and work with them on building some communal latrines.

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