urban space

Peru: Lima crackdown on 'land-traffickers'

Agents from Peru's National Superintendency of State Property (SBN), backed up by police troops, carried out an operation in the hills overlooking Lima over the past two weeks, seizing more than 36,000 square meters of land in the Lomas de Primavera green belt. This stretch of public land in the city's outlying Carabayllo district has been heavily subject to illegal appropriation and sale of plots in recent years—known locally as "land-trafficking." The land-traffickers exploit rural migrants seeking to start a life in Peru's capital, illegally "selling" plots they actually have no title to. Local media reports said the traffickers sold plots to some hundred families, but failed to say what provisions were made for the families settled on the plots. (Peru This Week, April 19; La República, April 9)

East Jerusalem demolitions jump since Trump

Home demolitions in East Jerusalem have risen dramatically since the election of US President Donald Trump, according to a report in Haaretz. A source in the Jerusalem municipal government confirmed to the newspaper that since the change of administration in the US, restrictions have been lifted and the city government has been allowed to demolish many more structures than during the term of former President Barack Obama. Since the start of 2017, the municipality has demolished over 40 housing units in East Jerusalem, according to data collated by the Ir Amim organization, which studies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the city. In 2016, a total of 203 structures, including 123 housing units, were demolished in the predominantly Arab part of the city. A total of 22 structures were demolished by their owners in order to avoid the fine imposed by the municipality for the demolition.

Turkey: thousands of Kurds displaced in crackdown

Tens of thousands of residents of Diyarbakır's Sur district, part of the city's UNESCO world heritage site, are among an estimated half million people forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities over the past year which may amount to collective punishment, Amnesty International says in a new report. As the suppression of opposition Kurdish voices by the Turkish government intensifies, the report "Displaced and Dispossessed: Sur Residents' Right to Return Home," reveals the desperate plight of families forced out of the historical center of Diyarbakir as a result of intensive security operations toward the end of last year and an ongoing round-the-clock curfew. Homes in the once-bustling district have been destroyed by shelling, or demolished and expropriated to pave the way for a redevelopment project that very few former residents are likely to benefit from.

Lima: indigenous squatter camp burns

A fire swept through the Cantagallo shanty-town, just across the Río Rímac from downtown Lima, on Nov. 4, leaving some 2,000 residents of the informal settlement facing an uncertain future. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and a child badly injured in the blaze, which authorities say started near a leather workshop that used flammable chemicals. The settlement was established by Shipibo-Konibo indigenous migrants from Ucayali in in Peruvian Amazon in 2001. Lima's conservative Mayor Luis Castañeda is proposing to relocate the community to the Barrios Altos area east of downtown. But community leaders say they will refuse to move, and intend to rebuild where they are.

Deadly underside of Rio de Janeiro Olympics

With the Rio de Janeiro Olympics over, the world media are moving on—but the city's poor favela dwellers are left to contend with a wave of murderous police terror. This was launched a year ago as part of an effort to pacify and sanitize the sprawling megalopolis for the Games. Amnesty International reports that over 100 people have been killed by police in Rio de Janeiro state so far this year—the big majority young Black men. A total of 307 were killed by police in the state in 2015. At least eight people in Rio were actually killed by police during the Games—to little media coverage. The clean-up operation was, of course, disguised as a crackdown on drugs and crime. The inevitable rationale was provided by the narco economy in the favelas—informal urban settlements virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized law enforcement.

Bogotá: controversy over urban clearance

Authorities in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, last week began demolishing a notorious district near the city center locally known as "the Bronx"—but seemingly no plans were made for the displaced residents. The "urban renewal project" was announced in May, following a series of drug raids on the district, which Mayor Enrique Peñalosa characterized an "independent republic of crime"—rife with gangs, prostitution and addiction. Peñalosa was personally on hand as the clearance commenced Aug. 10, and 66 dwelling demolished by heavy machinery. Since then, however, downtown merchants have been protesting that the evicted Bronx inhabitants have been camping on the streets of the central business district. Some 400 began camping in a drainage canal along downtown's 6th Street, but were forced to flee Aug. 17 when the canal was suddenly flooded by heavy rain. At least one woman was injured by a car as she fled the inundation. Colombia's rights ombudsman, the Defensor del Pueblo, criticized the lack of planning in the clearance operation. (ColPrensa, El Espectador, Aug. 18; Colombia.com, Aug. 17; UPI, Aug. 11; BBC News, Aug. 10; Miami Herald, May 31)

Mauritania: detained anti-slavery activists tortured

Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.

Turkish coup attempt: kismet for Erdogan?

Well, this is pretty hilarious. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who crushed the 2013 Gezi Park protest movement in Istanbul and this year instated draconian curfews across the country's southeast in response to a Kurdish intifada, is now calling for his supporters to take the streets in response to an attempted coup d'etat by the military. BBC reports that he said: "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people." Gezi Park itself is said to be now occupied by militants of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are facing down armed troops there—certainly a perverse irony. Erdogan is at this moment boasting that the coup has been crushed, but this seems far from certain. A bomb blast has reportedly hit the parliament building in Ankara. Several police are reported killed at Ankara's Special Forces headquarters, indicating the security forces are themselves divided. 

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