September 25, 2007

The following interview with Michel Azcueta, mayor of Villa El Salvador, by Jaime de Althaus,first appeared in the Lima daily Expreso (May 19, 1989).* Do you have problems with terrorism? Yes, but I can count them on the fingers of my hand. There was an attack on the police station, another at the local offices of the APRA party, and a third against a justice of the peace, between 1984 and 1985. The most recent one was an attempt to attack a local market last year which the people blocked. The terrorists started to agitate and told the people to ransack the market. The people didn't follow them, and the terrorists were arrested. Neither Sendero Luminoso nor the Movimiento Revolucion- ario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) have a presence in the neighbor- hood organizations? Not in any. Not in the popular organizations, nor in the feminist organizations. Not among the youth groups, nor in the teachers' organization. When people have clear objec- tives and a development plan, the alternative of Sendero, which is the alternative of desperation, does not take hold. You also have a system of urban defense groups called rondas. How do these function? The rondas are organized by block. Villa El Salvador is organized by blocks of 24 families, and groups of 16 blocks. The rondas keep watch over the blocks at night. It is a public system. In the courses where the ronderos are trained, we invite the mayor's office and the Civil Guard [police] to give talks. There is mutual respect. "* From Latinamerica Press (Lima) June 1, 1989. Do all the blocks have rondas? Not all groups do-it is voluntary. But they have been growing, and a large number of blocks do have them. There are also popular inspectors in charge of the internal security for a group, which is made up of 384 families. They have the power to authorize public festivals, maintain internal order, and to control the prices, quality, measures and weights in grocery stores, corner stores and markets. Is a popular inspector paid? For two and a half years they worked for free. But in the last six months they've received 20% of the fines that they collect for infractions in the markets. That's a help for them. They aren't city employees. They are elected in the group assembly and if they do not work out the community can remove them from office and name another. The job is only for one year but they can be re-elected. They are recognized by the mayor's office and the Civil Guard. What do the rondas do with criminals they capture? They notify the Civil Guard immediately. There is only one police station in Villa El Salvador. They guard the criminals, call the police station and then turn them over. Then the system of urban rondas does not have anything to do with terrorism, only with common crime? They deal with internal security in general. But the atmosphere of security and development that we have achieved is effective against terrorism....The key is to foster grass- roots democracy, to encourage the democratization of popu- lar organizations, in order to plan development at the local level. The state, the central government and public busi- nesses need to respect and support this grass-roots democ- racy. I believe that this way at least some of the problems that the communities bring to our attention can be resolved.

Tags: Peru, homeless, Villa El Salvador, Shining Path, Michel Azcueta

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