Finding the Bigger Story Behind the Chinchero Airport

Posted by Colleen Connolly – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

Connolly_ Peru_Chinchero

The Plaza de Armas in Chinchero, Peru. (Photo by Colleen Connolly)

I ended my field work in Lima, about as far away as you can get from Chinchero in Peru. I swapped freezing night temperatures and extreme dryness for the gray humidity of Lima’s winters, mountains for coast and Quechua for Spanish — and even some English. The transition was striking. Even my body felt the effects (but not in a good way — I got the flu).

Lima offered me the chance to step back from the conversations and observations I’d had in Cusco and look at them from another perspective. Like in the United States, there exists a great social conflict in Peru between the coastal “elites” and the campesinos. Those in Cusco who support construction of the Chinchero airport have much to say about “el centralismo de Lima” and their hatred of it. Now, here I was in Lima, talking to some of these “elites” who don’t want to give the Cusqueños their airport.

While it’s easy to look at the coastal-campesino conflict as a black-and-white issue, I’ve found that it is much more complicated. An interview with a Lima anthropologist who studied the social ramifications of the airport in Chinchero in 2011 led us to talking about pervasive racism in Peru and the persistence of the colonial legacy. These issues are at the heart of the airport controversy and help explain to outsiders why this project has survived, despite warnings from aviation experts and amid international outrage.

Ultimately, the yet-to-be-built airport in Chinchero is much more than just an airport. Many of my interviewees referred to it as “el sueño,” some ironically and some not. It is a symbol of progress and development and resistance as well as a symbol of social conflict with deep roots in Peru. It’s a story that can’t be fully understood until these roots are examined.

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