Politicians and “Hero Syndrome” in Peru

Apparently there are shanty towns throughout Peru, especially near Lima, where villagers from rural areas, particularly the Andes region, have left their hometowns in search of work in the capital. This migration has created several unregulated communities of makeshift homes, almost all lacking running water or electricity, among other basic needs. Also known as pueblos jóvenes, these communities were essentially created illegally and have existed for years without any government regulation — or support.

This being an election year in Peru, you can imagine the wealth of votes opportunistic politicians see in these pueblos jóvenes. For as J. Miguel told me before, the key to winning an election in Peru is winning over the blue collar voters. 

But having seen these communities on television, I wouldn’t even consider these people to be blue collar. They are essentially living in abject poverty. In my personal opinion, the mere existence of these outposts is an outrage. It’s an outrage that people are living in such conditions, but it’s also an outrage that they were even allowed to set up their neighborhoods in unregulated land to begin with; land they do not own or have any right to build on. And it’s an outrage the politicians are taking advantage of these people’s circumstances to win over votes.

According to J. Miguel, the Peruvian government has long been aware of sprouting shanty towns across the country but has refused to take action to prevent them from forming to begin with. Whether it is indifference, lack of true land laws, government corruption or a mixture of all of the above that has allowed these communities to exist, it’s hard to tell. (J. Miguel likes to point out that Peru has a history of being lazy when it comes to its land. Apparently modern day Chile used to be part of Peru, and it is partially due to Peruvian indifference that the Chilean-Peruvian boundaries are what they are today — in his biased opinion.) You can blame whoever you want for the existence of these shanty towns — you can blame the people who illegally settled on this unregulated land and who are now demanding things like running water and electricity, or you can blame the government for failing to instill policies that would have prevented people from living in such horrendous conditions to begin with. During an election year, however, it really doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It only matters who is going to fix the problems at hand.

The other day J. Miguel and I were watching the news, and we saw presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori’s brother, Kenji Fujimori, visiting prospective voters in one of Lima’s pueblos jóvenes, obviously campaigning for his sister. (Although it looked to me like he was enjoying the media attention a little too much, and now I know why.) When he saw this, J. Miguel just shook his head in disgust, and said to me rather passionately, “These very shanty towns were created by these exact politicians who are now coming in promising residents that if they become president, they will give them the water and electricity they have been asking for all this time. It’s like these politicians created these problems just so they could use them later as a platform for the presidential election and look like a hero among prospective voters when in reality, these people wouldn’t be living in such conditions to begin with if it weren’t for these same presidential candidates.”

We call it hero syndrome in English — when someone creates problems so they can come in, fix them and look like a hero when doing so. It’s a pathetic characteristic, and it takes a certain sort of narcissism to pull it off. It also shows a vulnerability and sense of insecurity, but when you’re in desperate need for running water and electricity in your home, you don’t care about the type of person who delivers it just as long as it is delivered.

Such is the state of politics in Peru right now. I just wish I could say things were better in the U.S., but unfortunately, this year I can’t. As the old proverb goes, “The sky is the same color wherever you go.”

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