The tourism industry is a leading proponent of an airport in the town of Chinchero. Perching on a plateau high in the Andes, Chinchero overlooks the Sacred Valley of the Incas with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains towards the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Peru’s most visited tourist attraction. Situated on the road linking Cusco, Peru’s main tourist hub, with Macchu Picchu, the rationale for an airport in Chinchero is to increase the number of tourists and provide easier, more convenient access. But the project has stoked division and conflict since it was first proposed, in the 1970s. Supporters say it will bring much needed employment and prosperity. But there are critics concerned over the socioeconomic and sociocultural impacts . Chinchero retains its traditional farming and weaving industries as well as maintaining long-established social structures, customs and practices such as traditional medicine to a high degree in spite of increasing connections with the wider world.
Land acquisition divided communities
A law conferring powers of compulsory purchase of land on the Chinchero plateau, passed in August 2012, helped pave the way for the airport. Land acquisition for the project caused divisions between the three historical communities,Y anacona, Cuper and Ayllopongo. The airport site is in Yanacona territory with community members having received money for selling their land for the project. But the other two communities did not receive money even though they will suffer similar negative impacts from the airport as residents of Yanacona. The majority of Yanacona residents voted in favour of the airport.
Divisions between communities were exacerbated by government dismissal, in cahoots with allied media, of people raising legitimate social and environmental issues as opponents of ‘progress’ and even portraying them as socially dangerous. A 2013 report in a local newspaper stated that various members of affected communities had received death threats from community leaders because they were unwilling to sell land to make way for the airport and other infrastructure.
There was no prior consultation and the government deny indigenous status on the grounds that Chinchero is “too close to a town”. Compensation for land acquisition was only awarded to a small minority; in January 2013 USD56 million was handed over to 426 people, less than 3 per cent of Chinchero’s 12,000 inhabitants. The 426 beneficiaries owned the 350 hectares allocated for the airport but a much larger area surrounding the actual site will be affected.
The 40-year construction and operation concession for Chinchero Airport was awarded to the Kuntur Wasi consortium in April 2014. Construction, at an initial cost of USD538 million rising to USD658 million with further renovations after the airport commences operations, was anticipated to commence within a few months after relocation of wells and reservoirs on the site and completion of engineering studies. A series of scandal about the contracts terms forces the Transport Minister at that time Vizcarra (now President) to renounce. Negotiations over the construction contract between the government and Kuntur Wasi culminated in unilateral cancellation by the government in January 2018. The project was stopped. The government then announced that construction would be financed by the state with a USD200 million investment for Phase 1, consisting of a 16 kilometer perimeter fence, followed by ground levelling works, drainage, paving and a runway, scheduled for completion in 2021. In 2018 Kuntur Wasi desist to demand the government before the CIADI.
Often residents of the Cusco region protested delayed construction of the airport which they said was to the detriment of tourism . In January 2019 a phalanx of bulldozers and trucks arrived in Chinchero to begin clearing land for the airport. Many archaeologists, anthropologists and historians said the airport and resulting surge in tourism-focused development, in particular unregulated construction of hotels and restaurants, would damage the very cultural wonders-(discovered and undiscovered). Nearly 200 Peruvian and international experts signed a letter to President Martin Vizcarra calling on him to suspend the airport and consider relocating the project. At the time of writing a petition accompanying the letter had already garnered 6,563 signatures.
Protest against the airport was reported in October 2014, members of a women’s weaving collective expressed their fear about disappearance of traditions.
Highlighting possible violations of indigenous people’s rights CAN president Antolin Huáscar Flores called for responsible intervention by authorities to ensure their participation in and economic benefit from the airport.
In May 2019, as bulldozers scraped away millions of tonnes
of earth to clear the site for airport construction, archaeologists, historians
and local people expressed their concerns. Natalia Majluf said “This is
a built landscape; there are terraces and routes which were designed by the
Incas…Putting an airport here would destroy it.” Cusco-based anthropologist
Pablo Del Valle said: “It seems ironic
and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley,
the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport – right on top
of exactly what the tourists have come here to see.” Mark Rice, author of Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism
in Twentieth-Century Peru said the new airport would do a “lot of damage to
one of the key tourism offerings of Cusco, which is its scenic beauty.” Some
locals who rely upon tourism were wary of the airport plans. Other critics of
the project said that damages to the Inca ruins would be incalculable, and worried
that construction of the airport would deplete the watershed of Lake Piuray,
which the city of Cusco depends upon for almost half of its water supply. Expectation
of airport construction had led to new houses and hotels being thrown up
hurriedly in Chinchero in the expectation of a tourism windfall.