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Saint Augustine: memory will prevail

There is a place where several generations of Nikkei have been born and raised. A place where people still live off the land even though it is just a few minutes from the most modern of the capital. That place is called Hacienda San Agustín and it is about to disappear.

When you enter the San Agustín hacienda, it is hard to believe that you are so close to the airport. The long dirt roads, the dust impregnating the clothes, the vegetation that invades the view, the farmers working the land, all of this contrasts with the control tower that stands intrusively from the Jorge Chávez.

The airport radars can be seen very closely in the middle of Chinese onion plantations. The houses are old and most of their inhabitants are old as well. History tells that the first Japanese arrived at the end of the 19th century, they came to the lands of the Prado family hacienda to work as farmers, although many were treated as slaves. Many were not called by their name but by a number. One hundred fifteen, forty-eight, ninety-two; that's what they were called.

Eduardo Higa is 90 years old, owns 9.3 hectares and has lived his entire life in San Agustín. “Generation after generation of my family has lived here. For more than thirty years I have more than paid taxes as a yanacona,” he says, and today he is the owner with title in hand.

It happened that during the Velasco Agrarian Reform it was decided to give possession of the land to those who worked it and that is why now the Japanese descendants, whose ancestors were peasants on the hacienda, are the owners of the place.

everything will be destroyed

In the San Agustín hacienda there are around 40 Nikkei families and all of them will have to live somewhere else very soon. The location of the land, behind the Jorge Chávez del Callao airport, has made the government decide to expropriate it for the expansion of the air terminal.

The private company LAP signed a contract with the Peruvian State stipulating that it would be granted more space to expand the airport. However, the government has been delaying the delivery because it has not reached an agreement with the owners of the place. Although there has not yet been an official offer from the State, the farmers said that the government appraisal team that visited them a few weeks ago told them that their land was worth $3 per square meter.

This price has been rejected from the first moment by the owners of the San Agustín hacienda and by the representatives of the San Agustín Agricultural Society, who look after the interests of the former owners, that is, the descendants of the families to which Velasco expropriated their lands.

“The government wants to pay a ridiculous price. Prices in Huaral and Cañete are much higher and further from the city. If the State wants our land, it must pay us not only its value but also something extra for its own need to acquire it,” says Eduardo Higa.

For his part, Manuel Goya Teruya, another owner of the hacienda lands, seems more resigned, because he knows that he will have to leave soon and understands that on these issues it is difficult to beat the government.

“What is going to be done, the law is the law. I have lived here all my life, we give work to several provincials to cultivate the land, but if they tell us that we have to leave, we will have to leave. Although the truth is, I still don't know where I'm going, my children are in Japan,” explains Goya Teruya.

Another important issue within everything that the expropriation of the San Agustín hacienda means is that the land that the State wants to acquire is used for agricultural production and supplying the markets of Lima. It is feared that as these lands disappear and with them production, prices in the markets will rise even more. Furthermore, this will mean the loss of jobs for many people.

Anthropologist Elizabeth Lino Cornejo, who is co-author of the book “Oía mentar la hacienda San Agustín” maintains that this space is home to people who have lived a long time working the land and deserve fair compensation if it is finally decided to expand the airport.

“The issue of expansion has been mentioned for a long time, but there is no adequate communication between the residents and the government. Everything is said at once, through comments, but nothing is certain. In addition to the Japanese families, there is a human settlement in the middle of the hacienda with a school and library, with families that will also be harmed,” he points out.

Japanese farmers at Hacienda San Agustín (photo taken from the book Okinawa shi Kyoyukai del Perú, Doris Moromisato. OKP Editorial Fund, 1999).

a forgotten place

The Ayllu human settlement has about one hundred families who are descendants of the peasants who worked the lands of the hacienda. Unfortunately, their lack of organization meant that they were never given property titles and to date they do not have any paper that says they are owners of the lands where they have lived for years.

The image of the Ayllu human settlement is striking. Silos in the middle of the slopes, one after another, as if it were an exhibition. Garbage in the streets, sewage running through the ditches. Bad smell in every meter you walk. Stray dogs with obvious skin diseases playing with small children. It is a forgotten place.

Bessy Cabrera, a resident of El Ayllu, says they received an eviction letter a few months ago, but they were never told if they would be relocated or not. “A while ago they came delivering letters but they didn't tell us more. The boards of directors have not done anything to find out and right now we do not know what is going to happen. If at least we were like the Japanese, who are organized, we would be less worried, but the truth is that no one in the Ayllu knows for sure where we will go to live.”

In the Ayllu there are children who see every day how Jorge Chávez's planes land and rise, they look at them as if they were very far away, although only a few meters separate them. They've lived so long around those flying machines and maybe they'll never get on one.

The State has planned to acquire 650 hectares of what is still the San Agustín hacienda. The estimated budget for the purchase is 100 million dollars. The first one who must leave is Juan Yara, because his property is the closest to the airport.

“Where are we going? And those people who have nothing and live off the farm? I don't want that day to come. Now that we are like planes about to take off, they are getting more worried. Even after the trip one continues to suffer for the land, it is everything and causes pain. These are our roots. We wake up when the sun rises and we go to bed late at night, that's how I hope it continues to be,” said Juan Yara in one of the last interviews they did with him for “Oía mentar la hacienda San Agustín.” Today he is hospitalized and does not know if he will live to say goodbye to his home.

The land has always been the reason. The reason. The ancestors came through it. Wars were fought over it in the past and people continue to worry about it today. The San Agustín hacienda's days are numbered and its people know it. Resignation is an uncomfortable response to a reality that one does not want to live.

The delivery of the land

The company that has the concession to operate the Jorge Chávez airport is Lima Airport Partners (LAP), which reached an agreement with the Peruvian State to be granted the land adjacent to the Air Terminal to build a second landing strip.

In that sense, it is the State that has been in charge of determining which lands will be granted to LAP. The last statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications was about a partial delivery of the land. These would come from the former Taboada Estate, adjacent to the Hacienda San Agustín.

According to estimates by the Minister of Transportation and Communications, Enrique Cornejo, the delivery of the land would conclude in 2013. And, according to LAP, the new landing strip will be 3,500 meters long and 45 meters wide.

* This article is published thanks to the agreement between the Peruvian Japanese Association (APJ) and the Discover Nikkei Project. Article originally published in the APJ magazine Kaikan Informativo , No. 34.

Texto y foto: © 2009 Asociación Peruano Japonesa; Foto histórica: © 2009 Foto tomada del libro Okinawa shi Kyoyukai del Perú, Doris Moromisato. Fondo Editorial OKP, 1999.

agriculture Peru plantations San Agustín
About the Authors

Luis Daniel Goya Callirgos is a communicator and journalist. He has been editor of the Asia Sur Magazine, editor of the Correo newspaper and web editor of the EPENSA Group. He was editor of Eva Magazine and editor of installments of the tourism supplement Viajero, both from Grupo El Comercio. He has won the ETECOM Communication Award in the Digital Press category two consecutive years and obtained first place in the Journalistic Chronicles contest organized by the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences (UPC). He was a finalist in the CONACINE Extraordinary Documentary Project Contest and in the DOCTV IB II Contest. He has been a television reporter, written press columnist and manages one of the most read blogs about television series in Peru.

Last updated January 2010

The Japanese Peruvian Association (Asociación Peruano Japonesa, APJ) is a nonprofit organization that brings together and represents Japanese citizens who live in Peru and their descendants, as well as their institutions.

Updated May 2009

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