Residents of impoverished Peruvian town object to spending money on a Jurassic theme park

Jun 29, 2014

For a dirt-road town without running water or a sewerage system, fibreglass Triceratops and T-rex may not be a top priority.

The regional government of Arequipa in Peru disagrees, recently approving a 4-million sol ($1.4 million) dinosaur theme park in the arid district of Yura, 650 miles south-east of Lima. The construction of the ‘Los C’coritos II’ park has been called a squandering of public funds that could be better spent tackling the town’s high death rates from diarrhoea and kidney-related illnesses.

But the region’s mayor has defended the park saying it honours Arequipa’s dinosaur legacy, and declared “unjustified” a probe launched this week by anti-corruption officials into the investment. “Dinosaurs are part of the history,” said mayor Alfredo Zegarra, who is already under investigation by the public prosecutor for ‘abuses of authority’. “Children should know what happened, how it was so that animals came to populate the planet, how they became extinct.”

Arequipa has prehistoric dinosaur footprints preserved in the earth, and workmen found a suspected Velociraptor foetus fossil last July, later dismissed as a modern mammal.

That the three hectare plot 2,700 metres high in its mountain plains, had been set aside for a hospital has heightened public anger. Indecision from the local authority led to those plans stalling, and so Mr Zegarra granted financial assistance to the mayor of Yura, one of the region’s poorest towns, to build the park. It will be the second park about dinosaurs to join the original Los C'coritos on the city of Arequipa's outskirts, 16 miles away (about 25 km).

“It’s a work that gives quality of life to the people,” said Mario Melo, a councillor in regional government told the La República newspaper. “They also have the right to this infrastructure. The critics have political ends,” added Mr Melo, referencing the opposition from land developers Mr Zegarra says are fuelling concerns.

For the locals who go without water in some cases for two weeks, highlighted in a television report, it stands to question how much a dino-park can help their basic needs. “Many children here suffer from diarrhoea and kidney problems,” said Gladys Curo, a woman interviewed in the report. “We treat what we can, but going to the nearest town takes a long time.”

Mr Zegarra said a reservoir had been built to address the problem and “water was on its way” to those who needed it.

Resident groups are divided over its construction. “It’s not that the park doesn’t serve for anything, but it would been better as a hospital,” told Timoteo Calachahui, a member of the Camineros y Empleados resident association to La República.

The ex-president of the same 563-member association said the regional government had been successful in salvaging some projects, as the land would have been abandoned or at the mercy of gangs or developers.

“The park won’t end up being a white elephant,” said Socrates Chiara. “We have a 10-year agreement with the municipality. At the end of this period, if the people don’t want the park, it will be pulled down for their hospital.”

Mr Chiara added the government was taking steps with sewerage systems ready to be put in operation, as well as plans for a school.

A plot of land had been reserved for a hospital a kilometre below in the community of Cerro Colorado, 14 miles (23 km) away on the outskirts of Arequipa, Peru’s second city, Mr Zegarra said.

Unsuitable use of public funds is not uncommon in the Arequipa region. Last November it emerged a public stadium and town hall were built from tax receipts from mining companies. Like Yura, the town of Yarabamba neither had running water and the buildings were viewed an extravagance.

Corruption is a constant in Peru’s regional governments, with three-quarters of its 26 presidents currently being investigated by the authorities. This episode won’t help to sever that association of elected officials out-of-touch with those they represent.

Still, if one thing Mr Zegarra has learned, it’s how to turn a crisis into opportunity. The media publicity may attract the final investors to stump up the outstanding cash, he quipped.

Credit: Global Voices, http://globalvoicesonline.org

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