As plans are advanced to reinstate the Paraguayan capital’s railway, communities who live on the disused tracks and in the surrounding area are protesting the move, which would see them displaced and forced to move to the outskirts of Asuncion.
The railway has been out of service since 1999, and many families who were forced from their homes during the 1983 Paraguayan River flood, have settled along the central stretches of the track. What were initially make shift shacks, have developed into brick houses, and now the area has grocery stores, as well as carpentry, clothing and other businesses.
The railway is, in many regards, now, just another street in the city center, close to hospitals and locals amenities. The location’s central position has made it a desirable location for those looking to work in the centre of the densely populated capital.
The communities who have settled along the track now face an uncertain future, following last October’s senate bill which imposes the ‘liberation of the railway domain’ to allow for the development of a 40km passenger service, connecting Asuncion with nearby Ypacarai.
The project involves the removal of the homes located on the tracks, and plans to relocate these families, some 250 according to the Government, elsewhere in Asuncion or to nearby Luque, Aregua, Itaugua or Villeta.
However, in accordance with the senate bill, “fringe domain” also extends to over twenty meters on either side of the railway line, so that residents believe that evictions may come to affect 3,500 families who live in the Jara and Trinidad neighbourhoods.
Ezcura Marta, who lives with his elderly mother, her children and grandchildren in a simple house built directly on the railway track, explained that the move may force her family out of work.
“Here I am near the center, where I work selling newspapers on the street. I also work washing and ironing other peoples clothes, they bring them to me because they know me. If I go outside Asuncion, I will have to start from scratch,” Ezcura explained.
The lands of the so-called “fringe domain”, lying further from the track but still within the area of appropriation, were declared public ownership in 1889, so the state sees both land sales and subsequent occupations as illegal.
Which means that current residents are not entitled to compensation for eviction, a fact that has created controversy in the community.
“We are not opposed to progress, for us would be great if the train returned to service. But the train can not be put ahead of the people. We protest against the arbitrariness of the project, because we were never consulted,” Carmen Lagiú, representative of the neighbourhood coalition opposing the eviction.
Alternatives include reducing the width of the strip, to reduce the number of homes impacted, or moving the proposed route. The light rail passenger transport project will continue to be discussed by regional and national government in the coming weeks.