Imagining 2030: Protecting Lima; Peru’s Mega City

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Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is an international security analyst who focuses on defense and security issues in the Western Hemisphere. He is a regular contributor for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the Center for International Maritime Security, Blouin News, Living in Peru, among others. He is a member of the Forum on the Arms Trade. His Twitter is: @W_Alex_Sanchez


Caramba, I forget how to turn this on again,” I said aloud to no one in particular.

Sitting next to me, a smirking Pablo said, “click the button by your right ear… sí, that one.”

After the Great Unification War, China promptly rewarded countries that recognized its regained sovereignty over Taiwan. For Peru, this meant not only some fancy trade deals, but also free security and defense equipment, including training aircraft for the Air Force, tanks and trucks for the Army and smart-armored uniforms and smart-helmets for us, the Policía Nacional del Peru (PNP – Peruvian National Police).

Alas, even after several training sessions with a Chinese security officer, it still took me more than a minute to remember how to turn on the damn helmet and connect it to the police headquarters.

I shouldn’t complain though. The units up in the Andes and those in the Amazon -what’s left of it anyway- still don’t have these helmets. The capital always gets the fancier equipment.

I looked out the window trying to get a sense of where the armored vehicle was taking us. Lima, the capital, has always been one big city that just kept growing.

We’ll take the right side of the shopping center, looters are concentrated in that area,” the lieutenant said through the helmet’s intercom.

How many?” Pablo asked.

The Condor counts 500.” The Condor was Peru’s newest domestically manufactured UAV. Our domestic drone program started in the early 2010s with the Air Force, but now the PNP had its own manufacturing facilities for surveillance drones. They’re not as fancy as the UAVs that the Americans, the Russians, or even the Brazilians, produced, but they were helpful. A little display screen on the corner of the helmet’s visor showed me the drone’s view from 500 meters in the air.

I looked down to check that my gear was all in place and my (Chinese) rifle was loaded. Meanwhile, the smart-helmet made itself useful by displaying the laws that were being broken as well as the default sentences.

For petty criminals like this, we do not bother with trials anymore. Two decades ago, police arrests were considered step A; a trial was step B and prison was step C. Now A and B were one step while C was optional. It was all part of the “mano justa y dura” program (“just and hard hand”). El Presidente, in all his wisdom, pushed for a harsher internal security program, where we police, did not just arrest people, we judged them.

And yes, we were executioners if necessary.

I did not mind the change. Our harsh security programs meant that I regularly travelled abroad for training courses; particularly to Mexico, as a similar program was the only thing that saved that place from breaking apart due to the cartels back in the late 2010s. I even went to the gringos once to train at that new counter-insurgency training program Southern Command had created in Florida.

Those ugly buildings keep collapsing,” Mario observed through the window. “Why don’t these people just go live someplace else.”

And where would that be, genius?” someone said.

Well, they can build another pueblo joven [a shantytown] outside the city,” Pablo offered.

Doubt so,” the lieutenant said in all our heads through the helmets’ intercom. “People can’t build farther east because the Andes keep falling down, remember that massive landslide last month? And if you build too far north or south, you’ll be in a desert. So they just build vertically nowadays.”

SEDAPAL [that water agency] says the Rímac River does not have enough water again, even with the Lurín and the other tributaries, for this summer,” I remarked neutrally as I uncrossed my legs.

What do you expect? This city now has thirteen million people. Thirteen! That’s one third of the whole country. How are you supposed to give so many people water?” Maria exclaimed.

I wanted to say that maybe if the lieutenant stopped having so many kids, it could help with the overpopulation of the city. But that would start a heated religious debate. Peru still remained a deeply catholic nation.

In any case, the alarm went off and all conversation stopped. The vehicle screeched to a halt a minute later and the back doors opened.

Lince is a nice district mind you, pretty safe by the city’s standards, but the district’s shopping mall was a prime target for looters as it was close to a fútbol stadium. On this occasion, a Peruvian team had beaten a Chilean team, and since tensions between the two countries were still high after the Second War of the Pacific two years ago, people wanted to celebrate extra whenever our teams won.

I tried to have some sympathy for these people, victims of mob mentality and all that, but the helmet’s display of my unit’s orders would not allow me.  The presidente and the mayor wanted the capital to be nice and safe, particularly as next month Lima’s mega-convention center would host an APEC summit, the gringo and Chinese presidents would attend, which would be their first meeting since the Unification War. The presidente wanted the city safe for our illustrious guests and whatever great power-issues they would discuss.

I could see a young man running through the parking lot, he had stolen a bunch of iPhone 13XLs. That new free trade deal with the gringos (Apple really wanted Peruvian money as, for the past two decades, we had been Latin America’s most developed and pro-free trade economy) meant that we would continue to be inundated with all their goods.

I yelled “stop!” but, unsurprisingly, he did not. I cringed as the helmet displayed that not following an officer’s orders adds one year to the prison sentence.

Sigh. I started running through the parking lot, full of modern Hondas and the occasional vintage VW beetle, chasing the unarmed man, his hands full of smart-phones. My visor showed how his sentence increased the more he ran. Very soon, even though he posed no threat to me, deadly force would be authorized.

Such is the life of being judge and executioner.

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