Yungay Población (low income community), in the district of La Granja, has its origins in the beginnings of the 1970s. Its area comprises 27 hectares approximately (67 acres) and is limited by Sebastopol on the north, Yungay on the south, Manío and Coronel on the east (adjacent to Brazil Park) and La Castrina on the west. According to the data of Census 2002, the population is about 9 thousands residents. Nevertheless, more recent measurements indicate that there are currently 16 thousands people.
Map of Yungay Población
Yungay was created when people from different parts of Santiago informally established –as a land squatter- in the area that then was an airfield from the University of Chile. Soon after their arrival, residents organized and created the “committees of the unhoused”, which were organizations that negotiated their definitive establishment with the current state agency for housing (CORVI). While they were working for a definitive housing solution, each committee was assigned a land of approximately 400 square meters (nearly 4300 square feet), and in each of them they established 20 emergency housing modules. These lands had a delegate in charge of representing their area within the Junta de Vecinos (local council), and in turn the leaders of the Junta de Vecinos were in charge of organizing and representing residents before local and national authorities of the time. It were the very residents which were in charge of solving their basic needs creating their own bathrooms and lighting systems. In parallel, the socialist government of Salvador Allende had established an agreement with the Soviet Union to build a satellite city that included local grocery stores, schools, housing, and the necessary services to avoid moving to other parts of the city. Such project had the name of Villa Lenin (Lenin Village), and this was the original name of the población. Nevertheless, with the coup d’état in 1973, just one two-story housing development was built, which was called Villa Esmeralda, known today as the area of “the Duplex”. The picture below illustrates part of this area.
During the dictatorship, Yungay faced constant measures of repression and violence. In that period, several break-ins were conducted, residents were disappeared, the Junta de Vecinos was controlled, and the names of streets and of the población were changed. The high levels of unemployment and poverty of that time encouraged residents, together with the Catholic Church, to reorganize and face the economic crisis. The harsh social climate that was experienced in those years motivated a higher sense of solidarity between neighbors and a higher place attachment, which consolidated which from the beginning characterized this población: its high levels of participation and social organization. However, there were certain episodes that affected this situation. Once the first definitive housing units were built in the población, these were not delivered to the local population, which was waiting for more than ten years for a definitive housing solution, but to new residents that were incorporated into the población. This situation produced a great dissolution on old residents, and from then, there has been a distant relationship between them and the new residents. Later on, definitive housing solutions were delivered to the old residents. Nevertheless, the prior distribution of residents was not taken into account, nor the organization of emergency hosing modules. Several residents distanced and stop working together, and others were unable to get a housing unit and had to leave the población. During the 1980s, the state built various types of housing. Two-story single-family housing were built, four-story multi-family (blocks) housing were built, and finally, in two different phases, the so-called “casas bajas” (low rise single-family housing units, today known as the area of the “whites houses”). For the oldest residents, although definitive housing developments were a great advance in material terms, at the community level there was an organizational drop that affected the social organization of the neighborhood.
In the context of the return to democracy in the 1990s, a very special event took place in the vecinities of the población. It was operation “Vuelo de Justicia” (Justice Flight), name given by the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (marxist-leninist nationalist paramilitary organization) to the rescue operation of four of their militants, who escaped by helicopter from Santiago’s high security prison, and landed in Parque Brasil (just beside Población Yungay).
On the other hand, the high levels participation that they used to have in the activities organized by the residents was even more debilitated. According to the current local leaders, the spirit of struggle was lost. Now the residents of the población are worried of their private concerns, which has affected the interest for community activities. As a female local leader in her forties tells: “It’s been a long time since the población is not participative. People is not motivated with anything, they just don’t care”. The high level of closure and fencing in housing units and the discourses of residents illustrate that a climate of general distrust has been consolidating. Such distrust is manifest in the non-acceptance that residents have regarding any institutional framework, which has created conflict and division between different social organizations. However, distrust is strongly present between the residents of the población as well, especially if they are from different areas. Regarding that, a female resident in her forties declare: “it’s difficult for me to have a relationship with people from the población because they don’t care about anything. Now here everything is naturalized: violence, garbage, drugs, etc.” According to residents, the arrival of drugs and drug dealing has generated more violence and a perception of insecurity in the neighborhood, which has discouraged the use of public space. And for them in turn, one of the major problems of the neighborhood is the deterioration that these spaces have had. The neighborhood organizations still exist, they seek to encourage the recovery of these spaces, to rescue the history of the población and to return to past levels of organization. However, it is very hard for them to mobilize residents.