El Hueco – The Hole

August 30th, 2008

There was supposed to have been a Government building here, a twin tower the same as the one that is found across the road, but the utter collapse of the Peruvian economy under the stewardship of Alan García put an end to construction before it even began, leaving a huge hole in the ground where the foundations were supposed to be.

In 1984 street sellers moved in, turning this deep hole in the ground on Avenida Abancay into an informal market. As with all Lima’s informal markets, El Hueco specialises in pirated goods – from DVDs to clothes and even to medicine.

It is these illegal activities, particularly the dangerous ones, that have prompted authorities to take action on several occasions. In July 2007 Police launched a raid at El Hueco in which 15 million soles (5 million USD) of expired, fake or unfit medicine was found being sold to the public and to small scale pharmacies, and potentially ending up in the state health system.

El Hueco has been closed several times as a health hazard. The deep hole in the ground is filled with thousands of stalls with make-shift roofing. Dangerously wired electricity connections run to each stall, passage-ways are narrow, exits are few and far between, no fire extinguishers exist and the whole thing could collapse in on itself in the event of an earthquake. It could potentially end in a disaster such as the terrible Mesa Redonda fire.

In response to the repeated closures, stall holders have made many improvements. Proper signage, fire extinguishers and medical kits can now be found. No medicine is now any more and some stalls even sell a few original items.

In a country where about half the population still live in poverty, a number that is decreasing slowly by a few percent each year, vendors have little choice but to work here. The majority of Peruvians have a somewhat casual recklessness when it comes to human life, but this is born out of poverty and having little other choice. This is why most customers visit El Hueco. Saving a few cents, or even a few soles is worth the hassle.

Being located in a fairly unpleasant area of central Lima, things are cheap and there are some great bargains to be had. The latest blockbuster movie on DVD, while costing as much as 3-5 soles in most of Lima is bought for only S./ 1.50 here – in fact, this is where everyone’s favourite pirate DVD sellers come to get their own supply of DVDs. If you are interested in owning a huge movie collection and want change from $30 US, this is the place to come. Use that change perhaps on a new pair of Merrell boots! You’ll get a much better deal that at the more famous Polvos Azules.

Due to the trouble with the law, taking photos, or “evidence” as a court might call it, in El Hueco is not easy, security guards got extremely confrontational with me.

All could soon change however. In line with Peru’s phenomenal economic growth, plans have been afoot for over a year to turn El Hueco into a fancy(ier) shopping centre, where, El Hueco’s administration assures, the selling of fake goods will be history.

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