Ancient Cuzco and modern banking: descendants of Incas the gainers

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The ancient Inca city of Cuzco has long been a tourist mecca -- but it has never had really adequate tourist facilities. Now, however, under a Peruvian government project, funded in part by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), these facilities are being constructed.

But more important, the plan is having a mighty economic and social effect on the present-day inhabitants of the Cuzco region --largely descendants of the once powerful Inca empire that built the famed urban complexes of Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman, and Pisaq near here which are such tourist attractions.

This social and economic improvement for the region's inhabitants may well be the project's most important component. Already it is having an impact on the lives of Cuzquenos.

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"Tourism was the catalyst," says IADB official Carlos M. Villar, who heads the bank's Peruvian office. The plan, originally sought to earn needed foreign exchange for Peru by attracting tourists, has long been the region's most promising economic asset.

"But the project," says Mr. Villar, "is now one of water, roads, and electricity for the region."

More than 1.5 million people -- 10 percent of Peru's total population -- live in the highland area from Cuzco south to Puno on Lake Titicaca, which is the region affected by the project. Most of them eke out a substandard living, as their ancestors have done for centuries. Less than a third are economically active. Agriculture, which has been the traditional money-earner, is a poor provider. Much of the land is low in fertility. Illiteracy and malnutrition rates are high.

In short, it is a region ready made for the sort of project now underway.

In addition, the archaeological treasures in the Cuzco area are some of the most spectacular anywhere in the world.Many of them date to the 12th century, and the most spectacular of all is the fabled Machu Picchu, "the lost city of the Incas," which was not uncovered until 1911 by the United States explorer Hiram Bingham. But there are dozens of other Inca sites and all of them have suffered the ravages of time and tourist visitation.

Under the project, known generally by its acronym COPESCO, the archaeological sites are being restored and made more accessible, while being safeguarded against further destruction. In addition, thousands of paintings and art objects are being restored by the project.

But COPESCO's main focus has come to focus on infrastructure projects such as road building, electrification, and water facilities, as well as the construction of hotels and small tourist hostels.

And the IADB role in all this -- a loan of $29.3 million that provides about 40 percent of the total cost -- is aimed largely at the social and economic programs in the project.

As in the bank's support of the development of the Mexican Caribbean resort of Cancun, its contribution to the Cuzco project is aimed at improving the lot of the average Cuzqueno -- leaving it to the private sector and the governments in question to build the hotels and other tourist facilities as such.

The project includes the training of hotel personnel, the construction of an artisan center in Puno to train people in preparing finished goods, and also teaching them how to market their products.

But the key factor is the construction of highways to once remote and inaccessible areas, the rehabilitation of communities through electrification and water projects, and the stimulation of commerce.

The IADB role in the project includes the lending not only of money, but also technical expertise and advice. Numerous bank officials here in Peru, as well as those elsewhere, have brought their own knowledge to bear on the project, and there has been a cross-fertilization of ideas between the Mexican and the Peruvian tourist projects.

For example, both the Mexican Cancun and Peruvian Cuzco regions are poor. Both have large numbers of people without jobs, and thus any tourist facility expansion will take up some of this slack. Moreover, both Cancun and Cuzco have Archaeological and art treasures that need restoration. There has been a good deal of information exchange between the two areas.

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