Aside from a backfiring mototaxi, the rare courageous person immersed in the cold water of the Pacific and the dozen restaurants vying for the title of best ceviche along the beach, nothing seems to disturb the tranquility of the fishing port of Chancay. It’s hard to imagine that this Peruvian city of 60,000 inhabitants, located 80 km north of Lima, will soon play an essential role in the economic development of Latin America. On the other side of the bay, just a few hundred meters away, thousands of workers are busy building a megaport.

Estimated at $3.5 billion, the project aims to create 15 berths over an area of ​​141 hectares. Thanks to its draft of 16 meters deep, the port of Chancay will become the only one on the continent to be able to accommodate gigantic ships, capable of transporting more than 18,000 containers. In its first year of operation, it should mobilize more than 1 million. For comparison, 670,000 containers passed through the third French commercial port, Dunkirk (North), in 2023.

The municipality owes this ambitious initiative to a joint venture owned 40% by the Peruvian mining group Volcan, but above all 60% by Cosco. The fourth largest shipowner in the world, just behind the French CMA CGM, the Chinese giant has carved out a place of choice in the maritime sector. In Europe, it stood out in particular in 2016, by taking control of the port of Piraeus, in Athens (Greece), and also holds a minority stake in those of Hamburg (Germany), Genoa (Italy) and Rotterdam (Netherlands). Down). Cosco took control of the Chancay port project at the beginning of 2019, attracted by the prospect of being able to offer China its first anchor point in Latin America.

The new infrastructure should indeed make it possible to further increase trade between the two regions, which has continued to progress in recent years. In 2022, they stood at 500 billion dollars, compared to 12 billion in 2000. For Omar Narrea, from the Center for China Studies at the University of the Pacific, this new maritime route will above all facilitate “exports of products manufactured Chinese products, such as electric cars”, but will benefit the whole of Asia.

“Ships leaving from Vietnam need 30 days to reach Europe, or even 40 days due to the problems encountered by the Suez Canal,” he reports. With this port, it will only take them 28 days to reach Peru. This is a great opportunity for diversification. » In the other direction, Latin America will be able to send its minerals and agricultural products more quickly, of which Asia is particularly fond.

The project is thus viewed negatively by several Chilean politicians, who fear massive competition for their own ports, but also by the United States, who fear the growing influence of their main competitor on a territory which they have long exploited the resources alone. But you don’t have to look that far to find reviews. In Chancay, many voices are raised against this giant port. Miriam Arce, president of the city’s Association for the Defense of Housing and the Environment, speaks of “multiple negative consequences” which risk leading to “the sacrifice of the population”.

His grievances are primarily focused on the construction site. “My house is located less than 50 meters from the work, I hear explosions all day long,” she laments. The psychological impacts are enormous.” In the Alto Miramar district, residents are railing against the tunnel dug under their feet, supposed to connect the port to the Panamerica Norte highway. In May 2023, its construction was interrupted following a landslide, which destroyed two houses and seriously damaged 18 other homes.

New incident recently, an tremor left a gaping hole in the middle of a street and generated new cracks in the walls of housing, sometimes around ten centimeters wide. Dispatched to the site, a Cosco representative assured that the company would “act as quickly as possible”, but he left to the insults of the residents, exasperated and increasingly worried. The latter are also concerned about the pollution caused by the thousands of trucks that will circulate near their homes once the port is completed, thus directly endangering their health.

This initiative also represents a serious threat to biodiversity. Faced with the gradual disappearance of fish, artisanal fishermen must already go further offshore. Adjacent to the megaport, the Santa Rosa wetland, where dozens of species of migratory birds come to stay, will also be affected.

However, it seems unlikely that Cosco will take the time to reassess the social and environmental impacts of this operation. The first phase of the project, which includes four berths, is to be inaugurated this fall by Chinese President Xi Jinping, during the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Miriam Arce will continue to fight against it, even if her hopes fade: “Our human rights are being violated, but no one listens to us. »