(February 15, 2007) Following the devastating Feb. 3 fire which
destroyed 30 buildings in the historic center of Valparaíso (Region V) –
awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003 – it is natural to question
why the care and restoration of this heritage site had not been
addressed sooner.

Amongst the smoldering ruins lies “one of the two buildings with the
most valuable cultural heritage in the whole city,” according to the
city’s mayor, Aldo Cornejo. “These buildings are at risk from fires, at
risk from gas explosions - as happened on Saturday – and at risk from

With faulty gas, electricity and structures in many of the shipping
town’s buildings, the Valparaíso fire was a disaster waiting to happen –
and one that, according to many, could have been prevented (ST, Feb. 5).
Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city had no kind of
management plan to preserve or restore its valuable patrimony.

The disaster revealed a pressing social reality. These once-beautiful
buildings now offer rudimentary shelter for squatters and the homeless.
Failure to maintain them, however, means the buildings can present more
of a danger than an asylum.