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The Rogue Zone: A(n Artistic) Project in the Tri-Border Region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay
by Francisco Ali-Brouchoud

On difference # 2 – Symposium: Politics of Space
Kunstverein Stuttgart / 7-9 April, 2006

1. Two stories
I would like to begin this talking with two stories, that will allow us to situate in a more accurate context for this project.
The first is a personal story, from five years ago. It was a few days after the attacks of September 11 in New York, and I was begining to wake up early in the morning, when I heard a huge, overwhelming roar coming at me from some place over my head and the house.
In these days, I was living in Posadas, the capital city of Misiones, the most northeastern state of Argentina, bordered by Brazil and Paraguay, where with my wife were working in the Misiones National University Contemporary Art Museum as curators.
My house was in front of the Paraná river, one of the biggers in the world, and the sound arose from that direction. I wore quickly and went to the flat roof, just in time to see a fighter jet flying at water level, fully armed. Behind me, my eleven years old son, still asleep, asked me: “It’s a war plane? What it’s going on, dad? “ I couldn’t answer him in that moment, but too, I asked myself if it wasn’t really a war. “It’s maybe the Kabul-Posadas axis?, I thought. Like the well-known tale about the buterfly’s flapping in New York that can produce a typhoon in Hong Kong, this was another “colateral damage” of globalization.
The fighter was part of a fleet the Government of Argentina sent to the region, as a gesture to his American counterpart in order to assure Washington about the argentinean engage with the so-called “war on terrorism”. It was, as it’s said in psychoanalysis, a clear acting out. But why Posadas, why my city –a pacific province city? Perhaps there were terrorist cells hidden between us and we not knew about its existence until that day? Or maybe, are ourselves terrorists and didn’t realize our true condition? A dangerous condition that deserve a close watching from the powers of the world? But I ignored that since a long time, we became a rogue zone, and this had transformed us in a target. And the last it’s a non metaphorical expression.
Because the other story it’s not a personal, but an official one. It was published by Newsweek in 2004 but the facts occured too the week after 11-S. The war cabinet of Mr. Bush was at work many years before he took the office. Integrated with the members of the ultraconservative think tank Project for a New American Century, it was waiting its momentum, and the opportunity had arrived. But there was a problem: the true target, Iraq, didn’t seem really connected with the attacks in american soil. And Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was hidden, “lacked of good targets”, as a senior Pentagon official lamented in these days, according to Newsweek. This so “disappointing” lack of good targets –you know, a very, very poor country, with no nuclear plants, no dams, factories, t.v. stations or big hospitals for an adequate “surgical” bombing- propelled the brilliant idea of attacking South America, as –I quote from the magazine- “a surprise to the terrorists”, striking a “non-al Qaeda target.” The idea soon was transformed in a top-secret memo, written by the Defense Under Secretary Douglas Feith. The inspirators of that proposal were Michael Maloof and David Wurmser, so-called experts in defense and Mideast, both part of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit, parallel to the CIA and other United States intelligence agencies.
Those “experts” argued, as the article in Newsweek said, “that an attack on terrorists in South America –for example, a remote region on the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where intelligence reports said Iranian-backed Hizbullah had a presence- would have ripple effects on other terrorist operations. “
Well, that “remote region“ for the Newsweek journalists was only at 300 kilometers from my house. And although there were no attack –we were very lucky the experts proposal finally didn’t take as the effective course of action-, the fact is the memo was between the options on the table, and those “ripple effects” still feels in the entire region.
This was the way I dramatically realized how my living place didn’t escape to the new dynamic exchange with which the local and global flows erase its borders, and I began to ask me how an artistic thinking could help to reveal those new realities, and maybe act as a political force of his own in this stage. The model, or better, the obvious reference I had in mind was, of course, InSite, the public art project in the Tijuana-San Diego border. But at a first glance, the border condition in the Tri Border Area seemed very different. Further on we see why. The first artist who I told about the idea was Ricardo Basbaum, four years ago. He found the project very interesting, and encourage me to continue with this work in progress. His support and ideas helped me to put in focus what would be an artistic contribution to the border subject and its associated questions.

2.Some raw facts
The Tri-Border Area, (from here, the TBA) was allways, historically, a zone that one could call a “wild” one. Geographically, the region is situated in the very heart of South America, and for this reason, occupied along the history –and of course, just now too- an strategic place in many senses: military, economical and political.
In the seventeen century, the zone was part of the wide boundaries dispute between Spain and Portugal, extended to the whole continent. In some places, the dispute turned in open war and the TBA was one of the “combat borders” where the two european crowns pushed to establish and fix its territories. For that time, the Jesuits, who had constructed just there their network of aboriginal towns, called “reductions” or “missions”, were at war with the “bandeirantes” coming from Brazil. The bandeirantes were private expeditionary armies at the Portuguish Crown service, whose goal was to capture aborigins as slaves for the plantations in brazilian territory. There were in these days big battles in the middle of the jungle between the Guaraní indians leaded by the Jesuits, and the mercenary armies.
In terms of political boundaries, only in the last part of the nineteen century, the zone reached certain order, but in the in-between period -we’re talking of more than eigthy years- the concept of country was unknown there, and the sense of belonging to a nation was a changing and indefinite notion.
It’s necessary to remark too that already at that time, in the middle of the political anarchy and the boundaries disputes, the local view was a tool that allowed those societies to recognize itself and gave them an identity.
In the present, three south americans countries meet its territories in the TBA, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, each of them represented by one relatively important population center: the Argentine city of Puerto Iguazú, the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçú and the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este.
Big rivers, the Paraná and the Iguazú, work as natural borders between the three countries. And the Iguazú River has one of the landmarks of the region, the Iguazú Falls, surrounded by a tropical rain forest preserved in national parks in Argentina and Brazil, wich attracted tens of thousands of international visitors a year.
Indeed, under the floors of the TBA, in territories of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, lies the Guaraní Water-Bearing System, regarded as the larger underground fresh water reserve in the world: with near one million two hundred thousand square kilometers, the experts says the Guaraní Water-bearing is capable of satisfy the water needs for more than three hundred sixty millions people along a century. Since there’s a strong consensus about the importance of this resource in short terms, regarding the growing world demand of water and a relative shortage to respond at that request, the control of the TBA become a major geostrategical goal.

Of course, as we can supose, its touristic attractions, biodiversity and natural resources are not the principal characteristics of the TBA, or at less, not the only ones for which it gains international attention in recent times.
The zone has a considerable population of more than 700,000, including the area outside the three mentioned main cities. And the outline which brought the region to the headlines of the CNN, The New York Times and other american media in the last three years, including the Foreign Affairs Magazine is the “discovery” that the TBA has one of the most importante Arab communities in South America, with a size that range from 20,000 to 30,000, chiefly living in the Brazilian city Foz do Iguaçú and the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este. Most of the Arab inmigrants are from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine and many of them arrived four decades ago. There is too a large Chinese community of more than 9,000 people registered legally, and may several thousands more as illegal residents. There is too some peope from South Korea and Taiwan.
The presence of migrants of many origins and countries is something not new in the region. In fact, the population of the three countries in that zone, and specially talking about Argentina and Brazil was established from waves of european inmigration which started in the last decade of the twenty century, and continued before and after the two world wars.
The commerce is the main activity in the TBA, and the three cities have a floating population of about 50,000 temporal workers who arrive daily from nearby towns. An estimated of 14 million people a year cross only by the Friendship Bridge, that link Brazil and Paraguay, and some less, about 500,000 a year do it by the Tancredo Neves Bridge between Brazil and Argentina.
Another surprising fact is the status of the paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este as a world-class center of commerce in terms of cash transactions produced by its extended, informal retail economy and black market, that ranked the city third worldwide behind Hong Kong and Miami, peaking US$ 12 billion some years ago.
The true trade flows in the TBA go by another tracks that those established by the Mercosur, the regional economic block between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Because there, the commercial relations are a very important part of the flexible everyday construction of the border condition, extended in layers of nets and webs that interpenetrate one with the others. In the words of the Argentine anthropologist Alejandro Grimson, who recently investigated the border relationships between Argentina and Brazil, there it’s a matter of “commercial transborder structures, structures of kinship, of religious and political nets. All this structures are changing in the sense they are produced, reproduced and transformed constantly. We are talking about transborder relationships because they cross the material border of the political boundaries...”

3.The process of “roguification”
But how begin and work the process to convert a region in a rogue zone, with a status comparable with the Bush’ Axis of Evil countries? As all of us know well, after September 11, to be -or sometimes seem to be- an Arab would become in some occassions a very dangerous condition. Since then, Washington began to press Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay for establish a close surveillance mechanism in the TBA, with the argument of the supposed presence of “sleeper cells” of Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Al Qaeda. The American media hammered with the image of the TBA as a safe haven for all sort of islamic Terrorist groups. It was told about terrorists training camps and terrorists summits including Osama bin Laden himself, but there is no credible evidence of all these stories. However, as a result of the American pressure, it was created the 3 + 1 Group on Tri-Border Area Security, that include Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay and the United States, to discuss and analyze preventive security actions in the zone, and gather intelligence. By now, the TBA is one of the most controlled zones in South America, and intelligence agencies of all mentioned countries, and maybe Israel it’s said to have a presence there.
In the last meetings of the 3+1 Group, the Washington delegation was obliged to admit that, according to the available information, no operational activities of terrorism have been detected at the Tri-Border Area. But the pressure don’t stop. In the light of the lack of “terrorist camps” and “sleeper cells”, american officials began to talk about fund-raising activities by groups in the TBA Arab community supossedly linked to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and or Hamas. Some analist believe that probably, some people of Arab origin could contribute with the social-service group of Hezbollah, who run schools, hospitals and orphanages in Lebanon. If this activity must be considered part of a terrorist fund-rising campaign depend on the status we confer to that radical islamic movement. The State Department listed the group as a terrorist organization but in his country, it’s a legal political party, with representation in the Lebanese parliament.
We must mention too that Argentina has suffered two terrible terrorist attacks in the past, well before the 11-S: the bombing of the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires on 1992, and the bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish community center, located in Buenos Aires too, on 1994. Nobody credibly claimed responsibility for those attacks which cost thirty an eighty lives respectively. The investigations, handled by Argentine Justice was disastrous and at the present, nobody was condemned by those brutal attacks. Once more, the TBA was linked, without substantial proofs until now, with those bombings, as the place where the attackers prepared the crimes.

Then, the process we could call “roguification” is a direct result of the Washington self atributed role of world police. The device begin to work when the White House propaganda machine create the necessary consensus for its narrative, leaking to the media, as in the case of New York Time’s reporter Judith Miller, alleged “intelligence reports” or something with academic appearance, like the theory of the Nation-State Failure, written in 2003 by Robert Rotberg, the Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, The paper was published in the CIA website with the disclaimer that don’t represent the view of the U.S. Government, although it seems a lot. Because it’s a theory which develop a ferocious political darwinism, providing justification for any pre-emptive strike,by divide the nation-states in four categories: strong, weak, failed and collapsed. The weak states are allways in risk of become failure ones.
“Unless the developing world becomes much more stable, intercommunal (ethnic, linguistic, and religious) conflict is reduced or ceases altogether, corruption vanishes, good governance becomes common, or the war against terror is won conclusively, the propensity of nation-states to fail will be high and the policy consequences of that failure will correspondingly be serious and many”, warn us Rotberg.
The concept of “weak states” can be easily transpolated to a zone like the TBA. Let’s see: the definition of “weak state”, said the author, “include an array of nation-states that may be inherently weak because of geographical, physical, or fundamental economic constraints; or are situationally weak because of internal antagonisms...”. “Weak states”, continue Rotberg, “typically harbor ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other tensions that may at some near point be transformed into all out conflict between contending antagonisms.”
The conflict and the difference existent in all societies, and inherent to the negotiations proper of the borders are seen as dangers or even a “natural predisposition” to the failure.
For him, the place a state can occupy in his odd taxonomy depends on the governance capabilities, or according with the text, “the effective delivery by a nation-state of the most crucial political good”, that’s for Rotberg “the supply of security.” I quote: “The state’s prime function is to provide the political good of security – to prevent cross-border invasions and infiltrations, to eliminate domestic threats to or attacks upon the national order and social structure...”

Another “fear feature” of the TBA, present in all the descriptions made in the United States political and media discourses about the region, collaborating with the rogue image construction is the massive and extended smuggling practiced in that zone. The fear is the smuggling could be used by terrorist groups to fund-raising and finance attacks. But to justify this misgiving, first one need to find those alleged terrorist groups.
Really, and leaving apart paranoids views, in the TBA the contraband is a common way of living, a part of the everyday life, even in the upper class of the society. To understand this phenomenon, we need to put it in context as a practice with historical roots that rise in the colonial period, in the fifteen century. Fuelled by the Spanish monopoly, which forbade the colonies to commerce with other countries, the smuggling was employed by the Spanish subdits for supply the local needs and by other empires like the British as a weapon against his enemy, the Spanish Kingdom.
Nowaday, smuggling is centered in electronics goods, drugs and theftted cars. There is too a huge industry of countefeit products. Tipically, in the three main cities of the TBA, the downtown sidewalks are crowded with stands piled with watches, cigarettes, cds, dvds and liquor - nearly all brought in duty-free, and most pirated imitations of famous brands. The established stores and the shopping malls –theres is a lot of them, with its “non place” aesthetics a little modified by the local way- offer larger, more expensive items.
As Alejandro Grimson said, we prefer to take the contraband phenomenon from an anthropological point of view, an with this perspective, I quote, “...the smuggling appears as a descriptive concept of a commercial exchange form, one that the actors acknowledges as out and against the current laws, and at the same time, the best –or maybe the only one- way of earn a living.”
As Grimson notes, and the observation can applicate to the phenomenon of the smuggling in the TBA, the contraband do not lack of rules or laws, but has ones of its own, and in the same way, don’t lack of moral or ethics, but respond to a different ethics that the established.

4.The TBA as a social, political and semiotic laboratory
These general features allow us to think the TBA as a giant social and cultural laboratory, where languages, goods, people and ways of life expand its signified out and beyond the visions of the culture as a closed, fixed social construction to the more wide concept of the intercultural. Ana Camblong, a senior researcher who investigate the local culture from the point of view of the semiotic exchanges, said about this condition:
“The intercultural is not for us only a theoric, logic and methodological definition we had constructed over many years but, chiefly, an everyday life experience in the border continuous...”
According with her, the border inhabitants become expert switchers of every practices linked to each national way, or identities marks: languages, money, food, symbols, etc. All is object of a constant semiotic negotiation and translation.
“The semiotic translations”, said Camblong in a recent paper, operate between limits, allways restoring the continuity and, at the same time, adjusting its operations to the continuous’ demands. We don’t attend nor intend the univocal translation, code to code, sign to sign, but the multiform, polyvalent and slippery translations ruled by the continuous. Is in that continuity where it articulates the intercultural semiotic movements, over the border, in the space “in-between” of the interzone where it produces the symbolic bustles of exchanges, mixtures, hybridations and all manners of semiotic bungled affairs.”
The anarchist writer Hakim Bey talked about the concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone, defined as “an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it.”
I think the TBA is, in fact, an Autonomous Zone, stricto sensu and beyond all theoretical aproach, whose temporality last through time, and it can provide at every moment those “peak experience” Hakim Bey associate with the uprising.
And in this case, there is a direct engagement with the State. Not only with the idea of nation-state but the notion of State itself: all the inhabitants in TBA live of, want to, or know how –excuse me for the word- fuck the State. Theirs respective nation-states, and all of them together. There is and alliance in this point, no matter the nationality of the actors.
In the border, under the institutional devices of the nation-state, bridges, border patrols, officials, customs houses, passports and id cards, proliferate a biopolitical net, in many cases completely out of law, with its own rules, codes and goals.
There is no State without borders, and there is no borders or border relationships without State. This is why the border matter is a key political question: point directly to the State raisons d’être

5.The project
The conceptual core of this project could be: If the hegemonic power of the world take us as a rogue zone, we propose to deep the “roguery” a little more by to reapropriate that concept the empire assign us and assume all its political dimension. We, the inhabitants of the Rogue Zone are, of course, the proud new barbarians, and live, as some publications labeled the TBA, in a no man’s land. But as Alejandro Grimson put it, “...that image of no man’s land has a strong hyperbolic dimension, one of the rhetorical quibble to talk about the other.”
We need to think the borders from the border. Following the program Ana Camblong outlined from her border research, this project propose to make “a biopolitical map in which life and politic knots its symbolic entaglements in order to design a strategy oriented to modificate the everlasting diagnosis and to make visible the possibility of experiment the action.”
I talked before of the different border conditions if we make a comparison between the Tijuana-San Diego an the TBA borders. In the first case, beside there is a bi-national boundary, we are in front of a border between the First and the Third World. The TBA is an inner Third World border, even when we could distinguish some type of political hierarchy and maybe, a kind of cultural confrontation with historic roots between the three countries. Another important contrast with the InSite model is the cities in the region don’t fit the idea of urban environment and its associated representations taken in the last years by the artistic discourses everywhere: they are of a very different scale, and only have in common the condition of transnational stage.
But after all, we feel the need to rethink the role the art, or better, the artistic thinking play in the contemporary culture. Even if we talk about the most contemporary artistic practices, the most dematerialized and critical ones, finally one impression persists: if, as Germano Celant said, it’s only a sophisticated “eclecticism as escapes from every problem other than business affairs and the multiplication in quantity of the ‘artistic gadget’ that is to be collected on the walls of the petty bourgeoisie.”

Some operative concepts:

-Hakim Bey: Temporary Autonomous Zone

-W.Burroughs’ M.O.B communities

-Internationale Situacioniste

The project’s points of departure:

-Art as a form of resistance (Deleuze), and the artistic thinking as a very precise cultural form to operate with the symbolic order
-A political dimension, that come with the borders: There is no State without borders and there is no borders without State

In the Rogue Zone


To reapropriate the concept the Empire has assigned us, and assume all its political dimension: The Rogue Zone
To think the borders -all the borders, the political, social, cultural- from the border
To make a biopolitical map, make visible the possibility of experiment the action (Camblong)

Homi Bhabha: The culture as “survival strategy”, at the same time transnational and traslational.
According with Bhaba, when a culture become in a survival strategy is at the same time transnational and translational.”
Transnational because “the contemporary post-colonial discourses are rooted in specific histories of cultural shift (displacement)”, and translational since those spacial histories of displacement, now accompanied by the territorial ambitions of ‘global’ media technologies impose the answer abou how the culture signify, or what is signified by the ‘culture’ “.

-A project work (Andrea Fraser’s operative definition: “The work of the interpretation or analysis of sites and situations in and outside of cultural institutions; the work of presentation and installation; the work of public education in and outside of cultural institutions; advocacy and other community based work, including organizing, education, documentary production and the creation of alternative structures.” )

-Engage/research with the local communities

-Critical thinking about the borders-and blurrings- between disciplines and fields

-Format open to discussion between the participants (network in the web, meetings before and after the field work)

-The field work as an “immersion” in the zone

The TBA program and condition (Homi Bhabha again)

To finish this lecture:

“…the language of the rights and duties, so key to the modern myth of a nation, must to be contested over the basis of the anomalous and discriminatory legal and cultural status assigned to refugee migrant and diasporic populations. Unavoidable, they stay in the borders between cultures and nations, frequently in the other place of the law.”

The Artist as an “Enemy Combatant” (Bush-Rumsfeld-and-all-the-hawks’ term reapropriation)