Borders of solidarity: life in displacement in the Amazon tri-border region.

Author:Moulin, Carolina
Position:Report
 
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Abstract

In 2004, the representatives of Latin American countries, gathered in Mexico City, devised a multilateral Plan of Action (MPA) in order to foster ah improvement on refugee protection mechanisms in the region. Among its many proposals, the document advanced the idea of borders of solidarity. The proposal calls attention to new forms of thinking about border zones and border lives and how different actors might dialogue to improve the reception, assistance, and protection of displaced groups in a region marked by deep social inequalities and political violence. This paper is an attempt to make sense of these assumed new modes of governance of borders, trying to elucidate multiple perspectives and mechanisms of dealing with life in displacement in border contexts. The paper follows the narratives stemming from national and international officials, NGO and assistance workers, and displaced families" associations, in the context of the Tri-Border area between Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. The paper aims to unveil how each discourse deals with the (dis)connections between borders, displacement, and protection. I argue that perceptions of the role of borders, as both bridges and barriers, and as spaces of life, vary according to how each group appropriates and interferes in the political dialogue. Some focus on the management of mobility; others on the improvement of life conditions for marginal groups; still others try to interrupt the political processes that make such marginalization possible in the first place. I propose three varying understandings of solidarity that speak to each of these perspectives--managerial, faith-based, and autonomous--stressing the problems and also the positive aspects that might be learned from approaching borders through the lenses of solidarity.

Resume

En 2004, des representants des pays latino-americains, reunis a Mexico, ont elabore un plan d'action multilateral en vue de favoriser une amelioration des mecanismes de protection des refugies dans la region. Parmi ses nombreuses propositions, le document avance l'idee de frontieres de la solidarite. La proposition attire l'attention sur de nouvelles formes de reflexion sur les zones et vies frontalieres et comment les differents acteurs pourraient dialoguer afin d'ameliorer l'accueil, l'assistance et la protection des groupes de personnes deplacees dans une region ou regnent la violence politique et de profondes inegalites sociales. Le present article tente, en donnant un sens a ces supposes nouveaux modes de gouvernance des frontieres, d'eclaircir de multiples perspectives et mecanismes pour affronter la vie en deplacement dans des contextes frontaliers. L'auteure s'appuie sur les recits issus de hauts places nationaux et internationaux, des intervenants des ONG et de l'aide, et des associations de familles deplacees dans le contexte de la zone tri-frontaliere entre le Bresil, la Colombie et le Perou. L'auteure vise a devoiler la facon dont chaque discours prend en compte les (dis)jonctions entre frontieres, deplacement et protection. Elle soutient que la perception du role des frontieres, comme ponts et barrieres aussi bien que comme espaces de vie, varie en fonction de la facon dont chaque groupe s'approprie le dialogue politique et s'y immisce. Certains se concentrent sur la gestion de la mobilite, d'autres sur l'amelioration des conditions de vie des groupes marginaux, d'autres encore tentent d'interrompre les processus politiques qui rendent une telle marginalisation possible en premier lieu. L'auteure propose trois interpretations differentes de la solidarite qui approfondissent chacune de ces perspectives--manageriale, confessionnelle et autonome--en soulignant les aspects negatifs mais aussi positifs qui pourraient etre tires d'une approche des frontieres a travers le prisme de la solidarite.

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There is a lot of pain and misunderstanding; the border remains an infected wound. Perhaps the utopian spirit of the border project lies in its impossibility.

--Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Warrior from Gringostoika

I n 2004, the representatives of Latin American countries, gathered in Mexico City, devised a multilateral Plan of Action (MPA) in order to foster an improvement of refugee protection mechanisms in the region. Among its many proposals, the document advanced the idea of "borders of solidarity." Though not conveying the idea of an open borders project, the proposal certainly calls attention to new forms of thinking about border zones and border lives and how different actors might dialogue to improve the reception, assistance, and protection of displaced groups in a region marked by deep social inequalities and political violence. If a No Borders project presents the case against immigration controls and entails a radical redemocratization of borderlands, (1) to think about borders as geographical imaginaries of solidarity leads us to interpret the border not as "a category but rather a perspective." (2) In this way, borders can be reappropriated by new modes of governance and, at the same time, be rethought as spaces of life. Therefore, perhaps, the most ambitious aspect of borders of solidarity is precisely to highlight the moment in which being displaced acquires the meaning of living as border and boundaries are subsumed into a rather provocative evocation of an indifferentiation between the limits of life and the limits of modern geographies. By trying to elucidate multiple approaches and mechanisms of dealing with displaced and refugee populations in border contexts, this paper elaborates on the perspectivism of solidarity practices.

The reflections presented here are the result of fieldwork conducted in 2007 in the Tri-Border area of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, more specifically in the twin cities of Leticia and Tabatinga. The paper follows the narratives stemming from national and international officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and assistance workers, and displaced families' associations in this particular context in order to unveil how each discourse deals with the (dis)connections between borders, displacement, and protection. I argue that perceptions of the role of borders, as both bridges and barriers, and as spaces of life, vary according to how each group appropriates and interferes in the political dialogue. Some focus on the management of mobility; others on the improvement of life conditions for marginal groups; still others try to interrupt the political processes that make such marginalization possible in the first place. I propose three varying understandings of solidarity that speak to each of these perspectives: managerial, faith-based, and autonomous solidarity. Though presented in parallel fashion, these three perspectives on the linkage of borders and solidarity are actually intertwined in the everyday practices of border dwellers. The attempt to advance solidarity as a search for autonomy (evinced by the social organization of displaced families) challenges aspects of the regulation and management of mobility as well as reinforces a discourse of rights and inclusion that is premised on statist and citizenship-based categories. In a sense, all perspectives are marked by a certain ambivalence that is constitutive of displacement as social practices that deal with the dual processes of ordering the world in dichotomies (citizen/alien; migrants/refugees; subject/object; rooted/displaced) and thinking the world from dichotomous concepts. (3) Thus, the paper aims at contributing to a more critical analysis of what borders of solidarity might actually promote and how they can impact on the daily lives of those who inhabit such sites.

The paper is organized in five sections. In the first section, I present a brief description of the Tri-Border area, highlighting the paradoxes of distance and proximity as well as the overall political context in which the narratives of groups emerge. The second section discusses the overall policies presented in the MPA and analyzes some of its consequences. The third section discusses the views of assistance workers, in particular, those associated with the Catholic missionaries in the region. The fourth examines the narratives stemming from displaced groups' associations, focusing on the difficulties and strategies of intervention devised by them to advance their claims in a context of social and political abjection. The fifth and concluding section advances a classification of solidarity approaches in relation to borders, stressing the problems and also the positive aspects that might be learned from each set of discourses.

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Representing the Border Landscape

The Tri-Border area between Peru, Brazil, and Colombia is located in the heart of the Amazon forest. The main urban centers are the twin cities of Tabatinga, Brazil, and Leticia, Colombia, the latter being the capital of the Departamento de Amazonas. The twin cities are physically joined and blend into each other. Transit and movement are free between the cities, as there is no border controlling post along the avenue that connects them. From the Colombian side, it is only possible to reach Leticia by plane or by a very long and treacherous journey combining paths and boat trips. Tabatinga is connected to the provincial capital, Manaus, some 1,600 kilometres away, by plane--only one flight during business days--or by boat in a three- to five-day journey (depending on the direction, whether up or down the river). Control of goods and people takes place only on the Brazilian side, some 50 kilometres down the Amazon River, in what is called Base Anzol (Hook's Base). The Hook serves as a customs, security, and immigration-processing checkpoint. There, a handful of federal police agents are responsible for checking the documents and cargo of all the boats sailing into Brazilian territory. Their main goal is to check passports and to look...

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