Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bolivia Mar

[Los Caracoles highway which climbs the Andes from Argentina to Peru; Los Caracoles were part of the Dakar 2010 rally landscape]

Last weekend saw the close of the annual Dakar rally raid.  We are particular fond of the race because the vehicles used are so extreme that they bring in to relief the direct way that instruments make landscapes:  the Dakar rally landscape is a sprawling line of mountains and cities and deserts and rivers covering the southern half of South America.  Without the specialized equipments of the Dakar rally these zones are spectacular sand dunes, trees, rivers, and ocean, but they are not the rally landscape until a class-T1 car goes crashing through the riparian undergrowth along the Rio Pisco ahead of a pack of 500 cc quad bikes.  This year’s race began on the Atlantic coast in the Argentine city of Mar de Plata, shot across the pampas, past the ruins of Epecuen, over the Andes Mountains in Chile, and through the Atacama Desert before finishing in Lima, Peru.  One place it didn’t go through was the Bolivian Litoral- the landlocked nation’s historical ocean access corridor.  Maps that predate 1883 reveal the nation was not always landlocked.  In fact, the Andean country enjoyed ownership of a wide swath of ocean access through the Atacama Desert.  While the exact borders and jurisdictions were ambiguous and contested since at least independence from Spain in 1826, no one seemed to much care until the discovery of massive amounts of saltpeter in the 1870’s.

[a map of the campaigns for independence in 1826 shows Bolivia with access to the Pacific through the Atacama Desert]

[the monument to the sea at Bolivia Mar.  This is located at the end of the Interoceanic Highway; note the extremely strange spiral stair that terminates in the wire mouth of the female face at the top of the space frame; this monument is the center of the recreational area]

In the 19th century saltpeter was a main component of agricultural fertilizer and food preservatives.  It was also a major ingredient in explosives and rocket propellants.  Saltpeter was food and bombs.  And the largest saltpeter resources in the world were in the Atacama.  The War of the Pacific between Chile (backed by British capital) and the Peru-Bolivia Alliance left Chile in control of the Atacama and Bolivia without access to the Pacific.  Today the area is still contested and littered with national parks.  The saltpeter mines became obsolete with the discovery of the Haber process for synthesizing nitrates, and the mining towns are gone but Chile enjoys the wealth generated by the massive copper mines in the territory.  Bolivia enjoys Bolivia Mar.

Bolivia Mar is a 3 mile slice of dusty shoreline on the Peruvian coast just south of the tiny town of Ilo.  The result of a 1992 agreement between the two nation, Bolivia Mar is technically a piece of Bolivia, a gesture of goodwill from their Andean neighbor and consolation for the loss of their coast.  When the agreement was first reached it seems most hopes were pinned on vague notions about the power of private capital to develop random slices of terrain-cum-property.  The results have been bizarre, and while we kind of like things as they are- a strange combination of impotent national ambitions and industrial exploitation- it is clear that the intended results have not been achieved.  The recent pact ratified in 2010 is a bit more ambitious and specific.  The new plans for Bolivia Mar call for expansion of the existing port facilities at the nearby town of Ilo to operate as a binational port serving Bolivian industrial interests.  In addition industrial installation for the refinement of natural gas and iron mined in the Bolivian highlands are to be constructed and administered by Bolivia.  To the south a recreational zone is to be created at Bolivia Mar with fishing piers, hotels, and a promenade. 

[the Enersur dock just south of Bolivia Mar is one of the longest in the world; the complex is a thermoelectric plant using coal brought by boat and seawater to create electricity for industrial and domestic use in Ilo; the Suez Energy International company which owns Enersur, is exploring the possibility of exporting copper here from its Quellaveco Atacama location, scheduled to begin production in 2014]

What is one to make of this monstrous concoction of industrial-port-recreational facilities, all established in a historically contested territory filled with economic promise and political landmines?  This strange situation makes us ask wonder can a landscape approach generate beneficial relations, and point the way towards a re-knitting of this frontier landscape?  Bolivia Mar may be little more than a symbolic historical curiosity.  Or it may offer a chance to develop a new model for making the territory in a situation where resources are scarce, history is heavy, jurisdictions are contested, and the need for a solution is imperative.  We have no idea.  We are fascinated by this Bolivia-by-the-Sea, however.  Along the Peruvian coast west of the Lake Titicaca, and south of Lima a small slice of sand dune has been carved out for the industrial-recreational desires of the nation of Bolivia.  Might the port of Ilo be able to leverage this new bi-national status, the wealth of the Bolivian highlands and the opening of the Interoceanic Highway connecting Brazil and Peru to build itself as one of the great Pacific ports, offering an alternative to Valparaiso, Callao, and Los Angeles?  We imagine that new techniques of territorialization might be developed and deployed, resulting in strange synthetic landscapes.
[is Bolivia Mar what Tyson was referring to when he said "I might just fade into Bolivian..."??  If so, it only further confirms our hypothesis that Mike Tyson is the greatest landscape architect ever]

1 comment:

  1. The story of Bolivia Mar makes me think of something i read recently about how the coming opening of a bridge between French Guiana and Brazil, will "establish...the first overland connection between the European Union and the Americas".

    Just in terms of the weirdness of geo-politics and boundaries. See

    The NY Borderlines blog has by the way become one of my fav reads from NYT sire in recent weeks with some really interesting posts on the relationship between borders and politics, which seem generally instructive in the context of the issue you mentioned in your last post regarding the politics of territory making...
    See here