Territory Guarani (Spring 2015)

Marcela Kropf captured this photo of the Guarani camp located within the Iguazú /Iguaçu National Park. 

View the PDF of this issue. 


Table of Contents by Author

Shaping the Guarani Territory by Jorge Silvetti and Graciela Silvestri

Territories and Territories by Carlos Reboratti

Along Yvyrupa’s Paths by Maria Inês Ladeira

The Many Meanings of Yerba Mate by Julia Sarreal

A Bilingual Country by Benjamín Fernández

The Guarani and the Iguaçu National Park by Frederico Freitas

The Invention of the Guarani Aquifer System by Martin Walter

Beyond the Dam by Alfredo Máximo Garay

Building the Future by Oscar Thomas

Y marane’ ÿ rekávo by Bartomeu Melià, S.J.

Chamamé for Dummies by Eugenio Monjeau

Guarani in Film by Damián Cabrera

A View from the Museo del Barro by Lia Colombino

A Country of Music and Poetry by Lizza Bogado

Guaranis and Jesuits by Tamar Herzog

Transformed Worlds by Artur H. F. Barcelos

Jesuit Reflections on Their Overseas Missions by Ana Carolina Hosne

Imagining Guaranis and Jesuits by Guillermo Wilde

Total War in Indigenous Territories by Milda Rivarola

History and Myth by Nicolau Sevcenco

Transforming Cities through Architecture A Review by Sergio C. Muñoz

For the Love of Lucy A Review by Pedro Reina-Pérez

Empathic Cosmopolitanism A Review By Susan Antebi

The Road Towards Universal Coverage in Mexico by Rocío López Iñigo


Editor's Letter: Territory Guarani

By June Carolyn Erlick 

DRCLAS receptions are bustling affairs, sparkling with ample liquor, Latin American tidbits and compelling conversations. It was at one of these receptions that Jorge Silvetti and Graciela Silvestri first approached me casually regarding an issue about the Guarani.

Reception over, I tried to conjure up everything I knew about the subject. Not much. In ReVista’s Fall 2011 issue on Bolivia, Marcia Mandepora, the rector of the UNIBOL-Guarani “Apiaguaiki Tüpa” in Machareti, had written an informative article about the university’s endeavors to explore indigenous linguistic and cultural perspectives.

Even before then, in 2000 Nieman Fellow Benjamín Fernández, a Paraguayan journalist, and Nieman Affiliate Lizza Bogado, a well-known Paraguayan singer, taught me how much Guarani culture permeated their country. Nearly everyone was bilingual, and Lizza sang in both Spanish and Guarani. 

I began to imagine the ReVista issue as one on indigenous rights, culture and bilingualism.

Then Silvestri, a professor of architecture at the Universidad Nacional La Plata in Argentina, gave her Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor Lecture on the Guarani. It wasn’t what I expected. The talk looked at the Guarani territory that she defined “in more than one sense as aquatic.” “The omnipresence of water in the region challenges our usual ways of thinking of the world, both culturally and technically,” she observed. Here was a vision that both incorporated culture and embodied it in physical space. 

I began to understand why two professors of architecture had suggested this theme and was eager to embark on the project.

Jorge Silvetti, a native Argentine, had long intrigued me as an architect’s version of a Renaissance man. The Harvard Graduate School of Design hosts studios all over the world, and his have ranged from sports urban culture in Buenos Aires to the museum of Maya archaeology in Copan, Honduras, to touristic development in the Istrian Peninsula, Puntizela, Croatia.

I couldn’t think of two better guides.

So off we went, exploring many aspects of the Guarani. As the issue evolved, I watched it morph into the theme of Guarani territory—a space, a place, an identity that comes together from a long and complicated crossborder history and emerges into a future challenged by issues such as natural resources, the building of hydroelectric dams and deforestation.

Someone asked me if there was enough to say about Guarani territory for an entire magazine. Actually, there’s too much. We ended up focusing on the territory spanning Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. There’s so much more to say about indigenous culture and indigenous rights—and, indeed, we hope to do an issue of ReVista on the subject. 

As I wrapped up the issue, I began where I started, with Marcia Mandepora’s essay.

“Oil and gas—as well as ranching, logging and industrialized fishing—have all affected indigenous communities in negative ways,” she writes. “Nonetheless, as well sites and pipelines dot and crisscross the region, indigenous organizations have taken a stance of engagement rather than opposition….(T)he question is how to transform how these activities take place in indigenous territories.”

Territories. That’s her word too. And I invite you to explore the theme with us and to keep the conversation going. 

First Take: Shaping the Guarani Territory

By Jorge Silvetti and Graciela Silvestri

The four countries region and the River Plate basin (in blue) within which the Guarani Territory extends. The red areas mark the location of the 30 Jesuit Missions. Map courtesy of Jorge Silvetti. 

The stretch of land in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay originally occupied by the Guarani is an extended region in the heart of the River Plate basin, whose environmental characteristics—jungles, impetuous rivers, tropical weather—suffered profound transformations in the last two centuries. Moreover, it is seldom recognized  as a unity, traversed as it is by national or provincial borders. As architects, we asked ourselves how one could define this fragment of land as a “territorio”—the first problem we confronted. To find the answers, we organized a DRCLAS-sponsored international and multidisciplinary workshop, “Territorio Guaraní: Culture, Infrastructure and Natural Resources in the longue durée,” in April 2014.

Many diverse factors contribute to the recognition of an area as a territory; the way in which they all mix, crisscross and overlap defines its character. Such a realm resembles more a flexible and open fabric than a geometric figure defined by its contours; the threads that weave this fabric are not only those of current events, but also those of history, memory, myth and interpretations, all of which leave persistent traces. A territory thus is not a collection of data but a constructed tissue: it matters what pressure we would apply to one thread or another; which inquiry we would follow over others to bring out a certain picture, one which would not be the only possible one.

We began by building thematic maps based on physical cartography, vegetation and hydrographic extensions; historical-political domains such as the old Jesuit pueblos; the successive frontiers of the two Iberian powers; social formations  such as the extension of the Guarani language and the continuous migratory flows of peoples; technical issues such as the impact of the hydroelectric dams and the advance of new crops. This territorial drawing imagines a desired future by articulating geopolitical initiatives of infrastructure and market integration. Thus in the course of our inquiry historical paths and present hopes became interwoven with material marks. 

Within this perspective, Carlos Reboratti’s article presents the multiple figures that we allude to when we speak of the territorio Guaraní: the virtual territory of original groups; the “territory within a territory” of the Jesuit experience; the accelerated fragmentation of the new independent nations’ constitutional era; the growth of cities; the territories of savage agro-industrial exploitation, or the new infrastructures that reunite the territory beyond the political formal borders...a true palimpsest of traces constructed in the longue durée. 

What characterizes this ever-changing spatial system, product of such diverse processes? In principle, the rivers are the most visible manifestation of a quality of a territory that we defined, literally and metaphorically, as “aquatic.” Powerful and dominant currents such as the Paraguay, the Paraná, the Uruguay and their multiple tributaries tie up the regional history: before the European arrival, they were the migration path of native expansion; they became the ways in which foreign powers penetrated and communicated; today, the rapids and falls of the Paraná and the Uruguay are the sources of shared hydroelectric energy. The theme of “the river” is recurrent in the arts, literature and music of the region. Even more, it is the principal character of the “territories” of the imagination: 

“Some say that the Paraná divides the coasts of the three countries. But in reality, it is a liquid thread that unites them, transforming them in a legendary fourth country” (A. Varela, El río oscuro).

Beyond rivers, diverse “forms of water” have been and are utilized, dominated, suffered or enjoyed in the region. Hydrogeologists have recently confirmed the hypothesis of the existence of a huge reservoir of subterranean water, the acuífero Guaraní. The idea of a major and interconnected aquatic system, as Martin Walter writes, only emerges within a climate of ideas in which varied actors—scientific, political and social—began to focus on the territory as a whole, breaching the fierce national boundaries. For Walter, the idea of the acuífero as an unified system is a subproduct of regional democratization and of the autonomy hard-fought by the local academic institutions, reminding us that “natural” events are also political events promoted by many actors. On special occasions they assume symbolic significance: Bartomeu Melià’s article, starting from the central role that water has in the current ecological discourse, approaches the acuífero Guaraní as the “genuine water,” the tierra sin mal, the Guarani paradise. It is too a political text in defense of native communities being pushed to abandon their lands. 

Paraná Ra’anga (guarani: Figure of the Paraná) is a photograph by Facundo de Zuviria of the lower Paraná River, 2010. Photo by Facundo de Zuviria, www.facundodezuviria.com

Yet, despite all the importance of the “water” element, to label our study “aquatic” could have suggested a geographic determinism that we explicitly wished to avoid. Thus we decided to qualify “territory” with a trait that is predominantly cultural: and beyond the multiple characteristics we chose  “Guaraní.

In principle, Guaraní refers to a language. Benjamin Fernández tells us that the Paraguayan Guarani (joporá) is spoken by 90% of the population of an effectively bilingual country, unifying it with its identity and its history. The language is not only official in Paraguay but also in the province of Corrientes (Argentina), extending beyond national frontiers. Around eight million people (or 87% of the area’s inhabitants) speak the language, now one of the three official languages of Mercosur (the regional multination common market). It possesses a distinctive particularity among American native languages: it is not only spoken by indigenous communities but by all groups and social classes: it is the only pre-Columbian language spoken by a large non-indigenous community. Moreover, it colors the Castilian inflections spoken in the region (for example, the word che, of widespread use in Argentina and known all over the world as the nickname of the hero of the Latin-American left, derives from the Guarani expression “my lord”). Old Guarani words continue to name geographic accidents, regions and cities.

Indigenous Guarani had not been a written language: it was the Jesuits who gave it a grammar and a syntax and made it into one of the lenguas generales used for the evangelization of the natives. The Jesuits made their alliances with groups that were already hegemonic in the region and whose tongue—according to the Jesuit Montoya, who so beautifully translated it to legible character—possessed a richness and variability that made him affirm that it was “dressed of nature” (vestida de naturaleza). Its idiomatic plasticity, its oral transmission (mainly via women), and also the appropriation of the Paraguayan Guarani as a mark of “national identity” present a paradoxical and complex history as a constant element in the many phases of the formation of the nation-states and societies of the region. 

Yet the definition of the territory as Guaraní was one of the principal and controversial topics of the workshop. Many feared that such a denomination would hide the fact that diverse communities preceded the arrival of the guaraníes; or sidestep the fact that for five centuries the territory has also been populated and inhabited by creole families, immigrants and slave descendants.

What is meant beyond language when we say “Guarani”? The Spaniards used the name for all the diverse groups in the region, no matter what they called themselves. The conquerors’ guaraníes also absorbed non-Guarani peoples (as slaves or allies), always responding to their particular ethos, or “way of being” (ñande reko). Under this cultural and linguistic unity, the guaraníes operated as a system of relatively autonomous communities.  

Many of the traits of such “Guarani way of being” have remained in present- day communities: as Maria Inês Ladeira explains, the spatial disposition of the villages is directly associated to a continuing social fabric, integrating its past while modifying its experiences and relationships beyond national borders and administrative boundaries. Certainly life was not the same when the Guarani groups came up to more than two million people moving around a vast territory, as compared to today’s  drastically reduced population of around 180,000 souls.

Tamar Herzog poses a hypothesis of special interest: the Spanish and Portuguese threats and evangelization practices made all these diverse communities identify themselves as one, the Guarani. Herzog dwells perceptively on the successive fragmentation of the territory from the beginnings of the conquest—when the Spanish and Portuguese crowns established the first state boundaries in a world where the European concept of private property did not exist—recognizing a moment of particular intensity during the establishment of the Jesuit foundations, the “territory within another territory” as referred to by Reboratti.

The Jesuits initiated their evangelization in the northern frontier, today’s São Paulo in Brazil. But the consolidation of events moved southwest to the area that we identify as the heart of the territorio, the 30 pueblos that towards the end of the 17th century hosted around 100,000 inhabitants, controlling a geographic realm that Herzog compares to the size of California. While many indigenous reservations and missionary communities ruled by Jesuits and other religious orders existed in the Americas, the Paraguayan missions continue to fascinate those that visit their extant ruins.

Here Ana Hosne situates the Jesuit order within world history, considering its actions as one of the first and most efficient global expansions of European culture. From their recent Chinese experience the Jesuits learned an adaptive posture toward evangelization that became their advantage when compared with the more dogmatic demeanors of other religious orders. 

But if, as Hosne demonstrates, the Jesuit desire to establish the ideal platonic city gave impulse to their undertakings-—and the quasi-identical urban plans of all the missions suggest such sought-after perfection—the reality of the pueblos suggests complex forms of spatial occupation and an active relationship with the immediate natural environment. Recent conservation work allowed us to value the numerous faint traces of drainage, watering, quarries,  orchards and fields of pasture—a complete sanitary and productive system unusual for its times even in Europe. 

New studies have also shed light on the architecture of these pueblos—from the adaptation of the indigenous typologies of inhabitation to the magnificent churches and colegios that even today leave visitors in awe. This arquitectura mestiza and the rich artistic output that emerged from the Jesuit workshops constitute a continuous subject of debate. 

The Jesuit experience affected the contemporary imagination even after the expulsion of the order. Guillermo Wilde discusses the different views about the nature of the missions, polarized between those that are apologetic or anti-Jesuit—a division still in use today. Wilde reminds us of the Hollywood version, but also of Michel Foucault’s suggestive concept of the Jesuit state as heterotopy. The Jesuit adventure also inspired those in the following centuries who imagined this region as places to “begin from zero”: central Europeans, political fugitives of all types, writers and poets.

According to Wilde, such simplifications of the narrative about the Jesuits left in the shadows the active participation of the indigenous people. In the same vein, Artur Barcelos underlines the active role of the Guaranis—real actors barely seen both in the Jesuitic historiography and in its adversarial narratives, where they are presented as passive recipients or as infantile victims. Barcelos offers a panoramic history of how the Jesuits, confronted with the bandeirantes’ attacks, decided to concentrate their settlements in the broad swath that transverses the Paraná and Uruguay rivers with its epicenter close to what today is the location of the bi-national entity of Yacyretá—the land where the moon shines, in Guarani. 

After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the subsequent period of modern national formation is the key to understanding the fortunes of the territory in the last two centuries. A successive fragmentation of the Hispanic area, in spite of efforts to maintain the unity of former colonial territories, contrasts with the Portuguese ability to maintain and expand its sovereign domains over broad areas that could only be virtually claimed. Local wars between neighboring provinces or recently invented nations desolated South America. The most brutal was staged in the territorio Guaraní: the so-called Guerra de la Triple Alianza (War of the Triple Alliance) from 1864 to 1870, with Paraguay fighting against allied Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. 

About 90% of Paraguay's male population was annihilated in this war. Milda Rivarola qualifies it as the first “total war,” in which the only alternative was to exterminate the enemy: a ferocious overture to the modern wars to come. For Rivarola, the responsibility for human extermination lies with both the allied and Paraguayan governments; the true victims were those who, without taking any belligerent initiative, were sent to the massacre: the indios. War and its consequences also swept clean the very source of life of all these native groups: the land. The new order emerging from the war would also systematically deny land to indigenous and rural communities.

It’s not surprising that one of the central issues of the workshop was  the relationship between environmental justice, sustainability of infrastructural development vis-à-vis natural resources, and the historical and present choices of contemporary nations that share the region. 

The new environmentalist discourse gives prominence to social conflicts arising from deforestation, soil exhaustion resulting from extensive “monocultivos” such as soybean crops, or the large holdings of productive areas in the hands of international groups (see the recent debates about holdings owned by Harvard University in Iberá, in the Argentine province of Corrientes). This is particularly sensitive in the region we are focusing on, where large areas have been set aside for provincial and national conservation. Frederico Freitas illustrates these new conflicts with the history of the emblematic Iguazú National Park: the park’s creation, stimulated by the Iguazú Falls magnificent natural wonder straddling the Argentine-Brazilian frontier, took place during the early decades of the 20th century, responding to a Rooseveltian vision based on “soft management” of natural resources and, eventually, the impulse of tourism—an important source of regional income.

Today, the conflict is focused instead on the rights of indigenous communities, Guarani in their majority. Yet the socio-environmental problems exceed the traditional communities’ claims. While these people are the most severely punished, the technical and productive transformation directly affects much vaster sectors of the rural and even urban populations. Many of these contested infrastructural transformations also constitute the basis for development for the countries that share this territory—particularly the hydroelectric plants. Without energy sources to sustain industry and communications, the very policies that aim to attend to the general social welfare are unachievable. 

During the second half of the 20th century, the generalized idea of progress was often represented by large engineering works. Yet  we must remember that the brutal dictatorships of the Southern Cone countries did not hesitate to raze entire communities and natural resources to achieve their objectives: the case of Itaipú is one of the best known examples, where the destruction of the Sete Quedas and the expulsion of its population—still ongoing—could have been avoided.

The history of the dams mirrors the history of their countries. The Argentine-Paraguayan dam of Yacyretá-Apipé, proposed in the early 1920s and signed into being with an initial 1973 binational treaty, was only fully implemented  in 2011. By then, reestablished democracies made room for a broader cast of actors and the proliferation of debates. Current managers in charge of operations try to heed ecological  damages through environmental, urban and social reparation and compensation, as Oscar Thomas, director of the Binational Entity of Yacyretá, and Alfredo Garay recount in this issue. Yet discussions about future new hydroelectric plants remain controversial because no other viable alternatives exist for the production of reliable and sufficient energy. 

To just imagine forests, marshes, waterfalls and communities all coexisting in harmony with the earth is to ignore the territory’s inclusion of modern large cities: the extension of São Paulo (the largest metropolis in South America); Asunción (the Paraguayan capital); Corrientes and Resistencia (both provincial capitals on the Paraguay river); Posadas and Encarnación (facing each other on the Argentinian and Paraguayan sides of the upper Paraná). In the so-called triple frontera (triple frontier) almost 700,000 permanent inhabitants spread themselves between Foz de Iguaçu (Brazil), Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), without counting the 50,000 transient laborers and the nearby rural communities, as well as  burgeoning tourism.

Many cities were established during early colonial times; others grew from Jesuit mission sites; others, such as Resistencia and Formosa, are recent, created after the Guerra Guazú and populated by European immigrants. The Spanish cities were conceived as “civilized islands” amidst a menacing territory which was only worthy of extractive exploitation, while the Portuguese foundations were more akin to factories. These legal-territorial structures were modified during the last centuries to become part of the new nation-states: cities which were once united by a river (such as Formosa and Clorinda or Resistencia and Alberdi) became separated by these water streams. 

The nation-state is a late European creation. We all learned early on the virtues of the nation-state: in addition to the ideals of independence, equality and freedom, the Americas added with enthusiasm the opening of their borders to “all the men in the world who wish to inhabit this land” (as the original Argentinian Constitution still announces), even if such integration is still far from idyllic. Particularly in Argentina and Uruguay, free mandatory education and health services encouraged whole communities to move towards the urban centers where all the benefits of civilization were readily available. The price was not only the homogenization of customs and traditions and an imbalance between urban and rural life—a major topic of the region’s literature—but also the emergence of a culture that accentuates the traits of openness, mobility and fusion.  

The articles addressing the arts emphasize this aspect. Lia Colombino presents the history of the Museo del Barro, one of the principal artistic centers of Asunción, which put “erudite” art on an equal footing with popular and indigenous art—a proposal that explicitly breaks down the internal boundaries between cultural expressions.

Such convergences also emerge in the Lizza Bogado and Eugenio Monjeau’s articles about music. The first, written by one of the most appreciated Paraguayan singers, makes a much-felt mention of Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa, underlining the transnational sources of popular songs. Montjeau focuses on a characteristic genre of this territory: el chamamé. Disregarded in its early days, the chamamé appears today as one of a highly and original sophisticated musical construction: Guarani in its voice, Spanish-central-European in its rhythm, “immigrant” in its instruments, its brief history is a vibrant testimony to how novelty emerges from the contact and fusion of diverse cultural manifestations. 

Finally, with an unexpected potency, current cinema in the region gives testimony of this complex world. Damián Cabrera points to the elusive Guaraní element of this territory’s culture, in order to underline the originality of the latest cinema productions. While the physical territory under study had been the stage of many films—all ríoplatenses recall Armando Bó and Isabel Sarli’s films of the 60s and 70s—the actual Guarani voice is heard for the first time only recently: the indigenous voice in Marcos Bechis’ Terra vermelha, the rural voice in Hamaca paraguaya, by Paz Encina, the urban Guarani of  7 cajas, by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori. 

In this overview we have attempted to stress  the aspects that transform the Guarani space into  a changing territory, mixed and fluid as water, multi-ethnic and informal—where the national frontiers, more than lines of breakage are spaces of active exchange. Julia Sarreal describes it with her account on the ineffable and ubiquitous presence of yerba mate, Guarani territory’s defining crop and today the shared “national” infusion-drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Southern Brazil.  

In spite of shared features that characterize this area as a common territory, most studies have emphasized a larger frontier: that which separates Brazil from Spanish-language countries. These two parts of South America have established firm cultural bridges only in recent decades, and we want to emphasize this line of enquiry; we can not understand this “aquatic” place establishing rigid cultural or political frontiers.

That’s why we decided to conclude with a brief text from one of the most creative aesthetic experiences of the previous century—the Paulist artistic avant-garde’s association with the indigenous world—by underlining one of the most controversial aspects that all tupí-guaraní peoples shared: ritual anthropophagy. Oswald de Andrade and Tarsilia do Amaral rendered this “scandal” into a metaphor for a key mode of being which seems to be shared by the people of the River Plate basin, past and present: to “consume” the enemy meant to assimilate him, as described in their “manifiesto antropófago.” To properly allude to this foundational episode of the South American avant-gardes, re-read today enthusiastically in the River Plate, we included a fragment of Orfeu estático na metrópole, by Brazilian author Nicolau Sevcenko, who passed away in August 2014—as our homage to those that have disseminated the richness of this multitudinous and paradoxical land.

Jorge Silvetti is the Nelson Robinson, Jr. Professor of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he has taught since 1975. He was chairman of the Architecture Department from 1995–2002. He teaches design studios (including among others “The National Archives of Argentina,” “La Reserva Ecológica of Buenos Aires” and “The School of 2030: Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro”) and lectures on history, contemporary theory and criticism (Architectural History I: Buildings, Texts, and Contexts from Antiquity through the 17th Century). He is currently teaching a course/studio entitled “Chamamé: The Intangible Rhythms of the Guarani Region.”

Graciela Silvestri was the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Professor at Harvard University. She is an architect and Ph.D. in History (University of Buenos Aires), Professor of Theory of Architecture (University of La Plata) and researcher at CONICET. She was a curator for Paraná Ra’Angá, expeditionary travel along the Paraná River. Among other books, she has published El color del Río: Historia cultural del paisaje del Riachuelo and El lugar común: Una historia de las figuras del paisaje en el Rio de la Plata.

First Take: Territories and Territories

The Shifting Guarani Space

By Carlos Reboratti

St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier illuminate the world with their torches, copper engraving by the Guarani Indian Juan Yaparí, for a Guarani edition. Illustration from Father J.E. Nieremberg's Of the Difference between the Temporal and the Eternal, 1700.

Territory is one of those useful words with relatively different meanings—but not different enough to prevent us from using it in diverse circumstances without necessarily falling into conceptual errors.  Whenever we use the word “territory,” we are referring in principle to an area defined by the existence of something or someone, which imbues the term with meaning (in our case “Guarani territory”).

This area generally refers to a concrete space, posing questions of territorial definition: what are the borders? Who determines them and how? What are the effects of territorial change? To demonstrate the wealth of possible answers, we are going back in history some 2,000 years, when the Guarani people already inhabited the area approximately located in what is today the eastern part of Paraguay, southwestern Brazil and northeastern Argentina. First, let's define “Guarani territory” simply as the place where Guaranis lived. However, it was not an exclusive territory, since other ethnic groups also lived there, and the Guarani people did not claim to control the entire territory. Given the character of the Guarani presence, it was a virtual territory. Because of their semi-nomadic lifestyle and without any permanent architecture, they left no visible traces and did not organize the territory. We could say, however, that although fewer Guarani exist today than before the arrival of the Spaniards, they left an indelible stamp: their language. 

This territory began to slowly fragment after the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors arrived. They came from a culture in which land ownership is a fundamental factor (and possibly totally foreign to the idea the Guaranis and other indigenous groups had about the land). The first thing they did was to create borders on the space where they considered they had the right to exclusive possession. The Spanish were the first to claim this right, defining their possession of the territory where the Guarani people lived. Two symbols seal this claim: the founding of Asunción and the decision that the Guarani area lay within the geographic domain of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The virtual territory was transformed into a concrete and exclusive one; this type of territory needs maps to formalize its borders.  In the first Spanish maps, notably imprecise, it's easy to figure out that the Guarani territory had changed “owners,” and the Spanish crown now controlled (or desired to control) the area.  The Guayrá provincial government was created within the Peru Viceroyalty to emphasize this point. Given the absence of what we today call infrastructure, the first marks of ownership were cities (sailing ships don't leave lasting imprints nor do long marches by foot or on horseback). First the Spaniards founded Asunción, then Corrientes and Concepción. 

In the 16th century, another innovation sprung up: a territory within a territory. The Jesuits arrived with a clear idea of territorial organization: to gather large groups of indigenous people into urban centers connected through a network of roads. This organization was meant to last: the buildings are made of stone and still stand. With the Jesuits, the territory became concrete, formal and organized. The problem arose with the definition of its eastern limits, disputed by the Portuguese who advanced from the virtual line of Tordesillas towards the west, pushing the Jesuits across the Uruguay River. As often happens, the formal (political) limits of the territories were not decided from within the territory itself, but from afar: in 1767, the Viceroyalty of the River Plate was created. Although the new viceroyalty covered almost the entire Guarani territory, it broke it into three fragments: the Paraguay regional government, the provincial government of the Missions (created where the Jesuits, expelled ten years earlier, had founded their missions) and the River Plate provincial government in the extreme north. These were partly formal territories and partly virtual: basically no one was really sure what the Missions' territorial limits were, and this ambiguity lingered in the years to come. 

From 1810 on, territories began to be fragmented yet once again, corresponding to the border definitions of the new republics: Paraguay and Argentina started to define their borders based on the old regional governments, while Missions remained a zone of weak formal presence of the state. The fragmentation would continue until the end of the 19th century with the end of the Paraguayan War, when the two countries and Brazil—now an independent republic—defined their borders through bilateral agreements and international mediation. At the same time, the three countries created the domestic divisions necessary to rule their territories: provinces in Argentina (Corrientes and Missions), departments in Paraguay (Alto Paraná and Canendiyú) and states in Brazil (Santa Catarina and Paraná).

Beyond the formal borders, and sometimes just ignoring these borders, other territorial processes were taking place related to the exploitation of natural resources and the  value of property. The rich Atlantic forest, the specific space of the former Guarani residents and the base for their material existence, began to be exploited by the colonial powers. While the dispersed indigenous population practicing some migrating agriculture had had relatively little impact on the forest, that could not compare to the impact of those who were cutting down timber and harvesting wild yerba mate, beginning in 1880. The rivers were used to transport the lumber, which limited the exploitation to relatively small zones because of the technical characteristics of the production and transport of wood.  The gathering of yerba mate, on the other hand, was organized through the concession of large territories and operated by Argentine or Brazilian companies. In his narrative about a trip he made to Missions in the late 19th century, J.B. Ambrosetti described the area as one where the state had practically no presence, a curious form of spontaneously organized territories. Yerba mate and the lumber trade, forms of mining the rich forest, leave few indelible marks except for two:  the docks on the Paraná River that were used to ship yerba mate production and in many cases grew into new settlements, and the picadas, rudimentary trails deep in the forest hacked out to reach the yerba mate plants, which would be used for the next territorial actors: the colonizers.

In the 20th century, colonizers began to arrive from far and wide to the old Guarani territory in search of land: in Argentina, the federal government set up colonies in Missions to attract Central European immigrants, who first worked with yerba mate and then tung and tea; in Paraguay, colonization was more spontaneous early on, by thousands of peasants from the center of the country, partially replaced later by an influx of Brazilian colonizers. In Brazil, two strands of immigration converged: the first were corn and bean farmers from German and Italian colonies in Rio Grande do Sul in the southern part of the country, established in the 19th century; the second came later, spurred by private colonization from Paraná based on coffee production. The presence of frost determined the borders of these two communities. In the mid-20th century, the former Guarani inhabitants and the Atlantic forest too had been cornered and decimated by the advance in agriculture, and the new territory was organized by a dense network of towns and cities connected by roads: Encarnación, Posadas, Eldorado, Montecarlo, Cascabel, Chapecó…

And other powerful actors came on the scene to generate new changes in the organization of the Guarani territory: soy and the dams.  With international trade eager for food products, soy, produced in southern Argentina and central Brazil, stimulated farmers to search for more land to plant, expanding to the heart of the Guarani territory, demolishing what was left of the Atlantic forest in Paraná and advancing to eastern Paraguay in one of the most devastating and swift processes of deforestation on the planet. Curiously, the territory that was fragmented among countries reunified, only half-jokingly, with the appearance of the “Soy Republic,” now controlled not by the state but by agrobusiness. Rivers resumed their old importance, and the Paraguay-Paraná axis was transformed into a cargo corridor to the Plate River.   

The rivers also were protagonists of another moment of territorial organization with a series of dams constructed all along the Paraná, Uruguay and Iguazú Rivers. Some dams are huge, like Itaipú and Yacyretá, designed to provide electric energy for large urban centers. Their regional impact has been controversial, in part because of the flooding of great extensions of land and the displacement of entire towns, and in part because these dams do not leave an imprint on the territory beyond this flooding. 

As we can see in this quick and necessarily incomplete overview, the Guarani territory is constantly transforming and its uses have been modified over the years, along with its forms of organization and the populations that identify with it. Successive territorial fragmentation has radically modified the Guarani geography, according to the historical imprints corresponding to each given moment, some very obvious like the formation of cities, others less tangible like culture and language, although the Guarani language persists as a continual imprint through the names of places in the region: Mondaí, Itacaruaré, Cunha Porã, Caaguazú.

Carlos Reboratti is an Argentine geographer and the head researcher for CONICET on environmental resources in Argentina. He is the author of several books, including La naturaleza y nosotros: El problema ambiental, Claves para todos and Del otro lado del río: ambientalismo y política entre uruguayos y argentinos. 

Shaping Territories

Painting by Brazilian artist Juan Leon Palliere (1865) of gauchos roasting food and drinking maté.
From: Bonifacio Carril, El gaucho a través de la iconografia (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1978).

The Guarani territory—spanning four countries—has been shaped by many factors, including culture, language, war, the Jesuit presence and even yerba mate.

Along Yvyrupa’s Paths

Beyond Borders

By Maria Inês Ladeira

My little sisters, my parents, it is true that all things here in the world are really difficult for us. Our word, every time it comes out of our mouths, it is Nhanderu eté (our true father) that releases it. Let him see that we talk, that we are happy. (…) From distant places, through the real walk, that is how you arrived to our village. We, as human beings in this land, we face many obstacles in order to keep in touch with other villages. However, through this walk that happened under the guidance of Nhanderu, because only he can open up our ways, it was possible for us to meet here on this land” 

(Shaman from Fortin Mborore, 1997). 

I started living with the Guarani in September 1978, after the inhabitants of a small village on the outskirts of São Paulo built a modest wooden room as their own school and had asked the government for an instructor to teach them to read and write in Portuguese. 

I lived with the chief’s (cacique) family. Often, at dusk, he sat in front of his house and welcomed recently arrived visitors. Conversation quickly followed and, depending on the subject, there was mate or tobacco. Throughout the two years dedicated to teaching this community, although I did not master the Guarani language, I learned to recognize those people that came from distant villages, bringing seeds, medicinal plants and other goods offered as gifts to relatives in addition to news. Sometimes they spent long periods of time in the village to sell handicrafts in town and participate in rituals. Gradually, I was able to understand the close ties between the villages located on the Brazilian southeast coast and the countryside of Paraná state, with which this community had close ties, and learned who their shamans and caciques were.

In the following years, I started working towards the recognition of indigenous territorial rights at the Center for Indigenist Work (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista, CTI), and I had the opportunity to visit Guarani villages in other regions of South America. I came to understand that the spatial configuration of their villages relates to the social thread in a continuous composition. Old and new relationships interact, integrating the past and projecting the future of the village's territorial basis. The comings and goings of generations result in constant communication, allowing for the renewal of experiences and updating memories, while continuing to exchange knowledge, rituals, and growing and breeding practices.

Throughout the centuries, the Guarani territory has been formed by an intense and extensive network of relationships crisscrossing national borders, political boundaries and administrative divisions. The Guarani population at the time Europeans arrived is estimated to have been two million; it is currently 250, 000 (including Bolivia).

During the 16th and the 17th centuries, chroniclers identified as part of the “Guarani nation” groups sharing the same language found from the Atlantic coast to the Andean slopes, inland: communities were named after rivers, streams, or after characteristics based on physiography and/or political leadership models. Linguistic, social and cultural variations found among these groups were sometimes indicated, in time and space, through the use of various ethnonyms.

Despite current Brazilian classifications—Mbya, Nhandéva, Kaiowa—and their correlates from different countries, new arrangements among subgroups were promoted by the advent of colonization, the operation of Jesuit missions and indigenist politics, but, above all, by the Guarani social dynamic itself.

Currently occupied Guarani lands are discontinuous and small in size, interspersed with farms, roads and cities with little or no native forest. For this very reason, these remaining forests are crucial to maintain the balance of the Guarani way of living. Given the shortage of fertile land in the slopes, in order to practice their ancient cultivation techniques, the families living in the Atlantic coast need seeds and other traditional produce grown by those living on the hinterland plains. Likewise, families living in regions deforested by agribusiness benefit from native species found in wooded villages.

The Guarani conceive their traditional territory as the base that sustains their villages, which, in turn, support the world. The process of expropriation of their traditional territory takes on a multiplicity of meanings about the nature of borders, as experienced by Guarani families dispersed all over their extent territory.

Guarani families living in Guaíra on the border between Brazil and Paraguay are a case in point of such a loss: after having their ancient lands plundered by agricultural and animal husbandry exploitation or mostly destroyed by the flooding caused by Itaipú’s construction, they live, at present under critical conditions, without even having  recognized citizenship. Close to the Atlantic Ocean, and very distant from the border area, conflicts caused by land expropriation and struggles for the recognition of historical Guarani rights also proliferated. The most frequent strategy employed in depriving the Guarani from their lands is to label them as foreigners, no matter which side of the national borders they live on.

Even if constantly living under restricted situations, the Guarani people as a collective precept claim to have no borders. Their domain over a vast territory has been asserted by the fact that their social and reciprocal relations are not exclusively bound to villages located in the same region. They take place within the framework of the “world,” in which linkages between distant and close villages define this people’s spatiality.

The Guarani still claim the amplitude of their territory, even if they do not hold exclusive rights over it. This territorial space where their history and experiences have been consolidated is called Yvyrupa (yvy=land; rupa=support), which, in a simplified translation, means terrestrial platform, where the world comes into being. According to the Guarani, the act of occupying Yvyvay (imperfect land) follows the mythical precept related to the origin of their humanity, when ancestors from distant times were divided into families over the terrestrial surface (yvyrupa) in order to populate and reproduce Nhanderu tenonde’s (our first father) creation.

In the course of my work, I was able to observe some aspects of Guarani’s spatial mobility. I knew that contact among people, even when they are set apart by national borders, happens in their own ways, including by crossing rivers, using different means of transport or  walking. The CTI stimulated many exchanges of seed and plants, but I hold a special memory of the first trip I made.  My aim was to observe how the Guarani living on the Brazilian coast, at the tip of the world (yvy apy), and their counterparts in Argentina and Paraguay would talk about the world. I assumed I would hear theoretical statements about their multifaceted territory’s current conditions, declarations that would extrapolate the political discourse produced by the young leadership.

On the morning of January 1997, a group formed by spiritual leaders and elders from seven villages headed west with their luggage filled with memories of different times and places. The journey began in Barragem village, São Paulo, which was coincidentally, the first village I had ever visited. Five villages were visited in Argentina and five more in Paraguay. The first one was Fortin Mborore, where we arrived late at night, after the inevitable problems on the borders. The farewell took place 18 days later, at the ruins of Trinidad.

In each village, the inhabitants, standing in line and following protocol, would greet us: porã eté aguyjevete! The visitors were welcomed with the sound of flutes, maracas and rabecas, or celebrations in the Opy (the ritual house). After this, hosts and visitors' speeches alternated. Speeches about the journey’s significance and critical comments on the gravity of the landholding situation stood out.

These speeches deserve to be analyzed carefully in their entirety, but that would go beyond the scope of this article. I transcribe only part of the texts that depict common principles, recognized in rhetoric as the origin of ceremonial words re-elaborated according to current local circumstances and according to the idea of a land with no state borders. In these greetings, mentions to the relevance of the walk (guata porã) oriented by deities and following mythical precepts stand out. During highly emotional moments, leaders would refer to the task of achieving yvy marãey (the eternal land, where all deities live).

• I don’t know how to reach the word of the old ones to greet you. Admittedly human, I can not  reach a word that comes from Nhanderu. We are already grownups, for this reason we already know what is good and what is bad. We are already old, for this reason we know how to thank him, the one who created humanity, we, the Nhandéva, men and women (…). For this reason, you also came to this land and you will see beautiful things that our ancient grandfathers have left to us, (…) it was him who gave courage to you so that we could communicate with each other, play and speak. And may this strength pass to our children, granddaughters and grandsons. I don’t have many words, but your presence makes me happy.

• I am speaking, me, for being human, I also have difficulties to reach wisdom. Despite this, no matter where we are, we are all equal, we speak the same language and we know how to see. (…)

• This is the reason why we are making efforts to have only one thought, everywhere, always with the same strength. We all want to have health, the same joy, the strength you have, we want to have it. Because we are relatives, brothers, the blood that flows in us is the same.

• I came to see my relatives. I was at Iguaçu village when they arrived and I came along with them. I saw many beautiful things (…) we remembered our relatives and together we worked to follow the same words in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil (…). Because, we  caciques will assemble and, as for today, we will have no borders. We, the Guarani, will go to any village.

• No matter where we walk or where we go, it were Nhanderu Kuéry (our divine fathers) that have put it on this world, the place where we step. (…) and this has happened because of Nhanderu, only he can free the way.

• I also want to say a few words. It is true, many things are difficult. Not all roads are free for us. There are many evils that can hit us. (…) But with the help of Nhanderu, you made this journey and this is good for us and for you too.  So, it is Tupã’s son that protects us. (…) it is Nhanderu’s will that this event goes forward, that it happens again.

• Everyone that came will not easily be forgotten. I will keep to the rest of my life the place where our grandparents stepped, planted and tried cross to Nhandery retã (Nhanderu’s place, yvy marãey,  the land of eternity). We believe in Nhanderu so that he further enlightens our thoughts, so that we follow the same path as our old grandparents.

• We saw the place where the old ones managed to cross to yvy marãey. They are the ones who were left and I saw the elders’ efforts to cross the world. (…) the grandparents that did not succeed, walked down by the sea so that they could cross it from there (…) for this reason, we have to look at the ocean (…) everyone that lives today has the same destiny and those who strive will succeed.

• I am very happy because my relatives came here to our village. Today, you are already going back to your villages. You, that are my grandmothers and grandparents are already grown (…) When you arrive to your village we want you to remember us and to tell to your grandchildren about us. I did not believe when you arrived.  But what is important is that I saw my grandmother, now, your hair is already white, because your mother and father gave much advice to you and you followed it. (…) And you have already seen me as I am. So, now that you are leaving, I am left with this sadness in my heart. But what can I do? (…) I told myself: I no longer have my grandmother, the grandmother I had is already dead, but I saw that I have another one, and that you are already a grown-up. So, now you know, my grandmother, that I come from a village called Pastoreo. (…) I am a leader and I am really happy. You will go back to your village and you are taking a part of me with you.

In engaging with Guarani paths, it becomes noticeable that while Mercosur establishes commercial rules, it does not take into account intensive and widespread flows of interchange that have been happening for centuries among hundreds of villages that, together, make up the same territory. Nonetheless, the bonds and flows among the Guarani people have not been interrupted. Despite all problems related to the recognition of their land rights and citizenship, and other bureaucratic formalities, the Guarani people continue on their timeless paths.

Maria Inês Ladeira is a member of the Center for Indigenist Work (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista, CTI) Coordinating Office. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Geography from the University of São Paulo and a Master's Degree in Social Anthropology from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.

The Many Meanings of Yerba Mate

Across Borders, Sharing a Guarani Drink

By Julia Sarreal 

Un alto en el campo by Prilidiano Pueyrredón represents a typical Pampas scene, the tree, the gauchos and the mate. Image by Prilidiano Pueyrredón.

I first encountered yerba mate as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Paraguay. Everywhere I went, and at all times of the day, I saw small groups of people passing around a hollowed out cow’s horn or gourd (guampa) filled with ground leaves and a single metal straw sticking out of the top. I had never thought of drinking from a cow’s horn or gourd. Drinking out of the same metal straw (bombilla) was even more jarring. Wasn’t anyone worried about germs? When I tried to refuse an offer of yerba mate from my neighbor because I had a cold, she responded that she had added some herbs especially for colds and so I had even more reason to share the mate with her. She wasn’t at all concerned about catching a cold from me! 

Drinking yerba mate is a communal activity. One person in the group (the server) pours some hot water (or cold water for tereré) into the guampa and passes it to a companion who dutifully sucks all of the liquid from the shared straw and returns the guampa. The server then refills the guampa with water and passes it to another person in the group. Conversation flows as the process repeats itself until the yerba mate loses its flavor—about thirty minutes. Peace Corps training taught me the cultural importance of mate; most Paraguayans cannot imagine anyone not drinking it—and I quickly learned that sharing mate was a great way to make friends and gain acceptance. Yerba mate’s stimulating properties intensified my appreciation for the drink and soon I was consuming large quantities throughout the day…until I could no longer tolerate my mind racing every night for hours after everyone else had fallen asleep and I learned moderation.

Until recently, yerba mate was an exotic substance brought to the United States either by tourists returning from the Southern Cone or nostalgic expatriates wanting to maintain an important cultural practice from their homeland. Health food stores were the first to promote yerba mate and, as interest spread, enterprising websites materialized touting a long list of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and general health benefits associated with the plant. Companies like Guayakí (founded in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1996) began marketing yerba mate as a healthier alternative to coffee and tea. Now yerba mate tea bags and iced mate are sold in national chains like Safeway, Walgreens, and Walmart and Guayakí is installing automated brewing systems in university cafeterias to expand its appeal to young people. Yerba mate has also entered the trendy energy drink market. Such campaigns have largely been successful. In 2014, Guayakí reached $27 million in sales—primarily to United States consumers—and the amount is growing at over 26% per year.

Yerba mate has long been integral to the identity of Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and southern Brazil where it is ubiquitous. Walls of different yerba mate brands fill grocery store aisles and the telltale paraphernalia are found in homes, workplaces, schools, parks and automobiles—everywhere a group might convene. Yerba mate is different from other stimulants like coffee and tea because of the deep cultural meaning associated with the special manner in which it is drunk. Individuals staying up late for work might drink mate by themselves, but generally it is a communal, not a solitary, pastime. 

As part of a grant from the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University (ASU), I recently gathered a group of Argentines, Paraguayans, a Brazilian, an Uruguayan and a U.S.-born scholar of Latin American studies to discuss the cultural significance of yerba mate. All of the participants agreed that drinking yerba mate is much more than getting a caffeine fix; it is a cherished opportunity to relax and converse with friends, family, co-workers, or even strangers. As Milagros Zingoni originally from Nequen, Argentina described, “I wake up with this [yerba mate] and when I return from work at 5 or 6 my husband and I drink this again. We usually have dinner at 8 and by 11 I am drinking this again.” Whenever someone visits, yerba mate is prepared and conversation ensues. Mate is not only about friendship and conversation; it is also a way to build connections with strangers. It is an open invitation to engage with someone new. 

The author as Peace Corps volunteer, 1998-2000 in Curuguaty, Paraguay, sharing a yerba mate with friends. Photo courtesy of Julia Sarreal. 

According to David William Foster, an ASU professor who has been studying Argentina for more than half a century, “One of the singular characteristics of Argentine culture is this omnipresence of the mate...No matter how high you go on the social scale, no matter how high you go on the intelligentsia scale, everybody is drinking mate, this indigenous drink.” Despite its cultural importance, not everyone in the Southern Cone is a fan. Foster noted that Jorge Luis Borges, who couldn’t have been more Argentine, didn’t drink yerba mate.

One of the most important aspects highlighted by the participants in the panel was that yerba mate is socially inclusive. It transcends almost every barrier—social, racial, economic, gender, and sexual orientation. Milagros gave the example of how when she was a child and HIV was becoming a big issue, a couple of doctors purposefully shared their mate with HIV patients in order to encourage Argentines not to be so afraid of people with HIV. Drinking mate can also more informally bring people together and build a sense of community among those who would not otherwise interact in such an intimate manner. Enrique Yegros (Paraguayan) recounted how every day when he walked to school as a child, the security guard would be drinking yerba mate and would share it with him. In fact, anyone that Enrique passed on the street would share yerba mate if he asked. But of course, not everyone feels comfortable asking for mate from a stranger. 

All of the participants concurred that yerba mate pervaded their lives in South America, but many did not realize its importance until they moved to the United States. Diego Vera, a Paraguayan, commented that he had never given yerba mate much thought until recently. When he was back in Asunción doing some paperwork with his American wife, she pointed out that in every single government office someone was drinking it or had it on a desk. As Diego explained, “[yerba mate] is such an intrinsic part of us that you really don’t think about it until somebody else points it out.” Thinking back, Diego says that he can’t imagine his childhood and many conversations or scenarios with his mother and grandmother without yerba mate. Enrique summarized, “[Drinking yerba mate] is part of the culture, you are born with it.”  

“Mate jardín” (Mate Garden) by Facundo de Zuviría, 2010. The gourd container for the dried leaves prepared for the infusion of hot water, the metal “bombilla” to suck the tea-like drink, and a bouquet of fresh leaves of yerba mate (ile paraguariensis). Photo by Facundo de Zuviría, www.facundodezuviria.com 

Even while Paraguayans, Uruguayans, Argentines, and southern Brazilians share an enthusiasm for yerba mate, they also embrace regional differences. Brazilian yerba mate is greener and more finely ground. Even though it is drunk only in the southern part of the country, regional differences still exist. João Pessato was born in Rio Grande do Sul, where his family drank yerba mate with hot water but when his family moved north to the warmer state of Mato Grosso do Sul, they changed to drinking it with cold water. Paraguayans also drink yerba mate with both hot and cold water but most Argentines and Uruguayans would never think of using cold water. Paraguayans also differ in their practice of adding yuyos (herbs) to the water. These yuyos can be either medicinal or refreshing. Diego described how as a child, his family would send him to the yuyera (the woman who sold yuyos) in the market. Based on how you felt or what you dreamed, the yuyera chose specific yuyos from her supply and prepared them in front of you with a mortar and pestle. Many Paraguayans grow yuyos in their own yard or garden. The idea of flavoring the yerba mate has been catching on. Many companies now sell packaged yerba mate with citrus, mint, or herbs and some are adding more experimental flavors such as guaraná and coffee. Companies also market an extensive variety of yerba mate styles to appeal to every taste (for example: low powder, with stems, without stems, smooth, intense, aged). But there is little cross-over among countries. Supermarkets in each country sell national brands of yerba mate, and during the panel at ASU, all of the participants patriotically claimed their country’s yerba mate as the best. 

Such beliefs derive in part from yerba mate’s incorporation into each country’s national identity. The gaucho—adopted by Argentines, Uruguayans and southern Brazilians as emblematic of their country’s rural past—is remembered as an avid yerba mate consumer. National memories of yerba mate are not limited to the rural areas. Belle Époque-era immigrants to both the city and the countryside quickly adopted yerba mate as a way to assimilate. In Paraguay, national identity is linked to tereré, and many attribute its popularization to soldiers fighting in the Chaco War (1932-1935). 

Connections with national identity have the tendency to obscure other meanings and origins. Argentine Gustavo Fischman commented during the ASU panel that yerba mate has been nationalized, and as a result, “very few people will make the direct connection that we are drinking something that has indigenous roots.” Most of the panelists agreed. The Paraguayans recognized that Guarani artisans make and sell yerba mate paraphernalia, but otherwise admitted that little is known about the drink’s Guarani origins. 

Like most caffeinated substances, Europeans initially found yerba mate repulsive: a green bitter drink consumed by Indians! It was unlike anything most Europeans had ever drunk. Other caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea would take another couple of centuries to become popular in Europe. Moreover, Spaniards were not initially looking for new and foreign substances to introduce back home. The conquistadors were much more interested in finding mineral wealth and saving souls, and as Rebecca Earle points out in The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700, Spanish settlers were much more interested in replicating their old-world Spanish diet in the Americas than they were in bringing foreign foodstuffs and strange substances back to Europe. Still, the use of yerba mate spread fairly rapidly among European settlers to South America.

Yerba mate’s growing popularity in the colonial period created some controversies. European settlers and travelers to the region wrote extensively about the drink’s many supposed attributes. On one hand, it was reputed to give strength, rejuvenate, and clarify the senses and was often described like a wonder drug that could cure a variety of maladies. On the other hand, too much yerba mate was described as a vice that was addictive and made people lazy and willing to do anything to get it. Most authors conceded that yerba mate was a good thing when used with moderation. 

By the 18th century, most people in the Río de la Plata region consumed yerba mate regardless of racial or economic background. From elites to novitiates in Jesuit colleges to slaves and Indians, most everyone drank it daily and reputedly valued it as much as, if not more than, any basic foodstuff. Day laborers were known to refuse to work if they didn’t receive their expected ration of yerba mate. The reach of the drink extended to Peru, Bolivia and Chile and almost everyone writing about the Río de la Plata region mentioned it. They frequently compared it with chocolate, coffee and tea—all foreign drinks introduced to Europe. Its resemblance to tea was especially emphasized. 

Despite yerba mate’s widespread use in South America, its popularity did not spread outside of the region until recently. As an alternative tea or energy drink, yerba mate is adopting different cultural practices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. But still, the unique communal form of drinking—along with all of the connotations associated with friendship and the building of social connections—remain strong in South America.

Julia Sarreal is an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University. She received a Ph.D. in Latin American History from Harvard University in 2009 and is the author of The Guaraní and Their Missions: A Socioeconomic History (Stanford University Press, 2014).

A Bilingual Country

Paraguay and the Guarani Tongue

By Benjamín Fernández

Although Paraguay does not have a coast, water forms an integral part of its landscape. Photo by Tetsu Espósito, www,yluux.com

If you arrived in a country where almost 90% of the inhabitants speak Guarani, an official and national language along with Spanish but do not identify themselves as “Indian” or aboriginal (and even the tribe has disappeared), you would think they suffered a severe identity crisis. However, we Paraguayans are very proud of our bilingual (Spanish and Guarani) condition and of Guarani as an assimilation tool for our many different cultures: Mennonites from Europe and Canada, Russians, Ukrainians, Arabs, Japanese, Koreans, North Americans, Indians from India and Europeans from every corner of that continent.

Immigration has been encouraged in Paraguay in part because the country was almost completely depopulated during the so-called Great War (1865-1870). Some say as little as 15% of the population survived after confronting the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. That was an extremely high price to pay in military and civilian victims to defend its territory, identity and culture.

Paraguay was reconstructed by women—the majority of men perished, as Brazilian author Julio José Chiavenato explains in his book, American Genocide: The Paraguayan War. He cites a letter sent by the Duke of Caxias, the commander of the Brazilian Army to Emperor Don Pedro II on November 18, 1867:

It is impossible to triumph in the war against Paraguay…instead of being a war that strives for legitimate aspirations, it is a war determined to destroy, to annihilate. This demonstrates beyond a doubt that even if we had 200,000 troops to continue the war against Paraguay, we would have to reduce the entire Paraguayan population to ashes in order to triumph; and this is not an exaggeration because I am in possession of some irrefutable data that if we managed to kill all the men, we would have to combat the women, who would replace them with equal courage and martial fervor and with the impetus and determination inspired by their lost relatives that feeds their desire for revenge. Would such a triumph against a people be acceptable? We could, perhaps, count on elements to obtain such a victory, but if we obtained it, what would we have achieved? ….

It would mean conquering not only an entire people, but a vast cemetery in which we bury all the Paraguayan population and resources with a hundred times more the Brazilian population and resources. And what would we be in this vast cemetery? We would be the gravediggers who have to bury the ashes of our victims, and we would have to answer to God and the world with its outcries and, more than this, with the Paraguayan nation disappeared and the Brazilian population disappeared in proportion to its greater size, who would hold the responsibility, if not Brazil and Brazil alone, for the damage caused by this war and its subjects (p. 205).

The text is more than eloquent about Brazil's perception of this largely unrecognized war whose cruel legacy is still perceptible in Paraguay, reflected in the courage of its men and the commitment of its women. A few months ago, Pope Francis, an Argentine, recognized the importance not only of the reconstruction of the nation, but also the very preservation of its culture through its mother tongue: Guarani. Language is our principal tool to affirm our identity as a nation and as a collective. We shield ourselves from a hostile world through our language. It defines our character, temperament and personality. We absorb every other culture with the assumption that learning the language is a key to understanding and integration. Paraguay has the highest level of bilingualism in all of Latin America. Nine out of ten Paraguayans speak both languages, and it is impossible to understand the subtleties of the Paraguayan culture without understanding some Guarani. 

A few years ago, former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay James Cason, now the mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, decided to learn Guarani. He had done such a good job that his farewell was a song concert in Guarani at a large local theatre. We felt very proud of him for his effort and interest in understanding the country.


Paraguay is a complicated country with a language that is difficult to explain; for example, there are five ways to say “dawn” (ko ´e, koé, ti ko ´embota, koe ju, koe soro). It takes about three minutes for the sun to dawn, but it requires five different expressions to describe it in Guarani. 

Guarani is an onomatopeic language that imitates the sounds of nature, so a waterfall may be called chololó or charará to describe the unique characteristics of Iguazú as one of the largest waterfalls in the world.  Or it plays with the very name of the country: some define Paraguay as the “land of the payaguaes,” an indigenous group which the first Spanish conquerors found when they arrived in 1525. 

To understand Paraguay as a nation, one must examine how the aboriginal language was used to reconstruct the country's pride and confidence. The language is a mask and shield to protect us from the outside world. Paraguay is a country without a coast and in unique isolation. It was defined a century ago by the famous Spanish writer Rafael Barret as “difficult and beautiful, where some people have luck, but the country doesn’t.” This phrase left an impression on our own famous writer Augusto Roa Bastos, who declared, “misfortune fell in love with Paraguay.” In a certain fashion, we like to perceive ourselves as strange, complex, inscrutable and different, and success sometimes feels uncomfortable to us, perhaps as a result of national trauma; when Paraguay was the most developed nation in Latin America, the Great War punished the country and left the impression that success is the closest thing there is to tragedy. 

The question of identity is forged in the language and gives each Paraguayan a sense of pride, although in the process this syncretism generates conflicts. Thinking in one language and expressing oneself in another—disglossia—is still an unresolved issue. Although the 1992 Constitution established Guarani as an official language, the levels of bilingual instruction are far from developing both languages on an equal basis, leading to a linguistic mixture known as jopará, a neo-language similar to Spanglish in the United States. The Guarani language now has its own Academy that dictates uniformity in writing, thus making the obligatory teaching of Guarani in private and public schools an easier task. Even though the national currency is printed in the two languages, there is still a long path before education becomes truly bilingual, achieving a true degree of both oral and written fluency.

Paraguay has managed to develop traits of its culture through a complex language that contributed to establishing isolation as its central characteristic. “An island surrounded by land,” as Augusto Roa Bastos described the country, reflects metaphorically the characteristics of a culture that has taken refuge in its language to keep itself vibrant, different and unique. 

Guarani is largely a cultural construct.  The tribe does not now exist, but its presence remains in the 17 surviving ethnic groups that reference its grammatical roots in their own languages. Ours is a country that embraces, absorbs and “submits” in the best sense of the word to recent arrivals, even making notably different cultures part of its obligatory usage. In a few years, these people are absorbed through the language that defines the Paraguayan cosmovision and reality. 

Although the promotion of Guarani is slow, the dynamics have been so great that the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy decided to include Guarani words in its Spanish edition, thus registering the increase in the use of jopará, the Spanish-Guarani mix. 

Paraguay’s great challenge is to deepen its cultural values and to avoid the debates that certain sectors of the intelligentsia put forth about the real utility of the Guarani language for Paraguayans. The cultural value of Guarani helps us not only to understand the identity of Paraguayans, but of the entire region that extends to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and even Uruguay. The names of cities and towns with clean Guarani roots have led Mercosur to recognize Guarani as a language. The Plurinational State of Bolivia, as the country is now officially called, includes the Guarani nation. In these times dominated by globalization, a return to local roots seeks to recognize the universal in the local. 

Today, politicians take Guarani language courses to improve their pronunciation because they know that without speaking Guarani, no one can get elected in Paraguay. Films in Guarani are becoming popular, and well-known singers in the Spanish-speaking world have recorded songs in Guarani, such as Joan Manuel Serrat of Spain with “Che Pykazumi” (My Dove).  Courses in Guarani are also being offered at major universities throughout the world.

For now, we can say that Spanish speakers also speak jopara and a scarce few speak pure Guarani; the language has now become a living laboratory in Paraguay in which its use is preferred for its cultural value—making it different and distinct in the world. 

Identity issues are better known for being a factor for crisis in the world. However, in Paraguay, the use of Guarani emerges as a reaffirmation of the national capacity to coexist with other languages and cultures and, at the same time, of being a powerful factor for cohesion for the foreign-born communities who make up this country of seven million in the center of South America. 

The language has been an instrument of recognition and defense, one that has helped reconstruct the country after the genocide of the Great War. A country, a language, an identity and a projection…that is no small thing in the rich history of the subcontinent.

Benjamín Fernández Bogado, Nieman Fellow ’00, is a Paraguayan lawyer and journalist who has written more than fifteen books on democracy and freedom of the press. He is a university professor and the founder of Radio Libre and the financial newspaper 5Días

Water and Environment

Photo courtesy of Oscar Thomas.

From the Guarani aquifer system to modern hydroelectric dams, the region’s rivers have shaped its territory.

The Guarani and the Iguaçu National Park

An Environmental History

By Frederico Freitas

The Iguazu/Iguaçu National Park spans the Argentine-Brazilian border, but the center of attention is the mighty Iguazu/Iguaçu Falls.

View the photo gallery.

In September 2005, a group of 55 Guarani Indians occupied a forested section of the Iguaçu National Park in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. You may recognize Iguaçu as a park and tourist destination on the Brazilian side of the famous Iguazu Falls. However, it also protects 400,000 acres of Atlantic forest, one of the last large continuous stretches of this endangered biome. The Guarani came from the overcrowded Ocoí reservation on the shores of the Itaipu reservoir, some twenty miles from the park where they lived. Chief Simão Tupã Vilialva said the group intended to use the occupation to pressure the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), the Brazilian Agency for Indian Affairs, into solving their land shortage problem. Through the occupation of Brazil’s most visited national park, the Guarani demanded a solution for the dozens of families whose land was encroached by farmers and the Itaipu lake in the 570-acre Ocoí reservation.

The Guarani remained in the Iguaçu National Park for eighty days, only agreeing to leave after being promised by FUNAI officials to be taken to Guarapuava, headquarters for the FUNAI office for Western Paraná. They wanted a face-to-face meeting with FUNAI officials to present their demands for new land. FUNAI brought in a bus to transport the Guarani, but instead of heading to Guarapuava, the driver took them to another reservation, Tekohá Añetete, in Diamante do Oeste. There, FUNAI officials planned to cram the 55 Guarani in an existing and already overcrowded reservation shared with other indigenous groups. Perceiving FUNAI’s deception, the group led by Vilialva was infuriated. As they were getting off the bus, a clash took place between the Guarani and state officials; a police officer was shot with a Guarani arrow. Eventually Itaipu Binacional, the company behind the hydroeletric dam, decided to intervene and acquired a new 600-acre area adjacent to the Tekohá Añetete reservation providing land for some of the Guarani families from Ocoí. 

A couple of hundred acres did little to assuage the chronic land shortage suffered by the Guarani at the Ocoí reservation. In October 2013 a new group of eight individuals once again occupied the Iguaçu National Park. By the end of May, the group had swelled to 25. The Guarani who entered Iguaçu claimed their people had inhabited those forests, the Ka’ Aguy Guasú (big woods), before the park’s creation in 1939. They argued they were not responsible for the transformation of nature into soy plantations, grazing fields, factories, roads and cities. Therefore, they should not be penalized by exclusion from the last continuous stretch of Atlantic forest in Western Paraná. They demanded that part of the national park be declared an indigenous reservation, thereby correcting what they saw as a historical wrong committed by the Brazilian state when it created a protected area that barred indigenous peoples from the forest. 

Were the Guarani from Ocoí correct in claiming they had lived in the area occupied by the national park before its creation? It depends on where one sets the threshold. Unquestionably, the Guarani and other indigenous groups like the Kaingang had lived in the area way before the creation of the national park. However, what is not clear from the historical record is whether they had been driven away from the territory of the park at the moment of its establishment by park authorities, or prior to that, by settlers. 

Before beginning my research in the history of the Iguaçu National Park, I believed the Guarani would be a constant presence in the historical documents. After all, in the last three decades the historical scholarship on national parks has brought to light a common pattern of eviction of indigenous communities in the creation of protected areas devised to be devoid of people (but not tourists). So I believed I would find documents indicating Indian displacement in the creation of the national park. Instead, what I found was mostly silence. For the first decades of the park’s existence, hardly any source indicates the presence of Guarani or other indigenous groups in the park area. The first time they appear in park documents is in a 1967 memo by Renê Denizart Pockrandt, then the director of the Iguaçu National Park. Pockrandt suggested the indigenous peoples roaming the Argentine-Brazilian border be settled inside the Brazilian park as a touristic attraction, a suggestion that never became a reality.

Another type of evidence of the presence of Guarani within the limits of the park was provided by anthropologist Maria Lucia Brant Carvalho. In her Ph.D. dissertation, Carvalho inter-viewed Narcisa Tacua Catu de Almeida, a senior member of the Guarani community in Ocoí, who claimed to have lived in two different Guarani communities in the area encompassed by the park from 1934 to 1962. Almeida cites a first, violent eviction in 1943, followed by another in 1962. However, it is unclear who pushed the Guarani away from the park since park authorities had only tenuous control over its territory for the first thirty years. The park then existed mostly only on paper. 

Brazilian authorities finally moved to enforce the Iguaçu National Park as a protected area in the 1970s, and nowadays the park stands as an island of rainforest surrounded by a sea of farming landscape. The park presents a significant area covered by old-growth forests, since sixty percent of its territory has been established as an “intangible area,” a designation banning human settlements and all types of human activities except for scientific research and surveillance. Park zoning allows more intensive human activities such as tourism in the remaining area, but it bans permanent dwellers and extractive activities. In this way, the Guarani claim to the park’s natural resources puts them at odds with environmental authorities whose mission is to keep a territory free of most types of human interventions.

Brazil established the Iguaçu National Park in 1939 following the creation of the Argentine Iguazú National Park on the other side of the border five years earlier. Both parks were intended to protect each side of the bi-national Iguazu Falls, the massive 1.7-mile-wide series of waterfalls located on the Iguazu River, at the border shared by the two countries. The parks also extended inland, sheltering more than 555,000 acres of the original Atlantic forest that, in the early 1940s, still covered most of the Brazilian southwest, Argentine extreme northeast, and the Paraguayan east. Eighty years of successive waves of colonization, mostly by Brazilians of European descent coming from Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo, transformed what was a sparsely inhabited frontier of forests and mate gathering into an expanse of crop fields and mechanized farming. The region became a center for the green revolution transforming the Brazilian (and later Paraguayan) hinterland in the 1970s and 1980s. The two parks, therefore, contained the last large stretch of forest cover in the Triple Frontier, thus earning the status of UNESCO heritage sites in the 1980s.

The Iguaçu National Park in Brazil originated with the donation of an estate by the government of the state of Paraná that included the Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side. The original proponents wanted to transform the area into a national park to guarantee Brazilian access to the waterfalls. From 1939 to 1944, the park was limited to the donated estate’s original 12,350 acres, but in 1944 the federal government decided to incorporate new land into the park to protect the forest from loggers, increasing its size to 400,000 acres. Large public land tracts comprised the bulk of the land used in the park expansion. However, there was a problem: for the expansion, the federal Forest Service used public land that was in judicial dispute between the Brazilian federal government and the state of Paraná. 

The long court battle between state and federal governments ended with a 1963 Brazilian Supreme Court ruling in favor of the federal government. The decades-long juridical incertitude about who owned the national park’s public land, coupled with the land grabbing practices that plagued western Paraná, allowed hundreds of southern Brazilian migrants to acquire land and settle inside a section of the national park. In the 1970s the Brazilian military dictatorship decided for the costly and politically difficult removal of the 447 families (about 2,500 people) living inside the Iguaçu National Park. The great majority had arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, and they came to occupy seven percent of the park’s area. They had built farms, villages, schools, roads, and even a chapel inside the Brazilian park. After the eviction, infrastructure that could not be removed by the settlers was torn down by park authorities. Over the years, a secondary forest grew over most of the area formerly occupied by farms.

Inadvertently, the resettlement of these 447 families of white settlers served to reintroduce the Guarani into the history of the Iguaçu National Park. The area where the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA), the Brazilian agency for agrarian reform and colonization, chose to relocate settlers in the early 1970s already harbored a group of Guarani. Inside the chosen area was Jacutinga, a small Guarani community engaged in fishing and subsistence farming near the confluence of the Ocoí and Paraná Rivers. This Guarani community was not under the radar of FUNAI, and in its survey INCRA classified their members as squatters. In order to prepare the terrain to receive the settlers evicted from the Iguaçu National Park, INCRA started pressuring the Guarani to leave the Ocoí area. Many decided to flee to Paraguay or Argentina, but some resisted. The agency brought in henchmen to harass them, burning their houses and confiscating their fishing and agricultural tools. 

INCRA’s attack on the Guarani drew the attention of a local human-rights activist, lawyer Antonio Vanderlei Moreira. In 1975 Moreira accused INCRA employees and their hired gunmen of threatening, assaulting and burning the houses of Guarani and peasants living in Ocoí. In 1977, a committee formed by INCRA and FUNAI officials was established to investigate the presence of Indians living inside the Ocoí estate. The 30,000-acre tract had been expropriated by INCRA in 1971 to receive the 2,500 settlers evicted from the national park. It was named Projeto Integrado de Colonização - Ocoí (PIC-OCOI), “Ocoí Integrated Colonization Project.” The INCRA-FUNAI committee found 27 Guarani living inside PIC-OCOI near the banks of the Paraná River. To accommodate these individuals they created the Ocoí reservation in another area inside PIC-OCOI. The small area set to be an Indian reservation had originally been designated as forest reserve for the incoming settlers. The Guarani ended up enclosed in a small reservation surrounded by the farmers relocated from the Iguaçu National Park.

In 1982, the creation of the Itaipu reservoir flooded part of PIC-OCOI, swallowing a big chunk of the land available for both the Guarani and the white settlers. The Guarani found themselves in a narrow, 570-acre swath of degraded forests on the banks of the new reservoir, trapped between the new lake and the relocated farmers. Life in such conditions was hard, and the Guarani suffered all sorts of environmental problems: erosion by lake waters, contamination of lake water by pesticides from neighboring farms, endemic malaria, and encroachment by the surrounding farms. At the same time, the population of the Ocoí reservation continued to increase due to natural growth and new arrivals from other Guarani communities. In 1986, the Guarani started a campaign for new lands and pressured the World Bank for a solution—the bank had financed the building of the Itaipu dam. They sent a Harvard-trained anthropologist, Shelton H. Davis, to assess the veracity of the Guarani claims. Davis’ report, along with a new report by Brazilian anthropologist Silvio Coelho dos Santos, president of the Brazilian Association of Anthropology, convinced Itaipu to work for solving the problem of the overcrowded reserve. The company acquired a 4,300-acre estate in Diamante do Oeste to accommodate the Guarani families from Ocoí. This was the same reservation to which the Guarani group occupying the park in 2005 would be deceitfully taken by FUNAI.

The Guarani who entered the Iguaçu National Park for a second time in 2013 have already left the park, following a court order issued in August 2014. However, the overpopulation problem at the Ocoí reservation, where about 600 hundred people share 570 acres, still persists. The existence of a protected area containing the last large remnant of Atlantic forest in the region became a point of contention between environmental authorities and indigenous groups. What the former see as crucial reserve of a dwindling biome, the latter see as the retention of natural resources that should be made available to the region’s indigenous peoples. Yet, after recogniz-ing the difficulty in changing an environmentalist paradigm that sees national parks as an off-limits territory for people, the Guarani, by resorting to occupations, have turned the park into an instrument for leveraging their position in their struggle for access to land.

Frederico Freitas is a PhD. candidate in Latin American History at Stanford University. His research focuses on the environmental history of the border between Brazil and Argentina in the twentieth century, and the creation of the two national parks of Iguaçu, in Brazil, and Iguazú, in Argentina.

The Invention of the Guarani Aquifer System

New Ideas and New Water Politics in the Southern Cone

By Martin Walter

On October 19, 1979,  the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay gathered in Asunción to sign an agreement setting general principles for the utilization of the Paraná River, a major waterway shared by the three nations. The agreement enabled the construction of hydroelectric dams in the basin and eased the tensions resulting from the competitive exploitation of the watershed. Decades later, in 2003, authorities from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay would meet again to launch a cooperative process to determine how to govern their shared waters. This time, the objective was to develop instruments to manage and protect the Guarani Aquifer System (GAS), a transboundary groundwater basin spanning over more than 1.1 million square kilometers and considered one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the world (see Figure I). By 2010, the countries had implemented several new local-level policies and ratified a framework agreement to manage and protect the aquifer system. 

Countries in the Southern Cone had been quarrelling—and striking agreements—over shared surface waters since colonial times, but policy for the GAS was in many ways different. Similar to other shared water policies, the governance mechanisms created for the GAS emphasized each of the countries’ in-alienable sovereignty over the resource and enshrined reciprocal no-harm and sustainability as guiding principles for the future exploitation of the resources.  However, the GAS policies dealt with an entirely new kind of water resource—transboundary groundwater—for which few countries in the world have managed to strike formal governance agreements. More importantly, they were developed at the initiative of local non-state actors supported by international organizations. Unlike previous shared water policies created to respond to the needs and plans of national authorities, the new shared water  governance instruments were expected to help promote local and sustainable development.

Ideas played a key role in the development of the GAS policy. Indeed, the notion of a transboundary groundwater body in the Southern Cone only emerges in the final decades of the 20th century. Before then, although the existence of aquifers in the region was well known, scientists had failed to identify the transnational linkages between groundwater bodies. The aquifers that make up the GAS were studied as separate entities under different names. Understanding local aquifers as a single interconnected basin subverted the established compartmentalized approach to the study of local groundwaters that had prevailed until then. Local hydrogeologists first theorized and then defended this view in opposition to the interpretation of experts from canonical disciplines of geology and hydrology. Seminal hydrogeology studies conducted during the 80s and 90s would provide empirical support for the single aquifer system theory. At the same time, hydrogeological research contributed to the development of new epistemic communities, leading to the emergence of a new group of experts who shared the belief that the regional aquifer existed, and that its resources would require new policies in order to be protected. Regional hydrogeologists agreed on a unified name for the aquifer system—the name “Guarani” was chosen for its sociocultural implications instead of a more conventional nomenclature—as well as on a strategy to gather further financial resources to study the aquifer. In the late 90s, scientists wielding a new idea kick-started a process of international cooperation among political entities, a process that would shape policy for the waters of the GAS. 

The idea of the GAS was scientifically controversial because the geological formations that make the GAS are extremely dissimilar across the region, but it was also politically compelling. The existence of a unique system of connected aquifers implied that groundwater exploitation decisions were interdependent. It meant that groundwater exploitation practices were having an impact beyond jurisdictional borders, and that some degree of international coordination would be necessary to adequately exploit the resources in the medium to long term. Also, the unified conceptualization of the aquifer system helped draw additional attention to specific local management challenges, for it turned them into components of a larger, more strategically significant shared water governance issue. The idea of a unique regional aquifer helped to raise the profile of provincial challenges in the national political agenda and obtain additional resources. 

The invention of the GAS can also be understood as a byproduct of democratization. With democracy, regional academic institutions gained autonomy from central government decision-making. New academic disciplines such as hydrogeology blossomed and focused on new issues relevant to local and regional interests. Political change helped people to focus on new problems relevant to local economic development. At the same time, more permeable borders facilitated the development of transnational knowledge networks and epistemic communities by helping to foster the social relationships behind the transnational policy initiative. The international cooperation process that would lead to policies for the GAS reflected the initiative of local actors seeking practical solutions to their problems, rather than the strategic response from centralized authorities that was prevalent in the decades that preceded democratization. 

Source: Adapted from Favetto et al. (2011)

Indeed, the invention of the GAS was the expression of new international relations in the Southern Cone. Still, new ideas cannot explain policy outcomes. Governance instruments for the aquifer system developed concomitant to the increasing demand for the resources in the region. Groundwaters were becoming an increasingly crucial component of diverse economic activities—i.e., the supply of fresh-water for urban consumption in southern Brazil, crop irrigation in Paraguay, and thermal tourism operations in Argentina and Uruguay. These practices led to the slow yet noticeable quantitative and qualitative deterioration of the resources. Lack of regulation encouraged, for example, the proliferation of groundwater wells, the contamination of recharge zones, and the absence of proper well-drilling standards. These new problems prompted demands for solutions.

The regional scale of the aquifer system catalyzed the recognition of the potential geostrategic value of the resources and prompted the involvement of public officials at the national level. Driven by the demands of regional scientists and local stakeholders, but reflective of the strategic interest of the national governments, groundwater issues entered the political agenda. The countries engaged in a process of multilateral cooperation and established a project—co-financed by an international organization, the Global Environment Facility—for the assessment of resources and the established regulatory frameworks in the year 2000. The initiative helped develop a knowledge base for the development of policies aimed at the protection and sustainable management of the aquifer system. The international cooperation project concluded in 2009 with the production of a strategic action plan for the GAS, which was rooted in concrete management policies at the local, regional and national levels. Information gathered through the cooperation process was centralized in a system of publicly accessible geographic information to aid decision-makers. On this basis, local stakeholders implemented new well drilling standards, determined minimum buffer zones between wells, and protected vulnerable recharge areas. The action plan also led to the signature of a multi-lateral framework agreement in 2010, which outlined general non-binding principles for future transboundary groundwater governance in the region.

If anything, the process that led to the creation of the governance instruments for the management and sustainable exploitation of the GAS shows the many roles that scientific knowledge plays in modern environmental politics. Information about transboundary groundwaters was simultaneously instrumental to the introduction of the resources in the political agenda and the political negotiation of concrete management provisions. In fact, the process of political recognition of the resources was inseparable from the emergence of new theories about the aquifer system’s scale and from the struggles for peer recognition of the regional scientists. Moreover, official negotiations about the “new” shared resources—the waters stored in the Guarani Aquifer System—resulted from the mobilization and interest of actors who, historically, had been marginal in regional politics. Instead of being designed and directed exclusively according to the preferences of central government agents, the governance of the aquifer system was fostered by subsidiary political authorities and non-state actors: expert networks and international organizations.

Tracing the role of ideas in policy-making is a challenging endeavor, for they are both the expression of contextual factors and powerful drivers of change. The recognition of groundwater problems results from the interplay of particular groundwater exploitation patterns, the increased understanding of the factors behind hydrogeological conditions, and the changing social value attributed to the services provided by the resources. None of these factors, taken individually, is sufficient to explain the entry of groundwater problems in the political agenda. Reliance on groundwaters increases the value of the services provided by the resources, albeit only given a “sufficient” understanding of the factors behind the deterioration or depletion of the resources. Simultaneously, the value of groundwater resources is shaped by the availability of hydrogeological information and modeling techniques because it both exposes the causes of groundwater degradation and determines the stakeholders’ ability to exploit and to manage groundwater resources. The interactions of these three factors highlight the social nature of groundwater problems.

The processes of social construction that lead to the recognition of groundwater problems are too often ignored by the literature dedicated to water governance. Problems tend to be taken for granted—seen as existing a priori of the policy-making process—or, alternatively, framed as purely instrumental to the strategic preferences of political actors. In this sense, perhaps the most significant contribution of the constructivist approach to international water policy is that it highlights a constitutive phase of the policy process. It emphasizes that the recognition of groundwater issues is concomitant with the formulation of preferences vis-à-vis the management of the resource; in other words, it stresses that the acknowledgement of groundwater problems is inseparable from the involvement of actors in the political process and from the entry of the resources into the political agenda. This is a process driven not just by “objective facts,” but also by the changing meaning of these facts in specific socio-historical contexts.

Martin Walter is currently a consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, and his work deals with the socio-political intricacies of implementing projects for the protection and sustainable development of natural resources.  He can be reached at  mw.martinwalter@gmail.com.

Beyond the Dam

Intervention Strategies for a Resilient Environment

By Alfredo Máximo Garay

The construction of the immense Yacyretá dam took place on a territory with a very powerful story. The transformation of the society and the environment of the place where it was built did not begin in 1958, when Argentina and Paraguay signed an agreement that commissioned the design of the first project. It did not begin in 1973 with the signing of the Treaty of Yacyretá Binational, or when construction began in December 1983. The dam was constructed on layers of indigenous legacies, wars, territorial disputes and a unique mission history.  It can be considered a transition territory—a reality in motion over centuries.

For Spanish conquerors at the time of the Jesuit missions, the large rivers that form the Paraná Basin (Paraná and Uruguay rivers) had two major obstacles to navigation: Salto Grande (a waterfall for which the existing dam has been named) on the Uruguay River, and the Rapids of Apipé (current location of the Yacyretá dam). The colonial occupation took place on the navigable sections (up to Asunción). However, upstream, the Spanish conquistadors proceeded with uncertainty because of the dense subtropical forest that hampered their mobility and the exploration of the ground.

For the Guaranis, rivers provided the main means of communication; their economy had the forest and the river at its core.  It was just on the side of these northern basins where the Jesuits promoted the creation of small autonomous population centers—called missions— with their own agricultural production.  The system of the Jesuit missions covered a vast territory. Other forms of colonial occupation relied on the original native settlements, some of which had achieved a great agricultural development, especially in the fertile valleys of the Andean mountain range known as the Inca Trail. However, the Jesuit model prioritized the natural limits of the forest and the upper basins of the major rivers, where people used to live with little accumulation of agricultural surpluses. This part of the ancient Guarani territory is known as the region of the Jesuit missions, a land that towards the end of the 16th century was marked by a model that proposed a different kind of relationship between two different cultures. The Guarani people conceived of the Jesuit missions as a land without evil, and in this environment they experienced the transition from a hunting-based economy to an agricultural-based one.  

In the first half of the 19th century, the upheavals of independence movements distributed the banks of the rivers among different nations, enhancing the conception of these lands as a battlefield. The violence that defined the period of the conquest was reintroduced as either border disputes or fratricidal wars.

By the late 19th century, communication through rivers stimulated a new system of settlements on their banks. This settlement process was left to colonizing companies and they gathered potential settlers (agricultural workers) from impoverished regions of Europe. The arrival of these new immigrants—German, Polish, Swiss, Ukrainians and other Europeans—with their own languages and idiosyncrasies—had a strong cultural impact on the existing population, which had already undergone several mutations over the course of five hundred years. The new immigration accelerated the transformation of forest to farmland, displacing native people who could not prove their land titles.

As depicted on the maps of the Military Geographical Institute in the early 20th century, these lands seem to be perceived as possible battlefields. During the industrial development phase of the second half of the 20th century, the prevalence of this geopolitical view (doctrine of national security) delayed the development of the Region (“Region” describes the metropolitan area of Posadas, the municipality of Candelaria and the city of Encarnación in Paraguay). At the beginning of the 80s, Mercosur, a subregional bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, came into existence and this viewpoint was revised, multiplying the construction of infrastructure projects in order to link the Region with other parts of the country.

The presence of different post-independence nations that lived on these river banks resulted in intense commercial activity, increased fluvial activity and the growth of border cities. Population movements from one bank to another show the profound unity of the people from this Region, people whom the old independence fighters like San Martín, Artigas or Andresito Guacurarí never conceived as different from one another. 

The construction of the Yacyretá dam—as happens with most large hydraulic works—had an obvious impact on the characteristics of the Region. From the start, the project gave priority to the continuity of navigation along the Paraná River, and already in 1905 the proposal included power generation.  In 1958, an agreement between Argentina and Paraguay commissioned the design of a first project that started in 1973 with the signing of the bi-national Treaty of Yacyretá. Work began in December 1983.  Yet the Yacyretá projects appear to be full of contradictions. During the 90s, a major crisis took place that interrupted construction, making it clear that any project should include the viewpoint of local stakeholders. The new program aimed at compensating flooded land area by setting up new ecological reserve areas. Moreover, the program committed to developing flood barriers and regional infrastructure works such as  bridges and roads to rebuild the urban tissue of the affected cities, and to redirect the commercial flow of the city of Encarnación—whose dynamics shifted from the port to the bridge—and lastly, to relocate the affected families on both sides of the river.

From the physical point of view, Yacyretá became a concrete dam of 1,908,000 m3, channeling an average flow of 14,000 m3/sec. over a planned maximum of 95,000 m3/per sec. About 13,000 m3/per sec. pass through 20 turbines. This flow seeks to produce more than 3,100 MW with an annual average energy output of 20,700 GWh/ year. This meets 22% of Argentina's energy demands. The dam turned the course of a 213-mile stretch of the Paraná River into a 1,800 km2 lake (21,000 Hm3 of water), which made it necessary to build flood barriers, reconstruct the urban area, build roads between Posadas and Encarnación, and develop environmental protection areas. These works resulted in 3 million m3 of excavations, 24 million m3 of fills and embankment, 3 million m3 of rock protection and 62 miles of road works for renewing urban areas, bridges and access to the cities.  Furthermore, 383,000 acres were to be set aside for new environmental reserve areas, managed by park rangers and environmental operators, and 1,500 acres provided for urban parks and green areas, along with 5,000 linear meters of beaches and the construction of 8,500 social housing units. The commercial district in Encarnación was relocated to three urban sectors with 3,000 new stores.

The project's huge dimensions have considerable impact on a territory that has experienced profound social, economic and cultural transformations, among which the growth of the cities is one of its most eloquent expressions. The idea of a land in transition places people in the context of a reality in motion, reinforcing the need to develop and achieve a more stable horizon for territorial and social resilience. 

Resilience is understood as a human group’s response or ability to recover from confrontation with adverse conditions, developing a set of traits that define its cultural identity. The group exists in relation to the characteristics of the spaces it inhabits, but is also shaped by its experience of ruptures, fusions and transformations.

The impossibility of reversing certain historical processes or major transformations makes it necessary for people to adapt to a new reality by becoming resilient. When big changes are imposed, as in the case of the dam, actions must aim to correct unwanted effects of the transformations. Also, analysts and managers must pay close attention to the evolution of the reality under the new conditions. Then they can plan by analyzing what steps must be taken to develop the region from a sustainable development perspective.

The viability of a project is more closely related to the complexity of interventions than to its size. The problem is to align a wide range of stakeholders with diverse positions (interests, collective imagination and the ability to act). From this perspective, the building of the dam (and its changing effects) promotes a constant rearrangement of the positions taken by the different actors involved in the project, forcing those responsible for its implementation to become involved in true strategic planning.

In the case of Yacyretá, society's perspective about this project has changed profoundly during the years between its development, initiation and completion. The assessment of the environmental and social impact has led to the review of the initial criteria for safekeeping the territory and creation of resilience. Moreover, the dam project has stimulated more ideas to ensure sustainability, such as preservation areas and the implementation of environmental protection and social development policies.

It is interesting to analyze the factors that led to stopping the project in the 1990s. The attempt to privatize the venture in the context of neoliberal policies emerging from the Washington consensus presented difficulties in confronting increased costs. The original project faced doubts about its contribution to national energy development.  It was not clear how the project would move forward, but there was a clear need to identify the impact of these works on local development. Locals required infrastructure and needed to adapt to the urbanization of the villages affected by the completion of the dam (with water rising from 76m above sea level to 83m above sea level).

The work plan developed between 2000 and 2014 (which allowed resuming the works) had a hugely positive impact on the urban tissue of the villages. Many tasks are still pending, but the economic benefit (related to the generation of electricity) guarantees the necessary resources for their funding.

The investments had huge economic impact, with a million dollars injected daily into the Region's economy. Previously, the construction of the Itaipú dam on the border of Paraguay and Brazil had had a similar impact, generating more than US$5 million daily for the community.  Investment in the Yacyretá dam created 15,000 direct jobs, and another 20,000 that resulted indirectly with the work on the project.  Migration increased as a result, with the Region’s population increasing from 80,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the last decades. Increased migration in turn accelerates urbanization and the accompanying demand for housing, equipment and public services.

The dam project also changed the Region’s productive profile. Traditional economy was based on agriculture, mainly yerba mate, tea and tung. In the 70s, paper and forestry became leading industries with significant environmental effects. Energy has now replaced those industries with the greatest share of the regional GDP, leading to discussions about the development of new hydroelectric projects.

In the process of developing these projects, cities have become increasingly important, and along with rejuvenated cites came more vibrant border trade centers.  In the measure that these cities assume complex roles as service providers, their significance increases. 

With growing environmental quality and compelling landscapes, these settlements attract tourists, migrants and those seeking to start new businesses. Real estate booms with more square footage built each year.

From the social viewpoint, the Metropolitan Area of Posadas (which includes Garupá and Candelaria, but not Encarnación) has improved its position in the levels of Unmet Basic Needs (NBI), which is a measure of structural poverty instead of merely insufficient income.   In 2010, 13.9% of the population had unmet basic needs, compared to 18.25% in 2001.  The infant mortality rate also fell from 29 per 1,000 in the 90s to 9 per 1,000 today.

Although migration to the area—well above the national average—multiplied demand for housing, public services and urban infrastructure, the Region presented improvement in the cities, while rural areas with their traditional productive methods show a slower rate of improvement.

                     Chart courtesy of National Census 2001, 2010

Once urgent problems related to dam construction have been resolved and sustainable development takes off in local communities, broader issues emerge, such as the integration of the Region in the national and global context as well as the role and participation of the most disadvantaged people within this development process. At a local level, the experience of large social groups (ethnic groups, indigenous peoples, immigrant populations) is key to the development process that  involves a transition lasting for several years. A social imaginary that takes into account the effects of these transformations must be fashioned in the process. 

One idea to address this issue is to build a cultural space—the Museum of Cultural Heritage—that would represent the profound changes experienced by the society of the Region. This museum would seek to study, exhibit and preserve the cultural and environmental legacy left by ancestors of the current population, hoping to develop the tangible and intangible potential of cultural identity. 

This cultural center would also develop research projects and  create opportunities for exchange and dialogue. The production, classification and exhibition of museum material and the creation of meeting places, events and other forms of expression would show the cultural production in this region, permeated by the experience of the Guarani people.

This museum will be located in a crucial spot in the new Posadas waterfront (El Brete sector), becoming a milestone for the past and present, telling the Region's powerful story of resilience and adaptation.

Alfredo Máximo Garay is an Argentine architect, president of the Antiguo Puerto Madero Corporation and a professor in the Urban Planning Department of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He also teaches at Boston's Lincoln Institute and several other universities in Argentina and Paraguay. He was contracted by the Entidad Binacional Yacyretá to work on the urbanization process of the coastal strip of the cities of Posadas (Argentina) and Encarnación (Paraguay). 


Building the Future

By Oscar Thomas

Pre-Texts. Workshop for teachers with Doris Sommer (Arequipa, Peru 2015).
Photo courtesy of Oscar Thomas. 

View the photo gallery. 

A hydroelectric plant is about much more than water and energy. It is about community and environment, urban planning and resource development. It is about the future and the past of the surrounding area.

In 1973 the governments of Argentina and Paraguay signed the Treaty of Yacyretá to build one of the world’s most important hydroelectric power plants on the Paraná River, the fastest-flowing large river in South America.

The option for a hydroelectric plant was clear: oil, used as a fossil fuel, had to be replaced by a renewable source. 

As I am myself an architect from the province of Misiones, in Argentina, I was determined to take advantage of the development of the hydroelectric plant to transform, in a positive way, the situation of those who would be affected and to improve the urban planning for the region’s most important cities and the surrounding area.

The actual construction of the power plant took 34 years, from 1978 to 2011. Finally inaugurated in 1998 with a reservoir level seven meters (7.65 yards) lower than originally designed, the plant was producing only 60% of anticipated energy. A number of engineers and architects focused on achieving the maximum production of electric energy. At the same time, they had to ensure the adaptation of the inhabitants affected by the new reservoir level. All this took place in the Argentine provinces of Misiones and Corrientes and in the Paraguayan departments of Itapuá and Misiones. The reservoir area would encompass 1,500 square kilometers (nearly 590 square miles).

Yacyretá had already built an important bridge linking both countries over the Paraná River. However, the transformation of the surrounding region was still pending. The nearby cities had experienced accelerated growth without any urban planning. Some 700,000 inhabitants—especially the 80,000 who lived in the coastal regions under unsanitary conditions and recurrent floods— would have to be taken into account with the flooding of the reservoir. The environment would undergo changes that would alter its equilibrium.

I felt compelled to come up with possible solutions. Perhaps, being from Misiones, I was especially sensitive to the importance of the rivers—their historical, as well as environmental, importance. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits and the Guarani-speaking indigenous peoples built more than thirty urban settlements supported by the rational exploitation of water, land and cattle-raising. The streams provided the water they needed for their own consumption and served for fishing, boating and as an energy resource for water wheels and hydraulic mills. I thought that history was not only memory but also a fund of experiences that could serve us now and in the future.

We had to come up with solutions for the high energy requirements of both Paraguay and my country. Completing the reservoir would provide it. The adequate functioning of the Yacyretá undertaking would be the guarantee for the necessary investments for the region.

My home province is a land of rivers and streams, the red soil and the jungle. No element from that habitat could be damaged. Maintaining the quality of the water would be one of our most important objectives.

Some 1,500 square kilometers were set aside as ecological reserves to compensate for the land flooded by the dam for the Yacyretá hydroelectric plant. Actions centering upon the aquatic environment involved monitoring with an eye towards conservation, as well as building capacity for local and regional governments to do the same. We can now contemplate environmental sustainability in the context of a new balance, with images of a neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) feeding on the common armado fish (Pretodoras granulosus) and several other Paraná tiger fish found in the vicinity of the dam. Nature has returned. Storks and tuyuyú birds known as American wood storks (Mycteria americana) grace the landscape of the Iberá estuary. All the actions carried out for environmental preservation are carefully explained to all the region's communities. 

The past of this region was always present as an element of identity. At the Ayolas museum, we displayed the archeological pieces found during the earlier explorations for the development of the hydroelectric plant. The Guarani and Kaingang indigenous groups had left traces of their ways of living and teachings to connect us with nature.

But my concern was not only the past; it was the future. The cities in the region had to be renewed. In Paraguay, Ayolas, Santos Cosme and Damián, San Juan del Paraná, Carmen del Paraná, Cambyretá and Encarnación were about to experience changes. In Argentina, the cities of Ituzaingó, Posadas, Garupá and Candelaria would form part of the project. Each would undergo urban reform plans jointly agreed upon with local governments that would integrate the different sectors of the city. Various enclaves were separated not only by streams but by the absence of the necessary road infrastructure. By constructing bridges and providing roads, we would transform vehicle circulation and the means of transport.

There were other challenges to ensuring future growth. Renovation and improvements had to be provided to hospitals, schools, public administration, security and services; likewise, recreational areas, parks and squares and riverside promenades had to be developed.

Thus, a new connection could be formed with the landscape and, especially with the Paraná River. The result would be the formation of urban coastal areas with access to the water for all. 

The city would be thought of as a whole, a living, growing organism.

The population affected by the Yacyretá undertaking received social and health assistance programs. People were moved to housing developments, harmoniously integrated into the city that offered infrastructure and community services. Members of indigenous communities were provided with property titles to well-constructed homes, as well as bilingual schools and social services.

All the cities in the project expanded towards the river. Encarnación has become a river resort; Posadas has considerably increased its number of tourists. The urban and rural sectors now have a better access to the cities after the construction of roads and bridges across streams.

Looking back over the changes that have taken place over a decade, I believe that the Yacyretá hydroelectric undertaking has had strong regional impact. The best way of making the most of its construction and energy production was to see the project as a way to improve the living conditions of all the people in the region by providing the vital infrastructure. That infrastructure would have been impossible to achieve without the hydroelectric sector.  

For future hydroelectric undertakings in the region, we will have to bear in mind the past experiences. Only if we integrate the necessary projects to improve the daily lives of the residents will we find support for the construction of these new works. And only with these new projects will we find adequate renewal energy for the area and beyond. 

Oscar Thomas, who hails from the Province of Misiones, Argentina, is an architect and executive director at Yacyretá of the Binational Entity of Yacyretá for Argentina. He is the Argentine President for the Argentine-Brazilian Joint Technical Committee for the Construction of the Hydroelectric Plants in Garabí and Panambí. He has taught at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning of the UNNE of Argentina and at the Faculty of Architecture of the Catholic University of Paraguay.

Y marane’ÿ rekávo

Looking for Uncontaminated Water

By Bartomeu Melià, S.J.

An aerial view of the hydroelectric plant; the Guarani worry about bad waters. Photo courtesy of Oscar Thomas. 

It is not only the earth that is filled with impurities. So is the water. Lifeless waters extend throughout the earth, and not only on its surface. Like cholesterol-clogged arteries, contaminated waters also circulate with difficulty deep inside the earth—under the world’s skin. 

The search for water will be the quest of many—indeed all— in this 21st century. Where can this clear and crystalline resource be found, these waters of life in the desert, this optimistic and powerful liquid that sings in the creeks and roars in the waterfalls, shining with the brilliance of a diamond hidden in the bowels of the earth? 


The Guarani, anchored in the future for centuries, believed water to be their place of origin, the center of their earth. We are reminded of the mythic account of the Mbyá, as told by León Cadogan in his book Ywyra ñe’ery: fluye del árbol la palabra (Asunción, CEADUC, 1971, pps. 57-58). 

Everything happened in the place
where Our Grandmother lived,
in the Authentic Water.
This happened in our land in 
years gone by. 
This happened before our land 
was destroyed.

(Because today's earth is merely 
a semblance of that earth.)  
And Our Grandmother lived in 
the future center of the earth. 
She held the staff of authority in 
her hand as 
in our future earth she lived. 
She had a son, but she had neither 
a father nor a mother.
She gave birth to herself.

Thus, the heart of the earth is water, Y Ete, the authentic water, the true and real water. Water is the heart of the earth; it is where life began. Earth’s life is water. Today, as it happens, this Guarani prophecy has turned into a subject of more prosaic plans, but equally vital for the future, not only for the countries of Mercosur, but of the entire world.


The Guarani territory is home to what is considered the largest aquifer on the planet. The Paraguayan public is perhaps unaware of this fact, but specialists have been well aware of it since the 1970s, and those who engage in geopolitics have probably been negotiating this issue for quite a while. I myself found out about the aquifer quite late and as strange as it may seem, it was through the Guarani of Brazil, who are worried about what is happening to their water and if it will meet with the same sad fate as their land. 

So I quote here from a technical report: “The Guarani aquifer is certainly one of the largest reserves of subterranean fresh water in the world with an accumulated volume of 45,000 km3.”

The interesting thing about this enormous wealth is that it corresponds almost exactly to the geographical and ecological limits occupied by the Guarani people prehistorically. It is really just that the water reserve be known as the Guarani aquifer.  Cutting across borders, just as the original Guarani territory did, it occupies some 325,000 square miles in Brazil, 87,000 square miles in Argentina, 28,000 square miles in Paraguay and 22,400 in Uruguay. That is, the aquifer is an enormous body whose veins branch out for 463,322,590 square miles. And the waters are so pure that one can drink them untreated because of a natural process of bio-chemical filtration and self-cleaning in the subsoil.   

My dear readers, many of you will have noticed that I am quoting a technical report I received from my Guarani friends, authored by the expert Aldo da C. Rebouças, who has written many papers on the subject.  

The search for this pure water, this Y Marane’ÿ, truly fills us with admiration, but it also leaves us apprehensive. Who will take ownership of this Genuine Water, this Y Ete from the place of Our Grandmother, which is to say, Mother Water?

The conquerors were always looking for the latest El Dorado wherever they went, if not just over the horizon, then right under their feet. The curious thing is that the discovery of the great aquifer was something of a disappointment; they were looking for oil and only found water. And now the most valuable liquid of the future is that simple water, pure water. 


Bad waters are what worry the Guarani nowadays. If the land has already been destroyed, isn’t the water next?  The risks involving the improper use of subterranean waters are on the horizon. More or less deep wells are already being dug without adequate technology, with the goal of immediate exploitation, exclusive and self-interested use that sucks up enormous quantities of this precious water, turns it into soft drinks and beer and sells it on the market. And the pollution of the upper aquifer, already quite affected by this extraction, could easily contaminate the deeper levels. 

The treatment of the waters of the Guarani aquifer has been relatively good until now, but for how long? Speculators and businessmen can set up a system of water trafficking—with its parallel to drug trafficking—that would mean death to the life that comes from the Genuine Water, the Y Ete of the Guarani people.

The Guarani aquifer is a true bank of water of countless value that cannot be wasted nor left in the hands of unscrupulous agents. It is a deposit of extremely high value that should be protected and ethically administered. 

“The accumulation of urban and/or industrial residues without adequate technology, as well as the uncontrolled and increasing use of modern chemical components in agriculture, are potential sources of contamination of the subterranean waters. It must be remembered that pollution reaching the ground level or superficial waters can reach deep aquifers or can be confined, depending on the degree to which deep wells continue to be built, operated or abandoned without adequate technology,”  warned Brazilian groundwater expert Aldo da C. Rebouças. 

The ethical and political implications of this situation cannot be overlooked. Water is no longer a free good that anyone can use arbitrarily; it is a natural resource with social and economic value—and the groundwater even more so than the surface water supply.

Looking for a tierra sin mal—a land without evil—the Guarani found this Y Marane’ÿ, an unexplored, deep, transparent good that bestows life, clarity and goodness, always and whenever it continues to being y sakä (transparent water), and satï (clear water), and porä (good water), and ete (true and genuine water).

This place of flowing water is rightfully known as the Guarani Aquifer. Its brilliant and appropriate name should not be stained with the evils of capitalist contamination and self-interest. 

Bartomeu Melià, S.J., is a Jesuit historian, anthropologist and linguist who focuses on the Guarani people. His work involves the study and the protection of the Guarani language, as well as advocacy for its use. 

Arts, Language and Culture

Traditional ceramics and woven textiles. Photo courtesy of Museo del Barro.

Arts, language and culture help provide the virtual bonds for a territory that is always shifting; from film to music to the plastic arts, they connect the Guarani territory.

Chamamé for Dummies

A Listening Guide to the Music of Corrientes

By Eugenio Monjeau

Two children dance the chamamé in Puente Pexoa, Corrientes, Argentina. Photo by Facundo de Zuviria www.facundodezuviria.com

There is a traditional Andalusian dance, the vito, inspired by the “St. Vitus dance,” a name given to Huntington's disease for centuries. Symptoms of this disease include twitching that sometimes hinders walking. Nevertheless, patients, considered victims of a dance mania of sorts, made pilgrimages to the chapel of St. Vitus, in Ulm, Germany, hoping to be healed by the saint. In the province of Corrientes (which makes up, along with Entre Ríos to the south and Misiones to the north, the Argentine Litoral) there is also a mania, although not as dangerous: the chamamé. It manifests itself in various ways, but the most common symptom (as with the pilgrims) is dancing. Festivals are higher forms of dances. The Fiesta Nacional del Chamamé takes place during ten days in January, the hottest month in one of the hottest places in Argentina. The 104° F temperature and hours of uninterrupted music send thousands of revelers into a kind of trance. My goal with this short article is to prompt you, dear reader, into a domestic, modest and tidy version of that trance.

But first, some history. According to Argentine expert Rubén Pérez Bugallo,
the chamamé is the result of a mix between certain Spanish musical forms that entered the American continent through Peru, continued on to Paraguay, and then arrived in Argentina, and certain Central European popular dances from the 19th century, such as the waltz and the mazurka. Pérez Bugallo specifically argues against the idea of Guarani roots for the chamamé. There is a Spanish-Peruvian base, he reasons, with a 6/8 beat, typical of the so-called Ternary Colonial Songbook, to which those other 3/4 European forms are added:

One fine day, Europeans and locals decided to make music together. Those coming from Europe brought their accordions and two types of rhythms: the binary polka and schottische and the ternary waltz and mazurka. The men from the hinterland brought their guitars and strummed along, rhythmically loyal to the call of tradition: 6/8. […] As far as the result of this mixture is concerned, it’s a known fact that in any spontaneous instrumental association the rhythm is dictated by the accompaniment—which in this case meant the local guitar. […] Indeed, an accordion mazurka accompanied by a guitar in 6/8 rhythm results in something hardly distinguishable from a chamamé.

(Rubén Pérez Bugallo, Chamamé: Raíces coloniales y des-orden popular [Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Sol, 2008], pages 110 and following).

Pérez Bugallo traces the first appearance of the term “chamamé” to the February 17th, 1821, edition of the Buenos Aires newspaper Las Cuatro Cosas, in which the priest Francisco de Paula Castañeda is said to have “danced a chamamé over someone’s head.” According to Bugallo, it’s a political metaphor (Father Castañeda was a known polemicist) and actually “chamamé” was only a translation to jopará (Guarani spoken by Spaniards and locals) of “fandango,” the Spanish dance in vogue at that time in all Latin America. The fact is that the term disappears from documents until 1930, when RCA Victor uses it as a label for the song “Corrientes poti” by Paraguayan singer Samuel Aguayo. From then on, chamamé is established as a folk genre in its own right and its name remains unaltered.

Chamamé’s orchestration barely extends beyond the aforementioned guitar and accordion. A traditional full band consists of accordion, bandoneon, guitar and double bass. Even though the beat is one of the most characteristic elements of the genre, due to its polyrhythm, syncopation and off-beats, percussion is not part of the typical instrumentation (although it has become common in recent times and some traditionalists complain that the Fiesta Nacional del Chamamé should be called the Fiesta Nacional de la Ba-tería—drums—instead). All of chamamé’s rhythmic richness lies, on the one hand, on the written score, and, on the other, on the skill and sensitivity of the performers (somewhat schematically: the bandoneon—of sweeter tone and greater ductility—carries the melody, while the accordion is tasked with the beat and most of the ornaments).

Singers are added to this typical formation in traditional ensembles. Sometimes it’s a single voice, but more often duets with sharp nasal voices singing falsetto in parallel thirds and sixths. Interestingly, even if we go by Bugallo’s Creole-Central European origin hypothesis, the largest and best part of the repertoire is sung in Guarani. The subgenre known as “chamamé caté” (from categoría, Argentine slang for elegance; chamamé classification isn’t final, but we can mention, besides caté, chamamé kangui— sad, in Guarani, slower and more melancholic, and its opposite, the chamamé maceta, popular, very rhythmic, typical in dances and festivals) is always sung in this language, which is widely spoken in the Litoral. All correntinos—residents of Corrientes— incorporate it, to a greater or lesser extent, in everyday speech, even those without indigenous ancestors, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that almost all chamamés include some Guarani terms in their lyrics. Furthermore, Guarani is an official language of Corrientes Province.

Whether in Guarani, Spanish, or a mixture of the two, chamamé’s lyrics often talk about local characters, animals, people of the Litoral and, above all, the Paraná River. The correntino poet Albérico Mansilla (who penned the beautiful chamamé “Viejo Caá Catí”) has said: “The river is to chamamé what adultery is to tango.” But I’d like to point out something usual, if somewhat unexpected, which also links the chamamé to the tango, but as opposites. While the latter tirelessly explores the theme of jail (where the lunfardo slang itself originated), theft, guns and all kinds of illegal activities, chamamé has a close link to the army and, as heard in the songs themselves, “authority.” Mario Millan Medina’s “La guardia de seguridad” is a humorous chamamé expressing a humble correntino’s admiration for the police. The character, an aspiring policeman, sings: “¡A los yanquis y a los bolches, / si los llego a encontrar, / les voy a encajar una sableada, / para que se dejen de bochinchear!” (“Yank or commie, / if I come across you, / I’ll cut you down, / I’ll shut you up!”—a Cold War chamamé!). There are scores of chamamés dedicated to chiefs of police (Tránsito Cocomarola’s “Comisario Silva”) and to Independence heroes (the chamamé “Sargento Cabral” is known for the beauty of its lyrics and music and is a tribute to a correntino soldier who at the Battle of San Lorenzo stood between the enemy bayonets and the injured body of another correntino, General José de San Martín—you might have seen his statue in Central Park—to protect him; legend has it that Cabral uttered his last words to San Martín: “I die with a glad heart, sir, for we have beaten the enemy”). 

Chamamé musicians enjoy playing. Photo by Facundo de Zuviria.

The origins of chamamé date back to the civil war between the litoraleños (Litoral residents), who supported territorial autonomy, and the supporters of central administration by Buenos Aires. There are stories about chamamés being played by military bands on both sides after battles, and until a few decades ago there were certain chamamés which couldn’t be played during elections because they aroused violent passions in militants of the political parties that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in the context of this confrontation between Corrientes and Buenos Aires. Moreover, militias have a particular importance because of their role in transporting musical forms throughout the colony. Let us consider the troops marching down from Peru to the current Argentine territory and going through Paraguay, at the time the Viceroyalty of the River Plate was founded. Guitars were de rigueur luggage for any group of soldiers. According to Pérez Bugallo, for example, “the Canary polka or chamarrita must have come to us when the Brazilian army marched through our territory [during the terrible 1864-1870 Paraguayan War, which pitted Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay, EM].” The chamarrita is now a vital part of the Litoral repertoire and has been defined as having “the beat of a horse trotting without reins,” poetically portraying another local appropriation of a form of European origin. 

My relationship to the genre goes back to 1997. One day my father brought home a chamamé record and said: “You have to listen to this. It’s awesome.” I laughed and mocked him. I was repeating one of the “intellectual” platitudes of the Argentine middle class: chamamé is low quality music, restricted to the province of Corrientes, to correntinos living in Buenos Aires and, generally, to the poor. Rarely in my life have I been so compelled to admit a mistake as when my father, in a car on the road and giving me no alternative, played the very same record; seventeen songs in which rare instrumental virtuosity combined with passages both austere and expressive.

It was the album Por cielos lejanos, by Rudi and Nini Flores. Rudi (guitar) and Nini (accordion) are two correntino brothers who for three decades have been developing a sort of chamber chamamé. It’s as if they managed to capture the spirit of chamamé, isolate it, study it and display it in each of their recordings. By means of a thorough understanding of their predecessors (including their own father, the remarkable bandoneon player Avelino Flores), their formal music studies and the uncanny edge that comes from their being brothers, Rudi and Nini seem to have arrived at the purest expression of chamamé. They can be taken for a sort of chamamecero archetype.

First of all, the music of Rudi and Nini is a perfect example of chamamé’s inherent tension between, shall we say, high and low culture. The chamamé is, just as I thought before listening to it for the first time, popular music that is played for thousands of people at festivals that last entire days, music of precariously produced records and improvised concerts in poorly lit bars. But it’s also music that can only be played by masters. The whole chamamecero repertoire is sustained by the virtuosity of the accordionists, who have at their disposal an infinite variety of dynamics and tone colors to use. The genre takes the instrument to its utter limits. Perhaps this ambiguity began to form with chamamé’s very origins, when a Spanish rhythmic tradition deeply rooted among the locals encountered sophisticated European salon dances. (We may add here that just as there are sister cities thousands of miles away, chamamé has a genre brother in the United States: bluegrass. Both have European origins but were raised upon the banks of American rivers, both are part of the national folklore, both feature amazing instrumental development despite being truly popular music—not only by the virtuosity required but also by the singularity of their emblematic instruments: the accordion and bandoneon for chamamé, and the banjo for bluegrass. Their melodies proverbially unite joy and sadness and produce unwavering devotion, while to the ears of the uninitiated all chamamés and bluegrass sound the same.)

Rudi and Nini Flores also resume that tension between local music and European music, in this case even biographically; they settled in Paris in 1994, at a time when the chamamé still belonged, in view of the middle class, to the poorer classes. While they weren’t the first chamameceros to come to France—Raúl Barboza had preceded them—they were the first to make refinement their novelty, while Barboza had adopted an edgier style that sought sophistication by appealing to the hotly disputed Guarani and jungle roots of the genre. With the Flores brothers, waltz, polka and mazurka return to Europe hand in hand with chamamé, which later returns to Argentina as a music genre with instrumental, rhythmic, harmonic and melodic sophistication. The chamamé was thus introduced to small concert halls, cultural centers and traditional bookstores in the city of Buenos Aires.

But chamamé is also musically ambiguous due to the styles of its main composers and performers, some of which are closer to the local spirit, to the 6/8 beat, while others are more lyrical, more Central European. I mentioned that the first chamamé labeled as such was recorded in 1930. Rudi and Nini Flores formed their group in 1984 and their most relevant discography is approximately dated in the decade after 1997. What happened between the beginnings and what I personally consider the zenith of the genre? Who preceded Rudi and Nini and forged the thousands of recordings, lyrics and melodies of the chamamecero heritage? The list of musicians is endless and I’ll mention just a few names for the reader to look up: Tránsito Cocomarola, Ernesto Montiel, Isaco Abitbol, Tarragó Ros (chamamé maceta champion and the first Argentine musician to sell more than a million records), Damasio Esquivel, Pedro Montenegro, Blas Martínez Riera.

I’d like to dwell briefly on the first three, who possess quite different playing styles even though there are some contact points among them and Montiel and Abitbol started out in the same group. Abitbol’s style is the most lyrical and melancholic. Montiel, on the other hand, plays much more forcefully. What you hear in his phrasing and in the way he drags his notes is a kind of contained violence. This is especially noticeable in the waltz-like “La vestido celeste” or in the “Gente de ley” chamamé (the last and first track respectively of this album). Abitbol never had a similar sound, and is, in fact, the composer of the lyrical chamamé par excellence, “La calandria.” Cocomarola’s style is very elegant; it’s not violent like Montiel’s nor melancholic like Abitbol’s, but includes some very fine tunes, such as “Kilómetro 11,” arguably the most famous chamamé of all time, so successful that it was worthy of a video clip, or “Prisionero.” It’s no coincidence that among the three, the most lyrical two have chosen the bandoneon as their instrument, while Montiel chose the accordion. Rudi and Nini Flores explained in an interview published in the newspaper Clarín on November 30, 2004: “In Corrientes, the north was Cocomarola’s, while the south, was Montiel’s. We always lived in the capital, and it was all Cocomarola. Montiel had a more dynamic, more seasoned, southern style. Cocomarola, on the other hand, was more serene, more lyrical, sadder.”

“Nueva ilusión,” a chamamé by Rudi and Nini, displays, on the one hand, the lyricism of Cocomarola’s tradition, and, on the other, the duo's own sophistication. It was the first to captivate me on that road trip in 1997 and remains my favorite chamamé: it starts off as an idea that is simple and brilliant at the same time; the melody is slightly melancholic without being sad and is flawlessly interpreted. But it also has another merit: it is impossible to say, perhaps due to the Flores brothers’ personal and professional background, what part is European and what part is local. Perhaps the “New illusion” referred to the brothers’ excitement about their arrival in Paris; or—who knows?—it's perhaps a carpincho (capybara) jumping about to escape from the jaws of a yacaré (alligator) on the banks of the river. Like most chamber music this chamamé has no lyrics, so that, dear reader, is up to you.

The duo Rudi (guitar) and Nini (accordion) Flores have developed a kind of chamber chamamé. Photo by Ian Kornfeld. 

Eugenio Monjeau studies philosophy at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and works at the Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón, devoted to Argentine contemporary opera and ballet, and at the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, an organization committed to strategic litigation and civil rights.  In 2010 he took part in the Paraná Ra’Anga expedition through the Paraná River, led by former DRCLAS Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor Graciela Silvestri, and contributed to a book of the same name. He has written for La Nación and Clarín about politics and aesthetics.

Guarani in Film

Movies in Paraguayan Guarani, about and with Guaranis

By Damián Cabrera 

A contemporary film featuring the Guarani: Paz Encina. Hamaca Paraguaya. 2006. Photo by Christian  Núñez, courtesy of Damián Cabrera.

The first film spoken in Guarani I ever saw was from the United States. It was the movie Jesus (1979), co-directed by Peter Skyes and John Krish, dubbed into Guarani and customarily broadcast on television during Holy Week in Paraguay. My generation had not grown up seeing ourselves on the screen. With films like Hamaca Paraguaya (Paraguayan Hammock, 2006) by Paz Encina or 7 cajas (7 Boxes, 2012) by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori respectively, films in Guarani are now achieving international projection as well as local popularity. Today we Paraguayans can see ourselves on the screen and listen to ourselves— in our own languages. 

In Paraguay, speaking Guarani is charged with ambiguity: it evokes both fondness and contempt. In Spanish slang, the word guarango—the contemptuous nickname for those who speak Guarani—means “rude, vulgar.” It’s as if the use of the language were somehow a mark of vulgarity. However, at the same time, others celebrate “the sweet Guarani language” as the most important legacy of the Guarani culture to Paraguayan society. An indigenous language, from the linguistic family Tupí-Guaraní, Guarani is today spoken in Paraguay by the largely non-indigenous population. 

“The history of Paraguay is the history of the Guarani language,” says the anthropologist Bartolomeu Melià in his book Mundo Guaraní (Guarani World, 2011). The history of Paraguay is also one of prohibition of this language and the assumed exclusion that came from speaking it.  But it is the history of persistence. 

In an emerging and increasingly prolific scene in Paraguayan film, Paraguayan Guarani is being heard at the international level, making visible its history. But does speaking Guarani mean being Guarani? Perhaps the new cinematic movement gives us the opportunity to reflect on these questions, both in terms of the status of the language and of the various types of belonging associated with Guarani: the indigenous world, the Paraguayan peasant and the urban dweller. 


“The first films in Guarani were silent,” observed actor and writer Manuel Cuenca, author of Historia del Audiovisual en Paraguay (A History of the Audiovisual in Paraguay) (2009), in which he details the country’s film production. Since the beginning of the 20th century, 35-millimeter movies—silent, in black and white—have depicted Paraguay’s indigenous and peasant communities, with protagonists who sing or speak in Guarani. Codicia (1954), by Argentine director Catrano Catrani, was the first spoken fiction film to incorporate dialogues in Guarani. Basing his work on the Paraguayan novelist Augusto Roa Bastos, who also wrote his own adapted screenplays, Armando Bó produced La sed (1961) and El trueno entre las hojas (1975); in which, in addition to dialogues, one can also hear a song in Guarani, “Adiós Lucerito Alba” by Eladio Martínez. (Isabel Sarli’s nude scenes in this film made her famous, and she appeared again in India (1961) and La burrerita de Ypacaraí (1962), by Bó.) La sangre y la semilla (1959) was the first Paraguayan-Argentine co-production. Palestinian director Dominique Dubosc filmed his first works in Paraguay at the end of the 60s. Capturing the voices of his protagonists with a poetic tone, he depicts the life of a Paraguayan peasant family and that of the Santa Isabel lepers’ colony respectively in Cuarahy Ohechá (Le soleil l’a vu) (1968) and Manojhara (1969). 

Although several films are about Guarani or include them in the narrative, many have used other indigenous groups or even non-indigenous actors to represent them. In his films that reference the Guaranis, Bó used Paraguay’s Maká tribe, which in reality form part of the Mataco linguistic group. In the first scenes of India, the lyrics of a song  announce “india Guarani…,” with the Argentine actress Isabel Sarli depicted as an indigenous woman; paradoxically, it is not difficult to find in schoolbooks photographs of the indigenous Maká group with captions indicating that they are Guarani. 

Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons were the principal actors in a story based on the original Jesuit missions in Paraguay, The Mission (1986), directed by Roland Joffe and with music by Italian composer Ennio Morricone. In spite of my efforts, I could not recognize the “guarani” spoken by the indigenous actors in the movie and not even the words uttered by Irons. The Mission was not filmed in Paraguay: the scenes supposedly taking place in Asunción were filmed in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia; one of the film locations was at Iguaçu Falls in Brazil; the indigenous people are not Guarani; for the most part, they are indigenous Waunanas from the Colombian Pacific region of Chocó. But the gap is not as great as it seems: an Argentine indigenous leader, Asunción Ontiveros, plays a Guarani chieftain; in the accompanying explanation of the making of the film, entitled Omnibus: The Mission, Ontiveros spells out the common problems shared by the Waunanas and the Guarani, and indeed all the indigenous peoples of the Americas: the land. 

Although all fall under the umbrella of Guarani, there is actually more than one Guarani language; and although some of these languages are called something else, they are as Guarani as the others, identical in spite of their differences. In Hans Staden (1999) by Luis Alberto Pereira, the Tupinambá indigenous people are played by non-indigenous actors. Based on Staden’s stories and spoken in classic Tupí (of the Tupí-Guarani linguistic family), the film has realist pretensions: the director insists on a type of neutral stance devoid of interpretation (unlike other films that examine the same theme), but it is based on a previous text, a testimonial discourse saturated with interpretation; thus, the representation of the indigenous people—more than the story itself—reminds us of the blackface tradition in U.S. film at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Aren’t there any Guarani actors? Yes, there are: one can see them in Terra Vermelha (Birdwatchers, 2009) by Marcos Bechis. This is the drama of the Guaraní-Kaiowa (known as Pãi Tavyterã in Paraguay) on the border of Paraguay and Brazil. They play themselves in their own language to show the threat agro-business poses for their way of life, with suicide by young people becoming an increasing social trauma. The drama portrayed in the narrative turns out to be real: indigenous leader Ambrósio Vilhalva (Chief Nádio in the film) acts out his death, and less than a year later, he was assassinated in real life.

Indigenous people are represented by others or exposed to the gaze of others. But perhaps this reality will soon change. With a language that belongs to the same linguistic family as that of the Guarani, the Aché have been shooting films. Norma Tapari and Ricardo Mbekrorongi made the documentaries Nondjewaregi/Costumbres antiguas (2012) and Tõ Mumbu (2012), respectively, in which they gathered oral histories from their grandparents, in the context of the djawu/Aché Word project, which seeks to rescue Aché culture through literary production, photography and audiovisual documentation. 


Is this my voice? It’s like hearing oneself for the first time in a recording, to see oneself finally reflected on the screen. Hamaca Paraguaya is the first Paraguayan film I’ve seen. The experience was extraordinary, and so was the film. Journeying through history, it presents an image of time: the idea of a flickering, vacillating waiting/hope (which in Spanish happens to be the same word: esperar) that goes back and forth but always stays in the same place, despite the instability. The circular dialogues are inscribed in a scene equally structured in a circular fashion. In Hamaca, there is a desire to represent Paraguayan time, which perhaps can be imagined as a crossroads with another temporal memory, that of oguatáva (caminante/walker). Guaraní is present in the jeroky ñembo’e, which is at the same time a prayer and a dance, equally circular.  

Paraguay experienced a rough period following the Curuguaty massacre on June 15, 2012, during a police raid on homeless peasants; the confrontation took 17 lives, and spurred a congressional coup, disguised as a political trial, that resulted in the impeachment and removal from office of then President Fernando Lugo. For some viewers, watching 7 cajas, which treats this period, is a cathartic experience. For several months, movie theaters were full. When I went, the social phenomenon spoke (literally) as loudly as the movie itself. Spectators were noisy, laughing at the top of their lungs and applauding; the theater was filled with the excitement of self-recognition. 

Beyond the story, its portrayed and imagined universe and its use of language, 7 cajas can be understood as a metaphor. It’s not only a matter of showing the only mechanisms the poor can resort to in order to circulate their own images in the overloaded market of images. A scene of emergencies also reveals something about the conditions in which the Paraguayan filmmaker operates: the character Victor could be just another filmmaker looking for resources to produce images and put on the screen his stories, and in that very process, become someone. 

These two Guarani films are the best known on the international level, but they are not the only ones. And there are more on the way. 

In 2002, Galia Giménez premiered María Escobar, based on a song in Guarani by the same name, very popular at that time among all social classes. The short subjects Karai Norte (Man of the North, 2009) by Marcelo Martinessi and Ahendu Nde Sakupái  (I hear your scream, 2008) by Pablo Lamar are two masterpieces of Paraguayan film. The recently premiered Latas vacías (Empty Cans, 2014) by Hérib Godoy and Costa dulce (2013) by Enrique Collar take up the theme of pláta-yvyguy (treasures buried during the 19th-century war, a subject that has fired the Paraguayan imagination through prolific works of art); both films are spoken in peasant Guarani, and the action takes place outside Asunción, with regional actors who have not attended traditional acting school, thus providing a fresh voice to new Paraguayan film. Meanwhile, Luna de cigarras (Cicadas’ Moon, 2014) by Jorge Díaz de Bedoya, in which Guarani is shown along in the border zone, along with Spanish and Portuguese, has been nominated for Spain’s Goya Awards. 

                                      Enrique Collar. Costa Dulce. 2013. (Fotograma)

In the documentary realm, Guarani has flourished in an extensive list that ranges from the patrimony of the silent era to acclaimed pieces that register peasant and indigenous voices such as Tierra roja (Red Land, 2006) and Frankfurt (2008) by Ramiro Gómez; or Fuera de campo (2014) by Hugo Giménez. In Yvyperõme (2013) by Miguel Armoa, the declarations of a Guarani shaman, proclaiming that “before we were the wizards of the woods; now we are the wizards of soybeans,” testifies to the traumatic and transformative times Paraguay is experiencing. 

Stigma and prohibitions on Guarani had threatened its existence, and the transmission from one generation to another was seen as difficult.  Wouldn’t the fact that the mainstream media talk and write in Spanish, rather than Guarani—despite the fact that the majority of Paraguayans speak Guarani or are to a certain degree bilingual—have something to do with that? 

In 2015, the film Guaraní, by Argentine director Luis Zorraquín, will have its premiere. Not only is it spoken almost entirely in Guarani; the movie itself is about the Guarani language. The film and the journalistic treatment of the subject to date can serve to explore the ambivalence surrounding Guarani today: the variations of Guarani of the Guarani indigenous people and the Guarani of the Paraguayans. John Hopewell suggests in the magazine Variety that the film is about questions and identity in a narrative featuring “a traditionalist Guarani fisherman, and his grand-daughter.” A Spanish News Agency EFE dispatch published in Paraguay’s ABC Color de Paraguay confirms that the film is about “a story of the uprooting and survival of the Guarani indigenous culture.” Both reviews are mistaken: the film is the story of a Paraguayan and his finding strength in the language in a bet on the future. 

                                        Luis  Zorraquín. Guaraní. 2015. (Fotograma). 

But what does all this lack of clarity mean? The word guarani signifies a lot: it is the name of a language and the name for a culture; sometimes it is used as an ethnic nickname for Paraguayans; it’s the name of stores, diet teas and sports clubs. 

The persistence of Guarani in a society that is more western than indigenous is also ambivalent: the secondary language of Paraguay, its hegemony seems inconsistent in a country that vehemently rejects all that is indigenous. But the “discourtesy” of its resistance is felt more strongly all the time, overcoming the silence also of the big screen, where Guarani is spoken louder and louder. Every single time, louder and louder.

Damián Cabrera is a Paraguayan writer. He is a Master’s candidate in Cultural Studies at the University of São Paulo. A participant in the seminar of Critical Cultural Space/Critique (Paraguay), he is a member of the collective Ura Editions and the Network Conceptualismos del Sur. He is the author of the novel Xiru (2012), for which he won the Roque Gaona Prize the same year. He can be reached at guyrapu@gmail.com 

Note: Titles are translated into English only when a formal English title exists.

Animating Peripheries

A View from the Museo del Barro

By Lia Colombino

The Museo del Barro’s modern exterior. Photo courtesy of Lia Colombino, Museo del Barro.

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The Museo del Barro in Asunción immerses the visitor in a collection of images and objects, often in a somewhat disordered fashion, not all categorized or classified in the way such institutions tend to present them.

The Museo del Barro, as the Center for Visual Arts is commonly known, houses collections of Popular Art (the Museo del Barro) and Ethnic Art (Museum of Indigenous Art), as well as several expressions of Urban Art of Paraguay and Ibero-America (the Paraguayan Museum of Contemporary Art).  

The visitor might encounter a collection of popular masks, an ample assortment of Franciscan and Jesuit images, striking ceremonial costumes or the impressive selection of Iberoamerican art, including works by Ricardo Migliorisi, Carlos Colombino and Osvaldo Salerno. The temporary exhibits are widely varied, from a showing of some emerging artist to large overview exhibit that bring together different works on document on 19th–century portraiture in Paraguay to a collection of the recent production of the weavers of ao poi, an indigenous cloth that takes its embroidery from the type used on colonial shirts.  

The museum has three entrances from a central patio. From there, the visitor can lose herself in a circular game, always returning to the same site. There is more than one way to go through the Museo del Barro; one does not always read from left to right nor begin as focus groups mandate; everything is left up to chance and no particular sequence is required. The museum leaves open the possibility of felt experience, rather than just inform the passive gaze of a directed spectator. 

It seeks to erase the distinct ways of classifying art, doing away with the boundaries between the popular, indigenous and urban in Paraguay.
Thus, the Museo del Barro preserves the ambiguity of being a museum without totally being a museum. It attempts to skirt the boundaries of the concept of a museum while at the same time renders this concept ill-fitting and permeable. 

It is an art museum as fluid as the definition of art itself, which here has tried to include, in the words of Paraguayan art scholar Ticio Escobar, “the beauty of the other.” 


The Center for Visual Arts/Museo del Barro came into being through several initiatives over the course of forty years. What makes it unusual is that it has been created by artists, anthropologists and art critics. Originally, it emerged as a project that would function on the margins of the state and in opposition to its politics. 

The Center’s three museums sprang into life independently. However, they eventually came together under one roof as one project. The Center’s roots go back to 1972 with a Circulating Collection started by Paraguayan artists Olga Blinder and Carlos Colombino. As its name implies, the collection did not have its own space and moved from one place to another. 

In 1980, a permanent space for the collection was sought, with the Museo del Barro inaugurated in a small house. Artists Osvaldo Salerno and Ysanne Gayet, along with Carlos Colombino, spearheaded the effort. Art historian Ticio Escobar later joined the group. In 1984, the first exhibition space was opened and later developed into the three collections integrating the Center for Visual Arts.

The group had long been interested in popular and indigenous art, inspired by poet and art critic Josefina Plá, a native of the Canary Islands who settled in Paraguay, as well as such important personalities as Brazilian-Paraguayan artist Livio Abramo, Jesuit indigenous rights champion Bartomeu Melià, and Olga Blinder herself. 

The treatment of the works in this museum makes it possible for popular and indigenous art to be seen as equal to urban or “erudite” art. The museum seeks to provide a dialogue between these types of art in spite of their differences, striving to undermine the official myth that popular and indigenous art can be reduced to “folkloric,” “authentic,” “vernacular,” “our very own.” That is, popular art can often be trivialized, stripped of its subtleties and differences. 

When Ticio Escobar, who has given deep thought to Paraguayan art from this triple perspective (popular, indigenous, urban) in a systematic way, wrote La Belleza de los Otros (1994), he recounts there the foundational story set out in El brazalete de Túkule. Túkule, a powerful Ishir shaman, is delicately making a bracelet called oikakar (created from vegetable and hand-tied, one by one, with small and oversized feathers). Escobar questions why it is necessary to add a line of multicolored feathers to something which appears to have already been finished, and receives this answer: “So that it looks more beautiful.” This bracelet is functional—ceremonial, shamanic and ritual—but at the same time, it is aesthetic: it should attract our attention through its shining beauty. 

The language of difference emerged intuitively at the beginning. First came the practice and then the theory; the Museo del Barro followed a path that revealed itself in the middle of the journey. It went about constructing itself in fragments from total chance until it jelled (although it never completely jelled) in one place (actually in two—that of the physical place and its conceptual place). 

Paraguayan art finds in the Museo del Barro a space in which we can see ourselves from multiple perspectives, talking to the “we” that in Paraguay means we are two (or at least two, since language always puts that duality in evidence). In Guarani, the language of the majority of the Paraguayan population, there are two words for “we,” one which is inclusive (ñande) and the other which is exclusive (ore). These two ways of saying “we” make up a specific way of understanding identity. If the official culture tries to propagate a unified “national being” through diverse means, the language itself gives the lie to this concept. 


The idea of setting up a dialogue and bringing together the artistic productions of Paraguay’s different peoples came about through an unplanned action. While Ticio Escobar was writing Una interpretación de las artes visuales en el Paraguay (An Interpretation of Paraguay’s Visual Arts, published in two volumes in 1982 and 1984), he was faced with the dilemma of how to verbalize these differences and to find a place within an official history that denied these differences. 

With his book El mito del arte y el mito del pueblo (The Myth of Art and the Myth of People), Escobar consolidated his thinking about the equivalence of popular and indigenous art alongside so-called erudite art. This analysis laid the foundation for a more conclusive discussion about modernity and also about the nature of the erudite and the popular, no longer facing them off as binary contradictions, but in terms of exploring them and defining relationships. Escobar’s text sums up the vocation of the Center of Visual Arts/Museo del Barro. It departs from art theory to enter into cultural theory with all its political implications: the disputes for the hegemonic control of the symbolic capital of a territory evolved into a nation. 

The Museo del Barro significantly adopts the praxis of this text, the theoretical basis that ties together questions that have arisen through doing. This concept of art set forth by Escobar and, by extension, at the museum—this manipulation of material forms that shake up the senses—permits the insertion of the concept of popular art into the writing of another history of art and to begin to dislocate Eurocentric concepts. These new ideas concern the autonomy of art, the concept of contemporaneity and of uniqueness.


One of the major discussions regarding the use of the word “art” to talk about the aesthetic-poetic productions of non-Western cultures has to do with a concrete fact. These cultures do not use the word “art” to describe the production of material objects nor, for the most part, do they consider their production to be art. 

However, art history has no qualms in using this category when it considers that one production or another corresponds to its own past. So, for example, Egyptian art or cave paintings are categorized as art. 

Likewise, both indigenous and peasant art appeal to the senses when they seek to represent the world in which they live. According to Escobar, certain cultural moments are thus stressed and safeguarded, resulting in tense configurations equivalent to what the West understands as art. 


Both indigenous and popular art have particular characteristics that differentiate them from modern or so-called contemporary art.  These forms of art, unlike modern art works, have not needed to appeal to autonomy to separate themselves from a belief system. They have guarded a narrow relationship with it and at times the forms are intimately connected to ritual. The poetry that surrounds an object is mixed up with both beliefs and everyday life in such a way that they cannot be separated out. In this sense, the postulation of an indigenous or popular art form questions the notion that for art to be art, it must be devoid of function. 

The notion of originality is also called into question, since these cultures work for the most part along the lines of traditions from the past, and their ways of resignifying and reelaborating these forms propose other paths than those taken by erudite art. The question of who authored a work is not a primary one, although with the passage of time this is changing, and many ceramic makers and wood carvers are signing their works. 

Popular or indigenous art strengthens its forms and creates dense meanings that correspond to the conditions of existence and production of the community in which they are created; indeed, this perspective of thinking about art shakes up the established conventions of what centers of learning have defined as “contemporary art.”


The Museo del Barro, with every action it has undertaken—often outside the scope of what is considered usual for a museum—has tried to make more malleable the borders of certain academic categories. Following this model, it finds other ways of involving itself in the world. 

The postulation of indigenous and popular art comes from this ability to make the borders between different types of art more flexible. It looks to shake up the certainty of fields of knowledge; to move apparently fixed concepts so that we can observe that reality moves, letting one see what is out of sight. It appears. 

Indigenous and popular artists, from their ways of responding to their reality, attack the gaping wound that the Western conception of the history of art has left open. The work of Ticio Escobar and the effort that the Museo del Barro has demonstrated from the beginning bear witness to these processes and contribute to the continual shaking up of the borders that have been, perhaps for way too long, unmovable. 

Lia Colombino is the director of the Museum of Indigenous Art that is part of the CAV/Museo del Barro. She teaches at the Instituto Superior de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Asunción and coordinates the seminar Espacio/Crítica. She is part of the Conceptualismos del Sur network.

A Country of Music and Poetry

The View from Paraguay

By Lizza Bogado

Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa popularized Paraguayan music. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

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As a Paraguayan singer and composer, I had the privilege of performing once with Mercedes Sosa in Asunción.  When I visited her at a later date in Buenos Aires, she confided that the first songs she had ever recorded in Argentina were Paraguayan, and she gave me the original recordings of this music, which I shall always treasure as a memento of our long conversation that day.  

Sosa, an Argentine, was linked to Paraguayan music. Paraguayan singer Luis Alberto del Paraná first connected her with the Dutch recording firm Phillips, allowing her now famous voice to reach the world. She told me that she had never forgotten that. Paraguay is a musical country, so it’s not strange that singers like Paraná and his group “Los Paraguayos” conquered the European musical market in the 1960s and have been recognized alongside the Beatles by Queen Elizabeth and the general public in London’s Albert Hall. 

The two best-known musical and folkloric genres in Paraguay are the polka with its very lively rhythm, based on a European beat, and the more recent guarania, with a slower cadence, clearly reflecting the Paraguayan character—sometimes wrapped up in a deep sadness or melancholy. In 1925, José Asunción Flores created the guarania, and Demetrio Ortiz immortalized the rhythm from exile with his iconic song “Recuerdos de Ypacarai” (Memories of Ypacarai), while Argentine composer Zulema de Mirkin wrote the words of the song without ever having seen the lake to which it refers.  The 1947 Civil War sent a generation of talented poets and musicians into exile, for the most part to Buenos Aires, including Flores and Mirkin. 

The verses of guarania songs generally involve love and breakups, hometowns, landscapes and feelings about the country expressed through melancholic singing. For many years, serenades were the customary way of conveying the state of one’s heart, but with increased urbanization, the serenade is becoming less popular. Still, it’s impossible to think of any party without the Paraguayan music that defines who we are and how we are. 


It’s not an exaggeration to say that Paraguay is its music. The 36-string  harp provides a resonance and register that give a unique sound to the country’s musical groups. The harp arrived with Catholic missionaries, probably of Celtic origin, but indigenous craftspeople adopted the harp—an instrument also used in other countries such as Mexico, Venezuela or Colombia—and gave it a very particular sound that is now exported throughout the world.

Music is not only tied to the country’s intrinsic spirit, but also to its two international wars. The first was known as the Great War or the War of Paraguay, a name that was given to it by the members of the Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) in 1870, and the Chaco War against Bolivia in 1932-35. Several songs with a clearly patriotic stripe make up the repertoire of all the groups and singers who sing about national themes. These songs recount battles lost or won and brave soldiers—songs created to raise the spirits of Paraguayan soldiers as they go into battle. In the 2011 Bicentennial of Independence, the country immersed itself in the songs and poems that recounted the rich history of Paraguay. It was a singular moment in our history that showed how music defines us as a people and as a nation. 

Paraguayan tunes such as “Mis noches sin ti,” “Lejanía,” “Pájaro campana,” “Galopera,” “Cascada” and  “Reservista Purahei” (copied by the celebrated Armenian-French singer Charles Aznavour in his song “La mamma”) form part of Paraguay’s classic repertoire, and folklore groups both in the country and in other Latin American countries frequently perform them.  

More recently, both poets and musicians searched for new themes that make reference to the past. Among them are several notable efforts that have described the problems of social inequity and great injustices in land distribution or in equal opportunity. These groups emerged in response to the long dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) as part of the “Nuevo Cancionero” (New Songbook) movement, giving rise to such songs as “Despertar” (Awakening), made popular by Mercedes Sosa. Rebellious, outspoken poetry has a long tradition in the country and many of its great voices—Elvio Romero, Teodoro S. Mongelós and Herib Campos Cervera— did much of their work in exile. Recognizing the power of song, the dictatorship persecuted these Paraguayan cultural expressions. 

Themes dedicated to the courtship of women also abound: listen, for example, to (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srJRYW8DRKs). One hymn of love is “Nde resa kuarahyame” by Teodoro S. Mongelos that says in its third stanza:

Ajuhu mba´e iporãva che py´a guive 
yvypórape omoïva jeguakáramo Tupã
ysyry rendaguemícha hovyü 
ha ipyko´ëva
vevuimínte ahëtuséva nde resa
Reikuaáma aarohoryva reikuaáma 
sapy´a amanoha ára ikatúne che ñoty
che rejántekena Mirna nde resa 
tosyry jepi anga che ári tapia 
nde resay.

Translated to Spanish:

He encontrado la hermosura
que entrañablemente quiero,
la que de ornamento puso
Dios en la faz de la tierra.

Como un cauce de arroyuelo
de cóncavo azul oscuro
suavemente besaría
esa sombra de tus ojos.

(I have found the beauty that I so desperately desire, that God put as an ornament on the face of the earth/ like the dark blue stream of a little brook, I would softly kiss the shadow of your eyes.)

Paraguay is a beautiful but harsh country that softens only through song. Its painful history seeps out in verses in Guarani and in Spanish that form part of the guarania movement like “India” or “Nde rendape ayu”… in it we recognize what we were, what we are and what we want to be.

Lizza Bogado is a Paraguayan folklore singer who has made more than fifteen records. She has performed widely in theatres, television and large concert venues in Paraguay and throughout the world. She is the composer of well-known songs in her native country such as “Un solo canto,” “Herencia” and “Paraguay mi nación guaraní.”

History: Jesuits and Beyond

Photo by Artur H.F. Barcelos

The Guarani territory shares a history marked by the presence of the Jesuits, as well as the violent tragedies of persistent wars.


Guaranis and Jesuits

Bordering the Spanish and the Portuguese Empires

By Tamar Herzog

The territory we currently identify as “Guarani” is presently divided between Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Although this partition of a community across national boundaries is a historical phenomenon more common than most assume, there is something particularly telling in this case. The location of the Guaranis near what would become a border between the rival empires of Spain and Portugal and then the various competing Latin American states was not accidental. Instead, it was directly related to who they were, how they came to be, and what were their relations with the powers that sought to dominate their territories from as early as the 16th century. 

The first Spaniards who arrived to the region in the 1530s registered the existence of various native groups with distinct denominations such as the Chandules, Carios, Tobatines, Guarambarenses, and Itatines (to mention just a few examples). According to their narratives, the members of these groups lived in an extended territory between the rivers Paraguay, Paraná and Uruguay. Spanish reports admitted that members of these groups were distinguished from one another, but nevertheless suggested that they shared sociocultural traits and a language. Subjected to encomienda (an institution that in theory sanctioned their work for Spaniards in exchange for conversion and military protection) the Guarani became allies first, vassals of Spain second. 

It was during this period—the late 16th century—that Spanish documentation began to categorize the members of these diverse groups as “Guarani.”  It was also during this period that, through their interaction with Europeans, the members of these groups enhanced their relations with one another, gradually forming a single community and a single language, now identified as “colonial” or “creole” Guarani.  Pervasive processes of mixing and cultural change also lead to the diffusion of some of these shared sociocultural traits and language to other individuals inhabiting the area, including descendants of Spaniards and mestizos. 

The emergence of “the Guarani” as a distinct human group was thus tightly connected to colonialism. It was further enhanced by the activities of the Jesuit order, whose members began in the 1600s congregating the natives of the region into missions.  By the end of the 17th century, there were some thirty such missions, with a total population of at least 100,000 natives. By the early 18th century, the geographical extension of this Jesuit enterprise was some 150,000 square miles (about the size of California). Nonetheless, while some historians portrayed the Guarani as passive receptors of European-imposed processes of change and ethnogenesis, a new historiography suggests that the Guarani were active participants in the developments that led to their formation, evolution, categorization and change. This new historiography further argues that their location in a contested area between rival powers and states greatly influenced the way these mutations happened because, by inhabiting a region that was to become a frontier, the Guarani had a greater freedom to negotiate who they were and who they would become. 

The best-known episode in this longer story of how territorial conflicts between empires and states allowed natives a greater independence and a greater agency were the events that followed the signing of the Treaty of Madrid in 1750. In that treaty, which determined how Spain and Portugal would divide the South American continent between them, the Spanish king promised to evacuate all the settlements that were founded on the territory recognized as Portuguese. Among other things, this promise implied the obligation to evacuate seven Jesuit missions with some 30,000 Guaranis. The treaty made special arrangements for this evacuation, specifying that the missionaries would abandon the missions with their residents (the Guaranis), who would thereafter be resettled elsewhere within the territories recognized as Spanish. While residents and Jesuits could take with them all moveable goods, the houses, buildings, churches and lands would remain intact and would be transferred to Portugal. 

Unsurprisingly, news of this agreement stirred an uproar.  Discussions regarding its legality and wisdom took place both in the Spanish court and the Americas. The Jesuits sent missives to the Spanish king, first asking him not to sign the treaty and then criticizing him for ignoring their plea. Natives residing in the missions also protested against the order of evacuation. In a famous letter dated 1753 and written in Guaraní, Nicolás Ñenguirú, leader of one of the Guaraní communities, asked the governor of Buenos Aires if the news was accurate. He suggested that outrageous as they were, the instructions must be the result of a Portuguese plot, not the genuine mandate of the Spanish king. After all, Spanish monarchs knew better. They had always thanked the Guaraní for their loyalty and service, and always promised them not only rewards but also protection. Under these circumstances, how could a Spanish king order an evacuation, which surely would cause the Guarani great harm, expelling them from their lands in order to give them to the Portuguese? How could the king mandate that they give away all that they had achieved by their labor? If such were the case, what was the point of bringing them to the mission in the first place? In his letter, Ñenguirú described the growing rage in his community and confessed that he could no longer control his men, who refused to listen to his explanations. But he himself was not clear of what he could say as he too did not understand how this could have happened. 

Many other Guarani leaders sent similar missives. They also corresponded among themselves and with the Jesuits, trying from as early as 1753 to coordinate a common response. This restiveness was probably the reason why, eventually, most Guaranis refused to abandon their villages. The Spanish and the Portuguese responded to this disobedience with violence, unleashing a war that took place between 1754 and 1756 and led to an enormous death toll and to the destruction and abandonment of most missions. Paradoxically, the difficulties in implementing the treaty of Madrid led to its annulment in 1761, leaving the territory of the Jesuit missions—now in ruin—under Spain. 

While many accused the Jesuits of instigating the resistance and indeed believed that they might have written or at least co-authored many of the letters attributed to natives, it is currently agreed that by the mid-18th century the Guaranis had sufficient knowledge and familiarity with things Spanish to write such letters as well as to initiate, organize and carry out resistance. Clearly, by that time, some Guaranis were not only able to read and write, but they also understood that letters were a means of communication as well as a channel to express grievances. Among native elites, there was also an acute awareness of what was at stake and which arguments could carry the day. There was sufficient native political articulation, with substantial collaboration among indigenous people living in different villages. For present-day historians, therefore, rather than attributed to Jesuit long-hand, these events testified to the existence of a Guarani body-politic with a potential for self-government. 

How the different Guarani groups acquired this identity, knowledge and grassroots organization is hard to ascertain. Certainly, the various groups shared many traits and communal existence before the arrival of Europeans. However, the presence of Spaniards contributed to the emergence of a Pan-Guarani identity that stressed what was common (rather than what was different). The use of Guarani as the lingua franca of this particular colonial world also led to homogenization, as did the arrival of missionaries and the subjection of many (although not all) Guaranis to a common religious teaching and a common daily discipline. Because of these processes, Guarani, which originally consisted of a family of spoken languages became a single, written language. The congregation in missions also allowed the settling of different Guarani groups in particular places, and the relationship between the diverse missions permitted the intensification of relations between these groups. But it is also possible that what allowed the Guaranis to be identified as a group and be distinguished from other natives was precisely their location on a territory contested among empires and crowns. 

Returning to the 1750 episode, the Guaranis who refused to evacuate the missions explained that they would rather fight than leave their lands to the Portuguese, whom they considered their enemies. Identifying themselves as vassals of Spain, the willingness of the Guarani to come to the missions in the first place was probably tied to Spain's rivalry with Portugal, as well as with other native groups allied with them.  In the missions, the Guaranis were protected from serving Spaniards (in encomienda or elsewhere) and received tools and instruction; they were also protected from captivity by slave traders from São Paulo, who in the early 17th century expanded their activities to the area the Guaranis inhabited. According to statistics mainly based on Jesuit reports, between 1628 and 1631, for example, some 60,000 mission Indians were captured by these slaving expeditions, which sometime were manned by as many as 2,400 individuals, both native and European. To resist these expeditions, from the 1630s Jesuits armed and militarily trained the Guaranis. The only army present on the border during the 17th and the early 18th century, Guarani soldiers were constantly sent to defend Spanish interests. This military involvement—mainly against the Portuguese—confirmed (to Europeans) the bellicose nature of the Guarani, but it also stressed their proximity to the border and their rivalry with the Portuguese. 

Despite claims that Guarani resistance to the evacuation of the missions in the 1750s confirmed the suspicion that they were disloyal to Spain, it is clear that the natives living in the missions initially identified their own interests with the persistence of Spanish presence. Not only did they resist leaving houses, crops and land, they also feared that if they fell under Portuguese control they might be enslaved and their communities dismantled. Yet, if in the 17th century the Guarani chose Spain, later they changed their minds. There are plenty of indications, for example, that during the war following the Treaty of Madrid (1754-1756) perhaps as many as 3,000 Guaranis who were disillusioned with Spain had transferred their loyalty to Portugal. They did so in groups and gradually, as they witnessed the unfolding of the drama that forced them to abandon their missions without clear destination and without royal assistance. 

Location on the border thus determined the way the Guarani would be defined and how they would act. Yet, contrary to common narratives, the border did not exist before the Guarani were created as a group, nor were prior-established Jesuit missions caught up in the struggle for hegemony between Spain and Portugal. On the contrary, both the Guaranis and the missions were the instruments by which Spain sought to exercise and increment its control. The reason the border between Spain and Portugal ended up passing back and forth in that region, therefore, was precisely the continuous struggle over the allegiance of the Guarani. It is clear, for example, that during the 18th century Jesuits expanded their territories (and, as a byproduct, those of Spain) by transferring some Guaranis to the eastern bank of the River Uruguay. This politics of population transfer to a territory whose submission to Europeans was not yet determined—it was unclear whether it would fall under one European power or the other—implicated the Guaranis in European debates. The Guaranis, furthermore, were not only to occupy the territory but also to patrol it against Portuguese pretensions. But if initially the Guaranis expressed strong anti-Portuguese sentiments, by the 1750s many of them felt betrayed by Spain (and Jesuits). Aware of these complexities, from the 1750s, the Portuguese attempted to attract these dissatisfied Indians by offering them better treatment, abundant gifts and certain privileges. The Portuguese also intensified commerce with these groups, promising their members that they would be allowed to remain in their villages. Here again, a population transfer had the potential to affect where the border would pass: in 1801 the seven missions became Portuguese not by virtue of a military conquest or an international treaty, but because of the initiative and consent of their Guaraní inhabitants, who now wanted to become Portuguese. 

Tamar Herzog is Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese History at Harvard University. She is also an affiliated faculty member at Harvard Law School and a Radcliffe Alumnae Professor. Her most recent book, Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2014), studies how boundaries were formed on the ground by neighbors and how the right to land was discussed, negotiated, obtained or denied.

Transformed Worlds

Missionaries and Indigenous Peoples in South America

By Artur H.F. Barcelos

Church ruins of San Miguel Arcangel. Recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO. Photo courtesy of Artur H.F. Barcelos.

View the photo gallery.

In 1610, a small group of Jesuits began what would become known as one of the largest indigenous evangelism experiences in colonial America. The effort began in Asunción in colonial Paraguay. 

For more than 150 years, indigenous groups who resided in the subtropical woods and forests of the La Plata River Basin were contacted by the Jesuits and came to live in nuclei called “reductions” or “missions.” The Jesuits evangelized many indigenous groups, but focused on the Guarani, speakers of Tupi-Guarani who, after a process of about 4,000 years of dispersion from the Amazon region, in the 16th century settled huge territories that now belong to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. For decades, historians, anthropologists and archaeologists have studied the process of evangelization that got prodigious results in a colonial America where indigenous people suffered strong demographic shrinking across the continent since the early years of the conquest. To have a somewhat clearer idea how the Jesuits and the Guarani sealed pacts that allowed the foundation of more than thirty reductions, it’s necessary to take a look at these historical agents. The Jesuit order, founded in 1539 by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spaniard from the Basque region, arose in the context of the Roman Catholic Church’s reaction to the growth of Protestantism in Europe. This order, from the start, was highly selective, attracting students from wealthy families and seeking men with demonstrated high intellectual abilities at their colleges and seminaries.. In just over ten years, the Jesuits already had thousands of members and considered themselves prepared for the great task of bringing Christianity to America's indigenous people, following in the footsteps of the Franciscans, Benedictines and Dominicans. In 1549, the first group of six missionaries arrived in Brazil, a colony of Portugal. It was the beginning of a long learning process in ways to approach and perform the conversion of the natives. 

A few years later, Jesuits were also sent to the Spanish colonies, reaching the Viceroyalties of Peru and New Spain. Cultivating their great political skills and connections, the Jesuits soon were able to establish colleges and manage urban and rural properties, participate in the internal trade of the colonies and thus able to finance forays to areas where the native peoples had not yet been Christianized. With their architects, geographers, musicians, theologians, astronomers and linguists, the Jesuits served as missionaries in almost all regions of America at the service of the kings of Portugal, Spain and France, but first of all loyal to the pope. 

The main goal of the Jesuits was to convert as many Native Americans as possible to Catholic Christianity. However, as they would learn in practice, and based on the experience of other orders, they realized that the best way to accomplish this would be to break with the ancestral traditions of indigenous tribes and introduce European customs and habits. Thus, the fight against polygamy, funerary practices, consumption of alcoholic beverages and, especially, the campaign against local spiritual leaders, provided some of the principal initial challenges. In contrast, the organization of traditional forms and use of space by indigenous people was also a focal point for the success or failure of the Jesuits. 

The missionaries made many mistakes before coming to understand the best ways to convince very different groups to accept a common proposal for a radical transformation of their lives. That was also the case of the Guarani living in the tropical and subtropical forests of South America. For thousands of years, these indigenous people had practiced a way of life based on extended families, composed of a patriarch and his household—his wife, daughters, sons, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and brothers - and sisters-in-law. These families, called Tevys, varied in size and could reach dozens of members. The Guarani economy was also organized within the families, including cultivating gardens deep in the woods. Corn, beans, squash, peanuts and cassava were the main crops. In addition to the seasonal collection of vegetables the Guarani also were devoted to hunting and fishing. 

The Spaniards used a word from a Caribbean indigenous language, cacique, to refer to the principal men of these families. Among these caciques, one man assumed, eventually, the political leadership of the village. His prestige, achieved through oratory and success as a warrior, in addition to his Tevy relations network, was the guarantee of political power. However, shamans or payés, spiritual leaders of the villages, had as much or more power than the chiefs and were central figures in Guarani culture. Healings and the interpretation of dreams, along with knowledge of medicinal herbs, allowed these shamans to influence groups through their inspirational speeches, delivered at parties and celebrations. The Guarani were recognized as skilled and proud warriors by the first Spaniards who encountered them. The Jesuits recognized the Guarani as the most prepared of the indigenous groups to be Christianized. This assumption of superiority and permeability to contact is still a complicated issue for the experts. It may have been a reflection of the Guarani ability to negotiate with the Spanish colonists and the Jesuits to survive amid the violence of the invasion of their ancestral territories.

Facing the resistance of the Spanish colonists, who sought in every way to exploit Guarani labor, the Jesuits managed to found reductions in three regions: in Itatim (part of the current state of Mato Grosso-Brazil), in Guaira (part of the current state of Paraná-Brazil) and at the Tape (part of the current state of Rio Grande do Sul). These were all areas of Spanish rule under the old Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. The main obstacle came from the Portuguese possessions in Brazil. The so-called Bandeirantes, from Sao Vicente and Sao Paulo, in their forays to find precious stones and metals, as well as slave labor, launched successive attacks against the Jesuits and Indian reductions, forcing a retreat to areas closer to the Spanish cities and towns. By 1640, the missionaries had settled with the Guarani—whom they had managed to convince to come along—near the Paraná, Paraguay and Uruguay River banks, far from the attacks of the Bandeirantes. Forty years later, the Jesuits returned to the Tape, after the 1680 founding of Colonia do Santíssimo Sacramento by the Portuguese on the banks of the La Plata River directly opposite Buenos Aires. This Portuguese gesture was considered a clear affront to the Spanish Crown. It was also a central point for smuggling goods into cities like Santa Fe, Cordoba, Corrientes, Asuncion and Buenos Aires itself. Sacramento became the focus of disputes spanning nearly a century.

In this context, the Jesuits decided to work in the Tape and created seven new reductions between 1682 and 1707. Added to 23 existing reductions, the total of 30 was mostly made up of Christianized Guarani. The first half of the 18th century witnessed a strong increase in the participation of Guarani reductions in the regional market of the La Plata River. The new reductions boosted the economy, contributing significant amounts of yerba mate used as an herbal tea by indigenous people and consumed widely in the Spanish cities, where the population was primarily indigenous or mestizo. Cattle farms also supplied reductions with meat, and hides were exported to European markets. The 30 villages, with some fluctuations caused by epidemics and the constant call of the Guarani to face the Portuguese, reached a high mark of 150,000 residents.

The Jesuits trained selected artisans and artists among the indigenous peoples and taught them new trades that awakened their latent talent for sculpture, woodwork, jewelry, painting and music. From this “courtyard of craftsmen” came tables, chairs, cabinets, sacred statues, paintings, silver ornaments, and musical instruments such as bass, horns, bassoons, harps, dulcimers, guitars, fiddles and flutes. The music was not just performed to delight the ears of the priests. Its role was much broader. It encouraged the religious observance, stimulated work in the fields, gave the last farewell to the dead and especially created the atmosphere for the great religious festivals held in the central square against the background of monumental churches facing single-story houses. One can imagine the effect that the incense smells, the lighting of torches and candles, the procession with the Patron Saint with music filling the air with melodic sacred chants had to the senses of the Guarani. 

These centers contributed to global evangelization. In addition to rural areas of crops, resorts, rodeos, and the paths that interconnected the reductions, the Jesuits also relied on large crosses and chapels to remind the native peoples of the Church's vigilant presence about their souls. Material benefits also provided incentives: the planting of cotton guaranteed the clothes and fabrics used for different daily tasks. Yerba mate, which previously had been cultivated in remote areas reached by the indigenous people in long and painful expeditions, began to be cultivated along the villages. The raising of sheep, mules and horses was added to the grazing of cattle. The Jesuits established ofícios de misiones, actually commercial and accounting offices, in the region's main Spanish cities, to take care of sales and purchases for the reductions with accurate records of all procedures. The Guarani themselves exercised civil administration of the villages, occupying public offices such as mayor and chief magistrate. The militia formed by the Guarani protected the reductions and served on several occasions as the reserve army of the Spanish authorities. The Jesuits faithfully paid their annual taxes to the state, while ambitiously expanding their activities inspired by their motto ad maiorem Dei gloriam—for the greater glory of God.

This wide network of villages developed broadly by 1750, a year that the Treaty of Madrid began to contribute to its downfall. The crowns of Spain and Portugal signed the treaty to end the uncertainty of their borders in the colonial world, throwing the areas occupied by the Guarani reductions into turmoil. Moreover, the reductions became political currency for the two Catholic sovereigns to exert their respective power. The treaty proposed that seven reductions on the eastern bank of the Uruguay River would be exchanged for Colonia del Sacramento. The monarchs thus intended to put an end to the conflict of interests in the La Plata River. Indians and Jesuits were ordered to move to lands west of the Uruguay River and the seven reductions would be delivered to the Portuguese with their entire building infrastructure.

Guarani resistance to the move led to the 1754-56 “War of the Guarani” that prevented the work of the Treaty of Madrid Demarcation Committees. Defeated, the Guarani then witnessed Spanish and Portuguese troops occupy their reductions. An iconographic map of the San Juan Bautista Reduction still exists in two versions from the occupation, one in the General Archive in Simancas, Spain, and the other in the National Library in France. Both provide valuable historical sources about Guarani reductions.

Even though Treaty of Madrid was annulled in 1761, the crisis it had triggered was enough to collapse the structure of the 30 Reductions and to shake the morale of priests and Indians. The campaign against the Jesuits, which increased every day on the European continent, gained momentum with the resistance of the Guarani to the treaty. The Jesuits were accused of collaboration and encouraging indigenous revolt and they soon faced retaliation. In 1759, they were expelled from all Portuguese dominions in Europe and America. In 1767, it was the turn of Spain to take the same action. More than 5,000 Jesuits from various parts of America were forced into exile, mostly in Italy. In the early 19th century. the remains of the old reductions were already a picture of decline and desolation. The Guarani were mingling into colonial society. The independence of the Spanish colonies, which began in 1810, contributed the incorporation of Guarani territory into the spaces of the new nations. Some reductions became towns; others remained in ruins amid the forests and fields of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Today, some of their remains are local tourist attractions, where they evoke a glorious past. However, the excitement visitors feel on seeing the ruins of imposing churches does not translate into an understanding of the historical destiny reserved for the Guarani and other indigenous peoples from other latitudes of America—peoples that today struggle to have their land rights recognized and their cultures preserved. As much as the Jesuits attempted to ensure the survival of Guarani who accepted the conversion and life in reductions, their extreme zeal and natural distrust of the political and intellectual abilities of the indigenous people did not allow a true emancipation.

Artur Henrique Franco Barcelos, a historian and archaeologist, teaches archaeology at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande—FURG, Brazil. He is a specialist in the history of the Jesuit evangelization in colonial America. He is the author of O Mergulho no seculum: exploração, conquista e organização espacial jesuítica na América espanhola colonial (2013) and Espaço e Arqueologia nas Missões Jesuíticas: o caso de San Juan Bautista. 

Jesuit Reflections on their Overseas Missions

From China to Paraguay

By Ana Carolina Hosne

Plan of the Reduction of San Juan Bautista, circa 1756. Collection of the National Library in Paris, Plans and Maps section. Image courtesy of Artur H.F. Barcelos.

When you think of Jesuits in their missions around the world, you—the casual reader—might not think of Plato or ancient Greek authors.  Yet two of these mission experiences—Paraguay and China—richly illustrate how the humanist tradition of the Renaissance with its emphasis on Greek and Latin classics influenced those faraway experiences through the lens of Plato's Republic. In particular, as John O’Malley has pointed out in The First Jesuits (Harvard University Press, 1992), this emphasis adopted by the Society was a new kind and degree of engagement with culture beyond the traditionally clerical subjects of philosophy and theology, and much of what they taught only indirectly related to the Christian religion as such.  

Jesuit school education in its Ratio Studiorum, i.e. Plan of Studies, which reached its final form in 1599, included a systematic study of Greek authors such as Demosthenes, Homer and Socrates in its humanities and rhetoric courses. As the Society’s missions expanded on a global scale, these authors would serve as an inspiration for the Jesuits to appraise, describe and appreciate their own mission spaces. More specifically, I focus here on how Jesuits turned to Plato’s Republic as a reference against which to assess different aspects of their missions in China and Paraguay.

Let’s look first at Paraguay. In 1604, the General of the Society of Jesus, Claudio Acquaviva (1543-1615), established the Province of Paraquaria, naming Diego de Torres Bollo as its first provincial, and key promoter of the Guarani settlements known as reductions—reducciones—in the Paraguayan province that encompassed the present-day republics of Paraguay, Argentina, the south of Brazil and Chile (Chile did not become part of the province until 1625). From the beginning, missionary activity in Paraguay focused on the foundation of reductions, i.e. settlements in which the Guaranis were organized into communities and indoctrinated into Catholicism, as well as protected from Brazilian slave traders. The native peoples were “reduced” or congregated in these communities to lead a “civic and human life,” which meant leaving their isolated huts, distant from one another and scattered across the mountains and valleys. Reductions themselves were not new, since they had already been implemented in the Peru mission. But in Paraguay they acquired other characteristics, for instance, that of a mixed economy, combining common areas of land with private property and production. 

Inspired by the reductions, Jesuit José Manuel Peramás (1732-1793) wrote a work in Latin, De administratione guaranica comparate ad Rempublicam Platonis commentaries, in his treatise De vita et moribus tredecim virorum paraguaycorum, edited in Faenza in 1793, immediately after his death. In each chapter, Peramás’ essay, “The Republic of Plato and the Guarani,” draws an analogy between the organization of the Guarani reductions and Plato’s Republic. In his view, Plato’s utopia, embodied in the reductions, had become possible thanks to the wisdom of the Catholic Church and the Spanish monarchy. 

Peramás draws attention to the combination of private plots and common areas of land in which every citizen worked for the community on certain days during the year.  This indeed reminds us of elements of the communal in the Republic dialogue, expressed in Socrates’ desire to achieve happiness for the whole city, and not just for a particular group. Peramás’s also shows how the polis, the city, and its urban organization are nothing but a physical realization of a “civil Christian society.” Music, dance and the arts, as well as “useful” arts such as carpentry, were essential for the instruction of citizens. As citizens, they could not be rulers of that civil Christian society. The number of magistrates among the Guaranis was that indicated by the Leyes de Indias. Since the Guaranis did not have terms to refer to these colonial posts, the Jesuits created translations in their language, Peramás explained in his essay.

Like Peramás in Paraguay, the Jesuits in China would also resort to Plato's Republic  to assess their mission in the Ming Empire. The China mission was established by two Italian Jesuits, Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), in the city of Zhaoqing, in Canton province, during the late Ming period. Ricci’s humanistic education at the Roman College provided him with useful tools to access the literati circles in China, which were to a great extent composed of scholar-officials, i.e. those who held posts in the Ming Empire (1368-1644). Their support, friendship and patronage were essential for the Jesuits to be allowed to stay on Chinese soil, in a mission in which they did not have a colonial power on their side. Over time, Ricci gained knowledge about the painstaking examination system to obtain these posts and become part of the imperial bureaucracy. Confucian learning was at the core of the training required for the candidates, who had to master the mandatory Four Books and the Chinese classics. This insight into the Chinese political system led Ricci to claim that China had accomplished what all the other nations could not; that is, the ideal of Plato’s Republic, embodied in the Confucian literati. He says:

[…] it raises admiration that these people who have never traded with Europe have achieved as much by themselves as we did in contact with the whole world; and I just want His Highness to assess this by evaluating their government, to which they put all their efforts and see in it so much light, leaving behind all the other nations; and if, to nature, God might want to add our divine holy Catholic faith, it seems that what Plato speculated on in his Republic, China put into practice.  (Pietro Tacchi Venturi SJ, Opere Storiche del P. Matteo Ricci S.I. Comitato per ler onoranze nazionali con prolegomena [Macerata: Giorgetti, 1911-1913], 2 vols; Letter to Giambattista Roman, Treasurer of the government in the Philippines, Zhaoqing, September 13, 1584, II, p. 45).

Moreover, it was the literati whose main concern was the good governance of the “Republic;” their main role as rulers made them completely different from those in other nations and, according to Ricci: 

… if we cannot say that in this kingdom the philosophers are Kings, at least we can certainly claim that Kings are governed by philosophers.” (Matteo Ricci, “Storia dell’Introduzione del Cristianesimo in Cina,” in Fonti Ricciane. Documento originali concernenti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazioni tra l’Europa e la Cina, 1579-1615, ed. Pasquale M. D’Elia [Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 1942-1949], 3 vols.: I, p. 36 ).

In sum, Ricci’s observations echo Plato’s Republic and the reasons why philosophers, because of their natural abilities and virtues, were fit to rule the city (Plato, The Republic of Plato. Translated with notes and an interpretive essay by Allan Bloom [USA: Harper Collins, 1969], Book VI, especially 485a-b). 

Putting these two missions, China and Paraguay, in perspective as well as the different analogies with the Socratic Republic dialogue that both of them inspired, allows us to reflect on the roles assigned to the Chinese scholar officials on the one hand, and the Guaranis, the citizens of the reductions in Paraguay, on the other. Matteo Ricci in China assimilated the Chinese literati, his peer group, as those who resembled the philosopher-kings of Plato’s Republic. They were not only a part of the empire; they ruled it, while in turn consummating western speculation on the roles assigned to philosophers in the Socratic dialogue.

In Paraguay, the Indians had been made the inhabitants of a city, the cornerstone of a harmonious civilized Christian community. This city, as described by Peramás, reflects what Angel Rama so brilliantly described in La Ciudad Letrada (The Lettered City) (Montevideo: Arca, 1998) regarding the development of an urban culture in Latin America. Rama sees the city, the baroque city, as a material, visible and sensitive manifestation of the colonizing—and civilized—order in which community life developed. And that city was ruled by a more assertive one within it: the lettered city, in turn the shelter of power and the executive of its commands in Spanish America, composed of a distinguished group of religious men, administrators, educators and a whole body of professionals all closely related to that power. The lettered city was, in part, the result of the need for the Christianization of a vast indigenous population, which was to be incorporated into the realm of European values, even though these populations did not believe in or comprehend them. 

This huge task, which required the help of these men of letters, could only be carried out in urban settings, inhabited by “citizens,” both serving an imperial project and strengthening its ties with the Crown. Following Angel Rama, we may suppose that in colonial Latin America the Jesuits belonged to the “lettered city,” as opposed to the colonized society, which “did not have knowledge of letters,” as Peramás indicates in La República de Platón y los guaraníes). Unlike the Chinese literati—Ricci’s friends—the inhabitants of the reducciones were not part of the lettered city, a city—and Republic—the Jesuits in Paraguay had created for them to live in.

Ana Carolina Hosne is a Marie Curie Experienced Researcher at the University of Heidelberg, Cluster Asia Europe. She is the author of The Jesuit Missions to China and Peru, 1570-1610: Expectations and Appraisals of Expansionism (Oxon: Routledge, 2013).

Imagining Guaranis and Jesuits

Yesterday's History, Today's Perspective

By Guillermo Wilde

Ruins of San Miguel Arcangel. Recognized as world heritage by UNESCO. Photo by Artur H.F. Barcelos.

Beginning in 1610, Jesuits founded a series of towns for indigenous peoples in the southern region of America. These towns, known as “missions” or “reductions,” achieved enormous territorial, demographic and political importance. In the first decades of the 18th century, Paraguay’s thirty missions became home to 140,000 indigenous residents.  They spoke the Guarani language for the most part, and it became the basic means for conversion to the Christian faith. 

Each reduction had two Jesuits, a priest and his companion, in charge of spiritual and “temporal” administration, helped by an indigenous elite who performed administrative and ecclesiastical jobs. These people could read and write in Guarani, Spanish and Latin. The priests strictly supervised all daily tasks, making sure that the natives fulfilled their obligations of attending mass and working in the farms, fields and ranches, which provided the basic goods for all the towns: corn, yucca, cotton, yerba mate and meat. Other activities also took place in mission workshops, where most of the sculpture and ornaments for churches were created.  Music too entered the lives of indigenous people in the missions; they both copied musical scores and manufactured several types of musical instruments. In one of the mission churches, Santísima Trinidad, a well-preserved frieze depicts angel musicians playing harp, violin, trumpet, claves and even maracas. We can only imagine the unique sounds that combined the music brought from Europe with the resonant elements of the earth. 

In spite of their apparent success, the reductions were afflicted time and time again by epidemics and devastating conflicts that decimated the population. Outbreaks of smallpox, measles and fevers constantly plagued the communities, causing many deaths. During all of the 17th century, slave-hunting adventurers from São Paulo conducted raids to capture native peoples from the missions, causing the early destruction of many of these towns. 

Religious expression was the chosen means to overcome the traumatic effects of these crises, and Jesuit teachings emphasized Christian forms of native devotions such as the cult of the Archangel Michael and the Virgin Mary. The Jesuits varied in their attitudes toward unorthodox indigenous religious expressions, sometimes rejecting such modes of worship and at other times assimilating them. Sometimes they promoted the incorporation of local visual and aural elements into the dominant Christian practice, ranging from church decorations to the celebrations of the liturgical calendar. Although the history of this experiment ended abruptly with the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish and Portuguese territories in 1767, the native peoples maintained their system of government in the missions and continued their devotional practices, at least until the civil wars that engulfed the region from 1810 on.  

Angel with maraca, a musical instrument. Photo courtesy of Guillermo Wilde.

Throughout the last three hundred years, historical literature and fiction have found a frequent theme in the missions. The Jesuits spread news about this distant corner of the American colonies through the European continent and provided valuable information about the natives with whom they had had contact.  Reacting to this information, the European public soon developed highly polarized opinions. While apologetic stances defended the missions as a noble experiment of civilizing the indigenous people who resided in the forest, the anti-Jesuit position perceived the religious order as exploiters of the natives who sought to create a kingdom independent from the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. The first stance was represented in the numerous letters and chronicles written by the Jesuits themselves and by a non-Jesuit book expressing great admiration for the Jesuit experience: Il cristianesimo felice (Happy Christianity, 1743) by Italian author Ludovico Muratori. Indeed, Jesuits exiled to Italy continued the defense of the missions long after the order had been expelled from the Americas. José Manuel Peramás, one of these Jesuits, wrote a striking text, La República de Platón y los guaraníes (Plato’s Republic and the Guaranis), in which he compared the virtues of the mission organization with the tenets of government established by the classic teacher of ancient times. Even anti-Jesuit authors such as Montesquieu and Voltaire would not begrudge praise for the Jesuit rule in the South American forests as a perfect expression of good government.

The ample 18th-century literature also included many anti-Jesuit voices that began to impose in Bourbon Europe a decided opposition to the power that the Jesuits had acquired in the previous centuries. The Marquis of Pombal in the case of Portugal and Count Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes in the case of Spain were among the order’s most vociferous opponents.  Both insisted that ambitious Jesuits were dangerously creating a state within a state, a flagrant threat to the Iberian crowns. Their opinions were heavily influenced by a renegade former Jesuit, Bernardo Ibáñez de Echavarri, author of El Reino Jesuítico (The Jesuit Kingdom, 1762), a book almost simultaneously published in Spanish and Portuguese. The author argues that the Jesuits had created an independent political organization among the Guaranis that had the Iberian crowns as its target. In the same period, a rumor was spread that in Jesuit Paraguay, a king called Nicholas I had been anointed with his image on coins especially minted to circulate throughout the region. Although the Jesuits systematically denied the allegations, a well-known cacique, Nicolás Ñeenguirú from Concepción mission, who had a decisive role in the so-called guerra guaranítica (Guarani War), was suspected of being Nicholas I. The cause of the war was the border treaty of 1750, in which the Spanish and Portuguese crowns agreed that part of the mission territory would now fall under Portuguese rule. The Guaranis rose up in arms to protest this decision and prevent the treaty from being implemented. Armed confrontations between the Guarani militia and the Portuguese-Spanish troops continued during 1754 and 1756, ending with the defeat of the Guarani after many deaths. This war spurred the enmity of the Iberian crowns against the Jesuits, who were accused of instigating the natives to resist the decisions of the monarchies.

Disputes about the nature of the governance of the missions continued during the 19th century. Various proponents of the romantic movements vindicated the Jesuits as creating a utopian society that Europeans ought to pursue as a model. For example, among German backers of the Jesuits was Eberhard Gothein, who published Der Christlichsoziale Staat der Jesuiten in Paraguay in 1887, comparing the Jesuit Guarani experience with the imagined utopia of Italian theologian Tommaso Campanella in his Civitas Solis. Years later, the reductions inspired the socialist ideas of Cunningham Graham, one of the founders of the Scottish Labour Party, who wrote the short book, A Vanished Arcadia, devoted entirely to the vindication of the Jesuits’ labor in Paraguay. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, Leopoldo Lugones published El Imperio Jesuítico, a well-known book in clear opposition to the Jesuits and subsidized by the Argentine government.Some years before, Paraguayan intellectual  Blas Garay wrote El comunismo de las Misiones de la Compañía de Jesús en Paraguay (Communism in the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay, 1897). The text grew out of a foreword that the author had written to the reissue of Historia de las misiones (The History of the Missions) by Jesuit Nicolás del Techo (written in 1687). With a harsh tone, Garay refers to the legacy of the missions as very negative in the history of the country. Years later, Maria Fassbinder, a German author, published Der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay (The Jesuit State in Paraguay, 1926) and Fritz Hochwaelder, an Austrian author, wrote Das Heilige Experiment (The Holy Experiment, 1941), both of which supported the Jesuit endeavors. In the context of World War II, the Swiss author Clovis Lugon published La république communiste-chrétienne des Guaranis (1609-1768). In the 1980s, the debate opened up again with the film The Mission, which presented a benevolent portrait of the Jesuits and their evangelical work among the Guarani. 

The cited examples illustrate the renewed interest in the missions over the course of the last century in which favorable apologies inevitably confront anti-Jesuit stances. Generally, the literature tends to conceive the missions as a “state,” “republic” or “empire,” from a political viewpoint, and as a “paradise,” or “utopia”  from a religious or philosophical viewpoint. French philosopher Michel Foucault referred to the Guarani missions as a “heterotopia,” a place or space of otherness that does not fit in with a hegemonic concept and functions in accordance with its own logic. 

If indeed the debates have been eloquent, the opposition of the opinions has tended to create an excessively simplified view of the internal situation of the missions over the course of time. The result has been to present missionary governance either as a beneficial and civilizing regime or an oppressive enslaving system. This narrow set of views has also impeded any analysis of indigenous participation and responses in the formation of the missions. The indigenous population was considered as homogenous and passive in that process.  The European debate about the missions appears, in this sense, very far from reality. Likewise, the insistence of the notion of a state in reference to the missions has tended to isolate them from the regional context in which they operated. In effect, the missions participated in a network of circulation of people and consumer goods in the River Plate region. Various Jesuit establishments traded products like yerba mate and leather hides throughout the entire region and had considerable influence in the policies of the colonial authorities. In turn, the Guarani natives participated in regional militia and helped the authorities in Buenos Aires and Asunción in different economic activities and in defense of the territory. 

The missions constituted an “imagined community” that over the course of 150 years incorporated very diverse populations that had to adapt to a single pattern of spatial and temporal organization. That meant that the people had to adjust to new technologies, ranging from those directly linked to the construction of buildings and food storage to that of writing or map-making, that did not previously exist in indigenous contexts. The introduction of a routine life in which attendance at church alternated with farm work clearly was a radical break from the traditional indigenous forms of organization of time and space. The process of transformation of the indigenous way of life was slow and prolonged, and the attitudes of the indigenous people toward the colonizers varied. Initially, many political leaders and shamans energetically resisted evangelization. Later, they devised strategies to negotiate their entrance into the missions and participated directly in the governance of the communities through institutions such as cabildos (administrative councils) and militias. In the political and economic circumstances that affected the region of Paraguay and the Plate River, the missions gradually transformed themselves into a space of refuge for much of the indigenous population and thus served as a vehicle to  reconstitute social and political ties and recreate native forms of religious identity. Although the mission residents could no longer practice their own religions as they used to, they adopted a type of Christianity sui generis, and they participated directly in the constant negotiations and readaptations that characterize the entire period. 

Guillermo Wilde teaches at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín and is a senior researcher at CONICET in Argentina. He is the author of Saberes de la Conversión: Jesuitas, indígenas e imperios coloniales en las fronteras de la cristianidad and Religión y Poder en las Misiones de Guaraníes (Latin American Studies Association Book Award, 2010).  

Total War in Indigenous Territories

The Impact of the Great War

By Milda Rivarola

Paraguayan prisoners (women and children). Photo courtesy of Milda Rivarola.

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The War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870) was the first total war on the American continent. Whether one uses the technical definition of German general Erich Ludendorff that involves a complete subordination of politics to war, leaving Paraguay with only two alternatives, victory or utter defeat, or if one uses the more ample definition of a total war as affecting the whole of society, economy and territory of a country, this war, also known as the Great War, engulfed the region.

Although it started and ended in indigenous ancestral territories, and directly or indirectly concerned a dozen pre-Columbian nations, studies on the Great War have forgotten these protagonists. Without taking any military initiative, the indigenous peoples ended up being the biggest losers of the tragic campaign.

This war pitted small Paraguay against the two South American powers—the former Brazilian Empire and the Argentine Confederation—and another small country, Uruguay. On December 1864, Paraguayan forces attacked Mato Grosso (1 on map, p. 64), with its small Brazilian towns (Corumbá, Miranda, Albuquerque) surrounded by Indian villages Kadiweu-Guaycurú, Xané-Guaná and Guato.

The war ended five years later in March 1870, with the defeat of Paraguay in Cerro Corá, state of Amambay, a wild region with hundreds of Guarani villages from the Mbyá Guarani, Avá Guarani and Paï Tavyterá tribes (4 on map). Unlike Mato Grosso Indians—who had casual encounters with the Portuguese—these Guarani had no contact with Paraguayan society except for clashes with yerba mate (Ilex Paraguayensis) harvesters, who had ventured into the region since the early 19th century.

Two other disputed areas, where there had been small battles, were also populated by natives. Large Nivaklé and Toba groups were living in the lower Chaco (2 on the map), from the banks of the Pilcomayo to the Bermejo River. The area did not experience Spanish (criollo) occupation until 1870. Guarani villages had also been settled in Candelaria on the left bank of the Paraná (3 on map) since the times of the Jesuit Missions.

After the war, both of these areas were left under Argentine rule. Even before the Paraguayans started selling public lands (1885-1890), the government of Buenos Aires sold land for the benefit of large producers of sugar, tannin essence and yerba mate.


In anachronistic readings, nationalistic writers boasted about how “their natives”  identified with the “national cause.”   However, the few military memoirs mentioning indigenous people provide a different account. Indeed, given that the emerging nation-states from the Rio de la Plata would be consolidated only after—and in part thanks to—this international conflict, it seems unlikely that the various indigenous communities, harassed like animals or in a fragile truce with local authorities, could feel any kind of patriotism.

On the Paraguayan side, the matter was even more complicated because of the Allied propaganda campaign, which described the enemy—Paraguay—in newspaper articles and campaign reports as “wild,” “Indian raiders,” or as an “Indian camp” army. More scholarly accounts explained the “blind submission” of the troops to Marshal Francisco Solano López as a consequence of the Guarani servitude in the Jesuit Missions.

Offsetting these allegations, Paraguay didn’t claim that indigenous people provided military support. However, some memoirs—such as those of Frenchwoman Dorotea Duprat de Lasserre, Brazilian Viscount Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay and Paraguayan geographer Hector F. Decoud—did describe contacts with the Guarani during the final stages of the war.

Uncontacted Guarani indigenous tribes living in the jungle were called Cainguá—without further distinction—by the Paraguayans. López established confinement camps for women such as Panadero (in what is now Canindeyú state) or Espadín in Mbya and Avá-Guarani territory. The Cainguá approached these camps to barter food with these starving women for clothes, jewelry and utensils. They also guided those who managed to escape from these camps to the Brazilian encampments.

At the same time, in exchange for substantial gifts, some individuals served the retreating Paraguayan army as skillful local guides (baqueanos) and spies (pomberos) in jungle trails that led to areas occupied by the Allies. During the last part of the journey (that took place in the forests and hills of what is now Amambay state), the Paraguayan army had to employ Paï Tavyterá guides from another large Guarani tribe also known as Kaiowá in the Brazilian Mato Grosso.

Some Indians from the Chaco region—such as the Guaycurú (Qom), traditional owners of the Paraguay River—had been providing services to the Paraguayan government since the times of the dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who ruled the country from 1814-1840. In their fast canoes, they also served as postmen between the fortress of Humaitá and Asunción in the early years of the conflict.

The role of indigenous people has been better documented in Brazil. Since the 18th century, the Mbayá-Guaycurú (Caduveo or Kadiweu) and the Chané-Guaná (Terena, Guaná) from southern Mato Grosso fought against the Portuguese occupants of the Pantanal. But after a hard initial resistance, the Guaycurú agreed to a peace treaty with them at the end of the colonial times. 

Their attacks on Paraguayan criollos and Guarani Indians had no truce, however. Warlords and aggressive horsemen, they attacked Paraguayan villages regularly, stealing cattle and capturing slaves. The toponymy of the north (Apa, Aquidabán, Agaguigó) recalls its ancestral sovereignty. Hostility worsened with increased persecution by dictator Rodriguez de Francia and with the support of Brazilians who gave them guns and bought their loot such as cattles and horses. 

Some Guaycurú Indians, known as “Captain Lapagate’s men,” carried out a weak resistance to the 1864 Paraguayan invasion of Coimbra. Together with Brazilian villagers and slaves, a Guaná group from the Mission of Bom Conselho was captured and taken to Paraguay, where few survived the end of the war. This tribe also began ambushing and attacking Paraguayan convoys, stealing horses, weapons and food.  

The Guaná and Guaycurú harassed the new invader: in two clashes of 1865, the Terena took eleven Paraguayan lives and kept their cattle. That same year, an armed group of Kadiweo-Guaycurú commanded by a Brazilian officer plundered San Salvador, taking weapons, ammunition and women. The plunder was not—as noted by military chroniclers—the smallest of incentives for indigenous warlike fervor.

The group also led the displaced inhabitants of Miranda, Coimbra and Albuquerque to the hill ranges, helping them until the Imperial army could retake the area. The Kadiweo-Guaycurú and their Brazilian officer acted as expert guides and advance squads to the Brazilian military in a sparsely mapped area; their watchmen reported on Paraguayan troop movements and performed the toughest tasks such as digging trenches and graves, opening footpaths and loading war materials.

At the end of the war, the Kadiweo—equipped with modern weapons provided by the Empire—even protected the area of Rio Blanco (south of Coimbra) and Villa de Miranda, and were responsible for overseeing the banks of Alto Paraguay, amid fears that the remainder of the Paraguayan army could cross to the Mato Grosso.  


Indigenous peoples suffered many casualties during the war, but there were also tangential longer-term casualties. Smallpox swept the Brazilian troops in Mato Grosso, and soon there was a massive outbreak amongst their allies Terena and Guaycurú, who were physiologically more vulnerable to the disease. These communities experienced higher mortality, especially because frightened indigenous soldiers abandoned the battlefront, and carried the epidemic to their villages.

Two years after the end of the war, Brazilian reports mention the “remains” of the great Guaycurú nation on the left bank of the upper Paraguay River, the Chamacoco on the opposite bank, and a few Guato survivors on the banks of the San Lorenzo river. And only “remains” are mentioned because these “nations were cruelly decimated by the smallpox epidemic.” 

The Paraguayan War was a watershed for the Mato Grosso indigenous people. Brazilian criollos, led by former combatants of that same war, later colonized their vast territory. The ancestral territories Mbayá-Guaycurú and the Chané-Guaná were sold off, and these former nomads were forced to settle into indentured servitude (cativerio)  on cattle ranches and  rubber or yerba mate plantations, as well as railroad building.

An old Terena leader  said ironically that indigenous people were rewarded  for defending the borders of Brazil with “Tres botines, duas no pé e uma na bunda” (Three boots, two for the feet, and one in the butt [Eremites de Oliveira & Marques Pereira, 2007]).

In Paraguay, the war continued the expropriations begun by President López two decades earlier. At that time, he had issued a decree confiscating all the lands and communal cattle from 21 indigenous—mainly Guarani—villages. The uncontacted Cainguá, Guarani Indians living in the forests also suffered the permanent loss of their territories. From 1885 on, post-war governments did their cruel “civilizing” work, selling off that vast territory to the Industrial Paraguaya, Mate Larangeira and other yerba mate or livestock companies.

It wasn’t until a century later that the Paraguayan state would create an office to take care of indigenous affairs (INDI), securing small plots of land to Mbyá, Paï Tavyterá and Avá Guarani communities, negligible portions within their huge ancestral territory. On the outskirts of the place where the war ended (Yasuka Venda, 80 kilometers away from Cerro Corá) the Sacred Site of the Paï Tavyterá stands today. According to the Guarani cosmology, it was on that hill where the Father Creator Ñanderuvusú, in ancient times, gave rise to the world, now lost to them.

Milda Rivarola is a Paraguayan historian and political analyst. She is the author of several books, including Obreros, Utopías & Revoluciones, La Contestación al Orden Liberal, La Polémica Francesa sobre la Guerra Grande and Vagos, Pobres y Soldados.

History and Myth

Nicolau Sevcenko, in memoriam

This excerpt is published in memory of Nicolau Sevcenko, a Harvard professor and international expert on Brazilian cultural history, who passed away on August 13, 2013.  Focused in São Paulo avant garde, seduced by the most daring cultural practices of native people, such as ritual cannibalism—shared by different ethnic groups of the zone, tupi, guarani, ecc—this excerpt treats a creative way in which this pre-Columbian past is incorporated into a regional or national “identity”—Nicolau Sevcenko, Orfeu extático na metrópole. São Paulo, sociedade e cultura nos frementes anos 20, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1992. Fragments from Chapter 4 “Da história ao mito e vice-versa duas vezes.”


It’s well known that Blaise Cendrars inadvertently set off the “rediscovery of Brazil.” Following his example and seeking to make Río de Janeiro and the historical cities of Minas Gerais better known, Olívia Penteado had formed a group made up of Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral, René Thiollier and Godofredo da Silva Telles. In Río, Cendrars often visited the favela’s hill on his own and became friendly with Donga, Manuel Bandeira and a bunch of young people from “Cinema Poeira,” “a club for select black folk,” In the public jail in Tiradentes, Minas Gerais, he met a prisoner accused of murder and cannibalism, whose story, which included reflections on the meaning of ritual cannibalism in tribal communities, he would relate in his 1926 book Elogio de la vida peligrosa [Eulogy for a Dangerous Life]. For the poets on the trip and for Tarsila, the itinerary would reveal the historic, ethnic and cultural roots that they eagerly sought to give substance to their modernist perspective. From these trips they would derive the impressions, stimulations and images that would seek a fusion between modern languages and the national theme, which Oswald de Andrade dubbed the Movimiento Pau-brasil (Aracy Amaral, Blaise Cendrars no Brasil e os modernistas, São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1968, pp. 39-77).  The way this entire process started has been summed up clearly by Paulo Prado, who followed it closely and thoroughly. In the preface of a poetry collection, Pau-brasil by Oswald de Andrade, he notes its specific dedication “to Blaise Cendrars, on the occasion of the discovery of Brazil”: 


The poetry “pau-brasil” is Columbus’ egg, this egg [...] in which no one believed and ended up making the man from Genoa rich. Oswald de Andrade, in a trip to Paris, from the height of an artist’s workshop in the Place de Clichy—the center of the universe—discovered, amazed (deslumbrado), his own land. The return to his homeland confirmed, in the enchantment of his manuelinos, the surprising revelation that Brazil existed. This fact, which some had already suspected, opened his eyes to a radiant vision of a new world, unexplored and mysteriosu. The “pau-brasil” poetry had been created. (Paulo Prado, “Poesia pau-brasil”, in Oswald de Andrade, preface to Pau-brasil, São Paulo, Globo, 1990, p. 57.)


The publishing house Au Sans Pareil, headed by Cendrars, issued the book in Paris in 1925 (Aracy Amaral, Blaise Cendrars no Brasil e os modernistas, op. cit., p. 73). But the previous year Oswald de Andrade had already elaborated a “Manifesto of the Pau-brasil Poetry,” published by the Correio da Manhã, shortly after the “discovery” trips. The tone was grandiose and axiomatic, as was usual with the “manifesto” genre. The idea was to forge a synthesis composed of  historical, modern, ethnic, tropical, national symbols that would produce the joint final effect of “Brazilianness.” Isolated elements were juxtaposed with others, and emphasis placed on demonstrations of strong elements that brought these qualities together: music, dance, fiestas, food delicacies, sex and religion; instinct, emotion and myth. 

Poetry exists in the facts. The slums of saffron and ochre in the greens of the favela under the cobalt blue sky are aesthetic facts.

The Rio Carnaval is a religious fact for the race. Pau-brasil. Wagner succumbs in the face of the Botafogo samba schools. Barbaric and our very own. The rich ethnic formation. The richness of the vegetation. The rich ethnic formation. The vegetable richness. Minerals. Cooking.  Vatapá. The gold and the dance.

The missiles of elevators, cubes of skyscrapers and the redeeming solar laziness. Praying. Carnaval. The intimate energy. He knew. Hospitality a bit sensual, loving. The nostalgia of the herb brews and the military aviation fields. Pau-brasil.

Naive barbarians picturesque and tender. Newspaper readers. Pau-brasil. The jungle and the school. The National Museum. The cuisine, minerals, dance. The vegetation. Pau-brasil. (Gilberto Teles, Vanguarda européia e modernismo brasileiro, apresentação e critica dos principais movimentos vanguardistas, Petrópolis, Vozes, 1972, pp. 203-208.)  

Mário de Andrade in Clã do jabuti, published in 1927 with a compilation of poetry written in 1924, brings together in an even more blatant way symbols and national representations, which are seen as strengthened by the attractive rhythmic sense and vernacular musicality of the verses. In the long and complex poem “Noturno de Belo Horizonte,” written just after the excursions of “discovery,” the poet constructs a mythic image of Minas Gerais, conceived as a symbolic epitome of the nation. Explored and populated by people from São Paulo, the cosmogonico of the historic space of the legendary explorers, of the struggle against the greed of the foreign invaders, as seen in O contratador, this region is far from the coast and incrusted in the wilderness, solidly associated with the rocks, the minerals, the mountains, the elevations, the churches and the towers, which represent at the same time a São Paulo from the perspective of long-ago purity and something more that is no longer São Paulo, but its incorporation and association with the nucleus of the body of the nationality, in the center of interior  wilderness, radiating a pure authentic spirit and filtering out interferences and alien contamination. Particularly strong is the culmination of the poem with the liturgical symbol of water falling from the high rocks with its endless mythic reverberation. 
Mas não há nada como histórias para reunir na mesma casa...
Na Arábia por saber contar histórias
U’a mulher se salvou...
A Espanha estilhaçou-se numa poeira de nações americanas
Mas sobre o tronco sonoro da língua do ão
Portugal reuniu 22 orquídeas desiguais.
Nós somos na Terra o grande milagre do amor.

Nós somos na Terra o grande milagre do amor!
E embora tão diversa a nossa vida
Dançamos juntos no carnaval das gentes,
Bloco pachola do “Custa mas vai!”
E abre alas que Eu quero passar!
Nós somos os brasileiros auriverdes!
As esmeraldas das araras
Os rubis dos colibris
Os abacaxis as mangas os cajus
Atravessam amorosamente
A fremente celebração do Universal!

O bloco fantasiado de histórias mineiras
Move-se na avenida de seis renques de árvores...
É o delírio noturno de Belo Horizonte

Dorme Belo Horizonte
Seu corpo respira de leve [...]
O ar da terra elevada
Ar arejado batido nas pedras dos morros
Varado através da água trançada das cachoeiras,
Ar que brota nas fontes com as águas
Por toda parte de Minas Gerais.
(Mário de Andrade, Poesias completas, São Paulo, Circulo do Livro, 1976, pp. 162-165.)

The year after Mário de Andrade published Clã do jabuti, Oswald de Andrade returned to action with a text that radicalized previous positions, “Manifiesto antropófago” (Cannibal’s Manifesto). The subjects and style are similar to those of the first manifesto: what one perceives now, however, is an intensification of a militant attitude, which goes from an axiomatic tone with a decisive attitude to an uncompromising one. Nationalism acquires overtones of xenophobia. “Tupi or not tupi, that is the question.” “But those who came were not crossbred. They were fugitives from a civilization we are eating, because we are strong and vindictive like the tortoise.” Moreover, calls for the celebration of instinct, euphoric sensuality and a mythic identity were heightened. “A participative consciousness, a rhythmic religiosity.” “Against all importers of canned consciousness. The palpable existence of life. And the prelogic mentality so Mr. Lévy-Bruhl can study it.” “But we never admit the birth of logic among ourselves.” “We can only attend the prophetic world.” “Caribbean instinct.” “We were never catechized. What we did was Carnaval.” “The magic and life.” “Before the Portuguese discovered Brazil, Brazil had already discovered happiness.” “Happiness is proof of the nines.” “In the matriarchy of Pindorama.” 

The tone is so obviously and so worrisomely Jacobin for it evoked xenophobic campaigns of political destabilization at the critical beginning of the Republican period, in that delicate moment when the crisis in the coffee economy had just been perceived, prompting the authorities to counterattack by mobilizing writers affiliated with the PRT, a move that touched off an authentic battle of manifestos. At this point, nationalist agitation was so strong, mobilized and inflamed by both sides, that it was no longer a matter of confronting nationalism with cosmopolitanism, as in the period of consolidation of the regime, but of setting off a struggle between a nationalism with an assimilationist bent and another that was uncompromising. The text that most clearly assumes the official current was the manifesto of “verde-amarelismo” or of “Escola da anta” (Tapir School), titled “Nhengaçu verde-amarelo” (1929), behind which were Cassiano Ricardo, Guilherme de Almeida, Menotti del Picchia and Plínio Salgado. The manifesto makes clear the black-or-white views that the nationalist debate had taken by identifying “intolerant” adversaries with the negative model of the tapuia Indian who could never be assimilated and representing themselves in the form a friendly figure, open to the crossbreeding and influence of the Tupi. In response, this “tapir” group established the myth of mestizaje—the interbreeding that integrates, and whose ideological basis would be found in the works of José Vasconcelos, who had articulated the movement of Mexican muralism and in his vision of a “fifth race” or a “cosmic race” as a fulfillment of the manifest destiny of Latin America. It is only now, strangely, that this race would be exclusively Brazilian, that it would have developed between the basins of the Amazons and the River Plate and that it would achieve universal harmony “through the centripetral force of the Tupi element.” (Teles, Vanguarda européia e modernismo brasileiro, op. cit., pp. 233-239.)

The Brazilian poetry has been left in the original as a reminder of the language that our friend Nicolau Sevcenko taught and appreciated so much. Rest in peace. 

See also: Brazil

Book Talk

Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of New Architecture

Transforming Cities through Architecture

Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of New Architecture
By Justin McGuirk
New York: Verso Books, 2014, 288 pages 

Growing up in the midst of the Irvine Company's unimaginative southern California, without exposure to anything other than strip malls and suburban tract homes, I was left with a perspective that sees architecture as a foreign concept reserved for big cities and museums. Seeing ugly buildings in a place bereft of architects filled me with a sense of disgust of/for buildings, and I would dream of ways to eliminate concrete from a specific geography back into grasslands. 

I continued feeling this way when I repeatedly visited my birthplace in Mexico City and when I traveled to London, Paris and Rome in 1988 as a thirteen-year-old street surfer. I longed to be out of the dust of the Roman Coliseo and the rococo schmaltz of the French Versailles and I begged my parents to let me stay underwater in Elba. They were the first to try to get me to understand all the things that Justin McGuirk tells in Radical Cities about architects like Le Corbusier but it passed me by. 

Even today, the thought of investing time and interest in established architects like Le Corbusier, or even Gaudí or Barragán, seems decades beyond what matters to me in an unequal society. This is, however,  where  Radical Cities begins to penetrate. McGuirk poses a circular dilemma: The corruption in the skybox in Latin America is such that it is impossible to maintain an egalitarian society at the street level where humans need housing. Under these corrupt systems, there aren’t any architects, or there aren’t enough resources for the few architects willing to build affordable housing for these individuals. So the people at the street level begin to create informal and scalable housing projects that then threaten the tranquility of the folks in the skybox. 

McGuirk found several instances in Latin America where the circular dilemma was tested with creative thinking and cerebral resistance. The book is structured to simply flirt with the narratives of creativity and resistance and move on to the next instance. The first chapter begins to tell of Milagros Sala and the Túpac Amaru movement in northern Argentina, and the pattern set by McGuirk inspires the reader to imagine what might come next in Venezuela or Brazil or Mexico or Chile— all places suffering from mass inequality and classism but also benefiting from enormous fountains of creativity and its daughter, critical thinking.

The book gains in interest when the characters are as compelling as their acts of resistance. None is more inspiring than Milagros Sala, but next in line is the former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus. After the narrative failed to compel me in Chile, Brazil and Venezuela, McGuirk's stop in Colombia brought me back to the pages. The dilemmas of the Colombian people and the solutions posed by Mayor Mockus are legendary. The time spent away from buildings and trams and spent on cultura ciudadana and Mockus’ “shared vision of the city”  allows the reader to apply the principles learned in their own context without needing a degree in architecture or urban planning. 

Upon completing the book, I posed a question to the author via email:

“Your book tends to compare and contrast opposites under the premise of: Who benefits? Most thinkers end up in the grey but the raw numbers always have the bourgeois political class benefiting over the folks on the street. I know that in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and México, this is the case. Regardless of any activist architects making a move to attempt to balance the scale. Is this the same in a country like Norway where income equality is less obvious and the GDP PPP seems more balanced?” 

I came to this question because early in my Latin American life I questioned why there was so much informality in Mexico. My parents would oftentimes joke that the answer was because there were Mexicans in Mexico. But upon rejection of that sarcastic answer, I would be told that Mexico, or Venezuela for that matter, is not Norway, or Sweden, and you can’t try to turn Mexico into Norway no matter how hard you try.

McGuirk wrote me back:

“Well, Norway is a very particular example. It’s the last of the extremely wealthy social democracies, with a small population and very limited poverty. It’s difficult to compare it to Venezuela, another oil-rich nation but with massive poverty. If I understand your question correctly I think the answer is 'neoliberalism'. Neoliberal politics have been devastating to cities around the world, not just in Latin America. But the shift in Latin American cities to a laissez-faire, free market urbanism (coupled with mass urban migration) has resulted in the segregation of millions in the slums. I don’t think activist architects can affect this situation on their own. But I do think the case studies I document have valuable lessons in terms of how one can integrate and rehabilitate the informal city, and create a more equitable urban life. The key role of the activist architect for me is not just to propose design solutions but to be a conduit connecting government to disenfranchised communities. I don’t think urban equity can be achieved solely through bottom-up initiatives or top-down planning. I truly believe that citizens need to be involved and empowered, but their energy needs to be harnessed to government resources and strategic planning. Citizens can build their own housing but they cannot self-organize a transport network or a sanitation system.”

As intelligent as McGuirk is in his response, once having read about Milagros Sala and the Túpac Amaru movement in Radical Cities, I get the sense that while the formal city structure gets in the way of forward progress, the right approach to self- organization is found in their methods. So, I posed a follow-up question to McGuirk:

“Have there been any efforts to replicate the state within a state strategy of Milagros Sala and the Túpac Amaru movement?”

He replied,“Not that I know of. I mean it’s not really a state within a state, it’s just that their efforts at self-organization were so ambitious and comprehensive that they ended up providing services that traditionally the state would provide—healthcare, security, employment, charity etc. In a way it’s a testament to how disillusioned that community was with the local politics. One has to bear in mind that they also felt disenfranchised for ethnic as well as social reasons—i.e. being both Kolla Indian and poor. The reason it’s interesting to me is partly because of the scale of their achievements—community self-organization normally results in smaller initiatives like a community garden, not the creation of a whole fully functioning community. I think this comes down to them having an exceptional and charismatic leader. The other reason why it’s interesting is that it avoids property ownership and rising land values generally as a tool of social mobility. Across the world governments have been keen to sell off state-built social housing to give the poor more capital power (to make them better consumers in a sense) but this avoids that, empowering Túpac Amaru members through civic pride, employment, a sense of community etc. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but there’s a lot to learn from potentially. Should governments give communities more power instead of relying on the private sector to build housing? In my opinion, yes.”

There are moments in the book where you think the primary topic is architecture. Then, it moves to city-making. Then, it moves, rightly in my opinion, to the characters creating change within those cities. Whatever interests the reader most is relative, but in terms of format, the book begins with images of Tlatelolco and Buñuel’s Los Olvidados and ends with an architect named Teddy Cruz in a contract with Antanas Mockus looking out at Tijuana and San Ysidro while housed on the fourth floor of San Diego’s city hall. Two completely different visuals.

Radical Cities inspired me. Were I an editor at Verso Books, I would have reduced the case studies to the ones that were the most uplifting and detailed them for the calls-to-action of subjugated communities worldwide. But, like one of the characters in the book, I am “addicted to the taste of potential change.” Armed with this knowledge, where would I start? McGuirk poses a deep question arising from a character describing the Mexican- American border as the “Political Equator:” “Can the U.S., which has exported a pernicious neoliberal culture to the continent below it, gain something less destructive in return?” 


 Sergio C. Muñoz is a Mexican artist working in the surf culture of southern California at Intelatin. His latest project is called Gamma Rae in the Americas. It is crafted for the benefit of DACA Dreamers in the USA. Twitter: @Intelatin

Doña Lucía: La Biografía no Autorizada

For the Love of Lucy

Doña Lucía: La Biografía no Autorizada
By Alejandra Matus
Santiago de Chile: Ediciones B, 2013, 279 pages

The day Lucía Hiriart returned to her native Chile from Ecuador in 1959 was not a happy one. With five young children in tow, she and her husband Augusto Pinochet had just spent three and a half years on assignment in Quito, while Augusto, a young Army captain, served as an instructor in the newly founded War Academy in that country. The mission was seen as a promotion for the career officer, who was struggling to advance in the ranks while raising a family. His wife's parents had little affection for a person they deemed beneath their daughter. Not only was he eight years her senior but also a man of arms in a society deeply suspicious of the military. Yet the marriage somehow endured. Quito, however, proved disastrous for the young couple. Pinochet pursued an active social life while his wife remained at home with the children. Such was the allure of his new job—and a much appreciated salary in U.S. dollars—that he eventually broke his marital vows and pursued other women until his wife threatened to denounce him before his superiors. Knowing that unmarried or separated men (Chile had no divorce until 2004) had little chance of promotion within the Chilean military, she was able to reign in her husband’s philandering, but the marriage had noticeably soured. In every subsequent fight whenever angered, she would unleash her festering resentment for the indignities she had suffered by calling the man who would come to brutally rule Chile by a simple phrase: “milico de mierda.” 

Doña Lucía: La Biografía No Autorizada is Alejandra Matus’ effort to show Lucía Hiriart, a controversial yet cultured woman who ruled Chile alongside her husband with scorn for her adversaries, in a new light. Obsessed with virtuosity, piety and good manners, “Lucy” as she was called by friends, was much more instrumental in driving her husband to the edge than previously believed, based on documents and interviews with witnesses and relatives. “I never thought that the plump nice lady of the first days in power would reveal herself to have such a mean character,” said a former government official. Some saw her as Pinochet’s personal right wing, even forcing her husband to break with protocol in public events to greet her first as Head of the Feminine Organizations before any other member of the ruling Junta. “This is war,” she would declare, “and everything is permitted. Had it not been them, it would have been us.” Lucía was especially cruel to those she knew. Anyone who crossed either of them would receive no sympathy.

Matus, a 2010 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, is a well-respected Chilean journalist with many notable books to her credit. Chief among them is El Libro Negro de la Justicia Chilena (2009)—banned right after publication—that focused on the shady dealings of the Chilean judiciary. Servando Jordán, the Supreme Court Minister who invoked a state security law to forbid the book from circulation, accused the author of slander and contempt of court. In response Matus sought refuge in the United States where she was granted political asylum. Two years later the Chilean Congress approved a new law on the press in 2011, allowing the author and the book to circulate freely in Chile.

Doña Lucía has seven chapters that follow a chronology of the Pinochet-Hiriart marriage and discloses little known details about the couple and their disagreements. Perhaps the most revealing is the intimate tension besieging the underachieving husband and the overambitious wife throughout their lives. She hailed from a prestigious family of lawyers and politicians, was raised in an elite school, the daughter of a senator, while he was merely the son of a customs officer and a housewife, and had barely managed admission to the Military Academy on his third try. Augusto had married up, was content with earning a salary in uniform, and was well aware that climbing the ranks beyond colonel would be difficult for an infantryman. Lucía, however, wanted more. She had overcome her parents’ reservation about her choice of husband but only for the opportunity to achieve glory and fame, and if her husband was slow to pursue the perks of power, she would be right there to whip his insecurities into obedience for the sake of her ambition. 

The author depicts Augusto as indecisive but astute in the days leading to the rebellion against President Salvador Allende, unsure of the final outcome but swift to eliminate any opposition to his leadership as events unfolded. From Matus’ account, it is Lucía who emerges as the influential partner in defining a new attitude after the military coup of September 11, 1973. Women were destined to heal the nation and assist in its reconstruction, she insisted, and she would lead the charge in that direction by becoming the beacon for morality and discipline. She seemed oblivious to her family’s own extravagances.  No man or woman in the military or government who abandoned his marital duties—or imperiled those of others—would remain unpunished. For that she needed access to the best intelligence she could get. Everyone would be accountable to her. To make sure that got done and to prevent other women from approaching her now powerful husband, she forged a close relationship with Colonel Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda, the nefarious head of the División de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), the secret police. Contreras became a powerful ally while she kept the other military wives of the Junta at bay. She was to preside over all of them—as her husband’s army branch was to prevail in protocol over all military branches. Knowing full well that a place in doña Lucía’s heart (and fears) was the best life insurance for the ambitious spymaster, Contreras encouraged her paranoia with conspiracies large and small that only he could unravel. For his loyal service he was never to lose her trust.

The book reveals in detail how Lucía used the CEMA foundation to expand her reach in public affairs. She had been appointed head of this organization that cared for women and children, but she looked beyond its boundaries to exert more influence in other matters. Rules were modified or eliminated to accommodate her demands for protagonism. She traveled, served her husband’s government as an arbiter of good taste and even fantasized of becoming a Chilean Eva Perón. “She was active and efficient,” claimed an insider, “but also impulsive and demanding. No one would overshadow her for fear of provoking her wrath.” Others disagreed with this assessment stating that Pinochet simply used Lucía to accomplish objectives of his own while leading her to believe that he was acting at her behest. He was quoted as saying that “one may yield on tactics but never on strategy.”

For historians, the book offers a complementary look at the intimate life of the family who ruled Chile’s dictatorship during its most calamitous period. It gives them and the general readers important insights into the personal tensions that drove Augusto and Lucía as they ascended to power while trying to control a progeny that had ambitions of its own. But their moment of personal glory was not interminable. Although they were able to amass a considerable fortune at the expense of the country, they also endured the humiliation of being arrested while visiting a foreign country, and the humiliation of seeing everything they had built come tumbling down.  Lucía survived her husband’s passing in 2006 only to witness her influence and fortune taken away by the government, revealing her own corruption in the process. A sad spectacle a whole country has had to endure in the pursuit of justice.


Pedro Reina Pérez, a historian, journalist and blogger, was the 2013-14 DRCLAS Wilbur Marvin Visiting Scholar. He is a professor of Humanities and Cultural Agency and Administration at the University of Puerto Rico. Among his books and edited volumes are Compañeras la voz levantemos (2015), Poeta del Paisaje (2014) and La Semilla Que Sembramos (2003). More at www.pedroreinaperez.com

Cosmopolitan Desires: Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America

Empathic Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitan Desires: Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America
By Mariano Siskind
Northwestern University Press, 2014

In January 2015, shortly after terrorist attacks in Paris, the slogan “Je suis Charlie” began to circulate on Twitter and to appear on demonstrators’ signs in Paris and throughout the world.  The protests expressed support for the twelve dead at the offices of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and often for the four hostages murdered at a kosher supermarket two days later. Charlie Hebdo had been explicitly targeted for the magazine’s satirical cartoons featuring drawings of the Prophet Mohammed. The related slogans, “Je suis juif,” and “Je suis Ahmed,” in reference to the supermarket victims and to the name of a police officer killed in the first attack, also appeared. At a moment when reactions to these assaults and their political contexts ranged from horror and sadness to discussions of the issues of freedom of speech and the limits of solidarity, much of the commentary pointed to the risks, ethics and political efficacy of identification with the victims. This was particularly so if one’s own position, sense of identity and viewpoints diverged sharply from those of the victims in question. 

Though I do not wish to tease out the full complexity of Charlie Hebdo’s political satire in the French and international contexts, these debates do suggest a strong divide structuring contemporary possibilities for transnational solidarity and empathy in the face of violence and injustice. Those who refuse to “be” Charlie may fear the pitfalls of so-called group think, or the literal danger of repeated violence. They might reject the specifics of actions and opinions associated—accurately or not—with Charlie Hebdo, or find questionable the gesture of symbolically assuming a radically alternate identity through a few quick keystrokes. They might specifically choose to identify as not Charlie in order to stake out an alternate, dissenting and marginalized subjectivity. Those who embrace the “Charlie” identity may do so through a commitment to freedom of speech regardless of the content of enunciation or through a sense of solidarity with the victims that could extend to a universal collective of all potential victims.

Mariano Siskind's illuminating and rigorous study, Cosmopolitan Desires: Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America, assumes a special relevance for putting these events in context.   Each response may be termed a cosmopolitan gesture, not because it appears in the global space of the Internet, but rather because it necessarily engages with what Siskind, following Hannah Arendt, calls “the world.” This is, for Siskind, “an imaginary, utopian space of reconciliation and freedom in difference...” (p. 262 n. 7). Those who proclaim themselves as Charlie, or not Charlie, equally express the cosmopolitan desire to participate in a universal discursive sphere, even while negotiating and contesting the inevitable failures and exclusions in this process, whether these are internally or externally imposed. 

 Siskind tells us that this “world” is also “the imaginary ground where Latin American cosmopolitan writers work through the traumatic aspects of the question of modernity, inscribing their modernist subjectivity in their universality” (p. 10). The recent violent events in Paris and the international responses they continue to elicit may seem far removed from the Latin American literary modernity of Siskind’s highly original analysis. Yet this contemporary context nonetheless highlights the ongoing and far-reaching significance of Siskind’s book and the framework it offers for thinking through the dilemmas of universalism and cultural particularity, hospitality and exclusion, desire and solidarity, both within and beyond the Latin American literary sphere. 

In a daring move that situates his theorization in relation to the classic work of Angel Rama, Siskind describes cosmopolitanism in opposition to transculturation. The former tendency strategically downplays Latin American differences so as emphasize the universality of literature while the latter emphasizes separate traits so as to produce a resistant, emancipatory cultural politics (pp. 13-14). Yet Siskind’s reading is not a rejection of transculturation as such, but its repositioning. By placing cosmopolitanism and transculturation side by side as literary strategies that reveal their respective desires for universalized and particularist subjectivities, the author suggests that both tendencies are part of a broader framework organized by the projection of these desires, and ultimately through which “marginal literatures ... expose the hegemonic making of modernist global mappings” (p. 18). In addition, the analysis questions Rama’s celebratory notion of transculturation and subaltern resistance as the opposite of an elitist cosmopolitanism, by positing both transculturation and cosmopolitanism as equally propelled by fantasy and “libidinal force” (p. 14). 

If the subaltern Other functions as central to the desire of transculturation and its project of socially transformative alliances, the Other pursued and desired by the Latin American cosmopolitan writers of Siskind’s book is of a different order: intensely personal, grounded in the experience of exclusion, and a “reaching out to the world” (p. 121). As Siskind writes, in reference to José Martí’s “Oscar Wilde,” “It is an Other whose foreignness stands for the outside exterior of particularistic identity, at a moment when that identity bears the mark of isolation and exclusion from the order of modernity” (p. 123). 

In the book's concluding chapter, the Other of cosmopolitan desire acquires further nuance and ethical potency, giving rise to what Siskind refers to as “empathic cosmopolitanism” (pp. 258-259). This reading centers on the travel narratives of Enrique Gómez Carrillo and in particular on the representation of Jews as figures of alterity and suffering. Gómez Carrillo depicts the Jews he encounters as Oriental subjects marked by strangeness and difference, but at other crucial moments as “victims of the Orient … at once included in and excluded from Western civilization and the Otherized East” (p. 242). The liminal quality of Jewishness here finds an echo in Gómez Carrillo’s overall travel narrative, oscillating between Orientalist difference and the cosmopolitan notion that everything is just like Paris, which is in turn more or less like home. Within the contours of this cosmopolitan travel experience and the inevitable tensions of mapping the world as both home and Other, the figure of the Jew inspires a limited form of empathy, “the other side of the Orientalist coin” (p. 259). 

Gómez Carrillo maintains his distance from the suffering Jewish subjects of his narrative, through an empathy that does not lead to ethical agency or self-transformation, but coexists in tension with Orientalist Othering. The chronicler’s encounter with Jewishness thus marks the emergence of a desiring cosmopolitan subjectivity. Yet crucially, Gómez Carrillo’s perceptions of Jewishness in his travel writing, as Siskind convincingly argues, stem from his direct experience of the Dreyfus Affair and its impact on French cultural politics. Gómez Carrillo’s detailed commentary as witness to events pertaining to the Affair from 1894 to 1906 demonstrates his sustained allegiance to the Dreyfusard camp, and his rejection of anti-Semitism as well as the conservative, anti-intellectual tendencies with which the anti-Dreyfus camp came to be associated. The empathic representation of Jewishness thus may be said to provide an avenue for Gómez Carrillo’s political and aesthetic self-inscription on the travel maps he narrates.  

The admittedly limited gesture of empathic cosmopolitanism, mobilized by figures of Jewish suffering through the travel narrative, thus defines Gómez Carrillo’s desired Other as the ambivalent projection of a marginal and universalizing self. As Siskind writes, referring here to Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” “empathy instrumentalizes the pain of others, in a self-referential process of ‘narcissistic identification’” (p. 259). The dizzying scope of cosmopolitan desire as it reaches towards a global, universal identification would appear to be matched by the terrifying scale of suffering described by Gómez Carrillo in his depiction of emigrating Russian Jews, as cited by Siskind: “a wretched group appears, walking slowly, not making a gesture or pronouncing even half a word, seeming as if they have escaped Dante’s hell” (p. 257). Yet again and again, as Siskind’s reading suggests, the reaching outward is foreclosed by the self-containment of the desire, just as the horror of witnessed human suffering reverts to disgust with radical Otherness. Siskind’s nuanced mapping of Latin American global modernity effectively embraces the inevitable failure of the geo-culturally marginal cosmopolitan subject to fully realize its universalizing desire (p. 21). In doing so, this provocative book emphasizes the productive possibilities of the cosmopolitan failure, but at the same time, I would add, gestures toward the risks inherent in the fantasy of encounter with the world. 


Susan Antebi is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Toronto. A specialist in Mexican literary and cultural studies, she holds a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. She is the author of Carnal Inscriptions: Spanish American Narratives of Corporeal Difference and Disability (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) and co-editor of Libre Acceso: Latin American Literature and Film through Disability Studies (SUNY Press, forthcoming)

See also: Book Talk, Culture

The Road Towards Universal Coverage in Mexico

By Rocío López Iñigo

Mexico has taken gigantic steps towards universal health coverage in the last decade.  In 2012, a national program called Popular Insurance came into effect, offering coverage to more than 50 million people previously excluded from the health system. The program, first introduced in 2003, also seeks to prevent people from falling into the extreme poverty caused by repeated medical expenses. Although the results of this program have been positive, many families in the country's rural zones still face deficient primary care without adequate resources and qualified medical personnel.

The design of Mexico’s universal coverage often overlooks the situation of the most marginal communities, where many obstacles exist for true access to health care. The transport of resources—healthcare workers, medical equipment, and medicine—to the small communities remains a challenge. Clinics in these rural areas don't have permanent doctors. Most of the time they have only visiting physicians, and these are often recently graduated medical students. According to research by the UNAM School of Medicine, these residents treat 82% of the primary care clinics administered by the Secretary of Health in rural areas. Some 10 to 15 million Mexicans are attended by these recent graduates who work without supervision or professional support. This translates into bad medical attention for citizens and a disagreeable experience for these young doctors. 

In Chiapas, young doctors organized to create Compañeros en Salud (CES), an arm of the Harvard-affiliated Partners in Health in Mexico, to coordinate all the health care efforts with the aim of guaranteeing the fundamental human right to quality health care. In 2010 Harvard Medical School Professor Daniel Palazuelos, affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, met with Hugo Flores, a graduate of the Tecnológico de Monterrey and current CES director. Together with Lindsay Palazuelos, a Brown University graduate who is an expert in project development, they designed a model for quality  primary health care, based on efficient support for the region’s clinics.  The project stresses the training and constant supervision of the residents, who receive the necessary tools and work experience to confront the most complicated cases in their communities. They receive regular visits from supervisors, an adequate supply of medicines and other material and the support of specialists from around the world for complicated cases. Moreover, once a month, the residents attend a course designed to learn about the political, social and historic implications of illness and to deepen their knowledge about the causes of inequity in the administration of health care. 

This support to the medical residents translates into better attention to the community, and it also guides them in the navigation of the not always easy health care bureaucracy. CES also invests in programs adapted to the needs of the various communities such as mental health initiatives or the pioneering project of community social workers. These workers are trained in health and accompany people who have chronic diseases during their treatment. They act as a link between the doctor and patient, guaranteeing effective communication. 

CES currently works in eight clinics in Sierra Madre de Chiapas, although its sphere of indirect influence is calculated at some 25,000 people. Its model of strengthening provision of high-quality health and research has made this young, small organization with Harvard roots into a seed for change. Its evidence-based work relies on constant analysis of results, as well as the search for sustainable resources that will guarantee its development over time. Compañeros en Salud offers viable alternatives that can help to minimize the differences between public health policy as written on paper and the reality of thousands of Mexicans. 

Rocío López Iñigo is an Erasmus Mundus MA Global Studies candidate from the EMGS Consortium who has lived and worked as a journalist in Argentina and Mexico, experiencing different Latin American realities. She currently lives in Germany and hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in International Relations. 

En Español

Un país definido en su música y poesía

Por Lizza Bogado

La cantante argentina Mercedes Sosa popularizó la música paraguaya. Foto cortesía de Creative Commons.

Paraguay es un país musical por lo que no es extraño que sus interpretes como Luis Alberto del Paraná y su grupo “Los Paraguayos” hayan abierto el mercado musical europeo en la década de los sesentas del siglo pasado y que su figura sea reconocida al lado de los Beatles por la Reina Isabel y el gran público del Albert Hall londinense. Paraná recibió el reconocimiento de interpretes de la talla de Mercedes Sosa quien nunca dejó de agradecer su intermediación con la firma fonográfica  holandesa Phillips para que le diera el impulso internacional que su afamada voz alcanzó a nivel mundial. La misma Mercedes Sosa con quien me tocó actuar en Asunción en una visita posterior a Buenos Aires me confío un secreto notable contándome que los primeros temas que grabó en la Argentina fueron de música paraguaya al tiempo de extenderme esas grabaciones originales que guardo como un extrañable recuerdo de esa larga charla.

Paraguay después de la Guerra civil de 1947 perdió a una generación de talentosos poetas y músicos que encontraron en el exilio el espacio donde desarrollar sus talentos y Buenos Aires fue la ciudad que los acogió en mayor número. Ahí vivieron poetas y músicos de la talla de Jose Asunciòn Flores el creador del único genero musical autoctóno la “guarania” y Demetrio Ortiz el que inmortalizó la canción referencial del Paraguay “Recuerdos de Ypacarai” con los versos de una argentina: Zulema de Mirkin quien escribió los versos de la canción sin haber conocido el lago al que canta en esa canción traducida en decenas de lenguas y interpretada por varias voces conocidas en el mundo de la canción mundial.  

Los dos géneros musicales y folklóricos mas conocidos del país son : la polka con un ritmo mas vivaz y la guarania,d mas lenta y cadenciosa reflejan con claridad el carácter del paraguayo. A veces sumido en una gran tristeza o melancolía que explota en vivacidad y alegría en la polka. Los versos generalmente están dedicados a describir amores y desamores, pueblos, parajes y sentimientos de un país donde claramente las cosas se dicen cantando o en silencio. Por mucho tiempo dominó las serenatas para expresar el estado del corazón pero lentamente  y con la creciente urbanización ella fue dejada a un lado aunque es imposible concebir una fiesta sin la música paraguaya que define lo que somos y cómo somos.


No pecaría de soberbia si digo que el Paraguay es su música. Un elemento que atrapa con un instrumento adaptado por los nacionales que es el arpa de 36 cuerdas cuya sonoridad y timbre la hacen única en los conjuntos de música del país. El arpa llegó con los misioneros probablemente de origen céltico con fines de catequización pero los artesanos indígenas lo adoptaron concibiendo un instrumento que existe en otros países como Mexico, Venezuela o Colombia pero que no alcanzan los timbres obtenidos por este instrumento hoy exportado a nivel mundial.

La música está muy unida al espíritu del país y a sus dos guerras internacionales. La primera la conocida como Guerra Grande o Guerra del Paraguay denominación esta última dada por los integrantes de la Triple Alianza (Brasil, Argentina y Uruguay) 1870 y la Guerra del Chaco contra Bolivia en 1932-35. Varias canciones de claro tinte patriótico integran el repertorio de todos los grupos y cantantes de temas nacionales. Ellos hablan de batallas ganadas o perdidas, de valientes soldados y de canciones de claro contenido patriótico hechas para levantar el espíritu de combate de los soldados paraguayos.  En el reciente Bicentenario de Independencia (2011) el país se envolvió en canciones y poemas que reinvidicaban la rica historia del Paraguay. Fue un momento singular en nuestra historia y fue posible comprobar como la música nos define como pueblo y como Nación. 

A pesar del notable intercambio musical a nivel internacional sigue siendo la música paraguaya un espectáculo notable a los ojos y oídos de los nacionales y extranjeros que admiran algo ya conocido talves por la interpretación de temas como: “Mis noches sin ti”, “Lejania”, “Pájaro campana”, “Reservista Purahei” que fue plagiada por el célebre cantante armenio-frances Charles Aznavour en su canción “la mamma”, “Galopera” o “Cascada”. Estas canciones forman parte del repertorio clásico del Paraguay y es frecuente escucharlos interpretar a grupos folklóricos locales y del exterior. El repertorio de temas latinoamericanos incluye siempre algunos de los temas mas arriba referenciados. 

Es posible percibir una búsqueda tanto de poetas como de músicos de nuevos temas que referencien las cosas que ocurren en el país. Entre ellas hay varias destacadas que han descripto los problemas sociales de inequidad social,  alta migracion campo-ciudad, desigualdad económica, injusticias en la distribución de la tierra o de oportunidades. Estos grupos surgidos fundamentalmente como contestación a la larga dictadura de Alfredo Stroessner ( 1954-1989) se cobijaron bajo la denominaciòn de “Nuevo Cancionero” y aportaron varios temas entre ellos “Despertar” cantado por Mercedes Sosa. La poesía contestaría, rebelde .. tiene una larga tradicion  en el país al punto que varios de sus grandes voces desarrollaron su trabajo en el exilio com Elvio Romero, Teodoro S. Mongelós o Herib Campos Cervera. No en balde y conociendo el poder de la música y de los temas cantados la dictadura se encargó de perseguir con saña a las mejores referencias culturales del Paraguay.

Suelo interpretar temas que los poetas dedicaron a mujeres que los deslumbraron. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srJRYW8DRKs) Uno de ellos es “Nde resa kuarahyame” de Teodoro S. Mongelos que en su tercera estrofa dice:

Ajuhu mba´e iporãva che py´a guive ahayhúva
yvypórape omoïva jeguakáramo Tupã
ysyry rendaguemícha hovyü ha ipyko´ëva
vevuimínte ahëtuséva nde resa kuarahy´ã.

Reikuaáma aarohoryva reikuaáma mamoitépa
sapy´a amanoha ára ikatúne che ñoty
che rejántekena Mirna nde resa kuarahy´ãme
tosyry jepi anga che ári tapia nde resay.

 Traducido al español:

 He encontrado la hermosura
que entrañablemente quiero,
la que de ornamento puso
Dios en la faz de la tierra.

Como un cauce de arroyuelo
de cóncavo azul oscuro
suavemente besaríaesa sombra de tus ojos.

El poeta cantó a la sombra de los ojos de una mujer que lo deslumbró y describió extraordinariamente ese detalle convirtiéndolo en un himno al amor.

Paraguay es un país hermoso pero duro solo se suaviza en la canción . Su dolorosa historia se escapa en versos en guaraní y en español para hacerse canción en una guarania como “India” o “Nde rendape ayu”.. ahí somos lo que fuimos, lo que somos y lo que queremos ser.-


 Lizza Bogado, una de las grandes voces del folklore paraguayo con mas de 15 discos y varios conciertos en teatros, televisión y masivas conciertos en su país natal y en el mundo. Cantante y compositora de varios temas muy conocidos en su país como “Un solo canto”, “Herencia” “Paraguay mi nación guaraní”. 

Guarani en el Cine

Películas en guaraní paraguayo, sobre Guaraníes y con Guaraníes

Por Damián Cabrera

Una película contemporánea : Paz Encina. Hamaca Paraguaya. 2006. Foto de Christian Núñez, Cortesía de Damián Cabrera .

La primera película en guaraní que he visto es estadounidense. Se trata de Jesus (1979), co-dirigida por Peter Skyes y John Krish, doblada al guaraní, y que es habitualmente retransmitida en las programaciones televisivas de Semana Santa en Paraguay. Mi generación no ha crecido viéndose en las pantallas. Con películas como Hamaca Paraguaya (2006) de Paz Encina o 7 cajas (2012) de Juan Carlos Maneglia y Tana Schémbori se ha animado una instancia de proyección internacional, pero también local: hoy los paraguayos podemos vernos en pantalla, y escucharnos. En nuestras propias lenguas.

En Paraguay, hablar guaraní ha estado marcado por signos ambivalentes de afecto y desprecio. En castellano, la palabra guarango significa “incivil, grosero”, y es el apodo despectivo que  reciben quienes hablan guaraní, como si ello constituyese una marca de vulgaridad; pero también hay quienes celebran la así llamada “dulce lengua guaraní” como el legado más importante de la cultura Guaraní a la sociedad paraguaya; lengua indígena, de la familia lingüística Tupí-Guaraní, hablada hoy por una población mayoritariamente no-indígena.

“La historia del Paraguay es la historia de su lengua guaraní” dice el antropólogo Bartomeu Melià en su libro Mundo Guaraní (2011). La historia del Paraguay es también la de una prohibición que pesa sobre esta lengua, y de la exclusión que supone hablarla. Pero es la historia de una persistencia. 

En una escena emergente y cada vez más prolífica del cine en Paraguay, el guaraní de los paraguayos se está haciendo audible a nivel internacional, haciendo visibles sus historias; y se vuelve una cuestión posible. Pero, ¿hablar la lengua guaraní significa ser Guaraní? Quizás ésta constituya una oportunidad para reflexionar en torno a estas ambivalencias, tanto en lo que se refiere al status como a las pertenencias varias del guaraní: el mundo indígena, el campesino paraguayo, y el urbano.



 “Las primeras películas en guaraní eran mudas,” me señala el actor y comunicador Manuel Cuenca, autor de Historia del Audiovisual en Paraguay (2009), en el que elabora un recuento de las producciones en el país. Desde principios del siglo XX se había registrado en películas de 35 mm ‒mudas, en blanco y negro‒ comunidades indígenas y campesinas del Paraguay, en las que se conversa o canta en guaraní. Codicia (1954), del director argentino Catrano Catrani, fue la primera película sonora de ficción en incorporar diálogos en guaraní. Basadas en la obra del escritor Augusto Roa Bastos, quien también realizó las adaptaciones a guión, Armando Bó produjo La Sed (1961) y El trueno entre las hojas (1975); en la cual, además de diálogos, se puede escuchar la canción Adiós Lucerito Alba de Eladio Martínez, en guaraní (las escenas de desnudo de Isabel Sarli se hicieron famosas, y ella reapareció en India (1961) y La burrerita de Ypacaraí (1962) de Bó.) La sangre y la semilla (1959) fue la primera co-producción bilingüe paraguayo-argentina. Por su parte, Dominique Dubosc filmó sus primeras obras en Paraguay, a finales de los 60: en clave poética y con las voces de los protagonistas registra la vida de una familia campesina paraguaya y la del leprosorio Santa Isabel en Cuarahy Ohechá (Le soleil l’avu) (1968), y Manojhara (1969).

Aunque traten sobre los Guaraníes o éstos intervengan en las tramas, en muchas películas se ha recurrido a otras comunidades indígenas e inclusive a no-indígenas para representarlos. Para sus películas en las que se hace alusión a los Guaraníes, Bó recurrió a los Maká del Paraguay, que en realidad pertenecen a la familia lingüística Mataco; ya en las primeras escenas de India en las que aparecen se escucha una canción que dice “india Guaraní…”, con Isabel Sarli caracterizada como indígena; paradójicamente, no es difícil encontrar en manuales escolares fotografías de los Maká cuyos pies de foto los sugieren Guaraníes.

Con música de Ennio Morricone, Roland Joffé dirigió The Mission (1986). Robert De Niro y Jeremy Irons protagonizan una historia basada en las legendarias Misiones Jesuíticas del Paraguay. A pesar de mis esfuerzos, no logro reconocer el guaraní de los indígenas que actúan en ella ‒ni siquiera cuando lo habla Irons‒. The Mission no se filmó en Paraguay: las escenas que corresponderían a Asunción se rodaron en Cartagena de Indias, Colombia; una de las locaciones son las Cataratas del Iguaçú en Brasil; y los indígenas no son Guaraníes sino, en gran parte, Waunanas del Chocó colombiano. Pero es posible acortar distancias: líder indígena en Argentina, Asunción Ontiveros interpreta un cacique Guaraní; en el making of titulado Omnibus: The Mission, Ontiveros revela problemas comunes a Waunanas y Guaraníes ‒y acaso a los indígenas en toda América‒: el territorio.

Aunque se llamen igual, hay más de una lengua guaraní; y aun cuando se llamen de otra manera, hay lenguas que son tan guaraní como otras, idénticas a pesar de diferentes. En Hans Staden (1999) de Luis Alberto Pereira los indígenas Tupinambá son interpretados por actores no-indígenas. Basada en las crónicas de Staden y hablada en tupí clásico (de la familia lingüística Tupí-Guaraní), hay en la película una pretensión realista: el director insiste en una suerte de neutralidad desprovista de interpretación (a diferencia de otras películas que abordan la misma historia), pero se basa en un texto previo, un discurso testimonial en sí embebido en interpretación; así, la representación de los indígenas ‒más que de la historia‒ nos arroja la memoria de los blackface del cine estadounidense de principios del siglo XX.

¿No hay actores Guaraníes? Sí los hay: se los puede ver en Terra Vermelha (2009) de Marcos Bechis. Allí es el drama de los Guaraní-Kaiowá (conocidos como Pãi Tavyterã en Paraguay), en la frontera Paraguay/Brasil. Actúan de sí mismos, en su propia lengua, para mostrar la amenaza que el agro-negocio supone para sus modos de ser, en fechas en que el suicidio protagonizado por jóvenes representa un trauma social cada vez más constante. El drama de la ficción es real: el líder Ambrósio Vilhalva (cacique Nádio en la película) interpretó su muerte, y luego fue asesinado, realmente, hace poco más de un año.

Representados por otros, o expuestos por la mirada de otros. Pero quizás esta realidad cambie pronto. Pertenecientes a la misma familia lingüística de los Guaraníes, los Aché han estado rodando. Norma Tapari y Ricardo Mbekrorongi realizaron los documentales Nondjewaregi/Costumbres antiguas (2012) y Tõ Mumbu (2012), respectivamente, en los que recogen testimonios de sus abuelos, en el marco del proyecto Ache djawu/Palabra Aché, que con producción literaria, fotográfica y audiovisual busca un rescate cultural.


¿Es esa mi voz? Como al escucharse por primera vez en una grabación, verse en pantalla, por una vez. Hamaca Paraguaya es la primera película de Paraguay que he visto. La experiencia fue excepcional, acaso porque la película también lo era. Atravesando la historia, se presenta una imagen del tiempo: la idea de una espera/esperanza oscilante y pendular que no cambia de sitio, a pesar de la inestabilidad. Los diálogos circulares están inscriptos en una escena igualmente estructurada por lo circular. En Hamaca… hay un deseo de representar un tiempo paraguayo, que acaso pueda imaginarse en encrucijada con otra memoria temporal, la del oguatáva (caminante) Guaraní, presente en el jeroky ñembo’e (danza/rezo) igualmente circular de los Guaraníes.

El Paraguay atravesaba fechas duras tras la masacre de Curuguaty (el 15 de junio de 2012 durante la ejecución de una supuesta orden de allanamiento, policías se enfrentaron a campesinos sin tierra: el enfrentamiento terminó con la muerte de 17 personas, y fue una de las causales para el golpe de Estado parlamentario, disfrazado de juicio político, que destituyó al entonces presidente Fernando Lugo). Para algunos, ver 7 cajas constituyó una experiencia catártica. Varios meses de salas repletas: cuando me tocó el turno, el fenómeno social hablaba (literalmente) tan fuerte como la película: como el que se escucha por primera vez ‒o como el que se ve‒ eran ahí espectadores bulliciosos, riéndose a carcajadas y aplaudiendo; una sala en ebullición.

Más allá de la historia, del universo representado e imaginado, y de su lenguaje, 7 cajas puede ser leída en clave de metáfora: Acaso no se trate sólo acerca de los únicos mecanismos con los que cuenta el pobre para acceder a una puesta en circulación de su propia imagen en el atiborrado mercado de las imágenes, sino también acerca de las condiciones en las que opera el cineasta paraguayo en una escena de emergencias: el personaje Víctor podría tratarse de un cineasta más en búsqueda de recursos para producir imágenes y hacer en pantalla sus historias, y hacerse en pantalla.

Estas dos son algunas de las películas con guaraní que han alcanzado mayor visibilidad a nivel internacional, pero no son las únicas. Y hay más en camino.

En 2002, Galia Giménez estrenó su María Escobar, basada en una canción homónima en guaraní que por entonces se había vuelto muy popular, trascendiendo estratos sociales. Los cortometrajes Karai Norte (2009) de Marcelo Martinessi y Ahendu Nde Sakupái (2008) de Pablo Lamar son obras maestras del audiovisual paraguayo. Recientemente estrenadas, Latas Vacías (2014) de Hérib Godoy y Costa Dulce (2013) de Enrique Collar giran en torno al pláta-yvyguy (tesoros enterrados durante la guerra en el siglo XIX, sobre los cuales la imaginación de los paraguayos ha versado prolíficamente); ambas están habladas en un guaraní campesino y periférico con relación a la capital Asunción, con actores del interior que no han pasado por las tradicionales escuelas de actuación, aportando una voz fresca al de por sí nuevo cine de Paraguay. Mientras Luna de Cigarras (2014) de Jorge Díaz de Bedoya, en la que el guaraní se muestra en su zona fronteriza con el castellano y el portugués, ha sido nominada a los Premios Goya de España.

                        Enrique Collar. Costa Dulce. 2013. (Fotograma)


En el género documental el guaraní ha florecido en una lista extensa que va desde el patrimonio audiovisual mudo hasta reconocidas piezas que regitran voces campesinas e indígenas, como Tierra Roja (2006) y Frankfurt (2008) de Ramiro Gómez; o Fuera de Campo (2014) de Hugo Giménez. En Yvyperõme (2013) de Miguel Armoa el testimonio de un chamán guaraní que sugiere que “antes éramos los brujos del bosque, hoy somos los brujos de la soja,” da cuenta de las fechas traumáticas y transformadoras por las que atraviesa el Paraguay.

Estigmas y prohibiciones que han pesado sobre el guaraní lo han puesto en una situación de amenaza, y su tránsito de una generación a otra se ha visto dificultado. ¿No tiene cierta participación en esto el hecho de que los medios hegemónicos de comunicación se hablen y se escriban en castellano y no en guaraní a pesar de que la mayoría de la población sea guaraní-hablante o en cierta medida bilingüe?

En 2015 se estrenará Guaraní, del director argentino Luis Zorraquín que, además de estar hablada casi enteramente en guaraní, versa precisamente sobre la lengua guaraní. La película y los abordajes periodísticos que de ella se han hecho hasta el momento pueden servir para explorar las pertenencias ambivalentes del guaraní hoy: las variantes del guaraní de los Guaraníes y el guaraní de los paraguayos. John Hopewell escribe para la revista Variety sugiriendo que la película trata de cuestiones identitarias y de tradición en una jornada protagonizada por “a tradicionalist Guarani fisherman, and his grand-daughter.” Reproduciendo un cable de la Agencia de Noticias EFE, en ABC Color de Paraguay se afirma que se trata de “una historia sobre el desarraigo y sobre la sobrevivencia de la cultura indígena guaraní.” Ambas reseñas se equivocan: se trata de la historia de un paraguayo y su resistencia en la lengua en una apuesta de futuro.

                          Luis  Zorraquín. Guaraní. 2015. (Fotograma). 

Pero, ¿qué significa el lugar de estas confusiones? La palabra guaraní significa tanto: el nombre de una lengua y el de una cultura; por veces, apodo-gentilicio de los paraguayos; el nombre de tiendas, tés adelgazantes y clubes deportivos.

La persistencia del guaraní en una sociedad más occidental que indígena también es ambivalente: lengua subalterna en Paraguay, parecería incoherente su hegemonía, ahí donde se insiste en rechazar lo indígena con vehemencia. Pero esa “grosería” de resistir se hace cada vez más patente, sorteando la mudez también en el cine, donde el guaraní habla más fuerte. Cada vez.


Damián Cabrera es escritor, Licenciado en Letras y magíster candidate en Estudios Culturales por la Universidade de São Paulo. Participante del seminario de Crítica Cultural Espacio/Crítica (Paraguay). Integra el colectivo Ediciones de la Ura, y la Red Conceptualismos del Sur. Autor de la novela Xiru (2012), ganador del Premio “Roque Gaona” 2012. guyrapu@gmail.com

Movilizar los márgenes

El arte popular e indígena desde la perspectiva del Museo del Barro

Por Lia Colombino

El exterior moderno del Museo del Barro. Foto cortesía de Lia Colombino, Museo del Barro.

Ver la galeria de fotos.

Entrar en el Museo del Barro en Asunción es sumergirse en un cúmulo de imágenes que el recorrido va entregando al paseante, no del todo ordenadas, no del todo categorizadas ni clasificadas con el sentido que suelen hacer este tipo de instituciones.

El Museo del Barro, siguiendo esa línea, guarda para sí la ambigüedad de ser un museo sin que esa palabra le vaya bien del todo. Trata de movilizar el margen mismo que delimita el concepto que se le otorga a la palabra, para desacomodar y hacerla permeable.

Se trata de un museo de arte, palabra cuya definición también ha sido movilizada y ha tratado de incluir, al decir de Ticio Escobar, “la belleza de los otros”.  


El Centro de Artes Visuales/Museo del Barro ha sido constituido a través de diversos emprendimientos a lo largo de más de cuarenta años de trabajo. Su particularidad: es un museo que ha sido gestionado por artistas, antropólogos y críticos de arte. En primera instancia fue creado como un proyecto que les permitiera el desarrollo de sus prácticas al margen del Estado, y en oposición a sus políticas.

Los tres museos que conforman el Centro nacieron separadamente y las circunstancias posteriores hicieron que se unieran en un solo edificio y que fueran un solo proyecto. Sus antecedentes se remontan a la Colección Circulante fundada por Olga Blinder y Carlos Colombino en el año 1972. Dicha colección, sobre todo de gráfica de raíz erudita, no contaba con un espacio propio e itineraba.

En 1980, mientras se empezaba a construir un espacio propio, se inaugura el Museo del Barro en una pequeña casa. En este proyecto trabajarán Osvaldo Salerno e Ysanne Gayet, además de Carlos Colombino. A este grupo se integrará luego Ticio Escobar.

El interés por el arte popular e indígena se había instalado en este grupo mucho antes, de la mano de Josefina Plá y tantos otros referentes como Livio Abramo, Bartomeu Melià y la misma Olga Blinder.

En 1984 se inaugura la primera sala de lo que más tarde será un complejo que albergará tanto las colecciones de Arte Popular (Museo del Barro) y las del Arte de las Etnias (Museo de Arte Indígena) como diversas expresiones del Arte Urbano del Paraguay e Iberoamérica (Museo Paraguayo de Arte Contemporáneo).

El tratamiento de las obras en el museo se realiza de tal manera que el arte popular y el indígena se ubican en pie de igualdad con respecto al arte urbano o “erudito”. El museo pretende que estas obras se confronten y dialoguen en un ámbito de respeto de las diferencias. El proyecto pretende desmentir el mito oficial que reduce la producción simbólica popular e indígena a lo “folclórico”, “autóctono” y “vernáculo”: a “lo nuestro”.  Es decir, a versiones trivializadas de dicha producción, desprovista de los  pliegues y las opacidades de lo diferente.

Cuando Ticio Escobar, quien ha pensado el arte paraguayo desde ese triple lugar de manera sistemática, escribe La Belleza de los Otros (1994), cuenta el relato fundacional que sustenta el libro: El brazalete de Túkule. Túkule, un gran chamán ishir, está haciendo delicadamente un  brazalete llamado oikakar (en el soporte de una red realizada con una fibra vegetal hecha de una bromeliácea se atan, una a una, pequeñas plumas y plumones). Ante la pregunta de Ticio, de por qué le agrega una línea de plumas de distinto color a lo que ya parecía terminado, le contesta: “Para que sea más bello”. Ese brazalete que confunde sus funciones, que es ceremonial, chamánico y ritual, a la vez debe brillar, debe dirigirnos la mirada.

La idea del museo y de su recorrido, pretenden borronear las fronteras que separan los distintos lugares de enunciación del arte, como están borroneadas las fronteras entre lo popular, indígena y urbano en el Paraguay mismo. Así, el museo posee tres entradas desde un patio central. A partir de allí, el visitante puede perderse y en una especie de juego circular, siempre volver al mismo sitio. El Museo del Barro no tiene un solo recorrido, tampoco se lee de izquierda a derecha ni se empieza como los estudios de público lo requieren, tratan de dejar eso al azar o más bien tratan de no exigir un orden previo. El museo deja abierta la posibilidad del visitante a tener una experiencia, que algo acontezca.

Portador del lenguaje de la diferencia, intuitivamente al comienzo–primero llegó la práctica y luego la teoría- y más tarde asumiéndose así, el Museo del Barro transitó un camino que fue develándose a la medida del paso. Fue conformándose fragmentariamente desde la contingencia total, hasta que cuaja (nunca cuaja del todo), en un lugar (en dos: el lugar físico y el lugar de la palabra).

El arte paraguayo, en ese transitar distintos lugares de enunciación, quiso tener, en el Museo del Barro, un espacio en el cual pudiéramos mirarnos desde múltiples rostros, interpelarnos en ese nosotros que en Paraguay son dos (por lo menos dos, la lengua nos pone siempre en evidencia). En guaraní, el idioma de la mayor parte de la población paraguaya, posee dos “nosotros”: uno incluyente (ñande) y otro excluyente (ore). Estos dos nosotros configuran otra forma de entender la(s) identidad(es). Si bien desde la cultura oficial se intenta por diversos medios de unificar un “ser nacional”, la misma lengua lo desmiente en todo momento.


La idea de hacer dialogar y hacer converger las producciones artísticas de los diferentes pueblos del Paraguay se gestaba desde una práctica que no planificó en tablero sus acciones. Mientras, Ticio Escobar se disponía a escribir Una interpretación de las artes visuales en el Paraguay (publicada en dos tomos, el primero en 1982 y el segundo en 1984) y se encontraba con el dilema de dar palabra a la diferencia, y un lugar en una historia que le negaba.

Será con El mito del arte y el mito del pueblo que Escobar consolida un pensamiento que equipara lo popular e indígena y, de esta manera, asienta una equivalencia. Fue una intervención que sentó las bases de una discusión más acabada sobre esas modernidades otras y también sobre lo erudito y lo popular, no enfrentados en una disyunción binaria, sino planteados como términos de una  cuestión que problematiza y define relaciones. Este texto reúne, en registro escritural, la vocación del CAV/Museo del Barro. Se sale de la teoría del arte para adentrarse en la teoría de lo cultural y sus implicancias políticas: las disputas por el control hegemónico del capital simbólico de un territorio devenido nación.

Este texto, al interior del proyecto que le dio cobijo: el Museo del Barro, significó la atadura de la praxis, el fundamento teórico que amarrara cuestiones que iban paralelas al hacer.

Ese concepto de arte que maneja Escobar y por extensión, el Museo -esa manipulación de formas sensibles que perturba la producción de sentido- permite plantear la inserción del concepto de arte popular en la escritura de otra historia del arte y empezar por dislocar conceptos eurocéntricos. Tales conceptos tienen que ver con la autonomía del arte, el concepto de contemporaneidad, el de unicidad, por nombrar algunos.


Una de las mayores discusiones con respecto a la utilización de la palabra “arte” para nombrar las producciones estético-poéticas de culturas no-occidentales tiene que ver con un hecho concreto. Estas culturas no utilizan esa palabra para nombrar la producción de formas sensibles. Estas comunidades, en su gran mayoría, no han considerado sus producciones como obras de arte.

La Historia del Arte, sin embargo, no ha tenido prurito alguno para utilizar esa categoría cuando considera que tal o cual producción de sentido corresponden a un pasado propio. Es así con el arte egipcio o el rupestre.

No obstante, tanto la cultura campesina como la indígena apelan a la sensibilidad cuando buscan representar el mundo en el cual viven. Según Escobar, ciertos momentos culturales son puntuados, apuntalados y sus resultantes son configuraciones crispadas, equivalentes a lo que Occidente entiende como arte.


Tanto el arte indígena como el popular, posee unas notas particulares que lo diferencian de las notas que el arte moderno o el llamado arte contemporáneo consignan en relación a sus prácticas.

El arte popular o indígena no ha necesitado apelar a una autonomía que lo separe del culto. Ha guardado estrecha relación con el mismo y a veces hasta ese momento de crispación de la forma está íntimamente ligado a la eficacia de un rito. La poesía que guarda un objeto se entremezcla tanto en el culto como en la vida cotidiana de tal manera que no pueden separarse. Es en este sentido que la postulación de un arte indígena o popular discute esa noción de que el arte, para serlo, debe estar desprovisto de función.

También discute la noción de originalidad, ya que estas culturas trabajan, la mayoría de las veces, a partir de la pervivencia de una tradición cuyos tiempos son otros y sus maneras de re-significar y re-elaborar sus formas proponen otros caminos que aquellos tomados por el arte erudito. Asimismo no hay una primacía de autoría, aunque con el correr del tiempo eso va cambiando y muchas ceramistas o tallistas están firmando sus piezas.

Si bien estas notas particulares, lo separan de aquel concepto de arte heredado de Occidente, el arte popular o indígena afianza sus formas y trabaja significaciones densas que responden a las condiciones de existencia y de producción de la comunidad en donde se desarrolla; es por ello que la existencia de estas otras maneras de pensar el arte discute también con el concepto de contemporaneidad que suele utilizarse y hace ingresar otra contemporaneidad, acorde con cada una de estas realidades diversas.


El Museo del Barro, desde cada acción que ha emprendido –muchas veces fuera del ámbito de lo que se entiende, generalmente, por una institución museística- ha intentado movilizar los márgenes que resguardan con celo ciertas categorías académicas. El mismo modelo de museo encuentra en este proyecto otras maneras de implicarse con la escena en la que se desarrolla.

Es por eso que la importancia de la postulación de un arte indígena y popular viene de la mano de esta movilización de márgenes. Busca la inserción de un pequeño temblor dentro de la certeza de los campos del saber para movilizar lugares aparentemente fijos con el fin de que el marco, ese a través del cual observamos la realidad, se mueva, deje ver aquello que se encontraba fuera de la visión. Aparezca.

Los artistas indígenas y populares, desde sus otras maneras de dar respuestas a la realidad que les es propia, atacan la herida que deja abierta la concepción occidental de la historia del arte. La lectura que ha hecho Ticio Escobar y que ha tenido en el Museo del Barro su lugar de inscripción, evidencia estos otros procesos y contribuyen a que sigamos movilizando esos márgenes, quizá hace demasiado tiempo, quietos.

Lia Colombino es directora del Museo de Arte Indígena perteneciente al CAV/Museo del Barro. Docente del Instituto Superior de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Asunción. Coordina el Seminario Espacio/Crítica. Foma parte de la Red Conceptualismos del Sur.

Paraguay: Un país en una lengua misteriosa y singular

Por Benjamín Fernández

Aunque Paraguay no tiene costa, el agua forma una parte integra de su paisaje. Foto por Tetsu Espósito, www,yluux.com

Si usted llega a un país donde casi el 90% de la población habla guaraní, que es su lengua oficial y nacional, además del Español, pero la gente no se reconoce como "indio" o aborigen e incluso la tribu ha desaparecido.. uno se encuentra  frente a un aparente grave problema de identidad. Sin embargo, los paraguayos estamos muy orgullosos de nuestra  condición bilingüe (español y guaraní)  y de utilizar el lenguaje como herramienta cultural para asimilar otras culturas que las hay muchas y de diferentes orígenes. Menonitas de Europa y Canadá, rusos, ucranianos, japoneses, coreanos, norteamericanos, indios de la India, europeos de destinos orígenes y  árabes. El país que fue casi completamente devastado durante la llamada Guerra Grande (1865-1870) y en donde el Paraguay enfrentó un verdadero holocausto ante las fuerzas combinadas de Argentina, Brasil y Uruguay que  dejó una población reducida al 15%. Nunca en toda la historia del mundo un país pagó un precio muy alto en victimas militares y civiles por defender su territorio, su identidad y su cultura.


Paraguay fue reconstruido por la mujer que sobrevivió  en mayor cantidad que sus congéneres masculinos al llamado “genocidio americano” por el autor brasileño Julio José Chiavenato en si libro “Genocidio Americano. La Guerra del Paraguay” donde publica en su pag. 205 una carta enviada por el Duque de Caxias, comandante del ejército brasileño al emperador Don Pedo II el 18 de noviembre de 1867 donde en una parte dice:

Y es aquí lo que muestra la lógica de que es imposible de vencer a López, y que es imposible el triunfo de la guerra contra el Paraguay; porque resulta insostenible de que se hace contra López, y que en vez de ser una guerra que apunte hacia la meta de legítimas aspiraciones, sea una guerra determinada y terminante de destrucción, de aniquilamiento.

Esto muestra, incuestionablemente, que no tuviéramos doscientos mil hombres para continuar la guerra al Paraguay, habríamos en caso de triunfo, conseguido reducir a cenizas la población paraguaya entera; y esto no es exagerado, porque estoy en posesión de datos irrefutables que anticipadamente prueban que, si acabásemos de matar a los hombres, tendríamos que combatir con las mujeres, que reemplazarán a éstos con igual valor, con el mismo ardor marcial y con el ímpetu y la constancia que inspiran el ejemplo de los parientes queridos y nutre la sed de venganza. Y sería admisible un posible triunfo sobre un pueblo de esa naturaleza? Podemos, acaso, contar con elementos para conseguirlo, y si aún lo consiguiésemos, cómo lo habríamos conseguido? Y, después qué habríamos conseguido? Cómo habríamos conseguido, fácil es saber, tomando por exacto e infalible antecedente del tiempo que tenemos empleado en esa guerra, los inmensos recursos y elementos estérilmente empleados en ella; los muchos millares de hombres también estérilmente sacrificados en ella, en una palabra, los incalculables e inmensos sacrificios de todo género que ella nos cuesta; y si todo eso no haya dado por resultado más que nuestra abatida situación, cuánto tiempo, cuántos hombres, cuántas vidas y cuántos elementos y recursos precisaremos para terminar la guerra, esto es, para convertir en humo y polvo toda la población paraguaya, para matar hasta el feto del vientre de la mujer y matarlo no como feto, aunque como un adalid. Y lo que tendríamos conseguido, también es difícil decir: sería sacrificar un número diez veces mayor de hombres de lo que son los paraguayos, sería sacrificar un número diez o veinte veces mayor de mujeres y niños de lo que son los niños y mujeres paraguayas; sería sacrificar un número cien mil veces mayor de toda clase de recursos de lo que son los recursos paraguayos; sería conquistar no un pueblo, pero un vasto cementerio en que sepultaríamos en la nada toda la población y recursos paraguayos y cien veces más la población y recursos brasileños. Y qué seríamos sobre un vasto cementerio? Seríamos los sepultureros que tendrían que enterrar las cenizas de nuestras víctimas, que responder a Dios y al mundo de sus clamores, y más que esto, desaparecida la población paraguaya, desaparecida la nación paraguaya y desaparecida en proporción equivalente la población brasileña, quién sería, sino, única y exclusivamente el Brasil, el responsable delante de las naciones extranjeras de los inmensos daños causados con esta guerra y a sus súbditos.

El texto es mas que elocuente de la percepción que tenía el Brasil en torno a esta guerra desconocido y cruel cuyos efectos aun son perceptibles en el país destacando el coraje de sus hombre y el compromiso de sus mujeres.  Esto dio oportunidad hace unos meses a que la cabeza de la iglesia Católica mundial  el Papa argentino  Francisco  reconocer su importancia  no sólo en la reconstrucción de la Nación sino en lograr mantener su cultura a través de la  lengua materna: el guaraní. El lenguaje es nuestra principal herramienta en términos de reafirmación de identidad como Nación y como colectivo.. Nos escondemos del mundo adverso detrás de la lengua. Ella define nuestro carácter, temperamento y personalidad. Absorbemos cualquier otra cultura con el idioma como elemento  clave para  entender e integrarse de y a  este país donde el bilingüismo alcanza su nivel mas alto en América Latina.  El 90% de la población habla ambas lenguas y resulta imposible comprender los matices de la cultura paraguaya sin conocer algo de Guaraní.

Hace unos años un embajador de los EEUU y actual Alcalde de Coral Gables en la Florida: James Cason decidió aprender el lenguaje. Había hecho un buen trabajo, que decidió en su despedida dar un concierto de canto en guaraní en una gran teatro local. Nos sentimos muy orgullosos de su esfuerzo y del interés que ha puesto en comprender al país desde la llave que permite introducirse a el. Incluso grabó  un disco con algunas canciones paraguayas típicas  pero dejó la sensación de que nunca llegó a ser parte de nosotros. Probablemente  sus condición  de Embajador puso una barrera o estableció una distancia  pudiendo afirmar que "le dimos  la llave  pero no accedió a  la combinación".


Paraguay es un país  complejo. No es fácil de explicar no sólo el idioma, sino cómo un país puede describir el amanecer usando  las cinco palabras diferentes (ko ´e , koé ,ti ko ´embota, koe ju, koe soro). Todo sucede en menos de 3 minutos y para describir esos instantes  utilizamos cinco diferentes expresiones.

La cultura paraguaya podría ser una atracción no sólo para los arqueólogos, antropólogos  o lingüistas, de paso asignaturas que curiosamente no son posibles de aprender en universidades paraguayas,  y entender cómo una nación  utilizó su idioma aborigen para construir y reconstruir su orgullo y confianza.  A los paraguayos nos gusta el mundo, pero nos escondemos detrás del Guaraní. El lenguaje es una máscara y escudo para protegernos del mundo exterior. País sin litoral marítimo  que disfruta un aislamiento singular . Un país definido  por un famoso escritor español Rafael Barret hace un siglo como: "... difícil y hermoso, donde algunas personas tienen suerte, pero el país: no" Esta expresión dejó una impresión profunda en nuestro principal escritor Augusto Roa Bastos, quien dijo: "el infortunio se enamoró del  Paraguay ". De alguna manera nos gusta ser raros, complejos, inescrutables y diferentes y no disfrutamos las condiciones del éxito que resulta a veces una situación incómoda  tal vez porque cuando Paraguay fue la nación más desarrollada en América Latina una gran guerra castigó al país y dejó la impresión de que el éxito está más cerca de la .. tragedia.

La cuestión identitaria se forja en la lengua y ella devuelve en cada paraguayo un sentido de orgullo aunque en el proceso ese sincretismo genere conflictos. El pensar en una lengua y expresarse en otra no es aun una cuestión superada. A pesar de que en la Constitución de 1992 se estableció su carácter de lengua oficial todavía los niveles de instrucción bilingüe están lejos de poder desarrollar ambas lenguas confundiéndose en una nueva versión conocida como “jopara” (mezcla)  que algunos conciben como una neo lengua. La lengua guaraní acaba de establecer una Academia que permita coincidir en su grafía y promueva de manera mas fácil el proceso de aprendizaje en escuelas y colegios que ahora resulta de carácter obligatorio. El problema de pensar en una lengua y hablar en otra diferente genera una dificultad conocida como disglosia que a pesar de que el billete nacional este escrito en ambas lenguas todavía tiene un largo camino por recorrer en la tarea de hacer que el carácter bilingüe lleve incluso a facilitar el aprendizaje de una tercera o cuarta lengua.

La persecución que sufrió el guaraní durante el periodo de ocupación militar de brasileños y principalmente argentinos luego de la finalización de la Guerra Grande, estableció el concepto de guarango (zafio o poco educado) a todo aquel que hablara dicha lengua incomprensible para los invasores extranjeros. Con todo el idioma se mantuvo y probablemente haya sido potenciado por el carácter de lengua prohibida socialmente que tuvo como carga durante varios años. La lengua a falta de una grafía conocida por un lado y por el analfabetismo por el otro ha sido hablada y no escrita ni leída por muchos años. Aun  hoy la gran mayoría de los Guaraní hablantes no leen ni escriben en la lengua. La aun débil promoción educativa de ella no ha sido suficiente para promoverla en espacios mas amplios que la simple oralidad.  Pareciera que la misma disfrutara su calidad temporal y no pretendiera dejar rastros que la pongan en peligro.

El Paraguay ha conseguido desarrollar rasgos de su cultura en una lengua que resulta compleja de entenderla incluso para los mismos habitantes de este país que hizo del encierro su característica central . “La isla rodeada de tierra” como describiera al país Augusto Roa Bastos refleja metafóricamente las características de una nación refugiada en su lengua para mantenerla viva, diferente y singular.

El sincretismo de los conceptos culturales de los guaraníes y los españoles que no solo promovieron el uso de la lengua sino que además hicieron de ella la descripción del país en todas sus formas y características. Una lengua onomatopéyica que emita los sonidos de la naturaleza como cuando a una caída de agua la denomina “chololó” o “charará” o describe sus características singulares de Iguazú en la denominación de una de las mas grandes cataratas a nivel mundial.  O acaso juega con la propia denominación del país que algunos la definen a Paraguay como la  “tierra de los payaguaes” (grupo indígena) con el que se encontraron los primeros conquistadores españoles que arribaron al país en 1525.

La lengua define al país y el se refugia en ella como orgullo y defensa de su identidad. Un caso curioso de que la tribu no exista  pero que haya quedado de alguna manera en las 17 etnias sobrevivientes que de alguna manera la referencia como tronco gramátical del que se nutren para sus propias lenguas.  Un país que abraza, absorbe y “somete” en el buen sentido del tèrmino al recién llegado hasta hacerlo parte de su uso obligatorio a culturas notablemente diferentes pero que en pocos años se vuelven paraguayos a travez de la lengua que define su cosmovisión y realidad.

Aunque su promoción sea lenta, su dinámica es tan grande que el diccionario de la Real Academia Española decidió incluir palabras del Guarani a sus ediciones en Español incrementando sus razgos de lengua mezclada (jopara).

Con todo, el gran camino por recorrer en el país es profundizar sus valores culturales y evitar el debate que no de manera infrecuente algunos sectores intelectuales plantean sobre la real utilidad de la lengua Guaraní para los paraguayos. Sin embargo, el conocimiento primero y el reconocimiento después del valor cultural de la misma nos permite entender no solo el país con sus rasgos identitarios sino la región misma que se extiende a la Argentina, el Brasil, Bolivia e incluso el Uruguay. Los nombres de ciudades y pueblos con clara raíz guaraní ha llevado a que el Mercosur reconociera al Guaraní como lengua y que el denominado Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia incluya a la nación Guaraní como parte de ella. En los tiempos dominados por la globalización existe un retorno a las raíces locales procurando volverlas universal desde esa doble dimensión de saberse parte y de reconocerse en el otro esos mismos valores casi como la recomendación de León Tolstoi a ese joven escritor que le preguntó como podría ser universal y el gran escritor ruso le contestó: “pinta o describe  tu aldea y serás universal”.

Es interesante observar ese efecto hoy entre los políticos interesados en reconocerse paraguayos primero y ser electos después  a partir de la lengua que muchos han decidido tomar clases del idioma para mejorar pronunciación y desarrollo de conceptos porque saben que sin hablar guaraní nadie llega a ser escogido para un cargo en el Paraguay. Producciones cinematográficas, un renglón absolutamente nuevo en el país, como “7 cajas” o “Hamaca Paraguaya” no solo obtuvieron un gran respaldo de público en el país sino que han sido premiadas en el mundo y exhibidas en varias salas teniendo al guaraní como idioma dominante en los diálogos que no resultaron ser limitaciones a la hora de traducirlos y presentarlos en el extranjero. Esto sumado al hecho que cantantes reconocidos en el mundo de habla hispana como Joan Manuel Serrat de España hayan grabado canciones en guaraní como “Che Pykazumi” (mi torcaz) con notable éxito en su disco “Tarres” muestran un crecimiento notable de la lengua y un reconocimiento mundial a ella.

Varias universidades en el mundo han incluido la enseñanza y el estudio de la lengua Guaraní con notables muestras de interés hacia ella.

Hasta ahora podemos decir que en el Paraguay coexisten los hispanohablantes con los del “jopara” y un escaso número aún de conocedores del guaraní puro que hacen de la lengua un laboratorio vivo en un país que usa preferentemente el idioma como un valor cultural que lo hace diferente y distinto en el mundo.

Si la cuestión de la identidad puede ser un factor de crisis en el mundo actual, en el Paraguay surge como reafirmación de capacidad de coexistir con otras lenguas  y culturas  al tiempo de ser un poderoso instrumento de adhesión a los valores nacionales para las comunidades extranjeras que pueblan este país de 7 millones de habitantes ubicado en el centro de Sudamérica.

Al misterio que genera este raro proceso de mezcla y síntesis, el idioma nos sorprende no solo describiendo el amanecer con cinco momentos diferentes sino nos muestra la búsqueda de un horizonte en donde es posible ser manteniendo la lengua como elemento común de afirmación soberana. Un instrumento de reconocimiento y de defensa y, una lengua sobre la cual el Paraguay ha tenido que reconstruirse luego del genocidio de la Guerra Grande. Un país, una lengua, una identidad y una proyección ..no es poca cosa en la rica historia del subcontinente.

Benjamín Fernández Bogado es abogado y periodista. Autor de mas de 15 libros sobre democracia, comunicación, gobernabilidad y derecho a la información. Es profesor universitario y fundador de Radio Libre y el Diario financiero 5Dias. Nieman Fellow ´00.

Estrategias de actuación para un ambiente resiliente

Por Alfredo M. Garay

El territorio misionero ha sido un escenario donde se asentaron diferentes conformaciones sociales, con sus particulares modos de percibir la realidad y de intervenir sobre ella. Es el territorio que los pueblos guaraníes concibieron  como una tierra sin mal, y en ese medio experimentaron la transición de una economía basada en la caza a la agricultura.

Para los conquistadores españoles la navegabilidad de los grandes ríos que conformaban la cuenca del Plata (Paraná y Uruguay) presentaban dos grandes obstáculos que ponían limite a la navegación: el Salto Grande (nombre que actualmente ha recibido la represa) sobre el río Uruguay, y los Rápidos de Apipé (donde actualmente se emplaza la represa de Yacyretá). La ocupación colonial se desplegó sobre los tramos navegables (hasta llegar a Asunción) pero agua arriba los conquistadores españoles avanzaron con inseguridad, en tanto la espesura del bosque subtropical dificultaba  su control y puesta en explotación.

Los ríos fueron para los guaraníes la principal vía de comunicación y su economía tenía como  elementos centrales a la selva y el rio. Fue justamente a la vera de estas cuencas superiores[1]  donde, la Compañía de Jesús promovió la creación de pequeños núcleos poblacionales autónomos (misiones) de producción agropecuaria. La experiencia de las reducciones jesuíticas abarcó un inmenso territorio. Mientras la ocupación colonial se apoyó sobre el sistema de asentamientos originario de los pueblos que habían alcanzado mayor desarrollo agrícola[2], la experiencia Jesuítica priorizó los limites selváticos, las cuencas superiores de los grandes ríos, donde se asentaban pueblos con escasa acumulación de excedentes agrícolas. La región de las misiones, nombre con el que se conoce a esta parte del antiguo territorio guaraní, ha quedado marcada por esta experiencia que a finales del siglo XVI se propuso otra forma de relación entre las dos culturas.

El traumático final de estas misiones (después de la expulsión de los jesuitas de América en 1775) devolvió a los antiguos pobladores a la espesura, mientras se producía un lento proceso de apropiación jurídica[3] de unas tierras que no se ocupaban.

En la primera mitad del siglo XIX, los procesos de independencia distribuyeron las orillas entre diferentes naciones, agudizando la mirada de estas tierras como campo de batalla. La violencia que caracterizó el periodo de la conquista, volvió a presentarse como disputa de fronteras, o como  guerras fratricidas.

A fines del siglo XIX la comunicación a través de los ríos estimuló un nuevo sistema de asentamientos sobre sus márgenes. Este proceso de poblamiento quedó en manos de empresas colonizadoras, que convocaban a sus potenciales colonos (trabajadores agrarios) en regiones empobrecidas de Europa. La llegada de estos nuevos inmigrantes[4], con sus idiomas e idiosincrasias,  produjo un fuerte impacto cultural, sobre una población que a lo largo de quinientos años debió experimentar varias mutaciones. Aceleró también la transformación de la selva en área de cultivo, desplazando a los pueblos originarios que no podían demostrar títulos de propiedad.

El minucioso  relevamiento de la fisonomía en las cartografías del instituto geográfico militar a comienzos del siglo XX da cuenta de la percepción de estas tierras como posible campo de batalla. Debe reconocerse que durante toda la etapa de desarrollo industrial que caracterizó a la segunda mitad del siglo XX, el predominio de esta mirada geopolítica (doctrina de la seguridad nacional) postergó el desarrollo de la Región[5]. Recién a comienzos de la década del 80, con la firma de los acuerdos del Mercosur[6], esta mirada fue revisada, multiplicándose los proyectos de construcción de infraestructuras tendientes a vincular la región.

La división del territorio entre diferentes naciones dio lugar a una intensa actividad comercial, que dinamizó la actividad fluvial y el crecimiento de ciudades de frontera. Los movimientos de población de una a otra orilla dan cuenta de la profunda unidad de los habitantes de esta región, que los viejos luchadores de la independencia (como San Martin, Artigas o Andresito Guacurarí) nunca concibieron como desmembrada.

Puede concluirse que la obra de Yacyretá se produce sobre un territorio con una historia muy potente, donde la cantidad de elementos que fueron contribuyendo a la transformación de la sociedad y del medio ambiente, lo identifican como un territorio en transición.

La construcción de la represa de Yacyretá (como en la mayoría de las grandes intervenciones hidráulicas), ha tenido un impacto evidente sobre las características de la región.  El proyecto, que en sus comienzos priorizaba la continuidad de la navegación del rio Paraná, ya incluye en 1905 la propuesta de generación de energía. Un acuerdo (1958)  entre Argentina y Paraguay encomienda la formulación de un primer proyecto, que en 1973  con la firma del tratado Binacional de Yacyretá pone en marcha los trabajos. En diciembre de 1983 se da comienzo a las obras. Si se analizan la evolución política  de la región en estos años, resulta evidente que esta obra aparece llena de contradicciones. Su mayor crisis queda expuesta durante la década del 90, cuando las obras se interrumpen, dejando en claro que cualquier proyecto de continuación debe incorpora la mirada de los actores locales. El nuevo programa se comprometió a compensar la superficie de tierra inundada  con la formación de áreas reserva ecológica, realizar las obras de defensa y de infraestructuras de interés regional (caminos puentes, etc.) la recomposición de la trama urbana de las ciudades afectadas , relocalizar el circuito comercial de la ciudad de Encarnación (cuya dinámica se desplazó del sector del puerto al del puente) y relocalizar a las familias afectadas en ambas márgenes.

Desde el punto de vista físico, la obra Yacyretá se basa en la construcción de una presa de 1.908.000m3 de hormigón, canalizando un caudal promedio de 14.000 m3/seg[7] para producir más de 3.100MW con una energía media anual de 20.700 GWh/año. Esto representa el 22% de la demande de energía del país. La represa convirtió el curso de un tramo de 342km rio Paraná en un lago de 1800km2 (21.000Hm3 de agua), que obligaron a la realización de obras de defensa costera, la reconstrucción del área urbana, la construcción de caminos de integración entre Posadas y Encarnación y el desarrollo de áreas de protección ambiental. Estos trabajos implicaron 3 millones de m3 en excavaciones, 24 millones de m3 de rellenos y terraplenes, 3 millones de m3 de protecciones en roca y 100km de obras viales de recomposición de la trama urbana, puentes y accesos. Además, los trabajos incluyeron la constitución de 155.000 hectáreas de nuevas áreas de reserva ambiental[8] y 600 hectáreas de reserva urbana, el desarrollo de 5.000 metros lineales de playas y 500 hectáreas de parques urbanos y áreas verdes completamente equipados y la construcción de 8.500 casas para la atención de demandas sociales. Respecto del circuito comercial de Encarnación, este fue relocalizado en tres sectores urbanos  con la apertura de 3.000 nuevos comercios.

Estas dimensiones llevan a considerar su impacto, en el contexto de un territorio, que como estuvimos analizando, ha experimentado profundas transformaciones sociales, económicas y culturales, entre las cuales, el crecimiento de las ciudades es una de sus expresiones más elocuentes. La idea de un territorio en transición, nos sitúa en el contexto de una realidad en movimiento, reforzando la necesidad de concebir y alcanzar un horizonte más estable, es decir de un territorio y de una sociedad resiliente[9].

Entendemos como resilencia al grado de respuesta y capacidad de adaptación de los distintos grupos humanos a las condiciones adversas y variadas que le ha tocado enfrentar, conformando un conjunto de rasgos que definen su identidad cultural. Se trata de rasgos que caracterizan a un colectivo social que en gran medida  guardan relación con las características de los espacios que habitan, pero también con la experiencia  de las rupturas, fusiones y transformaciones que definen un sentido de pertenencia, y que se manifiesta como parte de una identidad.

La imposibilidad de revertir determinados procesos históricos o grandes transformaciones del territorio nos sitúan frente a la necesidad de adaptarnos a una nueva realidad poniendo en marcha un proyecto de resiliencia. Esto supone una actitud proyectual que frente a la ruptura de un sistema en equilibrio debe proyectar  uno nuevo. La primera medida es la implementación de acciones de remediación, dirigidas a corregir efectos no deseados de las transformaciones operadas. La segunda es monitorear la evolución de la realidad  en el marco de las nuevas condiciones. Sobre la base de estas tareas, desde una perspectiva de planeamiento, se puede ponderar cuales son las acciones que se deben encarar para proyectar el futuro de la región desde en una perspectiva de desarrollo sustentable.

La viabilidad de un proyecto, no tiene tanto que ver con el tamaño como con la complejidad de las intervenciones. El problema es que la viabilidad de estas intervenciones depende de la capacidad de quien asume la iniciativa para proponer consignas que logren hacer confluir a un amplio espectro de actores sociales con posiciones (intereses, imaginarios y capacidad de intervención) muy diversas. Desde esta perspectiva, la evolución cotidiana de los trabajos (y sus efectos) promueve un permanentemente reacomodamiento de las posiciones que asumen los diferentes actores vinculados al proyecto, obligando a los responsables de su implementación a desarrollar  un verdadero ejercicio de planeamiento estratégico.

En el caso de Yacyretá se debe considerar, que durante los años transcurridos entre la elaboración del proyecto, el inicio de su construcción y el momento de su finalización, ha cambiado profundamente la mirada de la sociedad respecto de la realización de estas grandes obras. La evaluación de su impacto ambiental y social ha llevado a revisar los criterios iniciales respecto del cuidado del territorio y las condiciones que es necesario generar para garantizar su resilencia. Ha llevado a incrementar las obras complementarias, la afectación de áreas de reserva, así como la realización de acciones de protección ambiental y de desarrollo social, como condiciones indispensables para garantizar la sustentabilidad del desarrollo propuesto.

Desde esta perspectiva resulta interesante analizar los factores que en la década del 90 llevaron a la detención de las obras. El intento de privatización en el marco de la implementación de políticas de corte neoliberal que se desprenden del consenso de Washington, presentaba dificultades para asumir los costos asociados a la realización de las obras complementarias.  Debe señalarse  que como consecuencia de la crisis por que atravesó el proyecto original, (basado en la contribución que las obras al desarrollo energético nacional), cualquiera que se propusiera avanzar con el proyecto necesitaba que la región identifique con mayor claridad cuáles serían los efectos de estas obras sobre el desarrollo local.  Para la sociedad local la concreción de las obras de tratamiento ambiental, sobre todo respecto del desarrollo de infraestructuras y urbanización para las localidades afectadas por el completamiento de la represa (al pasar de cota 76 a cota 83) tenía una importancia fundamental .

El plan de trabajos desarrollado entre los años 2002 y 2014 (que posibilitó el reinicio de las tareas) ha tenido un impacto sumamente positivo en la conformación urbana de estas localidades, y si bien quedan todavía muchas tareas pendientes, existe una economía (vinculada con la generación de energía) que garantiza los recursos necesarios para su financiación.

Desde el punto de vista urbanístico, una serie de factores vinculados con la realización de las obras  redefinen las tendencias de crecimiento de las principales ciudades.

En primer lugar por el impacto económico de una inversión que ha significado para la región el equivalente a un millón de dólares que diariamente se incorporan a su economía. Ya habíamos conocido este fenómeno en el caso de Itaypú donde el monto fue superior a los 5 millones U$S/día. Este impacto que tiene como primer efecto la generación de empleos, directa o indirectamente[10] vinculados con el desarrollo de las obras, tiende a incentivar el flujo migratorio (la región paso de 80.000 a 500.000 habitantes), acelera la urbanización, y consecuentemente las demandas de vivienda, equipamiento, servicios, etc.

Desde la perspectiva económica cambia también el perfil productivo de la región: la economía tradicional se basaba en la agricultura (yerba mate, te, Tung), en la década del 70 se sumó la actividad forestal y la industria papelera con importantes efectos sobre el ambiente original. En la actualidad el PBI de la región da cuenta de su importancia como productor de energía, poniendo en discusión la posibilidad de desarrollar nuevos emprendimientos hidroeléctricos.

También cabe mencionar que el crecimiento de la importancia de las ciudades ha incrementado su contribución al desarrollo del sector terciario, tendencia que se agrega a su carácter de centros de comercio de frontera y en la medida que incrementan su complejidad  como productores de servicios, su trascendencia dentro del sistema de ciudades a nivel nacional.

En este marco, la calidad ambiental y el interés paisajístico de estos asentamientos incrementan su performance como lugares turísticos  y como destinos migratorios, convirtiéndose en lugares atractivos para la radicación de nuevas empresas. La actividad inmobiliaria ha acompañado estos procesos, incrementando los metros cuadrados que se producen por año, lo que contribuye a una significativa modernización de su imagen urbana.

Desde el punto de vista social, el Área Metropolitana de Posadas[11] ha remontado su posición relativa dentro de los niveles de Necesidades Básicas Insatisfechas (NBI) de los hogares, pasando de 18.25% en 2001 a 13.9% en 2010. Otro indicador, la mortalidad infantil que en la década del 90 era del 29 por mil, en la actualidad se ha reducido al 9 por mil.

Una vez encarados los problemas más urgentes referidos a la mitigación de los efectos dela presa, y de posicionar a las localidades dentro de una perspectiva de desarrollo sustentable, se hacen presentes cuestione de mayor profundidad, como el problema de la inserción de la región en el contexto nacional y global [12], y la participación que han de tener los sectores más desfavorecidos dentro de este desarrollo. Se destacan también cuestiones  generales vinculadas con el cambio de época, que a nivel local nos refiere a la experiencia de grandes grupos sociales (etnias, pueblos originales, contingentes migratorios) que están inmersos en un proceso de transición que lleva ya muchos años. También plantean la necesidad de revisar la construcción de un imaginario social que observa los efectos de estas transformaciones desde la perspectiva de diferentes cosmovisiones, que  tienen en general dificultades para comprenderlos. Si bien la dinámica migratoria (muy por encima de la media nacional) multiplica los niveles de demanda la construcción de infraestructuras vivienda y servicios, va obteniendo mejoras en  los estándares medios obtenidos por la región. Es de destacar que las mejoras más significativas se verifican en las ciudades, en tanto las áreas rurales, donde permanecen las modalidades productivas tradicionales, presentan los mayores atrasos.

En este marco se plantea, la iniciativa de creación de un espacio donde estos temas sean planteados. La idea de construir un espacio cultural, (Museo del Patrimonio Cultural) que dé cuenta de las profundas mutaciones que ha experimentado la sociedad y el territorio en la región. La idea de estudiar, exhibir y conservar la herencia cultural y ambiental que han dejado los ancestros de la población actual. Se trata de desarrollar las potencialidades de un patrimonio (tangible o intangible) incorporando todos los aspectos que componen la identidad de una cultura, se presenta como una contribución importante a las acciones de resilencia que encara la Entidad Binacional Yacyretá y el Gobierno de la Provincia de Misiones.

Se propone que este centro incluya el desarrollo de líneas investigación, retomando una experiencia ya existente en la región. La promoción de ámbitos de intercambio y dialogo, la producción, clasificación y exposición de materiales, así como la generación de espacios de encuentro, eventos, y otras expresiones que den cuenta de la producción cultural de esta región que lleva impresa la experiencia del pueblo Guaraní.  

Este centro se emplazará en un punto destacado de la nueva costanera de Posadas (el sector del brete), constituyendo un Hito representativo del presente y el pasado de la región.

Alfredo Máximo Garay es arquitecto argentino, presidente del Antiguo Puerto Madero Corporation y profesor en la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo en la Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). 

Recorriendo Yvyvrupa

Por Maria Inês Ladeira

Mis hermanas, parientes, es cierto que todas las cosas que se encuentran en este mundo son difíciles para nosotros. Nuestra palabra, cuando emerge de nuestra boca, surge como Nhanderu eté (nuestro verdadero padre). Permitan que él vea que conversamos, que estamos felices. (...) Desde lugares distantes, a través de la caminata verdadera, fue como llegasteis a nuestra aldea. Nosotros, en nuestra condición humana, enfrentamos en esta tierra muchos obstáculos para mantener el contacto entre nuestras aldeas. Sin embargo, con esta caminata, llevada a cabo mediante la orientación de Nhanderu, porque solo él puede abrir nuestros caminos, fue posible encontrarnos aquí en la tierra!

(Chamán de Fortin Mborore, 1997).

Empecé a convivir con los Guaraní en setiembre de 1978 cuando los habitantes de una pequeña aldea, situada en la periferia de São Paulo, construyeron un cuarto de madera para hacer su propia escuela y solicitaron al gobierno una profesora para alfabetizarles en portugués.

Yo me hospedaba en la familia del dirigente político. Muchas veces, al caer la tarde, me sentaba delante de su casa y recibía visitantes recién llegados que hacia allí se dirigían. Una breve conversación y, dependiendo del asunto, un cimarrón o unos cachimbos. En los dos años que me dediqué a enseñar en esta comunidad, a pesar de no dominar la lengua guaraní, aprendí a distinguir a las personas que venían de aldeas lejanas, trayendo, además de noticias, semillas, plantas medicinales y otros bienes para regalar a sus parientes. A veces, se quedaban largas temporadas para vender artesanía en la ciudad y participar de rituales. Poco a poco, conseguí imaginar como eran las aldeas situadas en el litoral sudeste de Brasil y en el interior del Paraná con las cuales esta comunidad mantenía relaciones más próximas, y quién eran sus chamanes y líderes.

Durante los años siguientes me dediqué a trabajar por el reconocimiento de los derechos territoriales indígenas junto al Centro de Trabajo Indigenista – CTI, y tuve la oportunidad de conocer aldeas guaraní en otras regiones de América del sur. Comprendí entonces que la disposición espacial de sus aldeas está asociada a un entretejido social en continua composición; relaciones antiguas y nuevas interactúan, integrando el pasado y proyectando el futuro de sus bases territoriales. Los movimientos y las articulaciones impulsadas por sus generaciones se encuentran en comunicación constante, renovación de experiencias, actualización de recuerdos, y en un continuo intercambio de saberes, de prácticas rituales, de cultivos y de especies naturales.

El territorio Guaraní está formado por una intensa y extensa red de relaciones, a la cual se superpusieron, secularmente, fronteras nacionales y centenas de divisiones político-administrativas. Durante la expansión de la colonización la población guaraní fue drásticamente reducida: estimada en aproximadamente 2 millones de individuos cuando llegaron los europeos, hoy son contabilizados cerca de 180 mil.
En los siglos XVI y XVII, los cronistas identificaban como pertenecientes a la “nación guaraní” a los grupos de mismo lenguaje que se encontraban desde la costa atlántica hasta las laderas andinas, en el interior del continente: comunidades designadas por el nombre de ríos, cursos de agua, características fisiográficas y/o respectivos liderazgos políticos. Variaciones lingüísticas, sociales y culturales de esta población han sido puestas de manifiesto en algunas ocasiones en el tiempo y espacio, con el uso de diversos etnónimos.

Pese a las clasificaciones vigentes - Mbya, Nhandéva y Kaiowa en Brasil y a los correlatos en los países vecinos -, tanto la colonización, como las misiones jesuíticas, las políticas indigenistas y, sobretodo, las propias dinámicas guaraní promovieron nuevos organizaciones entre subgrupos.

Las tierras ocupadas por los Guaraní son actualmente diminutas, discontinuas, entrecortadas por haciendas, carreteras, ciudades, disponiendo de poca o ninguna área de floresta. Por eso mismo, en conjunto, son fundamentales en su interacción para mantener en equilibrio el modo Guaraní de vivir. Debido a la escasez de tierras fértiles en las áreas de pendientes para poder practicar sus técnicas milenarias de agricultura, las familias que viven en aldeas en el litoral atlántico necesitan semillas y otros cultivos tradicionales de tenencia que se encuentran en las aldeas en las llanuras del interior. De la misma forma, las que viven en regiones deforestadas por el agro-negocio, se benefician de la existencia de especies nativas encontradas en las aldeas forestales.

Los Guaraní conciben su territorio nacional como la base que sustenta a sus aldeas, que a su vez, dan soporte al mundo. Por tanto, sería poco decir que las secuelas de la expropiación colonial pudiesen recubrir la multiplicidad de implicaciones que representan incontables fronteras, concebidas en sus más diversos sentidos y vividas por las familias Guaraní dispersas en la amplitud de su territorio.

Las familias Guaraní que viven en Guaíra, en la frontera de Brasil con Paraguay, son un ejemplo candente: Después de haber sido expoliadas de sus tierras ancestrales debido a la exploración agropecuaria y a la inundación de gran parte de ellas tras la construcción de la hidroeléctrica Itaipú viven hoy en condiciones críticas, sin tener siquiera la ciudadanía reconocida. A orillas del Océano Atlántico, distante de las áreas fronterizas, también proliferan los conflictos que resultan de la expropiación territorial y de los enfrentamientos por el reconocimiento de los derechos históricos Guaraní. La estrategia utilizada con mayor frecuencia para destituir a los Guaraní de sus tierras es tacharlos de extranjeros, en cualquier parte de las fronteras nacionales.

A pesar de vivir constantemente situaciones límite, los Guaraní toman creen como precepto colectivo no poseer fronteras. El dominio de un amplio territorio se afirma en el hecho que sus relaciones sociales y de reciprocidad no se limitan exclusivamente en aldeas situadas en una misma región. Estas ocurren en el ámbito del “mundo”,  donde las articulaciones entre aldeas próximas y distantes definen la espacialidad de este pueblo.

Los Guaraní conservan la amplitud de su territorio a pesar de no poseer exclusividad sobre este. A ese espacio territorial, donde consolidaron su historia y experiencia, le llaman Yvyrupa (yvy-tierra; tupa-soporte) que traducido de forma simplificada significa plataforma terrestre, donde el mundo sucede. Para los Guaraní, la ocupación de yvyvai (tierra imperfecta) sigue el reglamento mítico relacionado al origen de su humanidad, cuando los antepasados de un tiempo lejano se distribuyeron en familias sobre la superficie terrestre (yvyrupa), para poblar y reproducir las creaciones de Nhanderu tenonde (nuestro primer padre). 

Debido a mi trabajo, pude reparar en las características de movilidad espacial guaraní. Sabía que los contactos entre personas, aunque estuviesen separadas por fronteras nacionales, se producen por vías propias, incluyendo travesías de ríos, medios de transporte y caminatas. Varios intercambios de semillas y especies vegetales fueron estimulados por el CTI, aunque  guardo un buen recuerdo del primer viaje del que participé. Quería observar cómo los Guaraní que viven en el litoral de Brasil, en la punta del mundo (yvyapy) y sus iguales en Argentina y Paraguay, conversarían sobre el mundo actual. Presuponía que oiría pronunciamientos teóricos sobre las condiciones actualidades de su territorio multifacético que extrapolasen el discurso político, producido por los jóvenes líderes.

De ese modo, una mañana de enero de 1997 un grupo formado por dirigentes espirituales y ancianos provenientes de siete aldeas, con su equipaje repleto de recuerdos de lugares y tiempos, se dirigió hacia el oeste. El viaje se inició en la aldea de Barragem, en São Paulo, casualmente la primera aldea que conocí.

Fueron visitadas cinco aldeas en Argentina y cinco en Paraguay. La primera, a la que llegamos a altas horas de la noche después de inevitables dificultades en la frontera, fue Fortin Mborore. La partida, 18 días después, fue desde las ruinas de Trinidad.

En cada aldea, los visitantes, en fila, siguiendo el protocolo, se saludaban: porã eté aguyjevete! Al sonido de flautas, maracas y rabecas, o en celebraciones en las Opy (casa de rituales), dieron abrigo a los visitantes. Después de aquellos momentos, las palabras de los anfitriones y visitantes se alternaban. Destacaban discursos sobre el significado del viaje y críticas relacionadas a la gravedad de la situación agraria.

En su totalidad, esos discursos merecerían un análisis más cuidadoso, lo que ultrapasa los límites de este artículo. Transcribo únicamente algunos fragmentos que expresan principios comunes reconocidos en la retórica, en el origen de las palabras ceremoniales reelaboradas conforme las circunstancias locales y en la percepción de una tierra sin fronteras estatales.

En las salutaciones, se destacaron menciones a la relevancia del caminar (-guata porã) orientado por las divinidades, siguiendo órdenes míticos. En momentos de mucha emoción, los dirigentes se refirieron a la intención de alcanzar yvymarãey (la tierra de la eternidad, donde viven las divinidades).

  • No sé llegar a palabras de los antiguos para recibiros. Yo que soy humano no consigo alcanzar una palabra que venga de Nhanderu. Ya somos adultos y por eso sabemos lo que es bueno y lo que es malo. Ya somo viejos, por eso sabemos agradecerle a él que generó la humanidad, a nosotros los Nhandéva, a hombres y mujeres (...). Por eso vosotros también vinisteis a esta tierra y veréis las cosas preciosas que nuestros abuelos antiguos dejaron. (...) fue él que os dio el coraje para que nos comuniquemos, juguemos y hablemos. Y que esa fuerza pase a nuestros hijos, nietas y nietos. Yo no tengo muchas palabras que decir, pero vuestra presencia me hace muy feliz.

  • Estoy hablando, yo, que soy humano, también tengo dificultad en alcanzar la sabiduría. Aún así, allí donde estuviésemos, somos todos iguales, hablamos la misma lengua y sabemos ver. (...)

  • Es por eso que estamos haciendo un esfuerzo para tener un solo pensamiento, en todo el mundo, siempre con la misma fuerza. Todos nosotros queremos tener salud, la misma alegría, la fuerza que vosotros tenéis nosotros queremos tenerla. Porque nosotros somos familia, hermanos, la sangre que corre en nosotros es la misma.

  • Yo vine para ver a mis familiares. Estaba en la aldea de Iguazú cuando llegaron y vine para acompañarles. Y vi muchas cosas bonitas (...) nos acordamos de nuestros parientes y juntos trabajamos para seguir las mismas palabras en Paraguay, Argentina y Brasil. (...) Porque nosotros, los líderes, vamos a reunirnos y, a partir de hoy, no tendremos más fronteras. Nosotros, los Guaraní, iremos a cualquier aldea.

  • Por donde nosotros andamos, por donde nosotros pasamos, pasaron Nhanderu Kuéry (nuestros padres divinos) que pusieron esa tierra, donde nosotros pisamos. (...) y eso ocurrió por Nhanderu, sólo él puede abrir el camino.

  • Yo también quiero decir algunas palabras. Es cierto, muchas cosas están difíciles. No es cualquier camino que se encuentra libre para nosotros. Hay muchos males que pueden alcanzarnos (...). Pero con la ayuda de Nhanderu, vosotros hicisteis este viaje y eso es bueno para nosotros y para vosotros también. Por eso, es el hijo de Tupã que nos protege. (...) es por la voluntad de Nhanderu que este acontecimiento sigue adelante, y que ocurra de nuevo.

  • Todos los que han venido no van a olvidarlo tan fácilmente. Voy a guardarlo en mi memoria para el resto de mi vida, donde nuestros abuelos pisaron, plantaron y buscaron pasar hacia Nhanderu retã (el lugar de Nhanderu, yvymarãey, la tierra de la eternidad). Nosotros creemos en Nhanderu para que ilumine más nuestros pensamientos, para que sigamos el mismo camino de nuestros abuelos antiguos.

  • Vimos el lugar donde los antiguos consiguieron atravesar hacia Yvymarãey. Ellos son los que quedaron y vi el trabajo de los antiguos para atravesar el mundo. (...) los abuelos que no lo consiguieron, anduvieron hasta la orilla del mar para desde ahí cruzar. (...) por eso, nosotros tenemos que mirar al océano. (...) todos los que viven hoy tienen el mismo destino y aquellos que se esfuercen lo van a conseguir.

  • Estoy muy contento que mis parientes hayan venido hasta aquí a nuestra aldea. Y en el día de hoy vosotros ya vais a volver a vuestras aldeas. Vosotros que sois mis abuelos y abuelas ya habéis crecido. (...) Cuando llegues a tu aldea nosotros queremos que te acuerdes de nosotros y le cuentes a tus nietos.

  • Yo no creí que llegases. Pero lo importante es que vi a mi abuela y, de esa forma, tú ya tienes los cabellos blancos porque tu madre y padre te dieron muchos consejos y tú los seguiste. (...) y que su fe continúe bien fuerte para todos, para tus familiares, tus nietos y nietas. (...) Y tú ya me has visto como soy. Así que en el día que os marcháis, se queda en mí esa tristeza dentro de mi corazón. Pero que le puedo hacer? (...) Yo dije para mi mismo: ya no tengo más a mi abuela, la abuela que tenía ya falleció, pero vi que tenía otra que eres tú que ya está crecida. Entonces usted ya sabe, mi abuela, que soy de una aldea llamada Pastoreo. (...) soy un líder y estoy muy feliz. Tú vas a volver a tu aldea y estás llevando ese pedazo de mí. 

Al recorrer los caminos guaraní se puede constatar que el Mercosul, disponiendo de normas estrictamente comerciales, desconsidera el intenso y amplio flujo de intercambios que ocurren desde tiempos inmemoriales entre centenas de aldeas que comprenden un mismo territorio. Aún así, a pesar de las discrepancias relativas a los derechos territoriales, a la ciudadanía y a las formalidades burocráticas, los vínculos y flujos entre este pueblo, no han sido interrumpidos.

Maria Inês Ladeira es Doctora en Geografía Humana por la Universidad de São Paulo, máster en Antropología por la Pontífice Universidad Católica de São Paulo. Miembro de la Coordinación General del Centro de Trabajo Indigenista. 

Y marane’ÿ rekávo

En busca del agua sin males

Por Bartomeu Melià, S.J.

Una vista aérea de la central hidroeléctrica; los guaraníes se preocupan por las aguas malas. Foto cortesía de Oscar Thomas.

No solo la tierra ya se llenó de males. También el agua. Las aguas muertas se extienden por la tierra y no solo por su superficie; a manera de venas colesterolizadas, circulan con dificultad bajo la piel del mundo.

La busca del agua será en este siglo XXI el gran afán de muchos, sino de todos. ¿Dónde hallar este bien claro y cristalino, esas aguas de vida en el desierto, ese líquido alegre y poderoso que canta en el arroyo, ruge en la catarata y tiene su brillo de diamante escondido en el seno de la tierra?


Los Guaraníes, instalados desde hace siglos en lo porvenir, hicieron del agua el lugar de su origen, el centro de su tierra. Recordemos el relato mítico de los Mbyá, tal como lo trae León Cadogan, en el libroYwyra ñe’ery: fluye del ábol la palabra (Asunción, CEADUC, 1971, págs. 57-58).

 Todo esto sucedió en el lugar
donde vivía Nuestra Abuela,
en el Agua Genuina.
Esto fue en nuestra tierra
Esto fue antes de que la tierra
se deshiciera.

(Pues esta tierra de ahora es un simulacro
de aquella tierra).
Y Nuestra Abuela vivía en el fururo centro de la tierra.
Tenía una vara insignia en la mano,
en nuestra futura tierra ella vivió.
Tenía un hijo, pero ella
no tenía padre no tenía madre.
Por sí misma se dió cuerpo.

El centro de la tierra es pues el agua, el Y Ete, el agua auténtica, la genuina, la verdadera. El agua, el centro de la tierra. Ahí es donde comienza la vida. La vida de la tierra es el agua. Ahora bien, esta profecía guaraní hoy se convierte en objeto de planes aparentemente más prosaicos, pero igualmente vitales para el futuro, no solo de los países del Mercosur, sino de todo el mundo.


Todavía no ha trascendido al gran público en el Paraguay, pero los especialistas lo conocen bien desde la década del 70 y los geopolíticos probablemente ya llevan tiempo negociándolo. En la tierra guaraní está el que se considera el mayor acuífero del planeta. Yo lo he llegado a conocer muy tardíamente, hace poco y por extraño que parezca, precisamente a través de los indios Guaraníes del Brasil, que están preocupados con lo que va a ser de su agua, y si no tendrá el mismo triste destino que ya tuvo su tierra.

Copio de una nota técnica: “El Aquífero Guaraní es ciertamente uno de los mayores reservorios de agua subterránea dulce del mundo, cuyo volumen acumulado se estima en 45.000 km3”.

Lo interesante de esa enorme riqueza es que tiene casi los mismos límites geográficos y ecológicos que tuvo la ocupación prehistórica del pueblo guaraní. Es realmente de justicia que se le denomine como Acuífero Guaraní. Transfronterizo, como lo fue el territorio guaraní originario, tiene una extensión actual de unos 840.000 km2 en el Brasil, 225.000 km2  en Argentina, 71.000 km2  en el Paraguay y 58.000 km2  en el Uruguay. Es decir, un enorme cuerpo cuyas venas se ramifican por una extensión de 1,2 millones de kilómetros cuadrados.

Y son aguas tan puras que pueden ser consumidas sin necesidad de ser tratadas previamente, dados los mecanismo de filtración y autodepuración bio-geoquímica que se dan en el mismo subsuelo.

Mis queridos lectores se habrán dado perfecta cuenta que estoy copiando lo que encuentro en la nota técnica que me facilitaron mis amigos guaraníes y que es de la autoría de un gran especialista en la cuestión, Aldo da C. Rebouças, quien cuenta con numerosos estudios sobre el tema.

La busca de esa agua sin mal, ese Y Marane’ÿ, en realidad nos llena de admiración pero nos deja aprehensivos. ¿Quien se hará dueño de esa Agua Genuina, de ese Y Ete, del lugar de Nuestra Abuela, que es como decir la Madre Agua?

Los conquistadores de siempre la buscarán como el último El Dorado que se sitúa, no en el horizonte, sino debajo de nuestros pies. Lo curioso es que el descubrimiento de ese gran acuífero se debió en gran parte a una decepción; se buscaba petróleo y sólo se encontró agua. Ahora resulta que el líquido del futuro más estimable, es esa pura agua, agua pura.


Ahí es donde los Guaraníes también hacen escuchar su preocupado llanto y sus endechas. Si la tierra ya fue destruida, ¿no será destruida también el agua? Los riesgos en el mal uso de las aguas subterráneas ya se avizora. Se excavan pozos, más o menos profundos, sin tecnología adecuada, con una explotación inmediatista, un aprovechamiento interesado y exclusivo que chupa cantidades enormes de esa hermana agua para disfrazarla de gaseosa o cerveza, y venderla. Y la polución de acuíferos superiores, ya bastante afectados, podrá fácilmente repercutir en la contaminación de los más profundos.

La renovación de las aguas del Acuífero Guaraní por ahora es bastante buena y satisfactoria, pero, ¿hasta cuándo? Especuladores y negociantes pueden instaurar un aguatráfico que será la muerte de la vida que viene del Agua Genuina, del Y Ete de los Guaraníes.

El Acuífero Guaraní es un verdadero banco de agua de valor incalculable que ni se puede desperdiciar ni debe ser dejado en manos de agentes inescrupulosos. Es un banco de altísimo valor que debe ser protegido y administrado éticamente.

“El depósito de resíduos urbanos y/o industriales sin tecnología adecuada, así como la utilización descontrolada y creciente de insumos químicos modernos en la agricultura, son fuentes potenciales de contaminación de las aguas subterráneas en general. Hay que recordar que la polución que alcanza las aguas subterráneas rasas o freáticas, podrá ser llevada a los acuíferos profundos o confinados en la medida en que los pozos profundos continúen siendo construidos, operados o abandonados sin tecnología adecuada”, nos advierte Aldo da C. Rebouças.

Hay un aspecto ético y político que no puede ser dejado de lado. El agua ahora ya no es solo un bien libre del cual cada uno puede disponer arbitrariamente; es un recurso natural de valor social y económico. y el agua subterránea todavía más que las aguas superficiales.

Buscando una tierra sin mal, los Guaraníes encontraron también ese Y marane’ÿ, un bien recóndito, profundo, trasparente, que nos legaron como lugar de vida, de claridad y de bien, siempre y cuando continúe siendo y sakä (agua transparente), y satï (agua clara), y porä (agua buena), y ete (agua verdadera y genuina).

Este lugar de las aguas surgentes se llama, y con razón, Acuífero Guaraní. Su nombre brillante y apropiado no debe ser manchado con los males de la polución capitalista e interesada.

Bartomeu Melià, S.J., es sacerdote jesuita, antropólogo y lingüista que se enfoca en los Guaranies. Su trabajo incluye el estudio y la protección del lenguaje Guarani. 

El Chamamé

Un guía para la música de Corrientes

Por Eugenio Monjeau

Dos niños bailan el chamamé en Puente Pexoa, Corrientes, Argentina. Foto por Facundo de Zuviria. www.facundodezuviria.com

Existe una danza tradicional andaluza, el vito, inspirada en el “baile de San Vito”, nombre que se le dio durante siglos a la corea de Huntington, entre cuyos síntomas se cuentan movimientos espasmódicos que dificultan incluso el caminar. Los enfermos, considerados víctimas de una suerte de manía del baile, peregrinaban a la capilla de San Vito, construida en Ulm, Alemania, esperando que el santo los curara. En la provincia de Corrientes (que integra, junto con Entre Ríos al sur y Misiones al norte, el Litoral argentino) también existe una manía, aunque no tan peligrosa. Se trata del chamamé. Se manifiesta de diversas maneras, pero la más común (como les ocurría a los peregrinos) es la del baile. Forma superior del baile son los festivales. La Fiesta Nacional del Chamamé tiene lugar durante unos diez días del mes de enero, el momento de mayor calor de todo el año (en uno de los lugares más calurosos de la Argentina). Los 40° C de temperatura y las horas ininterrumpidas de música deben llevar a los miles de espectadores a una especie de trance. Mi objetivo con este breve artículo es inducir en usted, querido lector, una versión doméstica, modesta y pulcra de ese estado de alienación.

Pero antes, un poco de historia. Según el experto argentino Rubén Pérez Bugallo, el chamamé es el resultado de una mezcla entre, en primer término, ciertas formas musicales españolas que, durante la conquista, fueron ingresando al continente americano por el Perú, siguieron su camino hacia el Paraguay y llegaron luego a la Argentina y, en segundo término, algunas danzas centroeuropeas populares en el siglo XIX, como el vals y la mazurka. Pérez Bugallo discute específicamente la idea de que el chamamé tenga un origen guaraní. Hay un basamento, explica, hispano-peruano, con un compás en seis por ocho, propio del llamado cancionero ternario colonial, sobre el que se agregan aquellas formas europeas en tres por cuatro:

Un buen día, gringos y criollos decidieron hacer música juntos. El que llegaba de Europa aportó su acordeón y sus ritmos de ambos órdenes: el binario de la polka y el chotis y el ternario del vals y la mazurka. El hombre de tierra adentro tomó su guitarra y acompañó con rasguidos, rítmicamente fiel a lo que le dictaba su tradición: en seis por ocho. […] En cuanto al resultado de esa mixtura, sabido es que en toda asociación instrumental espontánea lo que marca la modalidad rítmica es el acompañamiento –en este caso, recordemos, a cargo de la guitarra criolla–. […] En efecto, una mazurka de acordeón acompañada por una guitarra en seis por ocho produce un resultado difícilmente diferenciable de un chamamé

(Rubén Pérez Bugallo, El chamamé. Raíces coloniales y des-orden popular [Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Sol, 2008], p. 110 y ss.).

Pérez Bugallo rastrea una aparición del término “chamamé” en el periódico porteño Las Cuatro Cosas  del 17 de febrero de 1821, en el que se dice que el sacerdote Francisco de Paula Castañeda había “bailado un chamamé encima de la cabeza de alguno”. Según Bugallo, se trata de una metáfora política (el padre Castañeda era un gran polemista), y en realidad “chamamé” no sería sino una traducción al jopará (el guaraní hablado por españoles y criollos) de “fandango”, la danza española en boga en ese momento en toda Iberoamérica. Lo cierto es que el término desaparece de la documentación hasta el año 1930, en que la RCA Victor lo incorpora como rótulo para la canción “Corrientes poti”, del cantante paraguayo Samuel Aguayo. A partir de allí el chamamé se termina de establecer como género folklórico por derecho propio, con un nombre que ya no volverá a variar. 

La orquestación del chamamé apenas si amplía la guitarra y el acordeón mencionados más arriba: un conjunto tradicional completo consta de acordeón, bandoneón, guitarras y contrabajo. Aun cuando el ritmo es uno de los elementos más característicos del género, por sus polirritmias, sus síncopas y sus contratiempos, la percusión no forma parte de la instrumentación típica (aunque se ha vuelto común en los últimos tiempos y algunos tradicionalistas sostienen con fastidio que la Fiesta Nacional del Chamamé debería pasar a llamarse Fiesta Nacional de la Batería). Toda la riqueza rítmica del chamamé radica en, por un lado, lo que está escrito en las partituras, y, por el otro, la destreza y la sensibilidad de los intérpretes (un tanto esquemáticamente: el bandoneón, de timbre más dulce y más dúctil, lleva la melodía, mientras que el acordeón se encarga sobre todo de los adornos y de la marcación rítmica).

A esa formación típica se añaden, en los conjuntos tradicionales, los cantantes. A veces es uno solo, pero en general son dúos, de voces agudas y nasales, a menudo en falsete, que cantan por terceras y sextas paralelas. Interesantemente, aunque sigamos la hipótesis de Bugallo del origen criollo-centroeuropeo del género, la mayor y mejor parte del repertorio cantado está en guaraní. El subgénero conocido como “chamamé caté” (de categoría, elegancia; la clasificación de los distintos tipos de chamamé no es definitiva, pero podemos mencionar, además del caté, el chamamé kangui –triste, en guaraní–, más lento y melancólico, y su opuesto, el chamamé maceta, popular, muy rítmico, típico de bailes y festivales) está siempre cantado en ese idioma, que en el Litoral es hablado masivamente. Todos los correntinos lo incorporan, en mayor o menor medida, a su habla cotidiana, aun los que no tienen ascendencia indígena, y no sería exagerado decir que casi todos los chamamés incluyen algún término de origen guaraní en sus letras. De hecho, es lengua oficial de la provincia.  

Ya sean en guaraní, en castellano o en una mezcla de los dos, las letras del chamamé suelen hablar de distintos personajes locales, de animales, de los pueblos del Litoral y, sobre todo, del río Paraná. El poeta correntino Albérico Mansilla (autor del hermoso chamamé “Viejo Caá Catí”, con música de Edgar Romero Maciel) dijo al respecto: “El río es al chamamé lo que el adulterio es al tango”. Pero quiero señalar aquí un tópico, aunque usual, más insospechado, y que también vincula, aunque por oposición, el chamamé con el tango. Mientras que este último explora incansablemente el tema de la cárcel (donde se originó el idioma lunfardo, propio del género), los robos, las armas y todo tipo de ilícitos, el chamamé tiene un vínculo cercano con el ejército y, como suelen decirlo en las propias canciones, “la autoridad”. “La guardia de seguridad” de Mario Millán Medina es un chamamé humorístico que expresa la admiración del correntino humilde por la fuerza pública. El personaje, aspirante a policía, canta: “¡A los yanquis y a los bolches, / si los llego a encontrar, / les voy a encajar una sableada, / para que se dejen de bochinchear!”. Se multiplican los chamamés dedicados a comisarios (“Comisario Silva”, de Tránsito Cocomarola) y a próceres (se destaca por la belleza de su letra y de su música el chamamé “Sargento Cabral”, en homenaje a un soldado correntino que en la Batalla de San Lorenzo se interpuso entre las bayonetas enemigas y el cuerpo herido del también correntino José de San Martín para protegerlo; cuenta la leyenda que las últimas palabras de Cabral fueron para San Martín: “Muero contento, mi General, hemos batido al enemigo”). 

Músicos del chamamé disfrutan toca. Foto por Facundo de Zuviria.

El chamamé se origina en plena guerra civil argentina, entre los litoraleños (habitantes del Litoral) que bregaban por la autonomía del territorio y los que apoyaban a la administración central del país desde Buenos Aires. Se cuentan historias acerca de chamamés interpretados por las bandas militares después de las batallas, de uno y de otro bando, y hasta hace algunas décadas había ciertos chamamés que no podían tocarse en época electoral porque suscitaban reacciones violentas de parte de los militantes de los distintos partidos, surgidos a mediados del siglo XIX en el contexto de ese enfrentamiento entre Corrientes y Buenos Aires. Pero además la milicia tiene una importancia particular por ser uno de los principales vehículos de las formas musicales entre las distintas partes de la colonia. Pensemos en las tropas que bajaban desde el Perú hasta el actual territorio argentino, pasando por el Paraguay, cuando se fundó el Virreinato del Río de la Plata. La guitarra era parte del equipaje obligado de cualquier grupo de soldados. Según Pérez Bugallo, por ejemplo, “al paso del ejército brasileño por nuestro territorio [durante la terrible Guerra del Paraguay, que enfrentó al Brasil, la Argentina y el Uruguay contra el Paraguay entre 1864 y 1870, EM] se debería la llegada de la polka canaria o chamarrita” (la “Chamarrita de los milicos” de Alfredo Zitarrosa les canta cariñosamente a los soldados de un cuartel), que es hoy parte fundamental del repertorio litoraleño y a la que algunos han definido como “el ritmo de un caballo al trote con las riendas sueltas”, retratando poéticamente otra apropiación criolla de una forma de origen europeo.

Mi relación con el género se remonta a 1997. Un día llegó mi padre con un disco de chamamé y me dijo: “Tenés que escuchar esto. Es una genialidad”. Yo me reí y ridiculicé la recomendación. Estaba reproduciendo uno de los lugares comunes del sector “intelectual” de las clases medias argentinas: el chamamé es una música de baja calidad, de consumo restringido a la provincia de Corrientes, a los correntinos que viven en la provincia de Buenos Aires y, en general, a las clases populares. Pocas veces en mi vida me vi tan obligado a reconocer un error como cuando mi padre, en un viaje en auto en la ruta y sin darme alternativa, puso el disco en cuestión. 17 canciones en las que se combinaban un virtuosismo instrumental insólito con pasajes tan austeros como expresivos.

Se trataba del álbum Por cielos lejanos, de Rudi y Nini Flores. Rudi (1961, guitarra) y Nini (1966, acordeón) son dos hermanos correntinos que vienen desarrollando desde hace ya tres décadas algo así como un chamamé de cámara. Es como si lograran capturar el espíritu del chamamé, aislarlo, estudiarlo y plasmarlo en cada una de sus grabaciones. A través de un conocimiento intenso de sus predecesores (entre los que se cuenta su propio padre, el prodigioso bandoneonista Avelino Flores), de sus estudios formales de música y del inquietante plus que les viene por el hecho de ser hermanos, Rudi y Nini parecen haber alcanzado la expresión más depurada del chamamé. Podemos tomarlos como una suerte de arquetipo chamamecero.

En primer lugar, la música de Rudi y Nini expone ejemplarmente la tensión tan propia del chamamé entre, por llamarlas de alguna manera, alta y baja cultura. El chamamé es, como yo pensaba antes de escucharlo por primera vez, una música popular, propia de festivales de miles de personas que duran días enteros, de discos grabados precariamente y de recitales improvisados en bares mal iluminados. Pero también es una música que solo puede ser tocada por maestros. Todo el repertorio chamamecero se sostiene en el virtuosismo del acordeonista, que tiene a su disposición una riqueza infinita de dinámicas y timbres que debe ser aprovechada. El género lleva al límite las posibilidades del instrumento. Quizás ya en el origen de esta música, en el encuentro entre una tradición rítmica de origen español profundamente arraigada entre los criollos y las danzas más sofisticadas de los salones europeos, se haya comenzado a gestar esa ambigüedad. (Podemos agregar aquí que así como existen ciudades hermanas a miles de kilómetros de distancia, el chamamé tiene un género hermano en los Estados Unidos: el bluegrass. Ambos tienen un origen europeo pero crecieron a la vera de ríos americanos, ambos son parte del folklore nacional, ambos tienen un desarrollo instrumental sorprendente pese a ser músicas profundamente populares –tanto por el virtuosismo que requieren como por lo singular de sus instrumentos emblemáticos: el acordeón y el bandoneón en el chamamé y el banjo en el bluegrass–. Sus melodías unen proverbialmente la alegría y la tristeza y producen una inclaudicable devoción, mientras que a los ojos de los no iniciados todos los chamamés y todos los bluegrass suenan iguales.)

Rudi y Nini Flores retoman también aquella tensión entre la música criolla y la música europea, en este caso incluso como dato biográfico: se radicaron en París en 1994, momento en el cual el chamamé seguía siendo patrimonio, a la vista de las clases medias, de los sectores populares. Si bien no fueron los primeros chamameceros en llegar a Francia, pues los había antecedido Raúl Barboza, sí fueron los primeros en hacer de la depuración su novedad, mientras que Barboza había adoptado un estilo más vanguardista, que buscaba la sofisticación apelando a las presuntas raíces guaraníes y selváticas del género tan discutidas por Pérez Bugallo. Con los hermanos Flores, el vals, la mazurka y la polka vuelven a Europa de la mano del chamamé, que luego regresa a la Argentina y es recibido como una música de alto nivel interpretativo, rítmico, armónico y melódico. El chamamé se hizo presente así en pequeñas salas de concierto, centros culturales, librerías tradicionales de la ciudad de Buenos Aires. 

Pero el chamamé también es musicalmente ambiguo por los estilos personales de sus principales compositores e intérpretes, algunos más cercanos al espíritu criollo, a la marcación rítmica del seis por ocho, y otros más líricos, más centroeuropeos. Dije que el primer chamamé denominado como tal se grabó en 1930. Rudi y Nini Flores se conformaron en 1984, y su discografía más relevante comienza a producirse a partir de la década de 1997, aproximadamente. ¿Qué ocurrió entre el origen y lo que personalmente considero la culminación del género? ¿Quiénes fueron los predecesores de Rudi y Nini, los forjadores del acervo chamamecero, de las miles de grabaciones, letras y melodías? La lista de músicos es infinita y digo tan solo unos nombres para que el lector pueda investigarlos: Tránsito Cocomarola, Ernesto Montiel, Isaco Abitbol, Tarragó Ros (paladín del chamamé maceta mencionado más arriba y el primer músico argentino en vender más de un millón de discos), Damasio Esquivel, Pedro Montenegro, Blas Martínez Riera.

 Querría detenerme brevemente en los tres primeros, que tienen estilos interpretativos bastante distintos, aunque tengan puntos de contacto y Montiel y Abitbol hayan integrado, en sus inicios, el mismo conjunto, el cuarteto Santa Ana. El estilo de Abitbol es el más lírico y melancólico. Montiel, en cambio, toca de una manera mucho más enérgica. Lo que se escucha en su fraseo y en el modo en que arrastra las notas es una especie de violencia contenida. Esto es especialmente notorio en el valseado “La vestido celeste” o en el chamamé “Gente de ley” (respectivamente, el último y el primer tema de este álbum). Abitbol nunca tuvo un sonido semejante, y es, de hecho, el compositor del chamamé lírico por antonomasia, “La calandria”. El estilo de Cocomarola es muy elegante; no tiene la violencia de Montiel ni la melancolía de Abitbol, pero sí algunas melodías finísimas, como las de “Kilómetro 11” –el chamamé más famoso de todos los tiempos: tan exitoso fue que se hizo merecedor de este video clip– o la de “Prisionero”. No es casual que entre los tres, los dos más líricos hayan elegido el bandoneón como instrumento, mientras que Montiel era acordeonista. Rudi y Nini Flores explican en una entrevista publicada en el diario Clarín el 30 de noviembre de 2004: “En Corrientes, en el norte estaba Cocomarola, y en el sur, Montiel. Nosotros vivimos siempre en la capital, y ahí era todo Cocomarola. Montiel tenía un estilo más aguerrido, más dinámico, más del sur. Cocomarola, en cambio, era más tranquilo, más lírico, más tristón”.

“Nueva ilusión”, un chamamé de Rudi y Nini, exhibe, por una parte, el lirismo de la tradición de Cocomarola, y, por la otra, la sofisticación propia del dúo. Fue el que primero me cautivó en ese viaje en auto de 1997 y sigue siendo mi chamamé favorito: parte de una idea sencilla y genial al mismo tiempo, su melodía es ligeramente melancólica sin llegar a ser triste (además de lo esperanzador de su nombre) y está insuperablemente interpretado. Pero tiene además otra cualidad: es imposible decir, quizás por el propio itinerario personal y profesional de los Flores, qué en él es europeo y qué es criollo. Quizás la “Nueva ilusión” era la de los hermanos entusiasmados por su llegada a París; o, por qué no, quizás es la de un carpincho que está dando saltitos escapando de las mandíbulas de un yacaré a la vera del río. Como la mayoría de la música de cámara, este chamamé no tiene letra, así que eso, querido lector, queda en sus manos.

El duo Rudi (guitarra) y Nini (acordeón) Flores han desarrollado un tipo de chamamé de cámara. Foto por Ian Kornfeld. 

Eugenio Monjeau estudia filosofía en la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Trabaja en el Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón y la Asociación por los Derechos Civiles. En 2010 tomo participó en la expedición Paraná Ra’Anga por el Río Paraná, guiado por Graciela Silvestri, y contribuyó a un libro con el mismo nombre. Ha escrito para La Nación y Clarín sobre política y estética. 

Territorios y territorios

Por Carlos Reboratti

San Ignacio de Loyola y San Francisco Javier iluminan el mundo con sus antorchas, grabado en cobre por el indio guaraní Juan Yaparí, para una edición guaraní. Ejemplo del Padre JE Nieremberg,Of the Difference between the Temporal and the Eternal, 1700.

Territorio es una de esas útiles palabras que tienen  significados relativamente diferentes, pero no mucho, lo que nos sirve para utilizarlas en diversas circunstancias sin caer necesariamente en el error conceptual. Siempre que se dice “territorio” nos estamos refiriendo en principio a un área determinada por la existencia de algo o de alguien, lo que le da al término principal su sentido (en nuestro caso “territorio guaraní”). Si bien no es el único significado posible, dicha área suele estar referida al espacio concreto, a partir de lo cual surgen siempre distintas cuestiones sobre la definición territorial: cuáles son los límites, cómo y quién los determina, cuál es su objetivo, cómo y por qué cambian con el tiempo, qué dejan y qué no dejan esos cambios sobre el territorio… Para mostrar la riqueza de las posibilidades, vamos a utilizar el tema del título de este número de la revista, yendo hacia atrás en la historia, ubicándonos hace 2.000 años cuando los guaraníes ya habitaban un área aproximadamente ubicada entre lo que es hoy el este del Paraguay, el sudoeste de Brasil y el noreste de la Argentina. En primer lugar lo definimos como “territorio guaraní” simplemente porque allí vivían los guaraní. Pero no era un territorio exclusivo, ya que ni ellos eran los únicos grupos étnicos que lo habitaban, ni tampoco pretendían controlar todo el territorio. Marcado por su presencia, era un territorio virtual. Dada su forma de vida, seminómade y sin una arquitectura con intención de permanencia, no dejaron marcas visibles ni organizaron el territorio, aunque podríamos decir que, a pesar de que su número actual es seguramente muchísimo menor a lo que fue antes de la llegada de los españoles, dejaron una marca indeleble: el lenguaje.

Ese territorio comenzó un lento proceso de fragmentación a partir de la llegada de los conquistadores españoles y portugueses quienes, imbuidos de una cultura donde la posesión de la tierra era un factor fundamental (y digamos posible, totalmente ajeno a la idea que tenían los guaraníes y otros pueblos originarios), lo primero que hicieron fue fijar los límites de un espacio que se consideraban con derecho a poseer en exclusividad. En un principio, fueron los españoles los que se arrogaron ese derecho, definiendo su posesión sobre todo el territorio antes  guaraní: hay dos símbolos que así lo indican, la fundación de Asunción y la decisión de que el área estaba dentro del virreinato del Perú. De territorio virtual pasamos a territorio concreto y excluyente, y este tipo de territorio necesita y se formaliza por un mapa, que define los límites del mismo. En los primeros mapas españoles, notablemente imprecisos, se puede inducir que el territorio guaraní ya había cambiado de “dueño”, y la corona española lo controlaba (o decía controlar). Incluso para reafirmar eso, dentro del virreinato del Perú se crea un fragmento territorial especifico, la Gobernación del Guayrá. Y comienzan a aparecer las primeras marcas que trascenderán los primeros límites, y esas marcas, ante la ausencia de lo que hoy llamaríamos “infraestructura” (los barcos a vela no dejan marcas perdurables y la marcha a pie o a caballo tampoco) son básicamente las ciudades: la propia Asunción, luego Corrientes y Concepción.

En el siglo XVI se produce una novedad: un territorio dentro del territorio. Llegan los jesuitas con una idea bien clara de la organización territorial, basada en centros urbanos de concentración de los indígenas, conectados por una red de caminos. Y también una idea bien clara de la perdurabilidad de esa organización: los edificios son de piedra, y su marca permanece hasta ahora. Ahora el territorio es concreto, formal y organizado. El problema surge con la definición del límite oriental, que comienza a ser disputado por los portugueses que avanzan desde la virtual línea de Tordesillas hacia el oeste, empujando a los jesuitas hasta hacerlos atravesar el río Uruguay. Como suele pasar, los limites formales (políticos) de los territorios no se deciden en el mismo territorio, sino desde lejos: en 1767 se crea el Virreinato del Río de la Plata, que si bien cubre prácticamente todo el territorio guaraní, lo fragmenta en tres: la Intendencia de Paraguay, la gobernación de Misiones (creada por lo que quedaba del territorio jesuítico, cuyos promotores fueran expulsados diez años antes) y el extremo norte de la intendencia del Río de la Plata. Son en parte territorios formales y en parte virtuales: nadie en el fondo está muy seguro de cuáles son los límites del territorio de las Misiones, y esa inseguridad se traslada al momento siguiente.

A partir de 1810 se desarrolla un nuevo periodo de fragmentación territorial, correspondiente a la definición de las nuevas republicas: Paraguay y Argentina se comienzan a delimitar sobre las antiguas intendencias, mientras Misiones permanece como una zona de débil presencia formal, proceso que recién termina a fines del siglo XIX después de terminada la Guerra del Paraguay cuando los dos países y el Brasil - ahora una república independiente - y mediante acuerdos bilaterales y arbitrajes internacionales definen sus fronteras. Y al mismo tiempo los tres países van conformando divisiones internas necesarias para administrar el territorio, llamados provincias en Argentina (Corrientes y Misiones), departamentos en Paraguay (Alto Paraná y Canendiyú) y estados Brasil (Santa Catarina y Paraná).

Por encima de los territorios formales, y a veces sin hacer caso de estos, se desarrollan otros procesos territoriales relacionados con la explotación de los recursos naturales y la valorización de espacios. El primero de estos procesos es la explotación de la rica selva atlántica, espacio específico de los antiguos pobladores guaraníes y base de su existencia material. Pero el relativamente débil impacto sobre la selva que podía ejercer una población poco densa y de agricultura migratoria como la de los guaraníes no tiene parangón con el que produce la explotación de la madera y la yerba mate silvestre que se desarrolla a partir de 1880. La primera utiliza los ríos como forma de transporte, lo que limita la explotación a zonas relativamente pequeñas,  limitadas por las características técnicas de la producción y el transporte de la madera. La explotación de la yerba mate, en cambio, se organiza mediante la concesión de grandes territorios, manejados por compañías argentinas o brasileñas que se mueven ,  como lo indica J.B. Ambrosetti en una narración de un viaje hecha a Misiones a fines de siglo XIX, en un espacio donde prácticamente no existe la presencia estatal, una curiosa forma de territorios de organización espontánea. Ni la yerba mate ni la explotación maderera, formas mineras de explotación del bosque, dejan marcas indelebles, salvo dos: los embarcaderos sobre el Paraná usados para la producción yerbatera, que en muchas ocasiones son el comienzo de una pueblo, y las “picadas” (así se llaman los rudimentarios caminos hechos para llegar a los yerbales) de penetración a la selva, que serán utilizadas por los siguientes actores territoriales, los colonos.

Al antiguo territorio guaraní empiezan a llegar en el siglo XX colonos en búsqueda de tierra desde varios frentes: en Argentina el gobierno federal organiza colonias en Misiones que atraen inmigrantes centroeuropeos, que se dedican primero a la yerba mate y luego al tung y al té; en Paraguay la colonización es más espontánea en un primer momento, empujada por miles de campesinos provenientes del centro del país, en parte luego reemplazados por colonos brasileños. En Brasil, convergen dos corrientes: la primera desde el sur, provenientes de las colonias alemanas e italianas de Río Grande do Sul que se habían formado en el siglo XIX, pequeños productores de maíz y frijol; otras, más tarde, empujada por la colonización privada de  Paraná basada en la producción de café. El límite de las heladas marca el punto de contacto entre ambas. Para mediados del siglo XX los dos antiguos habitantes del territorio, los guaraníes y la selva atlántica, han sido acorralados y diezmados por el avance de la agricultura y el nuevo territorio se organiza por una densa red de pueblos y ciudades, unidos por carreteras: Encarnación, Posadas, Eldorado, Montecarlo, Cascabel, Chapecó…. 

Faltan todavía dos actores que van a generar nuevos cambios en la organización del territorio guaraní: la soja y las represas. Relacionada con el contexto comercial internacional, ávido de alimentos, llega al área el producto central del comercio internacional: la soja, producida en su origen en el sur del Brasil y el centro de la Argentina y que en busca de tierras se expande hacia el corazón de la tierra guaraní, arrasando lo que quedaba de la selva atlántica en Paraná y avanzando en el este paraguayo en uno de los procesos más devastadores y veloces de deforestación del planeta. Curiosamente, el territorio que fuera fragmentado entre países vuelve a unificarse, medio en serio y medio en broma, a través de la aparición de una “República de la soja”, no ya controlada por loe estados sino por el agronegocio. Los ríos vuelven a tener la importancia que tuvieron, y el eje Paraguay-Paraná se transforma en un corredor de cargas hacia el río de la Plata.

Los ríos son también los actores de otro momento de organización territorial al conformar una serie de represas de diverso tamaño a lo largo del Paraná, del Uruguay y el Iguazú, algunas gigantescas como Itaupú o Yacyretá, destinadas a la producción de energía eléctrica para los grandes centros poblados. Su impacto regional es muy discutible, en parte por la inundación de grandes espacios y el desplazamiento de pueblos enteros, en parte por no dejar en el propio territorio una marca que vaya más allá de dicha inundación.

Como podemos ver a partir de esta rápida y necesariamente incompleta reseña, el territorio guaraní está en constante transformación y sus usos se han ido modificando junto con sus formas de organización y las poblaciones que se identifican con el. La sucesiva fragmentación territorial ha modificado radicalmente la geografía guaraní, conformándola como una superposición de marcas históricas correspondientes a cada momento, algunas evidentes como las ciudades, otras menos tangibles como la cultura y la lengua, aunque el guaraní persiste también como una marca, a través de la extensa toponimia de ese origen: Mondaí, Itacaruaré, Cunha Porá, Caaguazú.

Carlos Reboratti es geógrafo argentino y dirige la investigación para CONICET sobre los recursos naturales en Argentina. Es autor de varios libros, incluyendo La naturaleza y nosotros: El problema ambientalClaves para todos Del otro lado del río: ambientalismo y política entre uruguayos y argentinos. 

Guerra total en territorios indígenas

Por Milda Rivarola

Prisioneros paraguayos (mujeres y niños). Foto cortesía de Milda Rivarola.

Ver la galeria de fotos.

Fue esa la primera guerra total en suelo americano, tanto en el sentido técnico de E. Ludendorff –una completa subordinación de la política a la guerra, en el caso paraguayo, con dos únicas alternativas, victoria o total derrota- como en el otro, de haber afectado toda la sociedad, la economía y el territorio de una nación.

Aunque se inició y culminó en territorios ancestrales indígenas, y concernió directa o indirectamente a una decena de naciones pre-colombinas, los estudios sobre la Guerra de la Triple Alianza (1864/1870) olvidaron a estos protagonistas. Sin haber tomado iniciativa bélica alguna, los “indios” terminaron como grandes perdedores de la terrible contienda.

 La llamada Guerra Grande enfrentó el pequeño Paraguay a dos potencias sudamericanas -el entonces Imperio del Brasil y la Confederación Argentina- y a otro pequeño país, el Uruguay. Empezó en diciembre de 1864, con el ataque de fuerzas paraguayas al Mato Grosso (1, en el mapa), donde había pequeñas ciudades brasileñas (Corumbá, Miranda, Albuquerque) rodeadas de poblados Kadiweu-Guaycurú, Xané-Guaná y Guato.

Y culminó en marzo de 1870 con la derrota del Paraguay en Cerro Corá, Amambay, una región selvática con centenares de aldeas Guaraní de los grupos Mbyá, Avá Guaraní y PaÏ Tavyterá (4, en el mapa). A diferencia de los pueblos matogrosenses, de esporádicas relaciones con los portugueses, estos no habían tenido contacto con la sociedad paraguaya, salvo choques con cosechadores de yerba mate (Ilex Paraguayensis) que se aventuraban allí desde inicios del siglo XIX.

Otras dos zonas en disputa, en las que apenas hubo batallas, también estaban pobladas por nativos. En la del bajo Chaco (2, en el mapa), de la ribera del Pilcomayo hasta la del río Bermejo, vivían extensos grupos Nivaklé y Toba, y hasta 1870 la zona no había sufrido ocupación criolla. Y en la ribera izquierda del Paraná, la Candelaria (3, en el mapa), estaban asentados pueblos Guaraní desde el tiempo de las Misiones Jesuíticas. 

Tras la contienda, estas dos últimas zonas quedaron bajo soberanía  argentina, y ya antes del proceso de venta de tierras públicas por el Paraguay (1880-1890) fueron privatizadas por el gobierno de Buenos Aires en beneficio de grandes industrias de azúcar, esencia de tanino y yerba mate.


En lectura anacrónica, escritores nacionalistas se preciaron de ver a “sus nativos” identificados con la “causa nacional”. Pero las escasas memorias bélicas que los citan dan otra visión. Como los incipientes Estados-naciones del Plata se consolidarían sólo después de -y en cierto modo, gracias a- esa guerra internacional;  mal podrían los distintos pueblos indígenas, perseguidos como salvajes o en frágiles treguas con autoridades locales, sentir alguna forma de patriotismo. 

En el caso paraguayo la cuestión se complicaba debido a la campaña propagandística Aliada, que presentaba al ejército enemigo –en artículos de prensa, partes de campaña, etc.- como “salvajes”, “malones de indios”, “toldería”.  Notas más eruditas explicaban la “ciega sumisión” de la tropa al Mcal. F.S. López como herencia del servilismo guaraní en las Misiones jesuíticas.

Contrarrestando ese discurso, el Paraguay no reivindicaba a los indígenas como apoyos bélicos. Algunas memorias –las de la francesa Duprat de Lasserre, del Vizconde brasileño Taunay, del paraguayo Hector F. Decoud- registran sin embargo contactos con los Guarani en la última fase de la guerra.

Los paraguayos denominaban indistintamente Cainguá a todos los Guaraní selváticos, sin contacto con el mundo criollo. Los campos de confinamiento de mujeres castigadas por el Mcal. López, como Panadero (actual Dpto. de Canindeyú) o Espadín, estaban en territorio Mbya y Avá-Guaraní. Estos Cainguá se acercaban a hacer trueque de alimentos por ropas, joyas y utensilios con estas famélicas mujeres, y a guiar a quienes escapaban de estos campos hacia los acantonamientos brasileños.

Y al mismo tiempo, mediando cuantiosos regalos, otros servían de guías (“vaqueanos”) y de espías (“pomberos”) al resto del ejército paraguayo en retirada, en senderos selváticos que los llevaban a zonas ocupadas por los Aliados. En la última parte del trayecto (selvas y cerros del actual Departamento de Amambay), el ejército paraguayo debió emplear guías Pai Tavytera, otra gran familia Guarani llamada Kaiowá en el Mato Grosso brasileño.

Algunos indios, chaqueños estos, prestaban servicio al gobierno paraguayo desde tiempo del dictador Francia: el de los Guaycurú (Qom),  ancestrales dueños del río Paraguay. En sus rápidas canoas, también sirvieron de correos entre la fortaleza de Humaitá y Asunción, en los primeros años de la contienda.

El rol de los indígenas está mejor documentado en el caso brasileño. Desde el siglo XVIII, los Mbayá-Guaycurú (Caduveo o Kadiweu) y los Chané-Guaná (Terena, Guaná) del Mato Grosso del sur hicieron la guerra a los portugueses que ocupaban el Pantanal. Pero tras la dura resistencia inicial, los Guaycurú concluyeron con ellos un Tratado de paz, a fines de la colonia.

Pero sus ataques a criollos paraguayos y a indios Guaraní no tuvieron tregua. Señores de la guerra y temibles jinetes, guerreaban regularmente contra los poblados del Paraguay, arreando ganado y haciendo esclavos. La misma toponimia del norte (Apa, Aquidabán, Agaguigó) recuerda su ancestral soberanía (Ma. Fátima Costa, 2006). La enemistad se agravó con la persecución que les hizo el dictador Rodríguez de Francia, y por el apoyo de brasileños que les daban armas de fuego y compraban su botín (ganado, caballada, etc.).

La débil resistencia a la invasión paraguaya de 1864 a Coimbra se hizo con indios Guaycurú –los hombres del “capitán Lapagate”. Un grupo de Guana, de la Misión del Bom Conselho, había sido llevado prisionero –junto a pobladores brasileños y esclavos- al Paraguay, donde pocos sobrevivieron al final de la guerra. También este pueblo empezó a emboscar tropas y atacar caravanas paraguayas, a quienes robaban caballos, armas y alimentos.

Los Guaná y Guaikurú hostilizaron al nuevo invasor: en dos refriegas de 1865, los Terena causaron once bajas a los paraguayos y quedaron con su ganado. Ese mismo año un grupo armado de Kadiwéo-Guaycurú, comandando por un oficial brasileño, saqueó San Salvador llevándo armas, municiones y mujeres. El saqueo no era -como lo notan cronistas militares- el menor de los alicientes para el fervor bélico indígena.

Además guiaron a los pobladores fugitivos de Miranda, Coimbra y Albuquerque hasta las sierras, ayudándolos hasta que la zona fue retomada por el ejército imperial. Hicieron de guías y de patrullas de avanzada a los militares brasileños en una zona poco cartografiada, sus vigías informaban del movimiento de tropas paraguayas, y hacían las tareas más duras (cavado de trincheras y tumbas, apertura de picadas, carga de materiales de guerra, etc.).

Al final de la guerra, los Kadiweo –provistos de modernas armas por el Imperio -  protegieron incluso la zona del río Blanco (al sur de Coimbra) y Villa de Miranda, y fueron encargados de vigilar la ribera del Alto Paraguay, ante el temor que el resto del ejército paraguayo pasara al Mato Grosso.


Algunos efectos sobre los indígenas fueron sentidos durante la misma contienda, y otros, de carácter definitivo, pocos años después. La viruela atacó a las tropas brasileñas en el Mato Grosso, y pronto se dio contagio masivo entre sus aliados Terena y Guaycurú, fisiológicamente indefensos ante ella. La mortandad –sumada a las bajas normales de combates- fue por ende mucho más alta en estas comunidades, y quienes aterrorizados escapaban de las filas, trasladaban la epidemia a sus aldeas.

Dos años después del fin de la guerra, informes brasileños hablan de “restos” de la gran nación Guaycurú en la margen izquierda del alto Paraguay, de la Chamacoco en la margen opuesta, y de pocos sobrevivientes Guato en la ribera de San Lorenzo. Y dicen restos “porque ambas naciones fueron cruelmente diezmadas por la epidemia de viruela”.

En la memoria de los indígenas mato grossenses, la Guerra del Paraguay es una divisoria de aguas. Su extenso territorio fue después colonizado por criollos brasileños, en una avanzada constituida por los ex combatientes de esa misma guerra. Los ancestrales territorios Mbayá-Guaycurú y Chané-Guaná se privatizaron, y estos pueblos itinerantes fueron aldeanizados y sometidos al trabajo semi-servil  (“cativerio” o enganche por deuda) en las estancias ganadera, apertura de líneas ferroviarias o cosecha de caucho o yerba mate.

En la irónica expresión de un viejo líder Terena, por defender las fronteras del Brasil ellos recibieron en premio “Tres botines, duas no pé e uma na bunda” (Tres botas, dos para los pies, y la tercera, en el trasero) (Eremites de Oliveira & Marques Pereira, 2007)

En el Paraguay, la guerra continuó la obra del presidente Don Carlos A. López, quien dos décadas antes abía desapropiado por decreto a los 21 Pueblos de Indios –Guaraní en su casi totalidad- de todas sus tierras y ganados comunitarios. Los Cainguá, Guaraní selváticos sin mayores contactos hasta entonces, también sufrieron la pérdida definitiva de sus territorios. Los gobiernos de pos-guerra hicieron su cruel tarea “civilizadora”, al privatizar desde 1885 ese extenso territorio a favor de la Industrial Paraguaya, la Mate Larangeira y otras empresas extractoras de yerba mate y productoras de ganado.

Recién un siglo más tarde el Estado paraguayo crearía una oficina indigenista (INDI) asegurando pequeñas fracciones de tierra a aldeas Mbyá, Paï Tavyterá y Avá Guaraní, dentro de su extensísimo y perdido territorio. En las cercanías del lugar donde culminó la guerra (Yasuka Venda, a unos 80 km. De Cerro Corá) se levanta hoy el Sitio Sagrado de los Pai Tavyterá. Según la cosmogonía Guaraní, fue en ese cerro donde el Padre Creador Ñanderuvusú, en tiempos inmemoriales, había dado origen al mundo, ahora perdido para ellos.

Milda Rivarola es historiadora paraguaya y analista político. Es autora de varios libros, incluyendo Obreros, Utopías & Revoluciones, La Contestación al Orden Liberal, La Polémica Francesa sobre la Guerra Grande Vagos, Pobres y Soldados.

Historia y mito

Nikolau Sevcenko, in memoriam

Nicolau Sevcenko, Orfeu extático na metrópole. São Paulo, sociedade e cultura nos frementes anos 20, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1992. Fragmentos del capítulo 4 “Da história ao mito e vice-versa duas vezes”.


Como se sabe, Blaise Cendrars también sería el pivote involuntario del “redescubrimiento-del-Brasil”. Con el objeto de hacerle conocer Río de Janeiro y las ciudades históricas de Minas Gerais, Olívia Penteado formó un grupo del que participaron Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral, René Thiollier y Godofredo da Silva Telles. En Río, Cendrars frecuentó por su cuenta el morro de la Favela, se hizo amigo de Donga, Manuel Bandeira y de la muchachada del “Cinema Poeira”, “un club de negros selectos”. En Tiradentes, Minas Gerais, conoció en la cárcel pública a un detenido acusado de asesinato seguido de antropofagia, cuya historia, que incluía consideraciones sobre los sentidos del ritual antropofágico en comunidades tribales, él narraría en su Elogio de la vida peligrosa, de 1926. Para los poetas presentes en la excursión y para Tarsila, el itinerario debería revelar las raíces históricas, étnicas y culturales que ellos buscaban con avidez para dar sustancia a su acento modernista. De esos viajes derivarían las impresiones, los estímulos y las imágenes que motivaron la búsqueda de una fusión entre los lenguajes modernos y la temática nacional, a la que Oswald de Andrade llamó Movimiento Pau-brasil.[1] El modo en que se generó todo este proceso ha sido resumido de manera cristalina por Paulo Prado, que lo siguió de cerca y por completo. Dice en el Prefacio al libro de poemas Pau-brasil, de Oswald de Andrade, que precisamente está dedicado “a Blaise Cendrars, en ocasión del descubrimiento del Brasil”:

La poesía “pau-brasil” es el huevo de Colón, ese huevo [...] en el que nadie creía y que acabó haciendo rico al genovés. Oswald de Andrade, en un viaje a París, desde lo alto de un atelier de la Place de Clichy –ombligo del mundo– descubrió, deslumbrado, su propia tierra. La vuelta a la patria confirmó, en el encantamiento de los descubrimientos manuelinos, la revelación sorprendente de que el Brasil existía. Ese hecho, que algunos ya sospechaban, abrió sus ojos a la visión radiante de un mundo nuevo, inexplorado y misterioso. Había sido creada la poesía “pau-brasil.(Paulo Prado, “Poesia pau-brasil”, in Oswald de Andrade, preface to Pau-brasil, São Paulo, Globo, 1990, p. 57.)

El libro fue publicado en 1925, en París, por la editorial Au Sans Pareil, que dirigía Cendrars.[3] Pero ya el año anterior, Oswald de Andrade había elaborado un “Manifiesto de la poesía pau-brasil”, que editó el Correio da Manhã, poco después de las excursiones del “descubrimiento”. El tono era grandilocuente y axiomático, como era habitual en el género “manifiesto”. La idea era forjar una síntesis compuesta de símbolos históricos, modernos, étnicos, tropicales, nacionales, que produjesen un efecto conjunto final de “brasileñidad”. De ahí los truncamientos de elementos aislados, que se ligan por yuxtaposición, y los énfasis puestos en las manifestaciones de fuerte sugestión aglutinante, la música, la danza, la fiesta, los manjares, el sexo y la religión: instinto, emoción y mito.

La poesía existe en los hechos. Los tugurios de azafrán y de ocre en los verdes de la Favela, bajo el azul cabralino, son hechos estéticos.

El Carnaval de Río es el acontecimiento religioso de la raza. Pau-brasil. Wagner sucumbe ante las escuelas de samba de Botafogo. Bárbaro y nuestro. La formación étnica rica. Riqueza vegetal. El mineral. La cocina. El vatapá. El oro y la danza.

Obuses de elevadores, cubos de rascacielos y la resarcida pereza solar. La rezada. El Carnaval. La energía íntima. El sabiá. La hospitalidad un poco sensual, amorosa. La nostalgia de los hierve-hierbas y los campos de aviación militar. Pau-brasil. 

Bárbaros crédulos pintorescos y tiernos. Lectores de diarios. Pau-brasil. La selva y la escuela. El Museo Nacional. La cocina, el mineral, la danza. La vegetación. Pau-brasil.[4] 

Mário de Andrade, en el Clã do jabuti, publicado en 1927, pero que reúne poesías de 1924, compone de manera aun más manifiesta símbolos y representaciones nacionales, que se ven fortalecidos por el atractivo sentido rítmico y la musicalidad vernácula de los versos. En el largo y complejo poema “Noturno de Belo Horizonte”, escrito poco después de las excursiones del “descubrimiento”, se puede apreciar en especial la construcción de una imagen mítica de Minas Gerais, concebida como el epítome simbólico de la nación. Explorada y poblada por paulistas, espacio cosmogónico de la epopeya histórica de los bandeirantes, de la lucha contra la codicia espuria del invasor extranjero, como se vio en O contratador, lejos del litoral e incrustada en el sertón, sólidamente asociada a las piedras, los minerales, las montañas, a las elevaciones, las iglesias y las torres, representa al mismo tiempo una San Pablo de la pureza de los viejos tiempos y algo más que ya no es San Pablo, sino su incorporación y asociación con el núcleo del cuerpo de la nacionalidad, en el centro de los sertones interiores, irradiando el espíritu autóctono puro y filtrando las interferencias y las contaminaciones alienígenas. Es particularmente fuerte la culminación del poema con el símbolo litúrgico del agua emanando de las rocas altas, de una reverberación mítica ilimitada.
Mas não há nada como histórias para reunir na mesma casa...
Na Arábia por saber contar histórias
U’a mulher se salvou...
A Espanha estilhaçou-se numa poeira de nações americanas
Mas sobre o tronco sonoro da língua do ão
Portugal reuniu 22 orquídeas desiguais.
Nós somos na Terra o grande milagre do amor.

Nós sonos na Terra o grande milagre do amor!
E embora tão diversa a nossa vida
Dançamos juntos no carnaval das gentes,
Bloco pachola do “Custa mas vai!”
E abre alas que Eu quero passar!
Nós somos os brasileiros auriverdes!
As esmeraldas das araras
Os rubis dos colibris
Os abacaxis as mangas os cajus
Atravessam amorosamente
A fremente celebração do Universal!

O bloco fantasiado de histórias mineiras
Move-se na avenida de seis renques de árvores...
É o delírio noturno de Belo Horizonte 

Dorme Belo Horizonte
Seu corpo respira de leve[...]
O ar da terra elevada
Ar arejado batido nas pedras dos morros
Varado através da água trançada das cachoeiras,
Ar que brota nas fontes com as águas
Por toda parte de Minas Gerais.
(Mário de Andrade, Poesias completas, São Paulo, Circulo do Livro, 1976, pp. 162-165.) 

Al año siguiente del lanzamiento del Clã do jabuti, de Mário de Andrade, fue el turno de Oswald de Andrade de volver a la carga con un texto que radicalizaba las posiciones anteriores: el “Manifiesto antropófago”. La temática y la técnica son semejantes a las del primer manifiesto; lo que se percibe ahora, sin embargo, es una exacerbación de la actitud militante, que pasa del tono axiomático al categórico y de la actitud decidida a una intransigente. El nacionalismo adquiere tonalidades de xenofobia. “Tupi or not tupi, that is the question.” “Pero no fueron cruzados los que vinieron. Fueron fugitivos de una civilización que estamos comiendo, porque somos fuertes y vengativos como el Jabutí.” Por otro lado se acentúan los llamados a la celebración del instinto, de una sensualidad eufórica y de una identidad mítica. “Una conciencia participante, una rítmica religiosa.” “Contra todos los importadores de conciencia enlatada. La existencia palpable de la vida. Y la mentalidad prelógica para que el Sr. Lévy-Bruhl la estudie.” “Pero nunca admitimos el nacimiento de la lógica entre nosotros.” “Solo podemos atender al mundo orecular”. “El instinto Caribe.” “Nunca fuimos catequizados. Lo que hicimos fue Carnaval.” “La magia y la vida.” “Antes de que los portugueses descubrieran al Brasil, Brasil ya había descubierto la felicidad.” “La alegría es la prueba de los nueves.” “En el matriarcado de Pindorama.”

El tono era tan claro y tan preocupantemente jacobino, pues evocaba las campañas xenófobas de desestabilización política del comienzo crítico del período republicano, en ese momento delicado en que ya se percibía la crisis de la economía cafetalera, que las autoridades contraatacaron movilizando a los escritores vinculados a los cuadros y los periódicos del prt, lo que dio lugar a una auténtica batalla de manifiestos. A esa altura, era tal la fuerza de la agitación nacionalista, movilizada e inflamada por ambos lados, que ya no se trataba de enfrentar el nacionalismo con el cosmopolitismo, como en el período de consolidación del régimen, sino de entablar una lucha entre un nacionalismo de matiz asimilacionista y otro intransigente. El texto que con más claridad asumía la vertiente oficial era el manifiesto del “verde-amarelismo” o de la “Escola da anta” (Escuela del tapir), llamado “Nhengaçu verde-amarelo” (1929), detrás del cual estaban Cassiano Ricardo, Guilherme de Almeida, Menotti del Picchia y Plínio Salgado. El manifiesto pone en evidencia el maniqueísmo que había asumido el debate nacionalista, al identificar a los adversarios “intolerantes” con el modelo negativo del indio tapuia inasimilable y representarse a sí mismos con la figura amistosa, abierta a los cruces e influencias de los tupí. En esa línea, el grupo “da anta” estableció el mito de un mestizaje integrador, cuya base ideológica sería buscada en el mismo José Vasconcelos que había articulado el movimiento del muralismo mexicano y en su visión del surgimiento de la “quinta raza”, la “raza cósmica”, como cumplimiento del destino manifiesto de América Latina. Solo que ahora, curiosamente, esa raza sería exclusivamente brasileña, se habría desarrollado entre las cuencas del Amazonas y del Plata y debería realizar la concordia universal “por medio de la fuerza centrípeta del elemento tupí”.

La poesía brasileña se ha dejado en el original como recuerdo del idioma que nuestro amigo Nicolau Sevcenko enseñaba y apreciaba tanto. Descanse en paz.

See also: En español

Territorio Guaraní

Por Jorge Silvetti y Graciela Silvestri

La región de cuatro países y la cuenca del Río de la Plata ( en azul) en el que el territorio Guaraní se extiende. Las áreas rojas marcan la ubicación de las 30 Misiones Jesuíticas. Mapa cortesía de Jorge Silvetti.

En abril de 2014, organizamos un workshop en el GSD  que titulamos “Territorio Guarani: Culture, infrastructure and natural resources in the longue durée”. El territorio en cuestión, situado en el corazón de la cuenca del Plata, no resulta fácil de precisar: no está demarcado por límites nacionales o provinciales -la movilidad migratoria, cotidiana, erosiona toda frontera fija. Sus características ambientales (extensas selvas, impetuosos ríos, clima tropical), sufrieron una profunda transformación en los últimos dos siglos, debido a los cultivos intensivos y la explotación de los recursos naturales. La definición de un fragmento espacial como territorio constituyó así el primer problema que enfrentamos.

Las cualidades por las cuales reconocemos un área como territorio comprometen diversos factores, y es la forma en que estos se traman, superponen y cruzan la que define su carácter distintivo. Este mundo, nos dijimos, semeja más un tejido flexible y abierto que a una superficie geométrica establecida por su contorno; los hilos que se tejen no son sólo los de los acontecimientos presentes, sino también los de la historia y la memoria, los mitos y las interpretaciones, que también dejan huellas persistentes. En esta definición, un territorio no es un dato, sino una construcción: pesa también el acento que coloquemos en uno u otro hilo, uno u otro camino de indagación, para avalar la emergencia de una figura que no será la única posible.

Presentamos entonces una primera aproximación, construyendo mapas temáticos en similar escala, basados en la cartografía física (el suelo geológico de la serra geral, la extensión cambiante de la mata atlántica, la extensión hidrográfica); político-histórica (los antiguos planos jesuíticos, cuyos pueblos se encontraban en el corazón del territorio; los esquemas de las sucesivas fronteras entre las coronas ibéricas, las gobernaciones y virreinatos; los límites de las nuevas naciones criollas; los escenarios de las guerras); sociales (los gráficos que estiman la extensión espacial de la lengua guaraní o los permanentes movimientos migratorios); técnicos (los lugares y el área de impacto de las represas hidroeléctricas; el avance de los cultivos; los ideales con que la planificación territorial imagina un “futuro deseado”, articulando las iniciativas geopolíticas de integración de infraestructuras y mercados). Los caminos de la historia y las esperanzas del presente se fueron tramando con las marcas materiales, interpretadas icónicamente, complementando lo que las palabras no alcanzan a expresar. 

 Es en esta clave en que el artículo de Carlos Reboratti presenta las múltiples figuras a las que alude lo que denominamos territorio guaraní: el territorio virtual de los grupos originarios; el “territorio dentro del territorio” de la experiencia jesuítica; la fragmentación acelerada en la época de constitución de las naciones independientes; el crecimiento de las ciudades; los territorios de brutal explotación agroindustrial, o las nuevas infraestructuras, que reunifican el área más allá de los limites formales … un verdadero palimpsesto de huellas constituido en una larga duración.

¿Qué hilos seguiríamos para caracterizar este sistema espacial cambiante, producto de tan diversos procesos? En principio, los ríos son la manifestación más visible de una cualidad del territorio que definimos, literal y metafóricamente, como “acuática”. La presencia dominante de poderosas corrientes como el Paraguay, el Paraná, el Uruguay, y sus múltiples tributarios, anuda la historia regional: antes de la conquista, constituyeron vías de migración y expansión nativa; luego de penetración conquistadora y de comunicación entre países; hoy, los saltos del Paraná y del Uruguay son aprovechados como fuente de energía hidroeléctrica. El tema del río –especialmente el Paraná, columna vertebral del territorio estudiado-, es recurrente en las artes, la literatura y la música de la región. E incluso el personaje principal de territorios imaginarios:

“Algunos dicen que el Paraná separa las costas de los tres países. Pero en realidad es un hilo líquido que las une, convirtiéndolas en un cuarto país de leyenda” (Alfredo Varela, El río oscuro)

Otras formaciones geográficas -humedales de grandes dimensiones (como los del Iberá), magníficos saltos como el Iguazú-, confirman la importancia de las formas en que el agua fue y es utilizada, dominada, sufrida o gozada en la región. Recientemente, los hidrogeólogos locales probaron la hipótesis de la existencia de un gran depósito de agua subterránea, denominado acuífero guaraní. Previamente, se reconocían distintos manantiales y formaciones acuíferas, pero la idea de un gran depósito interconectado, como demuestra Martín Walter, sólo surge en un clima de ideas en el que diversos actores –científicos, políticos y sociales- comienzan a enfocar el territorio en conjunto, salvando los férreos límites estatales. Para Walter, la construcción del acuifero como sistema unificado es un subproducto de la democratización regional, y de la autonomía ganada duramente por las instituciones académicas locales, recordando asi que los hechos “naturales” son también hechos políticos, promovidos por diversos actores. Y en ocasiones de gran pregnancia simbólica: reproducimos aquí la versión de  Bartomeu Meliá quien, partiendo de la actual centralidad del agua en el discurso ecologista, aborda el acuífero guaraní como el “agua genuina”, la tierra sin mal, el paraíso guaraní. Es también un texto político, en defensa de las comunidades nativas, empujadas a abandonar sus tierras.

Paraná Ra'anga (guaraní: la figura del Paraná ) es una fotografía de Facundo de Zuviría de la parte baja del río Paraná, 2010. Foto por Facundo de Zuviría, www.facundodezuviria.com

Pero aunque éramos concientes de la dimensión política y cultural que abría el elemento “agua”, calificar el territorio bajo el término “acuático” podía sugerir un determinismo geográfico que queríamos explícitamente evitar –ya que, frecuentemente, el espacio suele convocar este tipo de relatos.

Así, decidimos cualificar el territorio con un rasgo predominantemente cultural: lo “guaraní”. En principio, lo guaraní refiere a una lengua. Benjamin Fernández se extiende sobre el guaraní paraguayo (jopará), hablado por el 90% de la población de un país efectivamente bilingüe, ligándolo con su identidad y su historia; pero la lengua, en sus diversas variantes, no es solo oficial en Paraguay sino también en la provincia de Corrientes, Argentina, y se extiende por la región más allá de las fronteras nacionales. Se calculan alrededor de 8 millones de hablantes (el 87% de habitantes del área), por lo que recientemente se convirtió en una de las lenguas oficiales del Mercosur. Posee una particularidad entre todas las lenguas “nativas” de América: no es sólo hablada por comunidades indígenas sino que atraviesa distintos grupos y clases sociales. Incluso, aunque menos advertidamente, tiñe las inflexiones del castellano hablado en la región.[2] Los antiguos vocablos siguen nombrando accidentes geográficos, regiones y ciudades, superpuestos a los de santos católicos y héroes de la Independencia; le otorgan color, sentido y profundidad temporal a los sitios.

La lengua guaraní hablada por los grupos nativos no era escrita: fueron los jesuitas los que le otorgaron una gramática y una sintaxis para convertirla en una de las principales “lenguas generales” utilizadas para evangelizar el territorio. Los jesuitas trazaron sus alianzas con grupos ya hegemónicos en el área, cuya lengua –según el jesuita Montoya, que tan bellamente la tradujo a caracteres legibles- poseía una riqueza y variedad que lo llevó a afirmar que estaba “vestida de naturaleza”. La plasticidad idiomática, la trasmisión del guaraní oral a través, principalmente, de las mujeres, e incluso la apropiación del guaraní paraguayo no como signo de indianidad, sino de “identidad nacional”, luego de la guerra de la triple Alianza (1870), presentan una historia paradójica y compleja, de luces y sombras, en la que muchos autores han reconocido como elemento constante en las distintas etapas de la formación de los estados y sociedades de la región -acarreando, “como un río subterráneo”, las contradicciones que animan la historia del país. (Meliá 2006; Couchonnal 2012b, 2013)

Sin embargo, la definición del territorio como guaraní fue uno de los principales temas de controversia en el workshop. Muchos temían que la opción ocultara el hecho de que diversas comunidades poblaban el área desde mucho antes de la llegada de los “guaraníes” –de algunas se perdieron hasta los nombres, pero otras mantienen orgullosamente su identidad-; o que se soslayara con esto el hecho de que, desde hace cinco siglos, el territorio está también poblado por familias criollas y nuevos inmigrantes (por elección, como el caso de los migrantes europeos, o por fuerza, como los esclavos africanos en el sector brasileño).

Por otro lado, qué se dice, más allá de la lengua, cuando se dice “guaraní”? En principio, el nombre fue utilizado por los españoles para identificar a grupos diversos que habitaban en la región, sin correspondencia con la propia autodenominación. Venían bajando desde el sudeste del Amazonas (actual estado de Rondonia), por los ríos Paraguay y Paraná, y habían alcanzado la cuenca del Plata (las “tierras bajas”). No eran los únicos: en los actuales estados de Sao Paulo y Paraná, y en las costas brasileñas, por ejemplo, se expandieron los tupinambá, de similar origen y formas de vida. En esta expansión conquistadora, los guaraníes incorporaron gente no guaraní, como esclava o como aliada, siempre respondiendo al ethos o “modo de ser” (ñande reko) de sus pueblos. Bajo esta unidad lingüística y cultural, los guaraníes funcionaban en forma de agrupaciones relativamente autónomas. 

Muchos de los rasgos de este “modo de ser” guaraní han permanecido en las comunidades actuales, en particular ciertos hábitos, esquemas de la práctica y usos del espacio que en nuestra investigación interesan particularmente: como explica Maria Inés Ladeira, la disposición espacial de las aldeas está asociada a un tejido social en continua y abierta composición, integrando el pasado pero modificando sus experiencias y relaciones, más allá de los limites nacionales y las fronteras administrativas. No era lo mismo, ciertamente, la vida en la época en que los grupos guaraníes sumaban más de dos millones de individuos, moviéndose en un territorio tan amplio que la densidad de ocupación era bajísima, que la drásticamente reducida población actual (contabilizada en alrededor de 180 mil almas).

Tamar Herzog expone aquí una hipótesis de especial interés: la amenaza de españoles y portugueses, y las prácticas de evangelización, llevaron a muy diversas comunidades a reconocerse como una, la “guaraní”. Herzog se detiene en la sucesiva fragmentación del territorio desde los inicios de la conquista, cuando las coronas española y portuguesa establecieron los primeros límites de propiedad en un mundo en el que el concepto occidental de propiedad no existía. Y reconoce un momento de particular intensidad durante el establecimiento de las misiones jesuíticas, el “territorio dentro de otro territorio” del que habla Reboratti.

Los jesuitas inician su tarea evangelizadora en la frontera norte, en lo que hoy es Sao Paulo, Brasil. Pero la consolidación de la experiencia se desplaza al área que identificamos como el corazón del “territorio guarani”, los treinta pueblos que hacia fines del siglo XVII albergaban una población de alrededor de 100,000 habitantes, dominando una extensión geográfica que Herzog compara con el tamaño de California. Aunque existieron en América muchas reservas indígenas y pueblos misionados por los jesuitas y por otras órdenes, el caso de las misiones paraguayas constituye una experiencia original, que continua fascinando a quienes visitan sus ruinas. 

En este número de la revista, Ana Hosne sitúa a la orden jesuítica en el concierto de la historia mundial, considerando su acción como una de las primeras y más eficaces expansiones globales de la cultura europea. No es posible olvidar que los jesuitas contaban con su experiencia en China para afirmar la postura probabilista y adaptativa que fue su ventaja en la evangelización, frente a las concepciones dogmáticas de otras órdenes.

Pero si, como demuestra Hosne, la ilusión de fundar la ciudad platónica ideal impulsó sus emprendimientos -y los casi idénticos planos sugieren el alcance de la tan buscada perfección- la realidad de los pueblos sugiere formas más complejas de ocupación espacial, y una activa relación con el entorno regional. Gracias a que las prácticas de conservación dejaron de centrarse sólo en evidencias murarias, han sido puestos en valor, partiendo de cicatrices apenas visibles, canales de drenaje, de riego, de recolección de agua; “picadas” (estrechos caminos) que conducen a puertos ya sumergidos, a canteras, a campos de cultivo y hacienda –todo un sistema sanitario y productivo inusual en la época. (plan jesuítico con caminos al campo y ceremonia,)

Nuevas interpretaciones han iluminado la arquitectura de estos pueblos –desde la adaptación de las tipologías de habitación indígena hasta las magnificas iglesias y colegios que aún dejan atónitos a los visitantes. Esta arquitectura “mestiza”, y a la múltiple producción artística surgida de los talleres jesuíticos, constituye un renovado objeto debate en la medida en que no se deja encerrar fácilmente en las clasificaciones y cánones de la historia del arte occidental. (ilustraciones arte y arquitectura jesuitica)

La experiencia impactó la imaginación de los contemporáneos, y las interpretaciones se renuevan a lo largo de los siglos, mucho después de la expulsión de la Orden. Guillermo Wilde expone aquí las diferentes versiones acerca de la naturaleza de las misiones, polarizadas entre las visiones apologéticas (no sólo jesuíticas: Montesquieu y Voltaire no ocultaron sus simpatías), y antijesuitas, que presentaban el régimen como esclavista y carcelario –esquemas binarios que llegan hasta hoy. Wilde recuerda el impacto de la versión hollywoodense, pero también la sugerente presentación foucaultiana del estado jesuítico como heterotopía –“impugnación de todos los otros espacios … creando otro espacio real tan perfecto, tan meticuloso, tan arreglado, como el nuestro es desordenado, mal dispuesto y confuso”. Podríamos agregar que la aventura jesuítica inspiró a quienes, en los siglos posteriores, imaginaron esta región como un terreno posible para “empezar desde cero”: inmigrantes centroeuropeos, perseguidos políticos de opuestos signos ideológicos, escritores y poetas. 

Lo cierto, nos dice Wilde, es que las simplificaciones del relato sobre los jesuitas imposibilitaron una evaluación objetiva de la experiencia, acentuando su autonomía y dejando en las sombras la participación activa de los indígenas. En esta misma perspectiva, Artur Barcelos subraya el papel de los guaraníes, actores invisibilizados tanto en la historiografía jesuítica como en la adversaria, presentados en bloque como pasivos receptores o infantilizadas víctimas. Barcelos ofrece al lector una historia panorámica de las razones por las cuales los jesuitas decidieron concentrar sus establecimientos, ante el ataque de los bandeirantes, en la franja que, atravesando los ríos Paraná y Uruguay, halla su baricentro cerca de lo que hoy es terreno de la entidad binacional Yaciretá -la “tierra donde brilla la Luna”.

La historia de la región, por cierto, no acaba con la expulsión de los jesuitas, aunque este episodio traumático marca la lenta agonía de los pueblos y la dispersión de los indígenas misionados. El período de formación de las naciones modernas –las hispanas reclamando su independencia de España, el Brasil convirtiéndose, hasta fines del siglo XIX, en sede de la corona portuguesa- constituye sin duda una clave para comprender el destino del territorio en los dos últimos siglos. Una sucesiva fragmentación en el área hispana, a pesar de los intentos de mantener unidos los viejos territorios coloniales, contrasta con la habilidad portuguesa de mantener, y ampliar, la soberanía sobre amplísimas áreas que sólo virtualmente podían ser reclamadas. Las guerras locales, entre provincias vecinas o naciones apenas inventadas como tales, asolaron Sudamérica. La más brutal de ellas tuvo como escenario el territorio guaraní: la llamada guerra de la Triple Alianza o guerra Guazú, entre Paraguay (por un lado) y Argentina, Brasil y Uruguay por otro. (Candido López)

La victoria de la Alianza resultó en la aniquilación de alrededor del 90% de la población masculina del Paraguay. Milda Rivarola, en su contribución a este número de la revista, la califica como la primera guerra total, en que la única  alternativa era el exterminio del enemigo: una obertura feroz para la guerra moderna. La responsabilidad del exterminio, para Rivarola, recae tanto en los gobiernos aliados como en el paraguayo, y las verdaderos víctimas fueron quienes, sin tomar iniciativa bélica alguna, fueron enviados a la masacre: los “indios”. No sólo “guaraníes misionados”, sino Cainguá (guaraníes sin contacto), tobas (Q’om o Guaycurúes), Chanés o Terena… la guerra y sus consecuencias arrasaron también con la misma fuente de vida de todos estos grupos nativos: la tierra. Los nuevos órdenes tampoco serán favorables para las comunidades indígenas y campesinas, a quienes la tierra les será sistemáticamente negada. 

En esta clave, emerge otra de las problemáticas que atravesó los debates de nuestro workshop: la relación entre la justicia ambiental, la sostenibilidad de los emprendimientos en relación a los recursos naturales, y el desarrollo de las naciones modernas. Se trata de un tema central en las discusiones sobre el destino de Sudamérica, considerado en todos los documentos gubernamentales y los acuerdos inter-nacionales de la región, pero de nada sencilla solución.

Las nuevas inflexiones del ambientalismo se diferencian de la vieja tradición de “conservación de la naturaleza” en la importancia que se le otorga a los conflictos sociales derivados de la deforestación, la extenuación de la tierra en la práctica de monocultivos en manos de grandes empresas (en especial, del cultivo de soja), o la retención de grandes extensiones de tierra en manos de empresas internacionales (se recuerdan los debates recientes acerca de las tierras que posee la Universidad de Harvard en el Iberá, provincia de Corrientes, Argentina). El tema es especialmente sensible en esta región, donde amplias áreas han sido declaradas reservas provinciales y nacionales.  El artículo de Federico Freitas refiere los conflictos recientes en el Parque Nacional de Iguazú. La creación del parque, estimulada a ambos lados de la frontera argentino-brasileña por el magnífico monumento natural de las cataratas, data de las primeras décadas del siglo XX, y respondía entonces a una visión rooseveltiana de manejo blando, centrada en la conservación del patrimonio natural y, eventualmente, el impulso al turismo –fuente de importantes ingresos regionales.

Hoy, el conflicto se ha focalizado el los derechos de las comunidades indígenas, mayormente Guarani. (plano Guarani retá con epigrafe) Pero los problemas socio-ambientales exceden los reclamos de las comunidades tradicionales. Aunque estas resultan las más castigadas, las transformaciones técnicas y productivas afectan directamente a vastos sectores de la población rural e incluso urbana. La dificultad consiste en que muchas de estas transformaciones infraestructurales resultan la base del desarrollo de los países que comparten este territorio. Nos referimos especialmente a las represas hidroeléctricas, que hallan en el accidentado curso del alto Paraná y el Uruguay espacios ideales para su implementación: queda claro que sin fuentes de energía que sostengan la industria y la comunicación, la misma posibilidad de  implementar políticas que atiendan al bienestar general se encuentra en jaque. (mapa represas Parana).

Proyectos y realizaciones se sucedieron durante la segunda mitad del siglo XX, en épocas en que la idea de progreso se resumía, universalmente, en los Grandes Trabajos ingenieriles. Pero para ponderar las obras en el Paraná no es posible sólo aludir a este pasado: debemos recordar que los países del cono sur estuvieron durante largas décadas bajo el gobierno de sangrientas dictaduras, que no dudaron en arrasar comunidades y bellezas naturales en función de sus objetivos: el caso de Itaipú es uno de los más conocidos, ya que sin mayores obstáculos técnicos podría haberse evitado la destrucción de las Sete quedas y la expulsión que aún continúa. 

La historia de las represas es también la historia de los países. La represa argentino-paraguaya de Yaciretá-Apipé, que deriva de propuestas realizadas en la década de 1920, y cuyo acuerdo inicial se firma en 1973, recién alcanzó su cota máxima en 2011. Para entonces, el signo de los gobiernos sudamericanos había cambiado: la democracia dio lugar a la ampliación de los actores y la multiplicación de los debates. Los planteos ambientalistas llevaron a las últimas gestiones a acentuar las tareas de remediación (reparación y compensación ecológica, urbana y social), tal como relatan en este número Oscar Thomas, director del ente binacional, y Alfredo Garay, responsable de las estrategias urbanas del plan actual.  Pero las ríspidas discusiones sobre las formas y la oportunidad de nuevas centrales hidroeléctricas no han cesado: es que, más allá de las críticas, más allá de la atenuación de los efectos –que exceden los problemas de las comunidades indígenas y rurales-, no existen otras alternativas viables para la producción estable de energía.

Imaginando bosques, esteros y cascadas, y comunidades viviendo en conformidad con la tierra, suele olvidarse que el territorio que abordamos alberga grandes y modernas ciudades, algunas de la extensión de Sao Paulo, la mayor metrópoli de Sud América y una de las mayores del mundo; Asunción, capital del Paraguay, Corrientes, Resistencia y Formosa, capitales de provincia sobre el río Paraguay; Posadas y Encarnación, frente a frente en las orillas paraguaya y argentina del alto Paraná. Otros centros menores, pero de gran movilidad demográfica, testimonian el crecimiento notable en la población urbana: sólo en la zona denominada específicamente de “la triple frontera”, casi 700 000 habitantes estables se distribuyen entre Foz de Iguazú, Puerto Iguazú y Ciudad del Este, sin contar con alrededor de 50 mil trabajadores flotantes, y habitantes de pueblos cercanos que se desplazan a diario. El turismo, centrado en las Cataratas, aporta sus números. 

Muchas de estas ciudades son de antigua fundación, como Corrientes y Asunción (la “madre de las ciudades” de la cuenca del Plata); otras derivaron de sitios jesuíticos (Posadas y Encarnación); otras son colonias recientes (como Resistencia, y Formosa, posteriores a la Guerra Guazú, pobladas con inmigrantes europeos). Las ciudades españolas eran pensadas como especies de islas civilizadas flotando en un territorio amenazante, sólo considerado para su expoliación; las fundaciones portuguesas se asemejaron más a factorías. La estructura jurídico-territorial fue alterada en los dos últimos siglos, de manera que pasaron a formar parte de los estados-nación: ciudades sólo separadas por el río, como Formosa y Clorinda, o Resistencia y Alberdi, corrieron el destino de los países a los que pertenecen. (fotos: pasos de Posadas Encarnacion, Corrientes-Clorinda  y/o  Ciudad del Este)

El estado-nación es una tardía creación europea, en que América se basó para reclamar su autonomía. Las ventajas del estado-nación se estudian en la escuela primaria: junto a las banderas ideales de igualdad y libertad, se sumó de manera entusiasta la apertura hacia “todos los hombres del mundo que quieran habitar este suelo”, aunque la integración dista de ser idílica. Especialmente en Argentina y Uruguay, la escuela gratuita, los servicios sanitarios y médicos públicos, el acceso libre a los bienes de la civilización, impulsaron a comunidades enteras a desplazarse hacia los centros urbanos que gozaban de tales beneficios. El precio fue la homogenización de las costumbres y tradiciones, y el desbalance entre el mundo urbano y el rural –un tópico en la literatura de la región- pero también la emergencia de una nueva cultura que acentúa los rasgos de apertura, movilidad y mezcla que la caracterizan.

Los artículos referidos a las artes hacen hincapié en esta cuestión. Lía Colombino presenta la historia del Museo del Barro, una de los principales centros artísticos de Asunción, subrayando los problemas y opciones que enfrentaron al poner en pie de igualdad el arte “erudito” con el arte popular e indígena, promoviendo el diálogo de as diversas manifestaciones y evitando la trivialización de lo diferente –una propuesta que derriba explícitamente las fronteras internas a las manifestaciones de la cultura, no menos fuertes que las jurídicas. 

Estos rasgos surgen explíctamente en los dos artículos sobre música, los de Lizza Bogado y Eugenio Montjeau. El primero, escrito una de las cantantes más apreciadas en Paraguay, se inicia con una sentida mención a la argentina Mercedes Sosa, señalando así los lazos trans-fronterizos de la canción popular. Montjeau, por su lado, hace hincapié en  un género característico de este territorio: el chamamé. Poco estimado en su inicio –tal vez por sus mezcladas raíces, tal vez por su éxito popular- el chamamé resulta hoy una de las construcciones musicales más sofisticadas: guaraní por la voz, hispano por el ritmo, inmigrante por los instrumentos musicales, testimonia en su breve historia las maneras en que la novedad emerge en el contacto y la fusión de diversas manifestaciones culturales.

Con una potencia inesperada, el cine actual da testimonio de este complejo mundo, difícil de definir sin simplificaciones. Damian Cabrera vuelve a elegir el tema de lo guaraní, que problematiza desde el inicio, para subrayar la originalidad de las últimas producciones. Si bien el territorio ya había sido escenario de diversas producciones cinematográficas –todos los rioplatenses recuerdan los Films de Armando Bo e Isabel Sarli-, la propia voz es recién escuchada en obras recientes: la voz indígena en Terra vermelha, de Marcos Bechis, la voz campesina en Hamaca paraguaya, de Paz Encina, el guaraní urbano en 7 cajas, de Juan Carlos Maneglia y Tana Schembori  Cabrera relata el impacto social de este último film, en el que el público se reconocía en la lengua, en la escena –el mayor mercado de Asunción-, en los modos culturales que contrastan tradiciones y radical modernidad –la trama policial se desata a partir de la fascinación del protagonista por un teléfono celular.

En fin: hemos querido acentuar, en esta múltiple presentación del espacio “Guarini”, los aspectos que lo convierten en un territorio lábil y cambiante, mezclado como el agua, multiétnico, informal –las fronteras nacionales, mas que líneas de quiebre, son espacios de activo intercambio. Sin embargo, los estudios sobre el área han acentuado una frontera mayor, cuya delimitación nos reconduce a la larga historia colonial: la que separa el Brasil (el imperio portugués) de los países de habla hispana. Así, aunque se reconoce la familiaridad de los pueblos amazónicos luego clasificados en las etnias “tupí” y guaraní”, las investigaciones etnográficas tomaron caminos diferentes; diferentes fueron los destinos de las naciones de habla hispana y portuguesa –a pesar de la vecindad, recién en las ultimas décadas se han extendido puentes culturales firmes.

Por esto, culminamos esta presentación con un breve texto sobre una de las experiencias estéticas más creativas del siglo pasado: la de las vanguardias paulistas, que recrearon el mundo indígena subrayando uno de los aspectos más controvertidos que compartían los pueblos tupí-guaraní: la antropofagia ritual. Oswald de Andrade y Tarsila do Amaral convirtieron el escándalo en clave de un modo de ser que parecen compartir todos los pueblos rioplatenses, antiguos y modernos: comerse al enemigo significaba asimilarlo. En el “manifiesto antropófago” se lee: “Só me interessa o que não é meu. Lei do homem. Lei do antropófago”.   Lo que no es mío incluye el cine de Hollywood, los aviones, los curas, Freud y Levy-Bruhl. Incluye también los mitos: el país de la Cobra grande; el carnaval y el surrealismo “que ya teníamos”; el matriarcado de Pindorama (la Tierra sin Mal guaraní), “A idade de ouro anunciada pela América. A idade de ouro. E todas as girls”. (Oswald de Andrade, Manifesto antropófago, “en el año 374 de degluticion del obispo Sardinha”, revista de Antropofagia año I nº 1, 1928)

Para el comentario de este episodio fundante de las vanguardias sudamericanas, hoy releído de manera entusiasta en todo el río de la Plata, publicamos un fragmento de Orfeu estatico en la metrópoli, del brasileño Nicolau Sevcenko, recientemente fallecido aquí, en Cambridge –nuestra manera de rendir homenaje a quienes han difundido la riqueza de esta multifacética y paradójica tierra.

Jorge Silvetti is the Nelson Robinson, Jr. Professor of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he has taught since 1975. He was chairman of the Architecture Department from 1995–2002. He teaches design studios (including among others “The National Archives of Argentina,” “La Reserva Ecológica of Buenos Aires” and “The School of 2030: Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro”) and lectures on history, contemporary theory and criticism (Architectural History I: Buildings, Texts, and Contexts from Antiquity through the 17th Century). He is currently teaching a course/studio entitled “Chamamé: The Intangible Rhythms of the Guarani Region.”

Graciela Silvestri was the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Professor at Harvard University. She is an architect and Ph.D. in History (University of Buenos Aires), Professor of Theory of Architecture (University of La Plata) and researcher at CONICET. She was a curator for Paraná Ra’Angá, expeditionary travel along the Paraná River. Among other books, she has published El color del Río: Historia cultural del paisaje del Riachueloand El lugar común: Una historia de las figuras del paisaje en el Rio de la Plata.


Construyendo futuro

Por Oscar Thomas

Foto por Oscar Thomas. 

Ver la galeria de fotos.

En 1973 se firmó el Tratado de Yacyretá entre Argentina y Paraguay. Se procuraba construir una de las más importantes centrales hidroeléctricas de llanura del mundo sobre el río Paraná, el más caudaloso de América del Sur.

 La opción por una hidroeléctrica era clara. Se entendía que el petróleo, como combustible fósil, debía ser reemplazado por una fuente renovable.

 La etapa de construcción de la hidroeléctrica pudo concluirse con mucho esfuerzo. Se logró tras 34 años de trabajos en el periodo de los años 1978 al 2011. La obra fue inaugurada en el año 1998 con un nivel de embalse de 7 metros por debajo de su nivel definitivo de diseño, produciendo el 60% de la energía prevista. Solucionando esta cuestión se lograría la producción máxima de energía eléctrica. Resolver la problemática requería la realización de una cantidad importante de obras de ingeniería y de arquitectura cuyo objetivo sería posibilitar, en principio, la adaptación del hábitat de los pobladores de la región circundante al nuevo nivel del embalse. Se trataba de las provincias argentinas de Misiones y Corrientes así como de los departamentos paraguayos de Itapuá y Misiones. El área del embalse alcanzaría 1.500 km2.

Yacyretá ya se había hecho cargo de construir un importante puente sobre el río Paraná uniendo ambos países. Faltaba la transformación de la región circundante. Las ciudades habían tenido un crecimiento acelerado sin ningún tipo de planificación previa, contaban con una población de 700.000 habitantes, de las cuales unas 80.000 personas habitaban las zonas costeras que afectaría el recrecimiento del embalse, bajo condiciones insalubres y con recurrentes inundaciones. El medio ambiente tendría cambios que alterarían su equilibrio.

Soy de la provincia de Misiones, Argentina, y Arquitecto. Me propuse aprovechar la oportunidad para transformar positivamente la situación de esas 80.000 personas que serían afectadas y también mejorar urbanísticamente las dos ciudades más importantes de la región, como Encarnación y Posadas, cuya implantación tenía una vinculación no resuelta con el río Paraná.

Tenía en que sustentar mi accionar. La región tenía una destacada historia de proyectos humanos de relacionamiento con el río. Durante los siglos XVII y XVIII los jesuitas y los indios de lengua guaraní conformaron más de treinta asentamientos urbanos sostenidos por la explotación racional del agua, de la tierra y de la producción de diferentes ganados. Para ello habían dispuesto la utilización de los arroyos para provisión de agua para el consumo, la pesca, la navegabilidad y como recurso energético -ruedas y molinos hidráulicos-. Pensé que la historia era memoria y laboratorio de experiencias.

Había que responderle a Paraguay y a mi país que requerían de mayor producción energética. Terminar la represa sería la respuesta adecuada. Para la región el buen funcionamiento del emprendimiento de Yacyretá significaría la garantía para las inversiones necesarias.

Mi provincia es el agua de los ríos y arroyos, la tierra colorada y la selva. Ningún elemento del hábitat debería ser perjudicado. La conservación de la calidad del agua sería uno de los objetivos más importantes.

Se conformaron 1.500 km2 de reservas ecológicas compensatorias por las tierras inundadas por el embalse del río Paraná. Las acciones realizadas fueron explicadas a todas las comunidades de la región.

El pasado de la región siempre estuvo presente como elemento identitario. En el museo de Ayolas se implementó la conservación de las piezas arqueológicas obtenidas a través de los estudios realizados previamente al desarrollo de las obras. Las etnias guaraníes y kaingang dejaron huellas de sus modos de vida y enseñanzas para relacionarnos con la naturaleza.

Las ciudades de la región serían renovadas. En Paraguay tendrían grandes cambios Ayolas, Santos Cosme y Damián, San Juan del Paraná, Carmen del Paraná, Cambyretá y Encarnación. Por su parte en Argentina formarían parte del proyecto las ciudades de Ituzaingó, Posadas, Garupá y Candelaria. Para cada una de ellas se conformarían planteos de reformas urbanas acordadas con los gobiernos locales, que darían lugar a la integración de los distintos sectores de la ciudad. Se trataba de enclaves compartimentados por arroyos y la ausencia de la infraestructura vial necesaria. Por medio de diversos puentes y grandes avenidas se replantearía toda la circulación vehicular y de los medios de transportes. Se le daría respuesta al crecimiento futuro proveyendo un nuevo equipamiento en el área hospitalaria, la educación, la administración pública, la seguridad y los servicios, y dotando de importantes áreas recreativas, paseos, plazas y costaneras. Se estructuraría una nueva relación con el paisaje y fundamentalmente con el río Paraná. El resultado sería la formación de frentes urbanos costeros. El acceso al agua estuvo a disposición de todas las clases sociales. La ciudad sería entendida como una totalidad.

La población afectada por el emprendimiento de Yacyretá fue atendida con programas de asistencia social y de salud, y trasladados a complejos habitacionales que contaban con todas las infraestructuras, servicios y equipamientos comunitarios, armónicamente integrados a la ciudad. Las comunidades indígenas tuvieron viviendas de materiales duraderos, escuelas bilingües y servicios asistenciales. A todos se les adjudicó la propiedad de la tierra.

Todas las ciudades intervenidas se expandieron hacia el río. Encarnación se ha convertido en la ciudad balnearia. Posadas ha aumentado considerablemente la visita de turistas. Los sectores urbanos y rurales tuvieron garantizados sus desplazamientos a las ciudades mediante la construcción de nuevas rutas y puentes para el cruce de los arroyos.

Revisando todo lo realizado en una década pienso que el emprendimiento hidroeléctrico Yacyretá constituyó un fuerte impacto regional. La única posibilidad de terminar su construcción y alcanzar la mayor productividad energética fue entenderlo como la forma de mejorar las condiciones de vida de todos los habitantes de la región proveyéndolos de una infraestructura que hubiera sido imposible concretarla sin el aporte de la empresa hidroeléctrica. También pienso que en los nuevos emprendimientos hidroeléctricos proyectados para la región deberá tenerse en cuenta la experiencia realizada, siendo así la población apoyará la construcción de estas nuevas obras sólo con la simultaneidad de la realización de las obras necesarias para mejorar el nivel de vida cotidianos. 

Oscar Alfredo Thomas es Director Ejecutivo de la Entidad Binacional Yacyretá por Argentina. También actualmente es Presidente argentino de la Comisión Técnica Mixta Argentino-Brasileña para la construcción de las Hidroeléctricas de Garabí y Panambí; y Delegado Argentino de la Comisión Mixta Argentino-Paraguaya del Río Paraná, Hidroeléctrica Corpus. 

Guaraníes y jesuitas en la imaginación histórica moderna

Por Guillermo Wilde

Ruinas de San Miguel Arcángel. Reconocidas como patrimonio de la humanidad por la UNESCO. Foto por Artur H.F. Barcelos .

Desde 1610, los jesuitas fundaron en la región meridional de América un conjunto de pueblos de indios, también conocidos como “misiones” o “reducciones”, que alcanzó enormes dimensiones territoriales, demográficas y políticas. En las primeras décadas del siglo XVIII, las 30 misiones del Paraguay albergaron una población total de 140.000 habitantes. Los indígenas allí congregados, hablaban mayoritariamente la lengua guaraní, que se convirtió en el medio básico de trasmisión de la fe cristiana. Cada reducción tenía dos jesuitas, un sacerdote y su compañero, encargados de la administración espiritual y “temporal”, ayudados por una elite indígena con cargos administrativos y eclesiásticos que sabía leer y escribir en guaraní, español y latín. Los sacerdotes supervisaban estrictamente las tareas cotidianas, controlando que los indígenas cumplieran con la asistencia a la misa y a los trabajos en las chacras, campos y estancias, de donde se obtenían los medios básicos de subsistencia de todos los pueblos: maíz, mandioca, algodón, yerba mate, carne. Dentro de las misiones también se desarrollaban actividades en talleres de oficios muy diversos, donde eran fabricadas la mayor parte de las esculturas y ornamentos para las iglesias. La actividad musical estuvo muy difundida en todas las misiones, donde no solo se escribían y copiaban partituras, sino que también se fabricaban instrumentos musicales de diferente tipo. En el templo de una de las misiones, Santísima Trinidad, se conserva hoy un friso representando ángeles músicos que tocan el arpa, el violín, la trompeta, el clave, y hasta las maracas. La contemplación del friso nos lleva a imaginar sonoridades singulares que mezclaban la música traída de Europa con elementos sonoros de la tierra.

A pesar de su éxito aparente, las reducciones fueron afectadas numerosas veces por epidemias y conflictos devastadores que redujeron la población de manera abrumadora. Brotes de viruelas, sarampión y fiebres las afectaron constantemente, ocasionando gran cantidad de muertes. Durante todo el siglo XVII, las tropas de esclavistas bandeirantes que provenían de la ciudad de Sao Paulo, realizaron expediciones de captura de indios misioneros, lo que ocasionó la destrucción temprana de varias misiones. Las expresiones religiosas constituyeron un medio privilegiado para superar los efectos traumáticos de estas crisis, y en este sentido se orientó la pedagogía jesuítica, con alusiones a formas cristianas de devoción nativa, como el culto al arcángel Miguel o la virgen Maria. También existieron expresiones religiosas heterodoxas elaboradas por los indígenas, frente a las cuales los jesuitas tuvieron actitudes variables, que oscilaron entre el rechazo y la adaptación. A veces los jesuitas promovieron la incorporación de elementos visuales y sonoros locales a las prácticas cristianas dominantes, desde la ornamentación de los templos hasta las celebraciones del calendario litúrgico. Aunque la historia de este experimento concluye abruptamente con la expulsión de los jesuitas de todos los dominios de la corona española, en 1767, los indígenas mantuvieron su sistema de gobierno en las misiones y continuaron con sus prácticas devocionales, al menos hasta la etapa de las guerras civiles que se inició en la región a partir de 1810.

Ángel con maraca, un instrumento musical. Foto cortesía de Guillermo Wilde.

En los últimos tres siglos, las misiones aparecen como un tópico recurrente en la literatura histórica y de ficción. Los jesuitas difundieron por el suelo europeo numerosas noticias sobre aquel apartado rincón de los dominios coloniales americanos, brindando informaciones de gran valor sobre las sociedades nativas con las que entraron en contacto. En base a esas informaciones, el público europeo pronto polarizó sus opiniones. Mientras las posturas apologéticas defendieron a las misiones como un noble experimento de civilización de los indios que habitaban en la selva, las posturas antijesuitas vieron a los ignacianos como explotadores de los indios cuya intención era crear un reino independiente de las coronas ibéricas. La primera postura se encontró representada en numerosas cartas y crónicas sobre las misiones escritas por los mismos jesuitas, y la llamativa gravitación de una obra no jesuita, El cristianismo Feliz (1743), del italiano Ludovico Muratori, quien manifestó toda su admiración a la experiencia jesuítica. La defensa de las misiones continuaría incluso después de la expulsión de la orden, en manos de los mismos jesuitas exiliados en Italia. El jesuita expulso José Manuel Peramás escribió una llamativa obra llamada La República de Platón y los Guaraníes, en la que comparaba una a una las virtudes de la organización misional con las máximas de gobierno establecidas por el clásico maestro de la antigüedad. Incluso autores manifiestamente antijesuitas como Montesquieu o Voltaire, no ocultarían elogios al régimen de los jesuitas en las selvas sudamericanas como una expresión perfecta del buen gobierno.

La nutrida literatura del siglo XVIII también contó con exponentes del antijesuitismo, que comenzaron a imponerse en la Europa borbónica en clara oposición al poder que había adquirido la Compañía de Jesús en los siglos anteriores. Fueron ilustrados ibéricos como el Marqués de Pombal, en el caso de Portugal, o el secretario Rodríguez de Campomanes, en caso de España, los que con mayor fuerza atacaron a los jesuitas. Ambos insistieron sobre el peligro de las ambiciones jesuitas de creación de un estado dentro del estado, amenaza flagrante para las coronas ibéricas. En sus opiniones tuvo mucha influencia un ex jesuita renegado, Bernardo Ibañez de Echavarri, autor de El Reino Jesuítico (1762), obra que se publicó casi simultáneamente en español y portugués. Dicha obra sostenía abiertamente que los jesuitas habían creado una organización política independiente entre los guaraníes que atentaba contra las coronas ibéricas, y brindaba informaciones detalladas sobre el modo de gobierno jesuita. En la misma época, se difundió el rumor de que en el Paraguay jesuita se había ungido a un rey llamado Nicolas I, de quien se había plasmado una efigie en monedas especialmente acuñadas para circular por la región. Aunque los jesuitas lo negaron sistemáticamente, se sospechaba que el tal Nicolas I podría haber sido el conocido cacique Nicolás Ñeenguirú, de la misión de Concepción, quien había tenido una participación decisiva en el conflicto bélico llamada “guerra guaranítica”. En 1750 las coronas ibéricas habían firmado un Tratado de límites acordando que una parte del territorio de las misiones pasara al dominio de los portugueses. Frente a esta decisión, los guaraníes se alzaron en armas y resistieron a la ejecución del tratado. Los enfrentamientos armados entre las milicias guaraníes y el ejército luso-español se extendieron entre 1754 y 1756, concluyendo con la derrota de los guaraníes después de numerosas muertes. Este acontecimiento precipitó las opiniones negativas de las cortes hacia los jesuitas, que fueron acusados de instigar a los indios a resistir a las decisiones monárquicas.

En el siglo XIX continuaron las disputas en torno de la naturaleza del gobierno de las misiones. Diversos exponentes de los movimientos románticos las reivindicarían como realización de una sociedad utópica, de la que la sociedad europea debía seguir el ejemplo. Entre los alemanes deben mencionarse a Eberhard Gothein quien publica en 1887 Der Crhistlichsoziale Staat der Jesuiten in Paraguay tratando de confrontar la experiencia jesuítico guaraní con la utopía de Campanella. Años más tarde las reducciones fueron inspiradoras de las ideas socialistas del escocés Cunningham Graham, uno de los fundadores del partido laborista, quien escribió el opúsculo A Vanished Archadia íntegramente dedicado a reivindicar la labor de los jesuitas en el Paraguay.

Coincide con el inicio del siglo XX la publicación de la bien conocida obra de Leopoldo Lugones El Imperio Jesuítico, encargada por el gobierno argentino, y claramente opuesta a los jesuitas. Dos décadas más tarde, salió publicado un pequeño opúsculo del intelectual paraguayo Blas Garay titulado El comunismo de las Misiones de la Compañía de Jesús en Paraguay (1921). El texto se desprendía de una introducción que el autor había dedicado a la publicación, en 1897, de la Historia de las misiones, del jesuita Nicolás del Techo (escrita en 1687). Con tono severo Garay se refería a la herencia de las misiones de manera muy negativa en la historia del país. Años después el alemán Fassbinder publicó Der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay (1926) y el austríaco Fritz Hochwaelder Das Heilige Experiment (1941). En el contexto de la segunda guerra el religioso suizo Clovis Lugon publicó su obra La république communiste-chrétienne des Guaranis (1609-1768). En los años ochenta el debate se reabrió con la película The Mission, en la que se presenta una imagen benevolente de los jesuitas y su trabajo evangélico entre los guaraníes.

Los ejemplos citados permiten constatar el interés renovado que las misiones suscitaron en los últimos siglos, donde se mantiene constante la contraposición entre posturas apologéticas y antijesuitas. En general, la literatura tendió  a concebir a las misiones como un “Estado”, “República” o “Imperio”, desde un punto de vista político, y como un “paraíso”, o una “utopía”, desde un punto de vista religioso y filosófico. En algunos segmentos de su obra, Michel Foucault referiría a las misiones guaraníes como una “heterotopía”, un lugar o espacio de otredad que escapaba a la concepción hegemónica, y funcionaba de acuerdo a su propia lógica.

Si bien los debates han sido elocuentes, las posturas dicotómicas esbozadas arriba han tendido a crear una imagen excesivamente simplificada de la situación interna de las misiones a lo largo del tiempo. El resultado fue concebir al régimen misionero o bien como un beneficioso régimen civilizatorio o bien como un opresivo sistema esclavista. Esta visión también imposibilitó el análisis de la participación y respuestas indígenas en la formación de las misiones tendiendo. Por el contrario, la población indígena fue considerada como un sector homogéneo y pasivo en este proceso. El debate europeo sobre las misiones parece, en este sentido, muy alejado de la realidad concreta. Por otro lado, la insistencia en la noción de Estado para referir a las misiones, ha tendido a aislarlas del entorno regional en el que se desenvolvieron. En efecto, las misiones participaban de la red de circulación de personas y bienes de consumo en el espacio rioplatense. Los diferentes establecimientos jesuitas comerciaban productos como la yerba mate y los cueros en toda la región e influían en las políticas de las autoridades coloniales. Los indios guaraníes, a su vez, intervenían en las milicias regionales asistiendo a las autoridades de Buenos Aires y Asunción en diferentes actividades económicas y de defensa del territorio. 

Las misiones constituyeron una “comunidad imaginada” que a lo largo de 150 años incorporó una gran diversidad de poblaciones que debieron adaptarse a un mismo patrón de organización espacial y temporal. Dicho patrón implicó incorporar nuevas tecnologías, desde las directamente vinculadas a la construcción de edificios y almacenamiento de alimentos hasta la escritura o la cartografía, que no existían antes en esos contextos indígenas. La introducción de una vida rutinaria que alternaba la asistencia a la iglesia con el trabajo en las chacras, claramente atentaba contra las formas tradicionales de organización del tiempo y el espacio. El proceso de transformación del modo de vida indígena fue lento y prolongado y las actitudes indígenas frente a los colonizadores fueron también variadas. Inicialmente, muchos líderes políticos y chamanes resistieron enérgicamente a la evangelización. Posteriormente readaptaron sus estrategias para negociar su ingreso en las misiones, en cuyo gobierno intervinieron de manera directa, a través de instituciones como los cabildos y las milicias. En las circunstancias políticas y económicas que afectaban a la región del Paraguay y el Rio de la Plata, las misiones fueron convirtiéndose gradualmente en un espacio de refugio para muchas poblaciones indígenas que sirvió de vehículo para la reconstitución de lazos sociales y políticos y la recreación de formas nativas de identidad religiosa. Aunque ya no podrían hacerlo en los términos de sus propias tradiciones, sino en los de un cristianismo sui generis, intervendrían de manera directa en las constantes negociaciones y readaptaciones que marcan todo el período.

Guillermo Wilde enseña en la Universidad Nacional de San Martín y es investigador para CONICET en Argentina. Es autor de Saberes de la Conversión: Jesuitas, indígenas e imperios coloniales en las fronteras de la cristianidad y Religión y Poder en las Misiones de Guaraníes (Latin American Studies Association Book Award, 2010).  

El camino hacia una cobertura universal en México

Por Rocío López Iñigo

En la última década México ha dado pasos de gigante en la carrera por una cobertura sanitaria universal. En 2012 el objetivo se dio por cumplido, gracias sobre todo a la implementación del programa nacional Seguro Popular. Introducido en 2003, este programa ofrece cobertura a más de 50 millones de personas que antes se encontraban excluidas del sistema de salud. Pretende evitar también el empobrecimiento extremo causado por gastos médicos repentinos. Los resultados analizados a unos años de su puesta en marcha son a priori positivos. Y sin embargo, en las zonas rurales del país todavía hay muchas familias que se enfrentan a una atención primaria deficiente, carente de recursos y de personal médico cualificado.

Las medidas diseñadas en el marco del programa ignoran muchas veces el contexto de las zonas más marginadas, donde existen numerosos obstáculos que dificultan el acceso real a los servicios sanitarios. La movilización de recursos -humanos, equipo médico, medicinas- a las pequeñas comunidades es todavía un desafío. Existen clínicas en las pequeñas comunidades, pero no hay profesionales que las atiendan. El médico visita la zona un par de veces a la semana, a veces de manera irregular. Debe cubrir entonces a decenas de personas, sin conocer su historial médico y apenas su nombre. Esto dificulta el seguimiento correcto de los pacientes, su diagnóstico y tratamiento. En muchas ocasiones, estos deben andar varias horas para descubrir que el médico faltó o para recibir una mala atención (poco profesional, que exige gastos extra o errónea en el diagnóstico). Otras veces son atendidos únicamente por pasantes, estudiantes de medicina recién egresados que carecen de la experiencia necesaria para llevar una clínica. Según datos consultados, el 82% del total de las clínicas de atención primaria administradas por la Secretaría de Salud en zonas rurales son atendidas únicamente por estos pasantes. Se calcula que atienden a un total de 10 a 15 millones de mexicanos sin apenas supervisión o apoyo profesional. Esto se traduce en una pésima atención a los ciudadanos y una desagradable experiencia para los estudiantes, que se exponen a numerosos problemas y peligros.

En Chiapas, una organización de jóvenes médicos intenta aliviar la situación. Compañeros en Salud (CES), brazo de Partners In Health en México, fue creada con el fin de acercar todos estos recursos infrautilizados y coordinar todos los esfuerzos en una misma dirección: garantizar el derecho fundamental del ser humano a unos servicios sanitarios de calidad. Daniel Palazuelos, profesor en Harvard Medical School y médico externo adscrito al Brigham and Women Boston Hospital coincidió en el año 2010 con Hugo Flores, médico egresado del Tecnológico de Monterrey y actual director de la organización. Junto a Lindsay Palazuelos, licenciada de la universidad de Brown y experta en gestión y desarrollo de proyectos, diseñaron un modelo de atención primaria de calidad, basado en un apoyo eficiente a las clínicas de la zona. El proyecto parte de la formación y supervisión constante de los pasantes, quienes reciben las herramientas y orientación necesaria para afrontar los casos más complicados de las comunidades. Reciben visitas regulares de supervisores, suministro adecuado de medicamentos y materiales o apoyo de especialistas de todo el mundo. Además, una vez al mes, los pasantes acuden a un curso en el que aprenden las implicaciones políticas, sociales e históricas de la enfermedad y profundizan en las causas de la inequidad en la entrega de servicios de salud.

Este apoyo a los estudiantes se traduce en una mejor atención a los vecinos de las comunidades, a los que también se guía en la navegación del no siempre tan fácil sistema sanitario. CES además invierte en programas adaptados a las necesidades de las comunidades, como el de salud mental o el pionero en formación de trabajadoras comunitarias. Estas mujeres se forman en salud y  acompañan a los enfermos crónicos durante su tratamiento. Actúan como vínculo entre médico y paciente para garantizar una comunicación efectiva y evitar malentendidos.

Actualmente CES trabaja en 8 clínicas de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas, aunque su área de influencia indirecta se calcula en unas 25000 personas. Su modelo de fortalecimiento, provisión de servicios de salud de alta calidad, educación en salud e investigación y continua mejora de la calidad convierten a esta joven y pequeña organización en una semilla para el cambio. Su propuesta está basada en la evidencia y constante análisis de resultados, además de la búsqueda de recursos sostenibles que aseguren su desarrollo en el tiempo. Compañeros en Salud ofrece alternativas exitosas, que sin duda podrían ayudar a minimizar las diferencias entre las políticas públicas sobre el papel y la realidad de miles de mexicanos.

Rocío López Íñigo es candidata para Erasmus Mundus MA Global Studies del EMGS Consortium. Ha vivido y trabajado como periodista en Argentina y México. Vive actualmente en Alemania y espera continuar con un PhD en relaciones internacionales.