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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
July 2004

The invention of Tarapacá

The invention of Tarapacá. State and regional development in Chile is a new book published by Universidad Arturo Prat and written by sociologist Juan Podestá. What follows are the comments made by Bernardo Guerrero during the book's presentation, in Iquique.

By Bernardo Guerrero Jiménez

Every good book, must meet some basic requirements to deserve the adjective. In the are of social sciences, one of them is to fill some kind of gap in a knowledge area. It should also be well written and motivate suspicions, concerns and leave some questions unanswered. That's the case with the book The invention of Tarapacá. State and regional development in Chile, written by sociologist Juan Podestá.

The book systematizes and puts in order much of what we know about this region. The information is coherent, even with the theoric perspective lying underneath. In this book one finds how and through which proceedings the central State invented us as a region.

Located in the margins of Peru, rich in nitrate, conquered by the Chilean Army, the State had to make a still-going-on effort to make this territory part of Chile. I say that it still goes on, because inhabitants of this part of the country don't always behave like Chileans; we live such and experience differently. According to Podestá, this is what militars and politicians do not understand.

Tarapacá's construction —or, better, its invention— was something produced from the State in Santiago. It was managed by reasons that have nothing to do with the zone —I believe, more militar than civil. What really concerns the militars is how the geographical frontiers and those of the aymará can meet.

The paradox is to see how, after the nitrate crisis, the State took this zone for granted. The Treasury left it completely behind. From the decade of the 30s to that of the 60s, the people of Iquique lived their hardest period. It is during these times that populism was born.

In the years 1953 and 1958, general Carlos Ibañez del Campo settles the state of Arica for good, building the "Puerto libre" (Free port). Iquique lives from the ilusion of the factories and mine inspections, like urane and oil. It was late that the militars realized that to get a sense of what's Chilean, the concept of "live frontiers" was a key. But the development of Arica included the underdevelopment of Iquique. These two cities call themselves "sisters", but have very different characteristics.

Another General, in the year 1975, did the same as Ibáñez del Campo, but the other way round. This time, the magic went to Iquique. Augusto Pinochet created the "Zona Franca" (Duty Free zone). It was the time of neoliberalism and the supression of democracy.

What is Tarapacá? Reading Juan Podestá's book, one has to agree with his research and theory. Tarapacá is an administritive and sociocultural construction made from Santiago and molded over a regional conscience, conscient of its past and History.

Quoting Podestá, the abandonment of the State, and those hard years of shared food defense commands, of expression and protest at the same time, helped to settle an identity beyond the region, which expressed itself in, for example,sports. you just have to compare the press of yesterday and today to confirm it.

Podestá's thesis could become a guide for all those that want to learn how local dynamics are produced and expressed. It will also help the State representants to understand once and for all that Chile is not a homogenous country, and that regionalism lives here transversaly, not just over one or another candidate. It is the expression of what the State has been doing in this zone.

I would like to highlight something else. Tarapacá has been producing since the 80s, specially through non-gubernamental organizations, and through Universidad Arturo Prat during the 90s, with a group of professionals focused on thinking the region. It is this fact that lets us face with optimism the challenge of thinking Tarapacá. Sociology has proved that we have the tools for it.

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