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
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
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
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.