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<nettime> New Hope South America?
Krystian Woznicki on Mon, 12 Dec 2005 23:28:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> New Hope South America?


here I am posting an essay that I wrote for springerin 3/05
(www.springerin.at/en) on southamerican capitals between nation-building
and globalisation.

The springerin issue focuses on South America - for obvious reasons: "In
contrast with the worldwide trend towards neo-liberal  consolidation,
political situations in Latin America seem to be in a state of rapid change."

What's particularly interesting, is the issue's central focus on the Brazilian
situation - the cultural and artistic promises linked with this political
reorientation. There are discussions between artists (L=EDvia Flores, L=FAcia Koch
and Ricardo Basbaum), a special feature devoted to the current works of Ricardo
Basbaum by Brian Holmes and much more. E.g. texts on electronic culture in the

All this gains quite a surprising relevance in the context of the World Cup '06 -
at least in Germany we are witnessing how the Brazilian and the German state are
instrumentalizing the soccer expo in order to idealize the relationship between
sport and culture. The promise in festival format is called "Copa da Cultura".
You'll google it.




The Sum of Possible Influence
South American capitals between nation-building and globalisation

Krystian Woznicki

In 1990, as elections in Peru were in full swing, Alberto Fujimori promised the
electorate that he was able to shell out a gigantic sum of money. With this money
he wanted to open new doors and at last put his country on the road to victory.
His origins were to help him in this project: Fujimori's parents came from Japan,
and that is also where the money was meant to come from, money that no one in Peru
ever got to see. When he ran again for re-election in 2000 after ten years in
office, his reputation had waned noticeably. His tight, almost dictatorial
programme caused the people to thirst for democracy. It thus does not come as much
of a surprise that it was only by means of manipulation that he was able to attain
another election victory. It was not to be long before this became known, and his
life's work fell into disrepute. Fujimori set off on a business trip to Japan,
where he suddenly fell ill. So ill that he had to take time off and at the same
time resigned from his presidency. He stayed in Japan for the time being, where to
this day he is not only tolerated, but even loved.

Fujimori had barely taken up residence in his new place of abode when he wrote and
published a book [1], in which he showed the Japanese public that George W. Bush
is not the only one who can successfully wage war on terror. This book, which
implicitly but obviously was meant as an apologia for his period in office, aimed
not least to remind its readers of an episode that had left behind a big
impression on the Japanese public. Even today, people in Japan have not forgotten
that in 1996 Fujimori ordered the successful storming of the Japanese embassy in
Lima, which had been taken over by MRTA rebels. And successful means: in this
special military operation; which caused a sensation partly because Fujimori
had a copy of the entire embassy building built to analyse the possibilities of
evacuation -, all the hostages were liberated unharmed, while all the terrorists
were shot dead.

Previous to this, the world was kept on tenterhooks for four months -- that's how
long the occupation lasted; by news reports from Lima. Even on the last day of the
drama, April 22 1997, it was not certain if even one of the Japanese hostages
would escape alive. When, finally, all 71 hostages were rescued after a
forty-minute fight replete with machine-gun hail and bomb explosions, the Peruvian
president emerged as a celebrated hero. Right on time for the hundredth
anniversary of the Japanese-South American friendship, he appeared proudly at
press conferences and insisted on explaining his successful strategy to the
perplexed media representatives using the exact model of the Japanese embassy;
microphone in his left hand, pointer in his right. [2]

The transformation and the problem of mediation

This episode in the history of South American capital cities may be among the
strangest. But at any rate the event is typical of their permanent presence in the
global mass media: whether coups d'=E9tat or state terror, it would seem that
there is an incessant stream of sensational news reports about various horrors,
all underlining the decrepit state of South America's capitals. In the 20th
century, large parts of South America were stuck in dictatorial treadmills. The
backwardness of the continent associated with this could not be covered up even by
the alleged successes of the juntas. As a result, for a long time the South
American capital provided material for political thrillers, novels about dystopic
states, and computer games that used this background to create bloody first-person
action games: "Operation Inca Gold", for example, simulates Fujimori's
successful battle against the rebels. The central place of action is the Japanese
embassy in Lima.

In recent times, a change has been emerging, one that has a lot to do with the
fact that the continent has been gradually able to put its dictatorships behind
it; the "third wave of democracy" was also to embrace South America. The political
transformation represents a common denominator among the various nations, but will
they be able to build upon this and find a common cultural language that unites
the continent over national borders? This question is asked by Manuel Antonio
Garret=F3n [3], for example, because he believes that South America could be able
in this way to re-establish connections within globalisation. This is not about
the rebellious tendencies of a united South America towards the US imperium, which
even in Germany are seen with some misgivings. [4] Instead, it is mostly about
finding a framework of meaning within the supranational context that mediates
between the nation-state and globalisation in the democratic era. In this project,
the capital cities become the focus of interest.

The overcoming of the dictatorships is in itself enough to give seats of
government a new meaning. Forty percent of the respective population is
concentrated in cities like Lima, Caracas, Buenos Aires and Santiago, and produces
around half the gross national product. These cities thus represent the central
political, economic and cultural stage upon which the democratic system is tested
and formed. Another reason why the political transformation becomes apparent in
the capital cities is because their mayors are almost always presidential
candidates and frequently also end up reaching the top position in the state; Lima
is the prime example of this. [5] The big task facing the South American capitals
in the course of the third wave of democracy is, however, to reinvent the nation
once more under these new conditions. The capital as the nation-state's primary
module of representation has in many cases also to consider the indigenous rural
population; paradoxically, in the 1990s these groups became the central driving
force behind social movements throughout Latin America [6]; while at the same time
extending the horizon beyond national borders owing to its own economic clout. At
any rate, in the "global cities", which most of the South American capitals are,
friction with the global are unavoidable.

So "la capital sudamericana" oscillates between two completely incompatible poles.
The differences that emerge in the process have found expression in visual
culture; South American capitals are often the main subject of film productions
and photo projects. In this discourse, problems are studied from all sides and the
question is raised: Has the third wave of democracy really brought about a radical
change? A recurrent motif is social polarisation. Caracas, for example, has
provoked as widely differing approaches as "Caracas, amor a muerte" (1999) and
"Caracas Litoral, Venezuela" (2005). The first of these is the film debut of
Gustavo Balza. It recounts the life of a young couple in the Venezuelan capital.
He keeps having problems with the police; she, still legally a minor, is pregnant
and cannot decide whether to have the child or not. Against the real background of
a country in which over fifty percent of the population is younger than 18, this
film focuses on a case that is anything but rare in Venezuela and other
Latin-American countries. The basic configuration of the film can however be seen
as strange, because, as Gunther Blessing notes, the "associated everyday
difficulties and suffering are seldom brought so explicitly to view and thus to
awareness. In this sense, the artistic >representation< is here to be taken
literally as vicarious presentation." [7]

When the research project "Caracas Litoral, Venezuela: Nuevos Urbanismos" (2005)
turns to the Caribbean coast north of Caracas, on the other hand, another
contrasting pole of society in the capital city comes under scrutiny: the area
known as Litoral Central is a destination popular with wealthy weekend guests from
Caracas. What is created using the capital from the urban upper class is to be
thought of structurally as the complementary counterpart to the capital city.
Anything this elite sees as lacking here is created there in the course of a
process of "unregulated land development". The urbanistic study by Richard Plunz,
Michael Conrad and Modjeh Baratloo focuses primarily on the reconstruction of the
Litoral Central after mudslides destroyed the coastal regions between the Gulf of
Mexico and Mount Avila, and tries to inscribe itself actively into this process
with analyses and designs, always keeping in mind that there, too, the
polarisations of the capital are reproduced: a large part of the population lives
in slums.

Residues of the dictatorship and the commonmediation denominator

Another constantly recurring motif is the echo of dictatorial legacies that are
supposedly over and done with. For the fact that the democratisations of the 1980s
had a Janus-faced character is expressed in visual culture as well: "On the one
hand, the obvious forms of political abuse could be removed and formal democratic
structures established; on the other, the hegemony of neo-liberalism, which was
partly already introduced by force under the dictatorships, was extended precisely
under the conditions of democracy." [8] Buenos Aires is a perfect example of this
problematic situation.

During the 1990s, the Argentine capital was often portrayed as a role model. An
echo of this hype has found its way into Jean-Marc Bustamantes documenta-X project
"Bitter Almonds" (Phaidon, 1997). Here, the satellite city of the free market is
seen, from the narrative point of view of a fl=E2neur, as being on the same level
as Tel Aviv and Miami. If one looks closely, one can see differences in street
signs, car number plates, advertisements etc., but Bustamente emphasises the
commonalities, which are expressed in his predilection for certain details: the
marginalia of the city are the common denominator. So the journey followed by the
viewers seems like a stroll through ONE city whose outlines are extended over
three continents; in this sense, Buenos Aires seems a global city par excellence.
When Fernando Solanas was awarded an honorary Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film
Festival, Buenos Aires was symbolically, financially and politically
re-established within the nation-state and had long ceased to be a role model for
the free market. The feedback effects of the neo-liberal model had vented
themselves; the Argentine capital had been overshadowed by a deep crisis for
several years. Solanas' "Memoria del saqueo" (2003) depicts this crisis as being
the result of exploitation by a government that is submissive to the dictates of
the International Monetary Fund.

This cinematic theory is illustrated by hollow-seeming monuments of power: palaces
of politics and business. However, the parallels to "La hora de los hornos"
(1968), Solanas' debut film, are more striking. In this film, the Peronist masses
turn the city into a political space of active resistance to the dictatorship.
Similar scenes of urban unrest can also be seen 35 years later: demonstrations
against the sell-out of the country that also meet with a repressive response,
this time from a democratically elected government. "The scenes of violence are
now in colour, the forms of violence are barely different," as Peter B. Schumann
observes. [9] Despite the continuities, something decisive has changed: whereas up
to the end of the nineties people always looked to Europe, "people in Buenos Aires
have (now) realised and accepted that they are Latin Americans." [10] This shift
is also traced by a film like Daniel Burman's "El abrazo partido" (2004): the
longings of a youth that is looking for something to hold on to are focused on the
continent of Europe, but the would-be emigrants are never on the same level as
their ancestors. Rather, they are confronted by the problematic and jumbled
immigration situation that also faces Mexicans if they want to enter the USA.

If the crises and transformations of recent times have melded the continent
together and Bol=EDvar's dream of a great Latin American nation has received new
sustenance from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Ch=E1vez, a basic question is
raised: Can the solution for the problem of mediation described at the start be
found in South American capitals, which are burdened by the legacies of
dictatorship? In view of the problems outlined here, can the capital, oscillating
between nation-building and globalisation, really be considered as a meaningful
authority of a supra-national identity? Questions that John Malkovich's "The Dance
Upstairs" (2001) also seems to pose. The setting of this debut film is simply "the
capital". All major South American cities are reflected in it, at least with
regard to their recent past. "The capital": here, it is a free variable parameter,
a cipher, a fiction. Just like the country it represents. Just like the historical
figure that the film depicts: a nascent revolution. The regime is corrupt and
authoritarian, shady deals with Asian protagonists are the order of the day. "The
capital" is a network of inscrutable power structures, a morass of machinations.
In the shade cast by this darkness, a revolution mythos is fermenting, a mythos
that, paradoxically, is nipped in the bud by precisely the character who is driven
to despair by the mess in which the state is in: a jurist who has lost his faith
in the legal system.

If "The Dancer Upstairs" gives an answer to the questions asked above, it is
because it identifies the common denominator of South American capital cities in a
negative, problematic characteristic and thus calls into question the
supranational project put forward by Manuel Antonio Garret=F3n. Unfinished
chapters of the past (dictatorial structures, networks of corruption,
revolutionary myths) dominate South American capitals and disqualify them from
being carriers of a common cause. If not the capitals, it could be inferred, then
perhaps the periphery; why shouldn't the capitals play a subordinate role, even
existing in the background of this South American version of the EU in the same
way as, in the national context, the big exception among the South American
capitals, Bras=EDlia? This product of a totalitarian scheme had to differentiate
itself absolutely from the rest of the country to be able to assert its claim to
power. To be different, this utopia, which left the drawing board for the real
world in 1960, had to "negate the existing order" and, to preserve its autonomy,
it had to "remain independent, without historical connections." [11] It was not
least this basic contradiction that led to the fact that Bras=EDlia today can be
considered a national centre only with some reservations. The only Brazilian city
that is in the same league as Lima, Caracas, Buenos Aires and Santiago is S=E3o
Paulo; when this status is measured according to the sum of its possibilities of
exerting influence. Because, although the seat of government is in Bras=EDlia, the
country's central stage is the city in which the economic, cultural, social and,
in the final analysis, political potential is concentrated.

This also shows the limits of the Bras=EDlia model. For if the South American
capital is relegated to a background existence, its characteristic as the
political stage for a large part of the population is neglected. The processes of
coming to terms with the past are also demoted to a secondary level where they can
be disregarded. Bras=EDlia is the best example of this, because these days it is
either largely overlooked or at most seen under urbanistic aspects, but almost
never comes under scrutiny as the product of a totalitarian regime. For this
reason, it is not the South American capital city that has to be set back as the
carrier of the continental transformations, but the goal of a supranational
identity. At present, the national and the global represent the decisive
conditions for democratic change. The fact that the periphery can, and probably
must, play an important role here is shown clearly by the most influential and
arguably most successful democracy movement in Latin America; the Zapatists-, who
locate their reformatory objectives primarily in the national context and their
counter pole not in the USA, but in neo-liberal globalisation. [12]

Translation: Timothy Jones

1 Alberto Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori Fights Terrorism. Tokyo 2002.
2 "Fujimori tours gutted residence," in The Japan Times, 25. April 1997,=
 p. 1.
3 Manuel Antonio Garret=F3n (ed.), El espacio cultural latinoamericano.=
para una pol=EDtica cultural de integraci=F3n, Santiago de Chile 2003.
4 Jens Gl=FCsing, "Sie sollen alle weg!", in Der Spiegel, 19/2005, p.=
5 See also David J. Myers/Henry A. Dietz (ed.), Capital City Politics in
Latin America, London 2002.
6 Olaf Kaltmeier/Jens Kastner/Elisabeth Tuider (ed.), Neoliberalismus --
Autonomie; Widerstand. Soziale Bewegungen in Lateinamerika, M=FCnster=
p. 9.
7 Gunther Blessing, "Caracas, amor a muerte; >=C4sthetik der Gewalt<
and >das grausam Wirkliche< im venezolanischen Film," in Oliver
Diehl/Wolfgang Muno (ed.), Venezuela unter Ch=E1vez; Aufbruch oder
Niedergang? Madrid/Frankfurt 2005, p. 156.
8 Kaltmeier/Kastner/Tuider, p. 8.
9 Peter B. Schumann, "Urbane Metaphern in argentinischen Filmen," in
Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (ed.), Buenos Aires; Berlin, Berlin 2004,
10 Stefan Thimmel, "Aufbruch nach der Krise? Buenos Aires im Jahre 2004,=
in Buenos Aires; Berlin, p. 121.
11 James Holsten, "Brasilia: Modernit=E4t als Experiment und Risiko," in
Walter Prigge (ed.), Bauhaus Brasilia Auschwitz Hiroshima, Berlin 2003, p.
12 See Kristine Vanden Berghe, Narrativa de la rebeli=F3n zapatista. Los
relatos del Subcomandante Marcos, Madrid/Frankfurt 2005, p. 134.

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