Just downstream from the world’s largest hydroelectric facility, at the confluence of the Iguazu and Parana Rivers, is a zone known as the Triple Frontera. Located on the mighty Parana and Iguazu Rivers, the area is one of the fastest growing, most important, and most dangerous areas in the Southern Cone of South America. Located where the territories of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, the Triple Frontera is made up of the cities of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Foz de Iguazu (Brazil), and Puerto Iguazu (Argentina). Since negotiation and construction for the bi-national Itaipu Dam began with the Iguazu Act in 1966, the population of the Triple Frontera has grown from 60,000 to over 750,000. The zone is centered over top of one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world- the Guarani Aquifer.
Because of differences in border controls and patent laws in the three countries, the Triple Frontera is a center for the manufacture and popular saleof manufactured goods and contraband. Stolen autos from nearby city centers such as Buenos Aires are processed here and resold in secondary markets. The contraband and narcotics trade is supposedly run by bands of organized criminals of various degrees of sophistication. There is evidence that the FARC runs significant narco-traffic through here, using the area as the southern hub for the cocaine trade, supplying the capital cities of the Rio de la Plata region (Asuncion, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Brasilia, as well as Rio and Sao Paulo are all in the watershed). International terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Queda maintain cells and logistics assistance within the Triple Frontera and terrorist attacks that occurred in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 may have been perpetrated by terrorist cells based in the Triple Frontera zone.
The area is considered the most destabilized and dangerous in all of South America outside of the FARC-controlled regions of Colombia (including the Darien Gap). The terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires prompted the formation of the “Comando Tripartito de la Triple Frontera”, a loose organization consisting primarily of Argentina border patrol, and Brazilian Air Force and intended to coordinate methods of territorial control and contain organized crime and terrorist activity in the region, especially the small narcotics planes coming from Bolivia and Colombia. The Argentine border, considered easier to control because of the much smaller population in Puerto Iguazu, is seen as a key in the policing efforts. Post-September 11thhas seen an intensification of the efforts with the advent of the “3+1” effort (including the United States).
[just downstream from the Itaipu Dam, the Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge) inextricably links Paraguay and Brazil; completed in 1965, the year before the Itaipu Dam negotiations began, most of Paraguay’s imports and exports pass over the bridge; it is the main artery for smugglers in the area and a gorgeous piece of Brazilian modernism]
[the Itaipu Dam on the Rio Parana, inextricably links Paraguay and Brazil; beginning in 1966, the dam is a result of 30 years of negotiation and construction by the two nations; in 2000 the dam generated over 93,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, supplying Brazil with 20% of its needs and Paraguay with 94% of its electric power]
[the Triple Frontera zone; Paraguay is the left 1/3 of the image, Argentina is to the south and Brazil is to the north; huge swaths of the rain forest in Brazil and Paraguay have been put into agricultural production, much of the Argentine side is protected as a national forest (modeled on the North American system); the Itaipu Dam is just north of the image]
[agricultural production dominates the shores of Lake Itaipu in Brazil and Paraguay, just north of the Itaipu Dam]
All of this geopolitical intrigue is fascinating and horrifying (and treating it is beyond the scope of a FASLANYC post). The combination of the hydro-geological and technological sublime with the Falls of Iguazu and the Itaipu dam just a few kilometers from one another is absolutely unmatched. On top of that add an exploding population, large-scale resource exploitation, violence and ambiguity in jurisdictional authority and a large percentage of the world’s freshwater and you quickly realize that we are dealing with a massive and severe situation, one brimming with potentiality and generative capacity. Leaving aside judgements regarding the legality and justice of certain actions, it is the fact that here they find space to operate and to generate new forms that is so intriguing. Were the area under the control of a single national regime, or the geography not as varied, this would not be the case, for better or worse.
This situation can be best understood and studied as a frontier landscape, a condition fundamental to and common throughout the Americas. We would suggest that an ontological understanding of borders and frontiers, and the differences between them, are key to developing a uniquely American landscape praxis. In the case of the Triple Frontera, the ambiguity and opportunity afforded to alternative activities is created by a large heterogeneous population divided by different regimes of control , all settled in a vicious and potent geography that is difficult to police. At the Triple Frontera, the frontier is in the city.
[inside the Itaipu Dam- a gratuitous nab from wikipedia]