Continuing from yesterday…
Wilson finds few direct criticisms of road building. But she does find one, and she contrasts it with the standard argument:
“Few outright critiques of road building can be found. One that stands out
is Fairhead’s (1992) analysis of the destructive effects of road-building in Eastern Zaire. There, he argues, roads represent ‘paths of authority’ and need to be understood as qualitatively different from the flow of goods and people that take place along local pathways. ‘From colonial times, roads were associated with the exercise of power by the state or the chiefs; forced labour was recruited to build them, personal movement along them was taxed and controlled and indigenous land near them was expropriated for plantations and mission stations’ (Fairhead, 1992: 21). In the current phase of roadbuilding financed by the World Bank, relations of power and violence have not changed; indeed, Fairhead claims, roads have further depleted and impoverished a region already suffering acute economic decline. This argument drawing on political economy has strong resonance in the Andes. But more common in the literature are analyses drawing an opposite conclusion. Porter (2002), in a study of off-road villages in sub-
Saharan Africa, emphasizes the human costs of isolation and difficulties faced by women and men who live ‘in a walking world’, unable to access services available at rural centres or make their voices heard in local politics. And at a regional level, as Bebbington (1999: 2022) notes, when seeking to account for instances of agricultural intensification and other forms of livelihood transition, ‘access becomes perhaps the most critical resource of all if people are to build sustainable, poverty alleviating rural livelihoods’.
Clearly, when rural producers must compete in domestic and export markets they are penalized when transport costs are excessively high.”
In these cases, the question of the penetrative power of the road, and who benefits from the “opening up” of territory performed by the road, doesn’t really distinguish road types from one another. They flow from some central, translocal authority, and are considered from the point of view of that authority. But there is another way in which roads operate as tools to close off territory. In Austin, you see this in the way a interstate highway, I-35, provides a barrier between East Austin – dangerous, black and Hispanic – and central and west Austin – which, since the African-American neighborhood in Tarrytown was pretty much liquidated in the sixties, is generally white and middle to upper class. This kind of barrier is made possible by the relative lack of transportation on the east side – the lesser number of motor vehicle owners, the greater number of bus riders, etc.
But Wilson is more concerned with what you might call the functional economy of roads – what not having and having roads can mean to a community. The community she studied, in Peru, from 1994 onwards, is a sad case of road lucklessness. In the eighties, as she gathered from memories of people in the hamlet of Cayesh, the world was defined like this:
“No roads connect the hamlets to the world outside; cayashinos must walk some 50km to 60 km south to reach the paved road to Tarma, or 25 km to 30 km north to reach a dirt road leading up the Ulcumayo valley to the high mining centres.”
The six hundred some inhabitants used pack animals to take their produce to Tarma. But the more well to do also began to desire schooling for their kids, and – operating just as a liberal like me would hope that they would operate – they took their kids to Tarma, too, to be educated. The road to Tarma had opened up the place to the world.
But that doesn’t mean that the world was kind. The Cayashinos were considered second rate, savage Indians. They learned enough to know what this meant. And they learned about resistance. They came back and formed the support groups around which Sendero Luminoso centered.
“Following the invasion of some 200 militants, municipal and community authorities were disbanded, the population prohibited from moving without authorization, and documents of identification confiscated. Several comuneros were killed and the few families who managed to slip away forfeited their lands, livestock and household goods that were distributed amongst the poor. Militants took over as authorities and organized frequent political meetings where they preached that the aristocratic state had deliberately neglected to attend to community needs; the state had treated them with disdain and transformed them into las comunidades mas olvidadas (‘the most forgotten communities’).”
After a year, disaster struck, in the form of an army attack that scattered the Cayeshinos, many of whom emigrated to the city. And it wasn’t until the mid nineties that the hamlet’s population started coming back. They came back to find that most of their land had been claimed by another hamlet. They came back to a shattered system of exchanges. And again, in response to this, they did something hearteningly liberal – they decided they really needed a road.
After five years of intense campaigning, a road plan for Cayash was approved in 1998 by the Ministry of Transport in Lima and a three year construction programme began. The state undertook to contribute technical assistance and heavy machinery while local government provided fuel and Cayash unskilled labour. The project document’s preamble made the political orientation clear. The road would: (i) allow the substitution of traditional systems by new modern techniques of cultivation and livestock raising;
(ii) provide access to credit; (iii) allow greater control by entities of the state; (iv) offer capitalists access to known reserves ofmineral wealth; (v) facilitate an intensive training of peasant producers; (vi) allow an increase in productive infrastructure; and (vii) make possible the establishing of a new socioeconomic structure in the region. What is presented here is a familiar picture of colonization directed from outside, a vision far removed from the social justice and recuperation that the struggling Cayash authorities had in mind. By 2001, with 15 kmof the 50 kmcompleted, the road works stopped. Funds had run out, charges of embezzlement circulated and following the ignominious fall of
Fujimori, the Ministry of Transport refused to be bound by any moral obligation
to finish what the earlier corrupt administration had started.”
This is not a happy story on any level. Theoretically, the road that was supposed to make the territory legible to the state, that was supposed to give control, even oppressive control, to the combination of corporate and political interests, had gone so haywire that Wilson ends her study with this graf:
“One might have assumed that the end of violent conflict would have been marked by a greater presence of state forces of law and order, and a more concerted attempt by the central state to make Andean provinces legible by road-building, but this does not seem to be happening. In the case of Tarma, although the intelligence service survives, police presence has been greatly reduced. Here on the eastern slopes of the Andes, adjacent to the blurred borderlands of the lowland zone, state authority is still under dispute, and
roads are no potent symbols of state-ness. On the contrary, roads are known places of ambush and assault, frequented by delinquents, terrorists, smugglers, drug-dealers; they are the place where deals are done with bad cops. Roads on the fringes of the state are themselves war-zones, a reminder of the fragility of sovereignty and emptiness of the central state’s claim to territoriality. In Peru, the ‘security’ of marginal regions seen from a national perspective remains in doubt; so does the future response of the state.”
The road, here, is Artaud’s alchemical theater, where trade is transfigured into the vehicle of the plague, and where the basic sign of control is really the scene of multiple and shifting anarchies. Not the path of authority after all.