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Art & Social Space
Paraná Ra'Anga: The River Under One's Feet
by Lia Colombino

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Those main pivots led to other peripheral but no less important ones: issues pertaining to the region itself, which were impossible to ignore given the many perspectives that the project called for. Since the river was the backbone of the project, water was one of the obvious subjects to be addressed. The guaraní­ aquifer, spanning more than a million square kilometers, is one of the world’s most important water reservoirs; this, in addition to the hydroelectric dams on the Paraná and the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway project, make this one of the most salient points and is closely related to a set of issues that are a prime source of concerns, discussions and controversies.

History has recorded encounters and failed encounters around the river too: various cultures coexisting, colliding, coming together, drawing away. The river has witnessed them all, ranging from wars not recorded in history books (relations between different ethnic groups were often characterized by violence, although trade paved the way for peaceful coexistence as well) to the onset of Spanish and missionary colonization. The region is home to several indigenous cultures and their respective languages (or the vestiges thereof), immigrant colonies (and their assorted languages), and the population whose native tongue is Spanish.

Life as experienced in relation to the river has spawned a considerable array of oral narratives and literature, in addition to music. These little satellites were also present throughout the expedition.


Those invited to join the expedition were chosen following criteria that are directly related to the hubs mentioned above, but as Graciela Silvestri states, not just due to the characteristics of their work or practices, but for their ability to be open to unknown situations, or as she puts it: “the good crewmember manual starts with the ability to listen”. The participants and grant holders were also joined by guests from Aula Rí­o, an agency that collaborated with the project.

The expedition members would not only engage in their practices but also join in intergenerational dialogues. Many had already been on a boat trip, others had not. The first communications and exchanges started taking place courtesy of the Internet. E-mails, letters, comments, books and images started circulating. Face-to-face meetings would take place once the expedition began.


The following is a list of some issues that struck me as fundamental and that provide an inkling of the complexity of this enterprise.

1. Technical problems

The harsh reality of the experience was felt very quickly. We had barely set foot in Buenos Aires when we were told the boat had not arrived.

There was talk of problems with the boat itself; differences in national mindsets came to the fore: lax attitudes towards the law, inflexible authorities, bilateral discussions. A machinery that was difficult to comprehend from our side of the border.

A Paraguayan boat - of Dante-like characteristics - in Argentinean waters is, in most people’s eyes, suspicious. Paraguay has a dark patina bequeathed by its multiple cases of corruption (at all levels), its governments, its political class, laws that are not enforced; in short, the history of its infamy. Reality superseded any form of discussion.

2. Echo

During the journey we were obliged to make overland from San Pedro to Rosario, we crossed another river, a sea almost, of soy fields. It was during that journey in transit that the first arguments arose on the relevance of soy, its implications as seen from the most unusual perspectives: positive and negative points of view, struggles tainted by economic and political interests, positions. It was not long before arguments based on studies of transgenic soy, the issue of Monsanto, glyphosate herbicide, depredation, fumigations, and deaths started taking place.

Argentinean society has been deeply divided by the famous conflict in agriculture and export taxes on commodities. The topic turns controversial because tempers start flaring on taking up pro and anti-government sides.

Once on board, there are many discussions regarding the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway. Whether specialists on the subject or not, we bring up a variety of points in the discussions: the change in the river system and its wetlands’ stream flow pattern, high flows and droughts, the Pantanal swamp and its possible deterioration due to irreversible changes, their effects on local communities and the interests of large-scale farmers in this endeavor. There are two overlapping issues: ecology and economics, the identical roots of which reveal more discord than harmony.

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