This book is the result of the interdisciplinary symposium Expulsados, Desterrados y Desplazados. Migraciones forzadas en América Latina y los países luso-africanos held at the Centro Stefano Franscini (CSF) in Monte Verità (Ascona, Switzerland) in May 2008. The book considers multiple relevant factors of forced migration processes in which there are invariably found situations of violence and/or insecurity regarding migrant’s living conditions. However, the characteristics revealed according to the varied contexts and their history are worth mentioning, as authors refer to them both in Africa and in Latin America, thereby providing other elements to be considered when facing the complex nature of this issue.
In the introduction, Lienhard addresses both the usefulness of and the difficulties in defining categorical distinctions between deracination and other types of migration or displacement. The author points out that the displacement numbers do not truly reflect the individual’s urge to move based on the violence they are subject to, which, in most cases, are those who have already suffered from discrimination and exile, such as ethnic minorities, black communities, peasants, native communities, and others. Likewise, he notes that those displaced people are mostly women and children (p. 16–17). One of the arguments the author takes from the articles is the multicausality of deracination, especially pertaining to war scenarios and extreme weather, as well as to development projects such as oil exploitation entrepreneurships, biodiversity, and agricultural and mining megaprojects, which are also seen as a the lack of action or absence of the state as the entity in charge of the surveillance of the citizens’ rights. In the introduction, we also find contributions by Ortega who, as a former officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), compiled the categories created by the UNHCR to classify subjects in deracination and displacement situations. From this perspective, Ortega investigates the general scenario of the forced displacement situation in Latin America and Africa. Borges Coelho provides an interesting reflection on the province of Tete, in northeastern Mozambique, mentioning that location may be considered as a “lab” in which we may analyze and assess deracination (p. 37). The author explains that to build a broad idea of deracination, it is necessary to provide the forced migrants with a role of active subjects, which sets them apart from the recurring idea of the victims.
The first part of the book, “El desplazamiento en debate” (Displacement through the Lens of Discussion) includes chapters related to the varied perspectives in regards to the ways of understanding migration processes in both Africa and Latin America from the point of view of different fields. The first article by Ávila deals with the internal and borderline diaspora issue in Equatorial Guinea after the decolonization processes. The author states that the effects of inequality are complex, and that there would be less “silent” (p. 57) migrations if a broader state management was possible. Oppositely, Sebe Bom Meihy advocates the idea of establishing a relationship between population imbalances in terms of social inequality in Brazil and the driver of discplacing processes. Accordingly, the author explores the songs written by Brazilians in New York concerning the exit dilemmas they undergo. He calls them the “exile songs”, highlighting the idea of “saudade”, “jeito” and the perpetual love to Brazilian lands (p. 72). In agreement with the author, we assume that music not only reflects rhythms but also stands as an expression of the critical reserve in the collective memory. In the third section, Ramos reviews the current hardship related to the differentiation between deracination and voluntary migration. To this end, Ramos offers a critical perspective on the contributions made by Pedro Costa to the cinema in the film Tarrafal. He explains how the state fiction clearly operates in there, along with the metropolis and the colony, allotting roles to the subjects and expressing them as diasporic subjects in a fractured and dislocated space. Within this subject, we also agree with the essential nature of criticism the author applies to the colonial relationship in current democracies, which contribute to the consolidation of the waged labor regime within a capitalist context. The same is present within literature, as Morales advocates in a perspective on two novels related to frontiers and immigration. His analysis highlights the position of migrant body commodization, and the role of violence towards women in the borderland displacement dynamics. In the last part of the section, Carrasco addresses the issue of the Mapuche people and the spatial mobility of native communities while including a historical narrative of the different times in the expulsion process. At the end, he advocates a criticism of the territorialization process as a new form of uprooting.
The nextsection of the book is titled “desplazamiento y conflicto armado” (Displacement and Armed Conflicts), which investigates the relationship based on the specific dynamics that, in turn, have characteristics that determine the displacement. González addresses the issue in the Colombian context, providing a historical view of the conflict and posing what he calls “differentiated State involvement,” which affects in diverse ways the exercise of citizenship, sovereignty and varied territorial dynamics (p. 122). It is worth noting the proposed joining of the structural issues – such as social inequality, the violent ownership of land and the diverse and fragile presence of the state institutions – with the forced migration dynamics (p. 128). Working deeper on the Haitian context, Nascimento calls attention to the problems caused by violence and safety, and explains that in his case study they not only relate to the displacement but also, and specifically, to the “forced immobility”. The author’s contributions, based on his empirical work, refer to a qualitative methodology. This interpretative exercise of subjects’ discourse allows him to pose a debate with institutional and academic authors who construe a cultural idea of violence as a phenomenon in Colombia, and encourages a comprehension of violence from a historical perspective that takes into account the tension between legitimacy and coercion. Cabanas, on the other hand, approaches the issue of violence in Guatemala in relation to the forced displacements originated from megaprojects. However, he considers current violence and dispossession originated from the times of conquest and colonization. On the one hand, he discusses emigration to the United States, and reflects on this key movement as an option, a personal choice or an imposed need, and, on the other hand, he evidences the ambiguity and difficulty when differentiating violence-triggered deracination versus financially motivated migration, therefore agreeing with Ramos. Valderrama and Escalante adopt an approach to the internal displacement in Peru triggered by violence between 1980 and 2000. It is worth noting that the cultural discrepancies, emphasized by the hardships suffered by displaced native communities concerning language acquistion, label them as “refugees” in the eyes of the locals, as if they were national subjects of some other country. This matter gains relevance as it questions national border markers regarding the definition of a “refugee,” as limited by national border crossings.
In the third section of the book, called “desplazamiento: pasado y presente” (Displacement: Past and Present), the pertinence of historical reflection is evidenced by the conception of the “displacement category”. At that point, both Helg and the coordination team of the Process of Black Communities (PCN), include reference to their paper on circumstances of the Afro-Colombian population regarding the historical ways power, resistance and population dynamics were construed in the Colombian Pacific. The texts describe the way exclusion and poverty conditions suffered by these communities are linked to the structures based on the colonial times and slavery. They describe the way government-adopted actions are infused with racist visions from the rise of the national state, generating processes of ostracism within both the right access guarantees and the political-decision sphere, based on a “civilized” and homogeneous national image that subordinates native and Afro-Colombian communities and their sociocultural constructions. In the same section, Murray offers a detailed narration of the Irish immigrants to Argentina at the end of the 19th century, encouraged through a migration policy implemented to promote European immigration for the national project frame by governing and middle classes for the territorial colonization and in line with the need for “civilization and whitening” of the native communities (p. 205). Throughout the article, the reader can observe the selective logic of the policy and the way its instrumentation was assembled according to a form of privilege granted to certain interests and practices inside institutions and among officers, which had a harmful effect on the trajectory and survival options available to those very immigrants.
Wehrli addresses the Nations Society Commission in Leticia (Colombia) in 1932. This commission was created to arbitrate the territorial space based on a military-administrative process in providing some degree of stability for the resolution of the conflict between Colombia and Peru. In this way, it dives deep into the territorial colonization, promoting a return to the so-called “emigrants”, through a “modernizing” process that, even when it translates into infrastructure for this site, brought about consequences for the lifestyle of colonist and native communities populating the region, which were pejoratively referred to by the pro-hygiene discourse of the time. On the other hand, this article reflects how the commission gradually materialized and introduced an ideology pertaining to ethnocentric narration. Another case addressed, which also exposes historical records as determining factors for displacement processes, refer to Paraguay. Here Zambrano analyzes the agricultural conflict subsequent to the adoption and expansion of soy monoculture, which favored corporate advocating the “dehumanization” of agriculture (p. 222), therefore generating a socioeconomic imbalance among peasant communities and their resulting exile, and encouraging a transformation in both rural and urban spaces and a “discontinuation of lifestyle and production methods” (p. 226). The final texts of this section introduce the reader to a brief contextualization of the refugee conditions in Guinea-Bissau, where the lack of basic healthcare or access to education and lack of general response to emergencies as well as long-term projects for those who have displaced signal a scenario of complete withdrawal. Bastian’s text also refers to the state of Chiapas in Mexico, in reclaiming the central stage for interethnic conflicts in order to address the displacement situations, joined with religious representations and belonging, deeply related to the political dimension in this context (p. 241).
Section four, “el desplazamiento desde la literatura” (Displacement from the Perspective of Literature) interprets several visions of the forced migration issue, which become evident in a certain historical context. Here we find several texts reflecting upon this: Ramírez Gröbli reviews the book Hoguera de las Ilusiones (Illusions Burnt at the Stake), by the Colombian author Arturo Alape, in which young people’s lives gain a leading role beyond statistics. Ramírez Moreno analyzes Las mellizas de Huaguil (Huaguil Twins) by Zein Zorrilla. These twin sisters are, according to the author, the opposite faces resembling a successful migration and a forced migration, and, in a certain way, they express contemporary experiences of displacement in the context of the capitalist dynamic. Moreno states, as many other authors in the compilation do, that those the system regards as incapable of producing earnings belong to the native communities and the Southern peasants. Following the same line, Moreno states that forced migrants have no immediate political value, and therefore their dramas are ignored, resulting sometimes in being “displaced” to the sphere of literature. Melis addresses some Latin American literature works by the Italian author Alberto Manzi. It is worth highlighting the position of “liminality” Melis attributes to migrants based on his readings of Manzi. In his analysis, he reveals that according to Manzi, as well as to contemporary authors researching ethnic movements, the territory is conveyed as an essential component for subjects, and in that sense, the impact of exile ruptures the relationship to their land. Finally, Torrão – based on the analysis of Rio Seco (Dry River) by Manuel Rui, and on the analytical contributions by the geographer Yi Fu Tuan – differentiates between space and place, in which space is conveyed as a category of abstract nature. Moreover, the category of place considers space to be loaded with senses, in which experiences associated with a space define it as a place. Using vast skills, Torrão applies clarifying concepts that account for the understanding of the importance of place, as a potentiality for a battle for independence, and, at the same time, is defined as a mythical and sacred site through a supporting and intimate experience.
Interviews are another significant contribution of this book, as they impart the perspectives of the subjects involved in different ways as well as the political attitudes assessing forced migration. For instance, the perspective by Juan José Lozano (Colombia/Switzerland) makes possible a reconstruction of the experience by the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and through the camera expresses the war problems the communities suffer. This approach of the subjects’ reality is an invitation to recognize forced migrants not as victims but as persons, along with the entailed complexities. The following interview is carried out by Angolan/Swiss artist Isabel Lukembisa, who theatrically narrates in her work Cruda Belleza (Tough Beauty) her personal migration experience from Angola to Switzerland. She questions the conception of Europe as the final stop, and happiness as the final destination. The last interview author is the photographer Sérgio Santimano, who practiced his art in the context of the war in the former Southern Rhodesia (now Mozambique). Using his biographical journey, this photographer contextualizes the situation in the political history frame of his country. His exposition makes clear the discomfort resulting from human suffering, and considers political violence in his country is rooted on racist regimes from both South Africa and Rhodesia.
As final conclusions, we consider, in the first place, the compilation evidences in certain contexts the persistence of racist colonial narrations, which, along with other attributes, builds differentiated categories of citizens and immigrants. Peasants, natives and individuals with African origin are, in many cases, subjects who do not “fit” in the dominating logic and must adjust to the “civilization” and “modernization”projects. And, second, the book’s journey shows the reader some axes that crosssection the exclusion dynamics and have a significant role when it comes to analyzing the forced migration processes, which are joined with multiple ways within each context. This includes (a) the prevalence of gender, class, race and ethnic dimensions; (b) the structural conflicts evidenced in the ostracism and socioeconomic conditions of many communities involved in these mobility processes; as well as (c) the relationship with the territory as a space for dispute, as the scenario for violence and exploitation for “development” and, in turn, as places for the construction and reproduction of new subjective and collective forms of life, in which several actors are involved and where state action or inaction are central.