Internally Displaced People Roaming the Roads

When it comes to the issue of migration, road movie scholarship has focused predominantly on international migration. However, in Latin America, internal migrants (within national borders) represent 3.5 times the group of international migrants (King 2010, 14). Early road movies on internal migration, such as the Brazilian film Vidas secas (1963) by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, generally deal with the phenomenon as a form of displacement from rural to urban areas for economic reasons. In late modernity, however, the movement has become more diversified, and new categories of analysis have been proposed. One of them is the category of “internally displaced persons” (IDPs), defined by the United Nations in the following terms:

Internally displaced persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border. (OCHA 2004, 1)

Though estimated to be 2.5 times larger than the group of worldwide refugees,1 IDPs constitute a particularly elusive group within the international community. Statistical data on their presence are scarce, as figures are usually provided by local governments, who lack either the means or the motivation to chart how many IDPs there are in their territories. On an international level, IDPs remain almost invisible: hardly any laws or

© The Author(s) 2017

N. Lie, The Latin American (Counter-) Road Movie and Ambivalent Modernity, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45138-1_6

strategies exist for rescuing these extremely vulnerable people, which is why the issue has become “one of the most pressing humanitarian challenges of our time” (Hampton 2014, 466).

This chapter examines how Latin American road movies bring into focus this forgotten group of wanderers. It analyzes films depicting displacements by different types of IDP in four countries. In accordance with the United Nations’ definition, the internally displaced people in this chapter are victims of large development projects (Brazil), human rights violations (Chile), environmental disasters (Venezuela), and civil wars (Colombia). I will discuss the road movies in chronological order and start with Iracema. Uma transa amazonica ([Iracema], Jorge Bodanzky & Orlando Senna— Brazil—1975). This film on the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway was banned in Brazil during the years of military dictatorship and is currently being rediscovered as an early example of the road movie genre (Brandellero 2013; Pinazza 2013a, b). Next in line is Ricardo Larrain’s La frontera ([The Exile], 1991), a key film of Chile’s postdictatorial cinema which adopts the form of a counter-road movie.2 While most IDPs flee the areas in which their rights are violated, the forced displacement shown in La frontera is actually part of the violation itself, as it is carried out as a punitive measure under Pinochet’s dictatorship. El chico que miente ([The Kid Who Lies], Marite Ugas, 2010)—the third road movie discussed here—traces the fictional search of a 13-year-old son for his mother; both fell victim to the gigantic mudslide that took place in Venezuela in December 1999 and left thousands of citizens homeless. Finally, we move on to Colombia, which counts the highest number of “desplazados” (displaced) in the world after Sudan (Hampton 2014, 87-92). Retratos en un mar de mentiras ([Portraits in a Sea of Lies], Carlos Gaviria, 2010) engages with this sad record by describing a young woman and her cousin’s return journey to their native village. They will find themselves entrapped in the same circle of violence that drove them away from their homes several years before. This is why, in reality, most IDPs prefer not to undertake a return journey (Gonzalez 2011, 127), even if some governments force them to do so (e.g., Peru, see Lienhard 2011, 19).

As specialists explain (Lienhard 2011, 17; Pastor Ortega 2011, 28), the victims ofinternal displacements represent the most vulnerable segments of society: women, children, and members of ethnic minorities.3 With the exception of the Chilean film, in which the person arrested is a professor of mathematics, all of the protagonists in the films discussed here belong to the lower strata of society, and three of them are minors. This explains why the characters travel on foot, rely on others for motorized transport, or displace themselves in worn-out vehicles, which, not surprisingly, break down during the journey (Retratos en un mar de mentiras). Only one of the protagonists comes directly from an ethnic minority (Iracema), but references to popular, ethnic culture abound in the films discussed, so as to clearly indicate that the internally displaced originally come from regions where ethnic minorities are dominant. All ofthe protagonists have lost their houses or habitats, which explains the prominence of the “non-place” (Auge 1995) in these stories: having no place to return to (other than a ruined one) and living in precarious conditions without secure shelter, they roam or are portrayed as “moving” between temporary dwellings. Homeless, they exemplify the many persons driven away from their houses or lands in Latin American road movies. Besides Diarios de motocicleta, in which the famous buddies meet people in this situation, one can think of other films that broach this topic and also draw, at least in part, on the road-movie idiom, such as Marla Victoria Menis’s El cielito (2004), Juan Diego Solanas’s Nordeste (2005), and Ulises Rossell’s El etnografo (2012). The lack ofa stable home also explains the prominence ofparatopical features4 in several characters of the films discussed, living not only between different places, but also different temporalities and realities.

Another characteristic of IDPs is their relative dismissal by their national governments. As Pastor Ortega observes: “It is a cause of great concern that, in most cases, the national governments, which should be the first ones responsible for dealing with the situation, in terms of providing both protection and humanitarian assistance, are absent and not even proactive when it comes to seeking lasting solutions. Some explicitly distance themselves from the issue or simply pretend to be ‘incapable for internal reasons’ to attend to and solve the humanitarian tragedy affecting their domestic population, and, through them, millions of displaced people in dozens of countries in the world.”5 Even in La frontera, where two representatives of the military escort the “relegado” to his place of exile, the protagonist is left abandoned to his own care in the place he arrives, and in the other films, as well, characters are on their own, receiving help from civilians but not—or scarcely—from government agencies. This chapter thus relates to what I termed “indifferent modernity” in chap. 1. Unattended by their governments, these victims set out on meaningful fictional journeys that bring to the screen a generally invisible group of tragic wanderers in society.

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