Sitting Room

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Little History of Iguassu Falls

Hello you all folks from the whole world coming down here. The Triple Border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is a special place. You may call it weird. I say crazy, sometimes. First things first. All the cities here are relatively young. Foz do Iguaçu, the oldest, was born in 1888. Until then the lands west of Curitiba were dangerous, here-be-dragons-and-wild-indians type of places. Official Brazilian presence was none. It was then that the Brazilian Empire - yes Brazil wa an empire once - created a special commission with the mandate of organizing a civilizatory expedition to the no-man's land where the Iguaçu River met the Paraná. Purpose: build a city.

The commission left the city of Guarapuava about 300 kilometers east of Iguaçu. Soldiers, horses, tools inching their way up slowly, building bridges, machette-cutting their way for a whole year. When they finally got to the land they had two funny surprises. The here-be-dragon land was inhabited: Argentineans, Paraguayans, Spaniards and at least one Briton. Surprise number two: when they got here they learnt that the Empire had sunk, had succumbed to the heavy arm of Republican freedom fighters. Slavery was gone, the Empire was dead.The beginning of everything as far as "US" Brazilians are concerned is the Iguassu Military Colony.

From 1888 on until 1914 the area remained a military colony. Land was given to those man of good character who asked or applied for them. You applied for land and you got it. One of the men who asked and received was called Jesús Val - a Spaniard. Mr.Val received 1.008 hectares of land. Val's land happened to have a waterfall attatched to it. The name of the waterfalls was Saltos Santa Maria do Iguassu. Today known simply as Cataratas do Iguaçu or Cataratas del Iguazú - in the Spanish way.

This man Mr. Val, I suspect, desired to be a tycoon. A baron on two fronts. South American tycoons either born here or having come to be a tycoon once here normally are dedicated to one area. Rubber baron. Coffee or Maté Herb baron and so on. Seemingly Mr. Val wanted to be operative on two baron frontlines. In the Iguassu Falls area as a maté herb tycoon and, on the Paraguay River colonization project he aspired to be a Baron of the die called "tanin". Etc.

Mr. Val's possession of the Falls was threatened pretty soon. Around 1912 the State of Paraná then headquartered in Corytyba as it is now - the writing of the city's name has lately changed to Curitiba, passed a law that foresaw the possibility of the Government to take back some land from private owners and to use them for the benefit of the public. Public good. No one quite understood what it meant. What public good?

Mr. Val's Land was one of the first to be used according to the law. In 1914, the Military Colony of Iguassu became the Vila Iguassu - later on to become Foz do Iguaçu - political and orthographical changes not completely settled, as yet. Two years later came the definitive blow: the Government took the land back from Val. The public good in question was the transformation of Val's 1.008 hectares into a state Park. The official papers also talked of a "povoação" that means "little city" and even of some kind of dam to produce electricity.

Mr Val took the problem to court where he fought until 1919. Mr. Val and the Governmenty finally came to an agreement according to which he was to be paid a certain amount of money in installments, of course, plus Government papers.

Poor Mr. Val! The amount of money in question was around of today's US dollars. Later, in 1936 the Paraná State Government offered the land to the Federal Government as a constribution for the creation of a National Park. Today, the Iguassu Nation Park occupies 175.000 hectares of land thanks to several add-ons to Val's oroginal 1.008 hectares.

Life has been hard in Foz do Iguaçu, Puerto Iguazu and Ciudad del Este - the three perfect forgotten little corners of their countries. Until the late 70s, Foz do Iguaçu had a population of 30.000 souls. Ciudad del Este had an even smaller population. Puerto Iguazu remained in stagnation well into the 90s. By the end of the 70s, Brazil and Paraguay beautifully decided to get married and seal their cerimonial and sacred union by building Itaipu the world's largest-to-be Hiydro Power Plant. Over night, population grew from 30.000 to 150.000. The male population grew to 40.000 directly envolved with the dam. I remember, since I was then 21, young and virgin, the wonderful demographic explosion of whores. About 10.000 walking up and down Avenida Brasil - called main street, here.
Today, the population in Foz do Iguaçu alone is 300.00. It is said that 40.000 have no jobs.

Smuggling China-made cheap goods from Paraguay kept thousands of family at a short distance from hunger.As incredible as it may seem I tend to firmly believe that the Government closed eyes to the rivers and, as you may see, the river is open, no patrol, no guards. Open River Open Borders. At least up to now. That is why I can't go to the river front. That's why you should'nt go there either. I will keep on writing...

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