Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Fantastical Materializations: Interoceanic Infrastructures in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Fantastical Materializations: Interoceanic Infrastructures in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper explores the entanglement of dreams and reality in the production of economic infrastructures. It focuses on the Manta-Manaus multimodal transport corridor, which is currently being constructed between the Pacific coast of Ecuador and the Atlantic coast of Brazil, with the aim of integrating the Amazon into global production networks. Drawing on extensive field research conducted in Ecuador, we develop a fantastical materialism, as a theoretical and methodological approach to the intertwining of fantasy and materiality through which the spaces of capital are conceived, constructed, and brought to ruin. Manta-Manaus is revealed not only as a technocratic accumulation strategy, but also as a seductive dream of planetary integration and geographical freedom. This dream has become ensnarled in the material dynamics of uneven geographical development, and its infrastructures have been repurposed for the expansion of the oil frontier. The Real of Capital thus advances through the creative destruction of its own fantasies.

Keywords

Fantastical materialism, infrastructure, fantasy, Real of Capital, Ecuador, Amazon

Towards a fantastical materialism

Only dreamers move mountains.

--Molly, in Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo

Carlos Fermin had a dream that would not let him sleep. (1) Like the hero oi Fitzcarraldo, who tried to open a tract of the Peruvian Amazon to rubber exploitation by dragging a steamship over a mountain, Fermin was 'planning something geographical.' (2) He had spent decades transporting the machinery and materials of the Amazonian oil industry along the vast network of rivers that surround the Brazilian jungle city of Manaus. In 2001, he was contracted for the Herculean task of transporting a 127-ton generator over 2000 kilometres upriver to the oil fields of the Ecuadorian Amazon. No-one had ever attempted such a feat, and those who knew the Napo--a tributary of the Amazon that Fermin would have to enter in Peru--warned him that its upper reaches could not be navigated by vessels of that size. But Fermin proved them wrong, arriving in Ecuador with his cargo after a grueling month-long journey.

On his return to Manaus, Fermin became 'preoccupied' with an idea. 'I couldn't sleep well,' he recalls,

'The belief that the river was not navigable was an enormous lie. It was too much for me to bear ... God had granted everything I had asked for. Good children, a house, a farm ... I had everything. But now there was something in my head that would not leave me in peace.'

Fermin had realized that the navigability of the Napo opened the possibility of an interoceanic corridor, beginning from Manta, on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, crossing the Ecuadorian Andes by road, transferring to river at an Amazonian port on the Napo, continuing to Manaus, and concluding in the Atlantic port of Belem. The corridor would 'commercialize' the Amazon, which Fermin describes as 'a beautiful world of wealth.' He remembers telling himself that

'If you see the light, and your conscience tells you to do something ... you must do it ... This vision that God has given you is not your own, it is God's, and if you do not follow it you will not be happy'. (3)

In 2004, Fermin abandoned his life in Brazil, and travelled back upriver to Ecuador, where he settled in Providencia, an isolated indigenous community on a broad curve of the Napo. There he set to work clearing the land, and began to search for allies in his quest to make Providencia the Amazonian port of his interoceanic corridor. He called the corridor 'Manta-Manaus.'

Ten years later, in January 2015, we visited Fermin in Providencia. Outside the oil town of Shushufindi, we turned onto a newly completed highway that cut smoothly through 46 kilometres of jungle. At the end of the road, a makeshift sign announced our arrival at the 'International Port of Providencia. …

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