Friday, March 14, 2008

Tourism in Ruins?

In late 1969, activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM) landed on Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay. They occupied the island, (in)famous for its high profile prison which was then in ruins, for nearly two years to publicize Native American grievances.

Something similar happened last week in Argentina, when the Comunidad Indígena Quilmes took over the country's largest pre-Columbian ruins in the northwestern province of Tucumán. In its physical geography, the area resembles the indigenous highlands of New Mexico or Arizona, but the site itself is the closest thing Argentina has to a Machu Picchu.

In pre-Columbian times, Quilmes was an outlier of the Inka empire, and its inhabitants fought the Spaniards more tenaciously than the Inkas did, but eventually lost their struggle. Most of the survivors were deported to Buenos Aires, where their modern legacy is the name of an industrial suburb and Argentina's most popular beer brand.

It's still possible to visit the ruins, where members of the community are serving as guides for no charge (tips accepted, though). The on-site hotel, restaurant, museum, and even the toilets are closed to public use (apparently tied up in a related lawsuit), and nobody has a guess as to when the issue might be resolved.

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