Spatial Reconfigurations, Imagined Geographies, and Social Conflicts in Cartagena, Colombia

Essay Excerpt

This essay looks at struggles for control over space in the context of recent economic changes in Cartagena, Colombia, focusing on how the construction of space is central to claims of identity and relations of inequality. I begin by examining the spatial reorganization of ruling class power, that is, how the ruling class has built, regulated, and endowed urban space with meaning. I argue that this reorganization must be understood in the context of Cartagena's shifting place in the international political economy. My analysis then shifts to popular-class responses to these developments: how poor people use available spaces to their advantage, occupying them, loading them with oppositional meanings, stretching their borders in novel ways. One important way that popular-class people create meaningsis by drawing on images of extranational territory-namely Africa-that contest dominant notions of racial hierarchy. This racial hierarchyis, in turn, sustained by elites' invocation of their own real and imagined relationship to extranational communities, namely North America and Europe. I then discuss how these responses exacerbate racial and gender divisions within the popular class, divisions that are themselves couched in a spatial idiom. The article concludes by briefly examining recent efforts to reimagine Cartagena as part of the Caribbean. While elites promote Cartagena as a peaceful Caribbean tourist destination, some middle-class intellectuals' discourse endows Caribbeanness with liberatory cultural and political meaning. The city's identity, cast increasingly in regional terms (with very definite racial significance), is thus becoming a focus of political struggle. (Streicker, 109)

About the Author

Joel Streicker is a an advocate for CARECEN (Central American Resource Center). 

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