The Argentinean city of Puerto Iguaçu is the least active, not least because it has the lowest population with scarcely 80,000 inhabitants. Founded in 1901 with the name of Puerto Aguirre, the city constitutes an immense natural reserve immersed in greenery where tourism is the main business. In 1982, President Joao Batista Figueredo and Roberto Bignone agreed on the construction of the bridge across the Iguazu which which was intended to create a connection between the Argentine City and Brazil, a work that was concretely inaugurated in 1985 with the name of “Tancredo Neves”.
Altogether, the Triple Frontier zone, with its circa 700,000 residents, is inhabited by a conspicuous number of people of different origins and culture. This interrelationship between peoples, makes the Triple Frontier a multicultural space where, besides the aboriginal Indians and the citizens of the three bordering countries, Arabs, Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese live. The Arab migration, unlike that of the Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese (which, besides being the more recent, is to be seen as part of the normal movement of qualified workers, as “mobile subjects”, typical of the era of globalisation), has a more ancient origin, going back to the end of the XIX century and the early XX century, when people coming from present-day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, Arabs (then dominated by the Ottoman empire) and Egyptians began to settle in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The immigrants were, for the most part, Orthodox and Maronite Christians with a minority of Muslims. Their reason for emigrating was attributable to both the conflict the Christian communities experienced under Ottoman rule and also the economic crisis. Once they arrived in South America, they settled mainly in the cities, becoming engaged in travelling commerce. In 1960, there was a new wave of Arab immigration affecting the regions of Alto Parana in Paraguay and Parana State, in Brazil. The majority of migrants who arrived in these lands were Lebanese both from the town of Baliol y Lela situated in the Bekaa valley and from the southern regions of the country.
Unlike the old migrants, the Arabs who came to these areas were Shiite Muslims seeking economic betterment or – as in the case of the Lebanese from the south of that country – to flee the tragic conditions of war. It is certain that one of the main factors that led them to come to the triple Frontier was, in essence, at first, the generous fiscal and legal regime of the zone and, later on, the work of building the Itaipú dam between Brazil and Paraguay.
Imitating the commercial careers of their co-nationals already established on the continent, the new arrivals began by working as travelling salesmen and afterwards moved into the retail business. The religious factor allowed them to create associations based on religious loyalty, denominational schools, Islamic centres and mosques for collective prayer, something that without doubt helped them to maintain their original ties strong. The Arabs have claimed an elevated position in the two cities, a situation that, in a matter of a few decades, generated an inversion of relations not often found in the context of recent migrations. It has been calculated that the Syrian-Lebanese Shiites alone, number around 20,000 and make up only 3% of the total population of the zone but own the main commercial businesses, giving rise to the saying that, “The Arabs have become the owners” of the area. (F.R.)