In the zone where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, surrounded by marvellous and striking scenes of nature, is the area better known as the Triple Frontier. The enchanting and heavenly beauty of the place owes most to the Iguazu falls. These are to be found in the heart of an unspoiled and verdant tropical jungle and are known to be among the largest in the world, formed by a series of rivers that give rise to more than 200 waterfalls as high as 70 metres along a three kilometre stretch of flowing water.
The life of this area is best described as centred on three cities belonging to the three countries: Ciudad del Este, Foz do Iguacu and Puerto Iguazu. The Iguazu and Parana rivers indicate the border of the three states and separate Ciudad del Este from Foz do Iguacu and Puerto Iguazu. On the border where the two rivers meet, there stands an obelisk that symbolises the triangulation and the territorial limit. The permanence of the obelisk, which shows the point where the three borders meet, acting as a milestone and landmark of the three frontiers, conceals the fluidity and the dynamics of circulation that exists between them and yet represents the beating heart of the area. Fluidity and dynamism, facilitated by the lack of law enforcement in these territories, have made the Triple Frontier a “duty free area” and made it famous throughout the world, not so much for its natural beauty as for the illegal and criminal activities being carried on in its territory. Among these are smuggling, drug dealing, arms dealing, prostitution and prostitute trafficking and money laundering, all of which activities are bound up with terrorist cells and radical movements of Arabic origin present in the zone.
Ciudad del Este in Paraguay: Computer City
Of the three cities, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay is considered the great commercial hub of the zone with a population of around 332.000 inhabitants and is the second largest city in Paraguay after Asuncion. It is a new city: its origins go back to 1957 when it was founded with the name of Puerto Flor de Lis. Its foundation formed part of a broader and structured movement towards the east by the dictator of the time, Alfredo Stroessner, who intended to initiate this conglomeration in view of creating a bridge in the future towards the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu. It would later be called Port President Stroessner only to be finally named, in 1989, Ciudad del Este. The centre is a conglomeration of thousands of small shops where it is possible to buy goods at low prices since they are free of customs duty. Electronic and computer goods are among the most plentiful items on sale. The city centre where these activities take place has been described as one of the most important international commercial centres and on a par with Miami and Hong Kong. Most of the goods ‘in transit’ are provided by the underground market which is one of the driving forces behind the Paraguayan economy. These goods, which are afterwards re-exported to the bordering countries by the famous sacoleiros (those who carry all kinds of merchandise in makeshift bundles like those of refugees), have made Ciudad del Este a convenient hub of the economy of the country.
The city is populated by peoples of various ethnic groups and nationalities. The main community is that of the Lebanese Shiites, but there are also considerable numbers of immigrants from China, Taiwan, Korea, Syria and Palestine. The ethnic sub-divisions are also reflected in economic activities. For example, the Chinese run the electronics, toy and bazaar markets, while the Arabs deal in textiles, computers and software. How wealth has accumulated over the years is easily understood if we consider that, in 2004, out of every ten computers sold in Brazil, eight came from Ciudad del Este and were sold at less than half the Brazilian prices. However, in recent years, the trend has changed to such an extent that now only one in ten computers sold in Brazil comes from Ciudad del Este. This may be attributed to various reasons, one of which is tighter border controls and, especially, significant technological development in Brazil.