By Eduardo Soler
The cultural importance of the Dakar Rally
The sixth edition of the so-called "Dakar Rally" (sic) in South America reopens the debate, but above all the protests of a comprehensive environmental movement. Faced with those who express that competition is insignificant, its direct ecological and social impacts are known. In addition, it has a deeper relevance, on a cultural level. The Dakar presents the story of the "conquest of nature" by civilization, the rhetoric of the colonization of the desert, which is present in the extractivist model.
Since its inception in 2009, when the competition landed in South America, environmental organizations were on alert. On the one hand, there are reports on environmental and social impacts, which include the passage of a large number of machines over a fragile ecosystem, such as arid. In the same way, there were declarations of archaeological societies warning about the damages that the rally produces in the cultural heritage of the native peoples. The list is expanded in the testimonies of affected residents, as well as it is alarming to review the list of deaths from accidents caused by the Dakar. For example in 2011 a person died in Catamarca.
While considering the relevance of all this, in addition to these specific, direct impacts, we insist that the importance of the "Dakar Rally" is cultural. The very name gives us a clue to this: we are not in Dakar here, but the insistence of the sign comes from the continuity of the colonial model. And from the Environmental Communication, it is essential to consider the cultural dimension as structural in the environmental crisis. This is understood by the organizations, since they are the same ones that have been fighting for years against soybeanization, against mega-mining, against extractivism in general. That is why questioning the Dakar is not insignificant, but on the contrary, it would be illogical not to do so.
The Dakar is one of the outstanding expressions of this conception that envisions motorsport as a sport. The point is controversial, but it has become a sport (once a symbol of healthy living), an activity that only encourages the fascination for the car. And it is not an indirect relationship, in Formula 1 the "teams" are companies, they are large corporations, such as Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, Honda, Ford, Toyota. Can it be thought that companies that gave rise to Fordism and Toyotaism are unimportant? For these companies to maintain their profits, it is necessary to encourage oil extractivism, in other words, fracking.
An exemplary title of Page 12: the Dakar as a war.
In this case, in the Dakar Rally the brands are not comparatively so prominent, but they are, and very present. They prepare their special models, sponsor, participate in the show, which takes place in "the desert" but reaches us through the mass media. And what exactly does the "dakar rally" show? The "modernist" culture itself, the technology that "defeats nature", in this case overcoming "the desert". The title that the sports edition of Página / 12 decided today is exemplary. The conquest of the desert by the car (or the motorcycle, or the quad). The one that appears parodied in an advertisement for "car riders", with a postmodern sense.
At a social level, then, we cannot face the seriousness that the environmental crisis deserves, if we continue to allocate (a good) part of the energy reserve (material, fossil, but also spiritual) to this type of competition. Since although they spend not little on fuel (in the competition itself, with the teams' cars, with the transfer from Europe, and other parts of the civilized world, which are added to the local ones), I also return to the argument . The main impact - beyond the strictly environmental and social - is cultural. If this is our sport, if it is our show, if it is our culture - in short - the environmental crisis will remain.
I am writing all this now, but I learned it personally during a meeting for reflection on (against) mega-mining, in the words of some residents of the puna in our northwest. A serious fighter against mega-mining, she told us with a smile and pride, how she had expelled some competitors from the dakar, who wanted to pass through her territory. Rather, they wanted to damage the Pacha. There then lies the union in the fight: the Dakar is not isolated, it is part of an idea of the conception between this conquest of civilization over the desert. The protests do not recall, again, that such a desert is not deserted, and that it does not want to be overwhelmed.