A Nation under Watchtowers


In Edward Snowden’s era of discreet, unobtrusive, camouflaged, unverifiable data mining by the NSA and GCHQ where our every digital move is stored monitored and analyzed for suspicious activity. In a time when a computer keeps track of a worker’s every move by assigning him or her specific tasks to perform during their shift. Watchtowers seem tools of prehistoric surveillance and direct human control. In Peru they are an omnipresent feature of the landscape rural and urban. They come designed in all shapes and sizes, some look menacing and dramatic others are light and gentle even funny. They are made of many materials ranging from bricks, armed concrete, iron, aluminum, wood, plastic, adobe to reed. You find them in obvious places around embassies, military installations, and industries. In more surprising places, inside children’s playgrounds on top of water tanks, on desert sand dunes watching over a land claim, in the middle of a crop field where they are used for falconry or workforce surveillance, on rocks by the seaside. Its not that they are always manned, many of them are empty, they represent the possibility of surveillance they seem to be there to remind you that you could be watched upon and to tell you watch yourself engage in self surveillance. In certain areas of the capital Lima such as the Av. Argentina that leads to the country’s main port of Callao, there are so many watchtowers that you could be forgiven to think that you’re walking inside a prison system discussed in Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish”. The many robberies, a general mistrust in others and the violent campaign perpetuated by the Maoist guerrillas of the Shining Path during the 1980ties trough to the early 1990ties seem to be a significant part of the reason for the watchtower culture, as well as the fact that many insurance companies would not insure without a 24 hours surveillance system of some sort. Labor force being relatively cheap in Peru makes building and manning a watchtower economically viable.

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