The Passport Republic: Surveillance and Control of Spatial Mobility in Postcolonial Lima, 1821–55

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 9 (Washington Hilton)
Josť Ragas, University of California, Davis
The use of internal passports in the modern era is often associated with the severe policies of authoritarian regimes. However, as some recent scholars have pointed out, these documents –predecessors of the modern IDs– appeared as a temporary measure after a period of revolution. Latin America was no exception. Very soon after the break up with the Spanish empire, the policy makers in the former Viceroyalty of Peru sought to restore order in a territory still occupied by the enemy. In order to regulate the circulation of fellow nationals as well as to verify their identity, these devices requested the physical features of their bearers, which constitute the country’s first attempt to develop a biometric identification system.  This paper explores the genealogy of the Peruvian internal passport during the three decades of its existence, until 1855, when the Liberal Revolution banned them as a contradiction to the values emanated of the county’s Constitution and the cause of freedom and liberty.   To highlight the achievements and pitfalls of this project, I will focus on two particular aspects: technology and bureaucracy. As I will demonstrate, Peruvian policy makers were able to implement a system that combined: the physical architecture of the capital city, the police force, the judicial system, and the adoption of new technologies that allowed them to capture both movements and identities of the citizens under their surveillance.  The emergence of the internal passports marked a watershed in the relationship between state and society not only in Peru but in the world, and it obliges us to reconsider the relationship between democracy and mobility.
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