restricted access Ocekadi: hidrelétricas, conflitos socioambientais e resistência na Bacia do Tapajós ed. by Daniela Fernandes Alarcon, Brent Millikan, Mauricio Torres (review)
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Reviewed by
Ocekadi: hidrelétricas, conflitos socioambientais e resistência na Bacia do Tapajós. Daniela Fernandes Alarcon, Brent Millikan and Mauricio Torres, eds. Brasília: International Rivers Brasil; Santarém: Programa de Antropologia e Arqueologia da Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará, 2016. xxxvi + 534 pp. Maps, tables, charts, color and black-and-white photographs, illustrations, references. Free e-book (ISBN 978-85-99214-04-6).

Once upon a time, a continental forest covered the Amazon Basin, sheltering many of the world’s plant and animal species, and much of its water and living biomass. The world community felt special kinship with this forest and wanted to protect it. Almost daily through the 1980s and 1990s, newspapers reported the rate at which it was disappearing due to hamburger eaters, owners of chainsaws, and bureaucrats building roads through the wilderness for no good reason. Guess what? That same forest -- with its ecological wonderments, its native peoples and clearwater streams -- still stands, despite the loss of 780,000 km2 (18%) of its original cover. But a knock-out blow could be coming soon, with a portfolio of massive development projects aimed at transforming Amazonia into a multi-modal transportation hub and an industrial agglomeration. The infrastructure project of greatest immediate concern now targets the Tapajós Valley in the central Amazon Basin, an issue addressed by the book under review, Ocekadi: Hidrelétricas, Conflitos Socioambientais e Resistência na Bacia do Tapajós (Ocekadi: Hydroelectric Dams, Socio-Environmental Conflicts, and Resistance in the Tapajós Basin), or Ocekadi for short.

It seems like only yesterday that the Brazilian government decided to dam the Xingu River, an initiative stopped by the Kayapó, a rock star, and an assortment of environmental groups, both Brazilian and international. But the environmental victory proved short-lived, with the recent completion of the gigantic Belo Monte hydroelectric facility on the outskirts of Altamira. Given that the Tocantins River has already been dammed, and that hydropower projects are presently underway on the Madeira, only one large right-bank tributary with headwaters in the Brazilian Shield remains free-flowing, namely the Tapajós, whose discharge to the Amazon near Santarém forms one of the basin’s most iconic riverside settings. In what feels like a cross between déjà vu and a lingering nightmare, the Tapajós River stands next in the line of fire for hydraulic reconfiguration, [End Page 205] dredging, and the pouring of concrete over rocky escarpments. Damming the Tapajós would be a crime for any number of reasons, not least because it comprises a landscape of rare beauty, a clearwater river eleven miles wide in places, with sandy shores reminiscent of the Caribbean and banks as high as 80 meters. Perhaps most important, it also provides an aboriginal homeland to a number of indigenous peoples, notably the Munduruku. Ocekadi means our river in the Munduruku language, and as such is a term well chosen for the content of the book it names. This is because the Munduruku people are presently resisting government plans that would deprive them of their homeland, a stand that puts them at the vanguard of those who wish to conserve Amazonia’s ecological and cultural riches for future generations.

Interest in developing the Tapajós Valley emerged forcefully at the millennium’s turn, and as Mato Grosso turned into Brazil’s agricultural powerhouse. Since then, a number of small dams have been placed on upstream tributaries (the Juruena and Teles Pires), BR-163 has been improved and mostly paved between Cuiabá and Santerém, and silos with barge wharfs have been built at Miritituba, some 240 kilometers southwest of Santarém on the right bank of the Tapajós. But these are mere appetizers for the main event referred to as the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex (THC), a collection of seven dams planned for the middle Tapajós Valley. Implementation of the THC moved rapidly, until hitting a solid wall of resistance led by the Munduruku peoples, in alliance with environmental NGOs and individuals in the Brazilian judiciary. In an unexpected victory for the tribal leaders and their supporters in the summer of 2016, the...