Accepted paper:

Forced Migrations, Hydroelectric Dams, and Indigenous Struggles for Environmental Justice in the Brazilian Amazon


Jonathan Hill (Southern Illinois University)

Paper short abstract:

Documentation and analysis of large-scale hydroelectric dam projects in the Brazilian Amazon as weapons of mass destruction that transform indigenous communities into landless migrants will lead to an exploration of pro-indigenous and environmentalist movements against the building of such mega-dams

Paper long abstract:

This paper will document the removal of indigenous and other rural inhabitants living along major tributaries of the Amazon River in Brazil resulting from the building of large-scale hydroelectric dams. The paper will also explore political opposition to the building of the enormous hydroelectric dam at Belo Monte in the lower Xingu River valley as a countervailing movement consisting of indigenous activists and a number of grass-roots pro-indigenous and environmentalist organizations. It is argued that the government's licensing of these mega-dam projects is a weapon of mass destruction that has the effect of uprooting communities practicing small-scale, sustainable activities of fishing, hunting, gardening, and forestry and transforming them into landless, or 'deterritorialized,' migrant populations. Although such mega-dams employ technologies that are relatively recent 20th century developments, the forced removal of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands is the continuation of a long history of actual and structural violence in South America. What is new, however, is the extent to which indigenous activists have been able to make their voices heard at national and international levels through use of social media, digital communication, and alliances with pro-indigenous and environmentalist organizations. This paper will explore indigenous strategies as they emerged in the recent struggles to block the building of a massive hydroelectric dam at Belo Monte on the lower Xingu River as well as ongoing domestic political opposition to the government's call for construction of at least 25 additional mega-dams as part of a national Accelerated Growth Program.

panel P122
Human rights and political subjectivities in motion: migration, hyper-nationalism, and countervailing strategies