Brazil '98: Introduction
Brazil '98: Participants
Brazil '98: Map of Brazil
Brazil '98: Itinerary
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Introduction
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rondonio
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Roads to hell
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Deforestation
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The working day of a Rubber Tapper in Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Chico Mendes story
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Manaus
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Para
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Dam Busters
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Gold Rush and bombing of air strips
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Brasilia D.F.
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro and the return
Brazil '98: Debates
Brazil '98: Sponsors
Brazil '98: Brazil Facts

After our stay in Manaus we will
fly to Belém, the capital city of the
eastern Amazon state of


This journey of approximately 1300 kilometres will take one hour. Pará has been at the centre of most controversies over Amazon development programmes.
It is the location of the largest development project in the whole of the Amazon, the Grande Carajás Mining and Industrial Zone. It is also the site of some of the most radical sustainable development initiatives.
We will attempt to find out how these initiatives have affected people and why there has been such fierce opposition to the industrial projects.
Pará is one of the largest states in the Amazon region covering 1,253,164 square kilometres. This is over five times the size of the UK or equal to the size of France, Spain and the UK combined. Like all Amazon states it has a relatively small population of 5,510,849 inhabitants, 52.45 per cent (2,596,388) of whom live in cities. It encompasses the western reaches of the Amazon river. It has 128 municipalities and its largest cities are the state capital, Belém and Santarém, Marabá, Altamira, Castanhal and Abetetuba.
Belém is the biggest port on the Amazon resting 120 kilometres from the Atlantic. It is the economic centre of the northern region of Brazil. The Amazon dry season hardly affects Belém and it is one of the wettest cities in the world. Fortunately the period of our visit is slightly less wet than the December–June period when it rains in abundance. The average temperature will be about 32°c and it will be extremely humid.
We will visit the Goeldi Museum in Belém, one of only two Brazilian research institutes in the Amazon. The range of study at the institute is wide, including the flora, fauna, peoples and the physical environment of the Amazon. It has a zoo and a permanent exhibition, charting the geological, ecological, archaeological and anthropological development of the Amazon.
We aim to travel to the largest industrial plant in Latin America, the Albrás/Alunorte aluminium and alumina complex. This is situated 40 kilometres from Belém. It uses 20 per cent of the energy produced by Pará’s largest dam at Tucuruí. It is responsible for supplying 15 per cent of Japan’s aluminium consumption needs. The start-up of the alumina plant was in October 1995 and in that year it produced 215,000 tonnes of alumina. In 1996 it produced 826,000 tonnes. Its full capacity of 1.1 million tonnes was expected to be reached in 1997.
The next day we will set off on a journey by boat to the source of Albrás/Alunorte plant’s energy supply–the Tucuruí Dam. This journey could take up to 29 hours travelling 350 kilometres south from Belém down the Rio Tocantins. The boat journey will be a once in a lifetime experience itself. We will hire a boat in Belém, fix hammocks and lie back whilst we motor through the forest. It will be a good opportunity to see how the Amazon river communities live and work.
Tucuruí is the largest hydroelectric dam project in the world. It is 50 per cent bigger than Brazil’s mammoth Itaipu Dam complex on the Rio Paraná between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The Itaipu, which began operation in 1984, cost US$20 billion and produces as much electricity as ten average power stations. Tucuruí is now Brazil’s largest dam at over 12 kilometres long. It has a flooded reservoir covering 4000 square kilometres of forest making it the fourth largest artificial lake in the world. It is projected that it will supply eight million kilowatts of energy a year. In the late 1960s, large deposits of bauxite were discovered in Pará. (Bauxite is one of the main elements used in the production of aluminium. By 1973 a consortium of Japanese aluminium companies–the Nippon Amazon Aluminium Company–had started negotiations with Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce (the Brazilian state mining and steel company) to set up an aluminium plant by the Tocantins River, in Pará. This is now the largest industrial plant in Latin America.)
Part of the plan was to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Tocantins River to supply electricity for the aluminium plant. The Japanese refused to invest in either the dam or the necessary port facilities but the Brazilian Government did, as it was committed to the development of the region. When work began on the dam in 1977, Electronorte, the regional state electrical company, constructed a purpose-built city for the dam’s workers. It has a population of 60,000 and is a modern city with supermarkets, a hospital and offices. The dam was completed in 1984 and began to back up water in a 200 kilometre long lake which almost reached Marabá.
The construction of this dam, like many others in the Amazon, has caused uproar amongst environmentalists. They point out that the flooding killed 2.8 million trees and inundated huge tracts of fertile lands. They add that forest was not cleared before flooding and that this could affect the efficiency of the dam turbines due to the effects of siltation. Malaria has also been rife in areas where forest was not cleared and in areas downstream of dams where the water became stagnant.
Dams such as the Tucuruí, have also been criticised for their impact upon local populations. Tucuruí displaced up to 35,000 people who received little or no compensation. It flooded 100 kilometres of the TransAmazon highway and partially flooded 800 farming plots. It flooded a section of the Paracanã Indian Reserve. It also destroyed the homeland of the Trocara Indian group.
The Brazilian Government has defended the construction of hydroelectric schemes by pointing out their substantial benefits to larger populations and the national and regional economies. Thirty new dam projects are planned for 2010. They will have the potential to meet 60 per cent of Brazil’s energy needs, compared with five per cent in 1986. This is crucial for the development of Brazil as it is a net importer of petroleum products.
We would like to discuss the benefits and negative impact of the Tucuruí hydroelectric complex with the Mayor of Tucuruí, Cláudio Furman, Electronorte representatives and people from Tucuruí town and surrounding areas.
From Tucuruí we travel via the city of Marabá to the Projeto Grande Carajás Mining and Industrial Zone (PGC). We will travel a distance of 360 kilometres.
This project almost defies description in terms of scale and potential. The whole project covers an area of approximately 400,000 square kilometres (France is 543,000 square kilometres). The original plan was for a total investment of US$62 billion. It contains one of the world’s largest mining operations: a huge system of open-cast mining operations, extracting iron ore, manganese, bauxite, copper, nickel, potassium and gold. Minerals extracted from this operation supply industries in Western countries. It produces export earnings for Brazil and much-needed jobs for its workers. It has its own purpose-built infrastructure of power station, transport and processing plants and a 900 kilometre rail link connecting it to new port facilities at a cost of US$2.4 billion and aluminium plants on the Atlantic coast at São Luís. The town of Carajás has been rebuilt and is exclusively for Carajás workers. You cannot enter unless you have a permit. The Tucuruí Dam supplies power to the Grande Carajás project. Seven more dams are planned for the Rio Tocantins to supply the project with power. The project was until recently owned and run by the state mining and steel company. It was recently sold to private investors for some US$3.2 billion as part of the Brazilian Government’s state privatisation programme.
In the late 1960s a series of mineral discoveries were made in the Carajás region of Pará. The area was found to contain the biggest iron ore deposit in the world. Western companies immediately began to fight the Brazilian Government for control over this wealth. The Meridonial Mining Company, a subsidiary of United States Steel, the biggest steel company in the world and CODIM, another multinational, competed for the control of the deposits with the Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce. When iron prices dropped on the world market, the foreign multinationals pulled out.
In 1970 the Brazilian Government instituted a new development programme, the Programme for National Integration (PIN). Its main function was to create infrastructure and communication links between areas containing major mineral deposits. In 1974, the Government announced a further element to its development strategy–the Polamazonia programme. Its key objective was to promote mining, lumbering, ranching, fishing, agriculture and hydroelectric energy, in order to generate export earnings. It focused on the development of three ‘growth poles’ centred upon mineral deposits. The Carajás area in Pará received the bulk of the funding. As a result, more migrants began flooding into the area, attracted by the prospect of employment. This migration intensified land conflicts which were already underway at the edge of the old Brazil nut groves.
In 1980, the Grande Carajás project was officially launched. In the promotional literature the aims of the programme were listed as: ‘...the harmonious growth of the country’s diverse regions, industrial decentralisation, redirection of migratory flows by generating new employment and payment of the external debt...’
Carajás turned out to contain one of the world’s largest mineral deposits, with 18 billion tons of high grade iron and smaller but significant amounts of other minerals.
The mining operations and associated infrastructure projects opened up the area to an unprecedented level of development. The mining region has become the focus of the Government’s development strategy for the entire region. The mines stimulated road building, encouraged new public services and opened up fresh agricultural lands. In the 1996-97 period, Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce extracted the equivalent of US$800 million of iron, gold and magnesium. The company’s turnover from Pará reached US$2.6 billion, constituting two-thirds of Pará state’s exports. It is predicted that the revenue could reach US$4 billion in the first half of the next century.
The Grande Carajás project became the focus of severe criticism during the early 1980s. It has been condemned for leading to a shortage of land and subsequent land conflicts by encouraging the massive internal migration of peasant farmers and workers. It has also attracted criticism for its pig-iron smelting units which run along the Carajás railway and use cheap, unmanaged, primary forest timber. The rail line was also criticised for cutting through the Gaviões Indian Reserve. The construction of the Alcoa aluminium plant at São Luís entailed the removal of 22,000 people from their homes without compensation.
In 1990 a new Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA) was created by the Brazilian Government and was attached to the President’s office. An outspoken environmentalist, José Lutzenberger, was appointed as its head. He immediately imposed restrictions on deforestation for charcoal production in the Grande Carajás project.
Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce has responded
to such criticisms stating that of the 400,000 square kilometres of natural forest area involved in the project, only 1.6 per cent is used for mining and infrastructure. It claims that it maintains and protects over one million hectares of untouched forest in the project area. It has a scheme to recuperate used areas and reintegrate them into forest areas. It also claims that it supplies health care, education and farming support to Indian groups and has helped demarcate three Indian reserves within the project area.
On our visit to the project, which will last two days, we hope to talk to various groups. We will discuss conflicting opinions about the project hopefully with workers at Carajás, peasant farmer groups who live and work outside the project, environmentalists and Xikrin Indians from the Cateté Reserve, located within the project’s boundaries.
Our final destination in Pará should be a sustainable agroforestry initiative near the city of Marabá. Sustainable agroforestry involves the cultivation of plant and tree crops in a way which causes minimum disturbance to the environment. There are many such initiatives being developed throughout the Amazon and supporters argue that they represent a better form of development than projects such as Carajás which necessitate the clearance of large areas of forest.
The project is based at the Agricultural and Environmental Centre of Tocantins (CAT). It is a joint project between a farming union association, the Agrarian Foundation of the Tocantins-Araguaia (FATA) and an agricultural research institute, the Socio-Economic Laboratory of Tocantins (LASAT).
The project grew from an awareness by peasant farmers that: ‘their habitual cultivation methods were destroying their livelihoods, as well as that precious legacy of future generations, the Amazon rainforest’. Supporters of the project believe it is a means of small farmers meeting their own needs without destroying their environment. It is funded by various foreign donors, including Christian Aid, the European Union and the British Government.
The objective of the project is to create an alternative agricultural model for the region’s small farmers. Traditionally, small farmers slash and burn the forest and plant short-cycle staple crops. They use the surplus from the harvest to buy cattle and cut more forest for pasture. There is a conflict over alternatives to this model. The Socio-Economic Laboratory of Tocantins is experimenting with ways of making existing techniques of rice cultivation and its marketing and cattle rearing more efficient. The Agrarian Foundation of the Tocantins- Araguaia, meanwhile, under its Agroforestry Project (PAF) is focusing on the cultivation of tree crops to complement the short-cycle staple crops. The aim is to plant perennial wood, fruit, spice and medicinal crops and do away with cattle rearing and the need to slash and burn ever larger areas of rainforest.
There are many problems with implementing the sustainable agroforestry model. First, cattle rearing remains the most financially rewarding activity for small farmers; second, a large amount of investment, time (the farmer must wait for the tree crops to grow) and labour power is needed to install this model; third, there is no large overseas market for the produce. This has contributed to the fact that, of the 16,000 small farmers in the Marabá area, only 3000 are involved in the agroforestry project.
Another key part of the Agricultural and Environmental Centre of Tocantins project, is environmental education. A team at CAT runs courses for local teachers on how to teach environmental awareness.
We want to visit CAT and schools where teachers educate school students in environmental awareness. We want to explore whether such projects, if applied throughout the Amazon, are a viable alternative to large industrial projects such as Carajás.
Pará is a scene of great contrasts. There are the massive development projects, such as the Grande Carajás project which have the potential to rapidly accelerate the economic and social development of the state. On the other hand, sustainable development initiatives are being created, involving the implementation of extractive forestry methods, after years of opposition to mega-projects by environmental campaigners. There is a contest between the progress that comes with large inputs of financial investments and technology and efforts to preserve the forest using highly labour-intensive working methods. The question is, which projects will win out in this contest and who will benefit?
We end our visit to Pará by returning to Marabá city to catch our plane to our next destination, the federal capital of Brazil, Brasília.