Fluvial Ports and the New Amazon Frontier: Expansion and Concentration in Frontier-Making

Authors: Gustavo Oliveira*, Swarthmore College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Transportation Geography, Latin America
Keywords: political ecology, infrastructure, Brazil, Amazon, ports
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Brazilian infrastructure is transforming radically as new investments in fluvial ports on the Amazon basin, known as “Northern Arc”, enabled grain exports along this route to jump from 5% to 24% of total Brazilian grain exports in five years. These new ports, imbued with discourses of frontier-making, are associated with the expansion of the “agroindustrial frontier”, responding to and evoking further agroindustrial production by reducing bottlenecks on routes from the Cerrado to ports on the southeast coast. But they also generate new socio-ecological problems. Markedly, the communities surrounding the new ports—particularly Miritituba, where a quarter of total export capacity along the Northern Arc is being constructed—are reshaped by cultural, racial, and gendered “frontier” dynamics of construction boom-towns and pass-through nodes for truck drivers, involving prostitution, drug use, and trafficking. I examine the relations between the production of Miritituba as a central node of the Northern Arc and shifts in agroindustrial frontiers in Brazil. My political ecology approach draws upon political-economic data, local archives, environmental licensing documents, in-depth interviews with port construction company executives, grain-trading operators, environmental-licensing contractors, government regulators, civil society organizations, and field site inspections. I argue that processes of frontier-making are simultaneously expansive (in terms of macro-geographical shifts of agroindustrial production) and highly concentrated—such that discourses about “the frontier” inevitably equivocate about the relative distribution of expansive economic gains (increased production, reduced transportation costs, improved logistical efficiency for corporations and states at the national and transnational scale) and the concentration of the socio-ecological harms in chokepoints like Miritituba.

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