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One river and 40+ dams: the China factor in the Amazonian Tapajós waterway and the Security Suspension Law

Authors: Ricardo Andrade*, Freie Universität Berlin
Topics: Energy, Political Geography, Environment
Keywords: Hydropower, Dams, Amazon, Brazil, China, Politics, Trade, Commodities, Legislation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Tapajós waterway, which has been in development in the Brazilian Amazon for several years, aims at building up to 49 hydroelectric dams in a river basin the size of France, primarily to facilitate the export of Brazilian commodities to China. The mega-project, backed by European and Chinese financing and engineering, would turn the Tapajós river into the world’s largest grain canal, flooding 18,700 hectares of land currently inhabited by Munduruku indigenous communities, and clearing up to 950,000 hectares of forest. Brazil has a long and controversial background in the implementation of large-scale hydropower dams in the Amazon: the region holds the highest proven potential for hydric resources in the country, and only 1% has been explored, making it a hotbed for hydropower infrastructure plans, as well as protests against related social and environmental damages. One specific and little known aspect of the Brazilian legislation, originating from the military dictatorship, has been used multiple times in large hydropower projects in order to overturn decisions against dam proponents. The “security suspension” (Law 4348/1964) allows chief justices to unilaterally suspend the execution of court rulings against public authorities and their agents in order to “avoid serious injury to the public economy”. In the case of the Tapajós dams, a “security suspension” had been granted 12 times by 2012. This paper will look into the case of the Tapajós waterway and its socio-environmental impacts from the perspective of Chinese interest in Brazilian commodities, and potential unchecked use of the “security suspension” law.

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