Fluvial ports, Amazonian entrepôts, and the infrastructure of a global sacrifice zone

Authors: Gustavo Oliveira*, University of California - Irvine
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, Transportation Geography
Keywords: political ecology, Latin America, infrastructure, environmental justice, Amazon, ports, waterways, Brazil
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


New infrastructure investments in the Brazilian Amazon largely bypass the region’s urban centers, focusing instead on small towns and rural areas that serve effectively as entrepôts for exporting energy, natural resources, and commodities from or through the region. A set of these projects, dubbed Arco Norte, the “northern arch” of export-oriented infrastructure, are linchpins of a combined strategy of Brazilian and transnational elites to facilitate the expansion of Brazilian agroindustrial exports through the Amazon basin. After all, agribusinesses that dominate the Brazilian Cerrados with soybeans, maize, and cotton find their main bottleneck in the road-based export channels through southeastern Brazil. Between 2010 and 2018, agribusiness exports through the Arco Norte expanded fourfold. At the heart of the Arco Norte is the Tapajós-Amazon waterway linking new ports in Barcarena and Miritituba (Pará state). I draw upon ethnographic fieldwork and theoretical frameworks of global assemblages and political ecology to examine how the construction of these infrastructures render these Amazonian entrepôts as a global sacrifice zone, reinforcing colonial subjectivities (among outsiders from the region who see themselves bringing “development”) and decolonial struggles (among indigenous people, peasants, and workers who contest this form of “development”). Thus, they way entrepôts infrastructure is interpreted becomes crucial for hegemonic contestation in the region. Shifts in global political economy triggered by the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic increase the importance of these infrastructure projects, even as Amazonian entrepôts are transformed into socio-ecological sacrifice zones where environmental degradation, poverty, drug trafficking, and sexual violence are increasingly concentrated.

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