The topic today is World Bank 1980’s funding of brazilian interstate highway BR-364, which connects the southeast State of São Paulo to the western state of Acre. This short essay seeks to contextualize the project in historical terms, describe the environmental, economical and social impacts of its development and conclude with the author’s perspective of the case from the considering the main globalization theories.
Conquesting the west is part of state formation archetype of many countries, including United States and Brazil. Initiatives regarding the occupation of Brazil’s interior traces its origins from the First Republic period, culminating with the construction of the planned capital of Brasília, in the 1960’s (Fausto, 2012). Projects like the “Madeira-Mamoré” railroad in the beginning of the twentieth century or “Transamazonica” highway during Military dictatorship were also dramatic examples of how economic and geopolitical forces act in the region of the Amazon and drives its occupation.
The BR-364 highway is part of this context, related with Brasília construction and the opening of the west for occupation. During military dictatorship the slogan was “Integrar para Não Entregar” (Integrate to not Lose) (Fausto, 2012). For the government the connection of this continental proportions country through modern highways was strategic, even at the expense of uncontrolled deforestation, land speculation and corruption (Ventura, 2003). Part of the socio economic forces driving this process can be attributed to the globalization, especially the world-system theory that focus in the spread of the capitalism system across the globe (Lechner, 2001). The justification to build expensive railways and highways were rubber (latex) during the later nineteenth-century and land speculation and extensive pecuary during the twentieth-century (Ventura, 2003).
World Bank funding of BR-364 expansion happened during the 1980’s, in a delicate period of political redemocratization. Part of the resources were supposed to help in the protection of the environment and its indigenous people, but it was clear that the proper control measures weren’t being taken. Curiously globalization forces started also to protect the region through foreigners influencers like Adrian Cowell, with the book and film documentary “The Decade of Destruction”, which highlights the resistance of local indigenous workers (seringueiros) and its leaders like Wilson Pinheiro, Ivair Higino and the internationally famous Chico Mendes. The conflicts between modern farmers and indigenous people were worsening, involving murders, extortions and blatant corruption episodes between businessmen and the state (Rodrigues, 2009). The World Bank suffered a huge pressure from international NGOs after Chico Mendes made a speech at United Nations. The project was interrupted with the brazilian government internationally exposed by a rubber worker. The subsequent assassination of Mr. Mendes back in Acre added up in the dramaticity of the episode and at the same time revealed to the world the extent of the issue in the region (Ventura, 2003).
This World Bank project example is important to show the ambiguity of International Financial Institutions and the forces of globalization. While it shows the ignorance of the bank regarding the dynamics of the region, at the same time the episode attracted interest from NGOs and individuals around the world, influencing debates about sustainable development and environmental protection. Unfortunately this happened at the expense of human lives, which could have been avoided with real safeguards regarding economical support and real protection of indigenous people since the beginning of the funding.
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Adrian Caldwell, autor do documentário A década da destruição.