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Territorial politics in western Amazon:
an approach on madeira river hydroelectric project in Rondônia


Ricardo Gilson da Costa SILVA

Geographer researcher of  Laboratory of
Human Geography and Environmental Planning–LABOGEOHPA,
 substitute teacher of Department of Geography of
Universidade Federal de Rondônia-Brazil

Dorisvalder Dias NUNES

 Coordinator of the LABOGEOHPA and
 teacher of Geography department of
Universidade Federal de Rondônia-Brazil

José Januário de Oliveira AMARAL

Researcher of LABOGEOHPA and
 teacher of Geography department of
Universidade Federal de Rondônia-Brazil

Maria Madalena Cavalcante LACERDA

Academic of the Geography Course of
Universidade Federal de Rondônia-Brazil

Joiada Moreira da SILVA

Geographer and researcher of LABOGEOHPA

Josélia Fontenele BATISTA

Geographer and Researcher of LABOGEOHPA



This work has as objective, to discuss public strategy on formulating great projects to Western Amazon area, highlighting the projects of hydro power plant complex, and water way construction along the way of Madeira river at Rondônia State. About the concept of territorial politics and globalization, nature has been discussed as resource of capital accumulation, and the Amazon territory as locus of the most several scales of interest.

Key-words: Water way, territory, madeira river, Amazon territory


1. Introduction

The relevance of Amazon at the world scenario highlights itself among other topics, the great bio diversity of natural resources. This vision of resources feeds the dreams and possibilities of using them, generating new economics exploration, thus emerges conflicts among the several social acts aiming to preserve and/or keep that area.

In a global scale, the content is a conservative line, in the way that this part of the planet, yet to be changed, fulfills of worries the ones who make literatures about its importance for the global balance; Its natural resources, potentially usable for the top technology industries adding the new strategies of hydro resources utilization, once Amazon has the fifth part of the fresh water on the planet.

In a national scale, the content is the need to construct a economic and social development plan, which should be able to keep the self environment sustainability, meaning its existence base, creating ways of usage of the resources and improving the standards of living, even that still observed strong conflicts among the people, constituting on of the biggest basic problematic at the content about Amazon, characterized in the need of explore it without destroy it.

At the center of the process, as the essence of "paradise visions", there is the Amazon as resource and natural capital, which is different that what have been named natural resources. This concept instability is the result of the most diverse ways of understating the Amazon area where several interests converge on the same place under the influence of different passions, and crystallizes the complexity and contradiction and paradoxes of those ways and manifestations.

In this matter of Amazon, as a resource, that inserts the discussion about the hydro power plant project at Madeira river and its consequences, characterized by the economic, public and social agents, as well as the whole politics agents, because they see in this territory, the multiple possibilities of usage.


2. Territory and the Global World: some reflections

This beginning of XXI century is marked, among other matters, by the symbolic advent which represents for the society the century passage, but, fundamentally, by the characteristics of this new historical moment which technical revolution drift and of the global world, that have been mould imperatively the looks on the contemporary world comprehension, (once more) meaning concepts, cultures and places.

The humanity lives intense transformations moments in all life social spheres, there are times of accelerations produced by the advances intensity gotten by the scientific knowledge and by the appropriated technologies development. Information, science, technology become hybrids in the technical revolution several products, what increases the ditch, in scale world, of the knowledge production and its social globalization 1.

They are processes in world scale which globalizes and fragment territories, where the new objects already born with a content in information, that results in roles differentiated in the economic, social and political life: there are information over putted on the matter flows (Santos, 1991).

The territory gets new social and political dimensions derivatives of its use and by the increasing artificial ways of exploration; there are quantitative and qualitative dimensions to Santos and Silveira (2001), the territory despite already defined in terms of use by more traditional societies, presents in the lasts 30 years new uses, which defines discontinuities in the regional features, mould by a modernization that excludes people, crystallizing new rationalities. In this sense we understand the Hydroelectric power plant projects at high Madeira river as a formulation of an territorial politics, which express it self, according to Costa (1991), “ All and any State activities that stops at the same time, ‘a given national space conception’, an intervention strategy to the territory structure, and finally, concrete mechanisms capable of make possible this politics”.

Thus, for the happenings comprehension and its interpretations, it has to pass through this economy globalization contemporary moment, which transforms State- nations in decadent or emerging economies and produce a central or developed economies perverse accumulation. This process in course denominated by some people as globalization, isn't circumscribed just for the economy sphere, but fundamentally, pass all the human life dimensions, been them the culture, politics, ethics or consumption (Smith, 1996).

In Amazon among so many projects routinely well-known in the world media, moreover one of these universal empiric concepts, globalization process derivative, and is represented and materialized in the regional 2 fluvial integration through the project of water way of Madeira river, for a bit more than five years, inaugurated and articulated a multi form complex road-hydro way, allowing to costs decrease and, consequently, imperative of the mercantile competitiveness, establish the agricultural products transportation from Brazil (highlight for soy of Mato Grosso and recently Rondônia) to Europe, without the inhabitants of the regions and places in which water way crosses, not enjoy concrete benefits of this process.

By Claval (1987), ordering territorial processes in transformations, can only be comprehended if it does not separate nature space, form the society, what implies in a dialectic relationship where, for the processes some contemporaneousness understanding, is necessary an analysis exercise which depart of the changes recognition in the space, induced many times by external agents. These moments belong to contemporary accelerations, which are in all spaces with differentiated intensities (Santos, 1994). This new order in gestation, with accelerations volume and spaces of ingredients functions as inserted in the territory, meaning territory with more technology, allowing the construction of a geographical way of technician-scientific-informational, of which say Santos (1996), represented by the process denominated tecnosfera, increasing physical and cultural environment in non natural ways of exploration products, and psicosfera, represented by the beliefs, wishes, still not satisfied or fully satisfied, characteristic of a repressed demand, above all, underdeveloped countries, peripheric (Op. cit., 1994).

Technical science revolution which has been developed, specially in this postwar times, territory transformations by the productive processes have been happening. Existing distant places without almost no human interference, passes to be under intervention being object, social and economic relationships derivative which provide the new landscapes construction. Thence be nature (the biotic set and non biotic and its interrelations) human appropriation object, although such processes be alone in power, not formalized intentions, as it suggests our analysis focus.

Brazilian Amazon, obviously, doesn't escape to the transformations in course. Its valorization as resources natural capital and stock opens an accumulation field fan for the capital fractions performance in the region, putting it a nature material meaning, defined with a resource, thus merchandise. according to Becker (1995), the globalization generated this natural capital concept, in the measure where the ecological matter is also ideological, covering- a geopolitical parameter on a world scale. Eminently economic point of view, natural capital can be expert as the process in which “the environmental active – many times, nature itself in itself are treated as keeping a considerable similarity with manufactured forms or artificial capital”(Lima, 1999)3.

In the construction of several enterprises, from decade of 90, it has an appropriation and the transformation of “strange places to the world”, which pass to be incorporated to the productive process, indicating that the analysis should be related to several scales, allowing to comprehend that the social space relations drift in metamorphosis which articulate interests in several levels and scales, so that the look on the object must start of the social processes which gives to its existence, the relations social-space which express the forms produced space by the society, manifesting projects, interests, needs, utopias (Moraes, 1996) and is in this context that is configured the construction project of the hydroelectric of Madeira River in Rondônia State.

3. Madeira River Hydro Power Plants: location and overlaying interests

Madeira river is formed by confluence of Beni and Mamoré rivers, in the district of Vila Murtinho, Municipal district of Nova Mamoré – Rondônia it establishes territorial limit between Brazil and Bolivia up to Abuna river mouth, where it enters the Brazilian territory until its mouth, in the Amazonas river. It is located between parallels 10° and 03° South and the meridian 65° and 58° West, in the state of Rondônia and Amazonas (Japiassu; Valverde; Ferreira, 1979; Rondônia, 1997; Silva et al., 2001; NUNES et al. 2002).

To comprehend the enterprise several proposals, we have to point them, once there are several and still to bee totally defined.


Cartographic base complied from the Rondônia Road map (1993),
scale 1:1000.000
Thematic map elaborated with th tech-scientifically cooperation between GISCART - Servi´cos de CArtografia, Topografia e Geodésia. Ltda. and LABOGEOPHA - Laboratório de Gerografia Humana e Planejamento Ambiental - digitallzed with Maxicad 32 sytetm, version finalized by Corel Draw 10.
Graphic Art.:Luiz Clayton Holanda Lobato


In a first context, historically the fluvial inter connection project by Madeira river had been thought since Pombalino period, XVIII century (Pinto, 1998). However, this discussion had been retook at the end of 60's, from the studies of SONDOTECNICA Company – Engenharia de Solos S.A, performed in 1971, which foresaw at Madeira river, Power Plant Projects, the construction of two sluices gates(barrages) in Brazilian territory, located in Santo Antonio and Jirau 4 , with a potential capacity installed of 1.100.000 KW (Japiassu; Valverde; Ferreira, 1979).

From 1997, the company INTEROCEAN Engenharia & Ship Management Ltda, considering the Company studies SONDOTECNICA and of ELETRONORTE, proposed, although of preliminary form, a project for construction of Hydro Power plants and dikes at high Madeira river, with the construction of three dams, being the this in Jirau's and Santo Antônio (Brazilian territory) and, finally, a dam in “Esperanza's waterfall (Bolivian territory), according to picture 1. However the discussions have lost form in 2000, the project besides the energy generation, also explain the hydro ways utilization of Porto Velho's upstream river way.


Picture 1 - Energetic potential of Madeira River
Water way / Hydro Power Plant Project


Geographical Coord


Sondotecnica Interocean Electronorte

Waterfall  Esperanza

 10o 35’11,5’’S


- 1.500 -

Waterfall Jirau

 09o 19’47,8’’S


500 3.500 4.000

Waterfall  Santo Antônio



600 4.000 3.800

Source: INTEROCEAN (s/d); ELETRONORTE apud Rondônia, 2002.


Finally, after 2001, from the company FURNAS – Centrais Elétricas 5 , the discussions are retaken culminating in the inventory study accomplishment, for energetic potential characterization of Madeira River, with the same goal of proposing the construction of Hydro Power Plants / Dikes with the possibility to enlarge Madeira river water way, which would facilitate the grains flow of Mato Grosso via the village of Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade. This proposal of construction of an enterprise water way / hydro power plants with the capacity installed for the energy generation in Brazilian territory of, at least, 7.500 MW 6 , constitutes thus, in a of the great Amazon's projects which suggests mobilizing several agents, such as, Public, economic or social.

From its locations, note that the water way enterprise of high Madeira river is circumscribed at the area of three Rondônia's municipal districts: Porto Velho, Nova Mamoré and Guajará-Mirin (Chart 1), comprehending the north-east portion of the state , corresponding to 28,11 % of the Rondônia's population and to 29,57% of the State area, what gives plenty possibility to social infer act which will be involved in this proposed of government character, made for Western Amazon from external social acts to the region, as already been alerted by Santos (1991).


Chart 1- Municipal Districts at the Water way / Hydro Power plants
at Madeira River
municipal district Pop.1996 Pop.2000 % growing.


% Pop./RO area (ha) % (RO)
Porto Velho 294.220 334.585 3,27 24,28 3.522.718,00 15
Nova Mamoré 13.644 14.769 2,00 1,07 997.696,13 4,25
Guajará-Mirim 36.542 38.012 0,99 2,75 2.422.569,85 10,32
Total 344.406 387.365 -- 28,11 6.943.007,98 29,57

Source: IBGE – General census 2000.


It also verifies in the considered stretch at High Madeira river (Filho et at., 1999), politician-administrative centers  (Districts and  villages), in the municipal districts area of Porto Velho and Nova Mamoré, corresponding to a total of 5.820 inhabitants who are subject to the enterprise direct effects (Chart 2).


Chart 2 – Districts /Villages located in the area
Of Madeira river hydro power plant / water way project

Garimpo do Araras Nova Mamoré 484
Mutum-Paraná Porto Velho 1.089
Jaci-Paraná Porto Velho 2.197
Cachoeira do Teotônio Porto Velho 1.202
Vila de Abunã Porto Velho 848
Total 5.820
Source: IBGE,1996.  

4. Territory metamorphosis: from raw material to resource

The territory, as analysis category, must be expressed through its use, or been, the territory used in the measure where consider “the interdependence and between materiality, which includes nature, and its use, which also includes the human action, that is the work and politics” (Santos; Silveira, 2001, P. 247; Bernardes et al., 2001). The territory while space formation constitutes derivation of an action conducted by an act, or been, the subjects able to develop programs in several levels.

Thus the appropriation of an abstract or concrete form, establishes from the several acts of land and space, inside this reasoning, the space is materialized or projected by work (energy and/or information), developing as synthesis, marked relationships and mediated by the power (Raffestin, 1993).

Must be considered, to elaborate phenomena readings or of the human intervention, several current processes in nature, such as Hydro power Plants Projects at Madeira river, these give itself in a certain place (considering its delimitation, place), being space, understood processes as mediate elements among space social processes and organization, which elapse of internal and external variables, much more external situations than internal.

The geographical phenomena stricto sensu analyses can only be performed in the measure where situate its social dynamics. The environmental problem is, itself, a social problem, because, social relations drift established in the and of the space (Rodrigues, 1994 and 1998). We aren't, admittedly, saying that the social space, comes from of the physical nature, or of the physical space. But the geographical analysis, although recognizing its varied segmentations, has as focus the social relations which transform and (once more) mean the space. The space organization is fruit of a historical and dialectic process and there isn't space that was modified without comprehend the production relations. Are those relations which concludes nature transformation, so that, there isn't nature transformation which is not a social work product.

Nature transformation by social práxis whether prosecutes, in the space and the society to whether it appropriates of space – been a concrete or abstract appropriation (pre-idea-action) – prints a land process. Thus, we can't dissociate space comprehension and its transformation physical materiality, physical nature. Thence Smith's comprehension (1988) which the natural elements introduce as substratum material of the daily life and become non disclosure in the geographical space production.

The relations among society, territory and nature is just that allow us elaborate a reading on the meanings of the multiple Amazon's transformations and its technical materiality, what can exemplified from Madeira river water way / hydro power plant.

The new projects insert in Amazon, above all in decade of 90's, where every orientation policies set increasing more conservative, they derive of a (once more)significance that social acts print in their social relations and this ones with the raw material and potentials resources.

The Amazon environment in meanings of utilization, transforms itself in meanings of function which are expressed according to the dynamics which the society imposes. For that, it can't argue which nature, and has an universal meaning and totalizes for all the population which lives in Amazon, their heartfelt modify in time and in the space, being process of an interpretation with elements which articulate developed and refined technique by the society, by the knowledge and empiric existence process in the everyday and by needs of population.

Raffestin (1993) says the matter – an inert, pure die - and work resources – production derivative - are elements with differentiated meanings which if transformed by the social relations and of inherent work of territory utilization. For that, clarifies that:

The matter (or substance), is found in the land surface or accessible from its, is assailable to a ‘datum’, because exists to every human action. The matter is a pure datum, in the exact measure where results from forces which acted along the earth history without no participation or man's intervention (...) Thus, a change of practice [human] constitutes a new relation for the matter, whence results probability of evidencing new properties. Being expert that a practice, always complex, even in excess rudimentary, it is a sequence which appeals to one or several knowledg, of which some arise in the action, but others result from an up-to-date previous accumulation by the memory. Therefore, a practice isn't stable; it evolves, at the same time, in the space and in time (...) Without practice, the matter isn't unveiled as possibilities field: without practice, no relation with the matter and, therefore, no production. (...) men do not interest by the matter as inert different mass, but in the measure where it owns properties which correspond to utilities (...) isn't the matter that is a resource. Is about to be qualified as such, can only be the result of a production process: it is necessary an actor, a practice or, prefer, a technical meditated by work and a matter. The matter becomes resource if it goes of a production process...” (Op. cit. p.223-225).

It results, in this optics, an understanding that are the human relationships and the production way which modify through process nature and establish the promoted modifications new locations, usually, by external actors for the external demands assistance. So that the resource notion, drift of a political action, with practices and knowledge technical elements and accumulation elaborated in a perspective relations that act in time and in the space, where Amazon constitutes the main locus.

5. Final Considerations

Madeira river Hydro Power Plants Projects (Projeto Hidrelétricas do Rio Madeira) is inserted in an optics where the natural resources utilization tends to make potent, a priori, economically the Country and to improve the population social conditions through the energy offer, what stimulates new enterprises and happens in the employments offer to increase. Rondônia State obtains revenues in function, not only of the employments generation, that are translated in several founts taxes, but, above all, by the payment of Royalties.

The data which have been broadcast in local media, indicates that annual currencies generation is estimate in 2 billions and 750 millions of dollars, what can be enlarged with the materialization of an able to expand the water way navigability of Madeira river in more than 4.200 kilometers (O ESTADÃO DO NORTE, 22/11/2002; ALTO MADEIRA, 22/11/2002). Enterprises of this size, always have been placed as development motors, as if it could intrinsically emerge of a lineal process and thus, new enterprises would arise to the social processes default more regional areas . It occurs that this do not consolidate without larger social conflicts and that doesn't guaranteed that the benefits gets inside in the negative impacts scale. The nature of big projects policy attends superior scales to the local demands, being its priority something external to the populations who are in the enterprises inclusion areas. In general, the large projects are characterized by the “construction giant scale, of the capital mobilization and of workmanship; by the enclave character, dissociated of the local and connected context to wider economic systems” (MMA, 1995). Articulating in superior scales put in doubt as resulted that can be implemented at the local / regional space Amazon's "senses" reveal the different meanings which the territory has for the several social groups. For the great capital, the Amazon territory is an exploration border, of resources accumulation and reproduction; for the State, it represents a strategic region for occupation processes articulation, territorial domain and potential of the capital fractions accumulation and for the “ Amazon communities”, or been, the indigenous, the river side populations, "seringueiros"(natural rubber extractors), the migrant family farmers, the Amazon territory isn't only resources exploration for their survival, but fundamentally, a habitation identified with cultural values, with landscape traces very particular and a social construction space, where the relationship overtakes the natural resources notion, embracing a new cultural and ethical identity with nature. These space meanings differences and of the Amazon territory for the social actors generate a volume of social conflicts and of nature irrational exploration. The occupation logic of Amazon doesn't differentiate from the territorial construction processes in Brazil's socioeconomic dynamics. The territory always has been comprehended by the elites as resources exploration reserve, where nature (raw materials), in this optics, appears always as infinite matter, something unshaken in its ecosystems and, therefore, element potential of capital accumulation. As territory politics, the High Madeira River Hydroelectric Power Plant emerges in a position which, constituting strange optics to the places, which operates in national and even world scales, producing new forms and space configurations, are the “spaces derived”(Santos, 1996). The matter resides in the look for the reality and in the analysis method. The phenomenon and the reality are the same, just the method is what makes its reading. Thence the danger in, not understanding its complexity, result in processes not comprehension in analysis, or deforming the reality, the phenomenon.

6. Bibliography

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BERNARDES, Adriana et. all. O Papel Ativo da Geografia: um manifesto. Biblio 3W. Revista Bibliográfica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales Universidad de Barcelona [ISSN 1138-9796], Nº 270, 24 de enero de 2001. CAF – Corporación Andina de Fomento. Los Rios nos Unen: integración fluvial suramericana. Santa Fé de Bogotá, 1998. CLAVAL, P. A Nova Geografia. Coimbra: Livraria Almedina, 1987.

COSTA, W. M. O Estado e as Políticas Territoriais no Brasil. São Paulo 3 ed: Contexto, 1991. (Coleção Repensando a Geografia)

FILHO, P.W. M. S. et al. Compartimentação Morfoestrutural e Neotectônica do Sistema Fluvial Guaporé-Mamoré-Alto Madeira, Rondônia-Brasil. In. Revista Brasileira de Geociências, Vol. 29, (nº04), Dez.,1999. p. 469-476 IBGE. Anuário Estatístico do Brasil 1998. v. 58, Rio de Janeiro: IBGE,1999.

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[volver] 1 It is what reveals the Technological Advance Index (IAT) of PNUD. The goal of this new index is to show as wel as l a country is creating and spreading technologies among its population in order to create a people's net chain, able to enjoy the technological advances. In the quality of comparison the difference between IAT from Mocanbique, 0,006 and the Finnish, 0,744, it is more than 11 times. The difference between largest IDH (Human Development Index) of Norway, and the minor, of Serra Leoa, is 3,6 times (PNUD, 2001. www.pnud.org.br/hdr2001 on 10/07/2001).
[volver] 2 This is an articulation which is a branch of a national and Latin American of pluvial integration thinking at Corporation Andia de Fomento (CAF, 1998).
[volver] 3 However this concept introduces several theoretician-methodological problematic, according to the considerations elaborated by Lima(1999).
[volver] 4 VALVERDE (1979) informs that the company SONDOTECNICA – Engenharia de Solos S.A. under the following of Comitê Coordenador dos Estudos Energéticos da Amazonia- ENERAN from the enterprise of ELETROBRAS, accomplished studies in 1971, about the energetic potential of Madeira River, in Brazilian territory. Concludes that could be constructed two barrages, been at the Santo Antonio, and Jirau waterfalls
[volver] 5 For Further information, please see www.amazonia.org.br from 30/04/03.
[volver] 6 For comparing purposes the UHE ITAIPU has nominal power of 12.600 MW and the UHE TUCURUI has nominal power of 4.245 MW (IBGE, 1999)

Técnica Administrativa, Buenos Aires
ISSN 1666-1680

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Volumen: 07
Número: 01
Enero/ Marzo 2008

Recibido el: 20/10/2007 ; Aprobado el: 10/11/2007

URL http://www.cyta.com.ar/ta0701/v7n1a1.htm