Barkin 2009 Mega Projects CNS

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [McGill University Library]On: 04 March 2013, At: 15:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK</p><p>Capitalism Nature SocialismPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:</p><p>The Construction of Mega-projects and the Reconstructionof the WorldDavid BarkinVersion of record first published: 23 Sep 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: David Barkin (2009): The Construction of Mega-projects and theReconstruction of the World, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 20:3, 6-11</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Full terms and conditions of use:</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expresslyforbidden.</p><p>The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make anyrepresentation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up todate. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should beindependently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liablefor any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damageswhatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connectionwith or arising out of the use of this material.</p></li><li><p>The Construction of Mega-projects and theReconstruction of the World</p><p>David Barkin</p><p>The Rio Madeira Project offers a poignant illustration of the scale of changes thatinternational capital has envisioned in its breakneck race to control people andresources on a global scale. While this is not new*the long history of humanity is oneof the ever increasing attempts to extend control over new regions with horrendousimpacts on resources and people everywhere1*the following article, The MadeiraRiver Complex: Socio-Environmental Impact in Bolivian Amazonia and SocialResistance, by Josep Maria Antentas provides some of the details by which theprocess is proceeding in the Amazon Basin. But the story recounted in this article is onlypart of a much longer history that dates back more than twenty years when the firstfeasibility studies were published for a proposed Hidrovia, or inland water transportroute, that would enable year-round river transport on the Paraguay and Parana Riversas part of a much more ambitious project to forge an inter-oceanic multimodaltransport system reaching from Brazil to Chile in the south and through Peru andEcuador in the north. In its first (and most ambitious) versions, it contemplated portfacilities from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo connecting to a 2,500-kilometer-long canalsystem through the Tiete, Paraguay, and Parana Rivers to Asuncion. A furtherextension then considered a 3,400-kilometer extension to the Pacific Ocean.</p><p>The regional infrastructure that the scheme envisions would place South Americaat the center of a new global commercial route between Europe and the Orient. Thisproject involves the forging of a multi-modal system of connections that would emplacenew export-oriented manufacturing installations in key areas where abundant suppliesof low-wage, semi-skilled workers are located or can be attracted (principally innortheastern Argentina), while building links that would open well-identified parts of theAmazon Basin to less costly access and more systematic resource exploitation through theintegration of a hemispheric system of interconnected river systems. Although some ofthese interconnections were mentioned in an early report by the Wetlands for theAmericas organization in cooperation with the Woods Hole Research Center,2 those</p><p>1In this regard see the excellent collection of essays assembled in Alf Hornborg, John R. McNeill, and Joan</p><p>Martinez-Alier, Rethinking Environmental History: World-system History and Global Environmental Change(Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2007).2E.H. Bucher, A. Bonetto, T. Boyle, P. Canevari, G. Castro, P. Huszar, and T. Stone, Hidrovia: An Initial</p><p>Environmental Examination of the Paraguay-Parana Waterway, Wetlands for the Americas, Publication No.</p><p>10, Manomet, MA, 1993. See especially Figure 12.</p><p>CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM VOLUME 20 NUMBER 3 (SEPTEMBER 2009)</p><p>ISSN 1045-5752 print/ISSN 1548-3290 online/09/030006-06</p><p># 2009 The Center for Political Ecology www.cnsjournal.orgDOI: 10.1080/10455750903215704</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [M</p><p>cGill</p><p> Univ</p><p>ersity</p><p> Libr</p><p>ary] a</p><p>t 15:3</p><p>1 04 M</p><p>arch 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>authors focused their concerns on the profound alterations that would affect theviability of wetlands in the south-central part of the continent; they identify seven riversystems stretching from the Hidrovia all the way north to the Caribbean outlet of theOrinoco in Venezuela. They do not examine an even more significant river project thatis being developed in a surprisingly well-coordinated effort of separate groups oftechnical and financial experts throughout the region; this project proposes to createtranscontinental links including roads from the Atlantic port city of Belem innortheastern Brazil along the Amazon River and its tributaries to Pacific ports innorthern Ecuador and central Peru.3</p><p>This focus on the southern wetlands is of considerable importance. The Pantanal,as the area is known, is located in the frontier area encompassing Brazil, Paraguay, andBolivia. It is nothing less than South Americas greatest wetland, one the mostspectacular in the world. During the wet season from November to January, therainwaters of the Eastern Andes and the Brazilian High Plains flood this very gentlysloping basin. Once the rains subside, the heat of the dry season begins to shrink the seainto a series of scattered pools teeming with fish imprisoned by the advancing banks.These provide a bonanza for birds and mammals who arrive in droves to join the feast.At the same time, the average daily temperature soars to a scorching 1108F, eventuallyconverting the inland sea into a dry savanna. Four different South American vegetationzones converge at its borders: the central Brazilian high plains, the foothills of theAndes, the Atlantic forest, and the Argentinean Pampas all lend their typical species tothe Pantanals rich pulse of life. The South American alligator (yacare), and the worldslargest rodent, the capybara, compete for the streams and ponds with schools ofpiranha, while jaguars and giant anacondas prowl the gallery forests. Endangeredhyacinth macaws and marsh deer, as well as more than 90,000 varieties of plants, mayalso be found here. Most striking, however, is the high concentration of bird speciesfound in the Pantanal: over 600 known species, and in such numbers as to dazzle eventhe most seasoned birders. No wonder it was designated as a National Treasure inBrazils constitution. The huge Pantanal sanctuary merits distinction not only as anecological treasure, but also as an example of the ability of communities to live inbalance with their environment. The local inhabitants known as pantaneiros havedeveloped compatible land uses based on conservation practices and adaptation to thenatural cycles of the region. A U.S. wetlands researcher commented to the press thatwhile Americans think of preserving wetlands as putting a fence around them, thepantaneiros have found a way to maintain wetlands while using them.4</p><p>The larger strategy goes beyond the river systems to integrate global shippingchannels into a motor and rail transport system. Beginning with the modernization of</p><p>3For an early critique of the attempts to use economic analysis to justify this project, see: David Barkin, Macro</p><p>Changes and Micro Analysis: Methodological Issues in Ecological Economics, Ecological Economics, Vol. 19,No. 3, 1996, pp. 197200.4Mac Margolis, Treasuring the Pantanal Brazil, International Wildlife, NovemberDecember, 1995, onlineat:, accessed May 31, 2009.</p><p>THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEGA-PROJECTS 7</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [M</p><p>cGill</p><p> Univ</p><p>ersity</p><p> Libr</p><p>ary] a</p><p>t 15:3</p><p>1 04 M</p><p>arch 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>the Sepetiba Harbor near Rio de Janeiro, the investment program encompasses a locallyfinanced road system from Rio de Janeiro south to Sao Paulo and on to Montevideoand Colonia in Uruguay. This motor transport network would further increasethe importance of the Hidrovia and become especially valuable if the approximately55-kilometer bridge across the River Plate were completed. A subsequent stagecontemplates a new transcontinental highway connecting Buenos Aires, Argentina, tothe port city of Valparaiso, Chile; transport costs would be reduced by blasting the25- to 40-kilometer Juncal-Horcones tunnel through the Andes, thus avoiding theneed for making the extremely costly climb through existing mountain passes, some ofwhich are blocked during the winter.</p><p>Rail links would also be multiplied and strengthened. In central Argentina, anew line from Bahia Blanca on the Atlantic would cross the Andes to end in theChilean port of Talcahuano. The rail system in Peru, beginning in Lima, would beimproved and interconnected with Antofagasta, Copiapo, and Valpariso to movewest to Paraguay and the Hidrovia system.</p><p>Overcoming the obstacles created by the lack of a world-class deep-sea harbor onthe Pacific Coast of Chile or Peru, the proposal offers an even more grandiose solution,illustrating its creativity and scope: Each of the smaller port cities would be connectedby smaller ocean-going freighters to a major new international shipping center onEaster Island.</p><p>Understanding the Geopolitical Context</p><p>The infrastructure projects, of which the Hidrovia is an important part, willreshape the economies and societies of every country in the region and threatenecosystems globally. The transformations in transportation, with dramatic changes inthe relative costs of each system, will generate unimagined investment opportunitiesalong the new routes and in a broad hinterland, but as the Wetlands report cited aboveacknowledges, [c]atastrophic flooding downstream becomes a real possibility. Asalways, the problem is framed as one of the environment versus economic opportunity;but this support is generally framed in terms of the benefits to the very poor, the mostvulnerable. As Paraguayan environmentalist and business leader Raul Gauto noted:Trying to stop the Hidrovia is not morally right, because so many people are going tobenefit.5</p><p>5Raul Gauto, quoted in the Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo, April 4, 1997. He remains aninfluential leader of the regional and international community who argues that it is possible to bridge the gap</p><p>between social and business interests; in response to a request from this writer, he reaffirmed his position in</p><p>personal correspondence in June 2009: . . .the river is crucial for thousands of poor people, for the</p><p>communications, for the sale of their products, to generate employment, to protect their traditions . . .Today,</p><p>they continue super isolated and with their basic needs still unmet!! For this reason, I commented that opposing</p><p>the hidrova was, and still is, morally incorrect.</p><p>8 DAVID BARKIN</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [M</p><p>cGill</p><p> Univ</p><p>ersity</p><p> Libr</p><p>ary] a</p><p>t 15:3</p><p>1 04 M</p><p>arch 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>The debate has been carefully sculpted to heighten this apparent contradiction.But the opposition persuasively insists that, as in other parts of the world, the costs ofthe environmental destruction and the reshaping of productive systems will be borneby legions of the poorest inhabitants, the beneficiaries, who will be uprooted, andthe masses of workers who will be recruited into exploitative working situations.These changes will also increase the vulnerability of whole regions and perhaps evennations to the changing structure of prices in world markets as they are forced toimport increasing shares of their basic consumption goods, because local producersfind themselves unable to compete with producers in other countries as transportcosts and other barriers to trade are precipitously lowered.</p><p>How are we to begin to examine this large-scale metamorphosis? Most of theanalytical tools of project evaluation are designed to examine marginal changes inproductive systems. Although we have discovered ways to begin to think aboutincorporating some of the external costs and benefits of public investment projects intoour calculations, we have no rigorous set of tools to apply to structural changes of themagnitude involved in the Hidrovia project, changes that will lead to the remaking ofeconomic systems, social structures, and the environment itself. Most social scienceanalysts, and particularly economists armed with their theoretical tool chest ofmarginalist economics, are unprepared to examine the (literally) earth-shaking changesunder serious consideration by the international financial community for this region.</p><p>Concentrating on the Madeira, however, does not do full justice to the nature ofthe changes contemplated by international capital on a continental scale. These involvea reorientation of the geography to serve the demands of the world market, literallycarving out new transportation corridors that will place the regions vast naturalresources and isolated peoples at the service of anxious investors searching for newopportunities. It is not coincidental that these projects are advancing precisely in thoseareas in which the State is weakest and/or compliant, and where private interests aremost interested in extracting resources and using cheap labor for processing; thisfragmentation and deterritorialization involves changes in the States capacities toregulate the use of its territory, where it cedes the ability to impose justice, controlenvironmental impacts or manage productive extraction in large areas [while also] . . .applying some regulations, especially those that permit the extraction and processing ofresources for export.6 Thus under the impact of global capital, nature is transformedon an enormous scale, and Amazonia ceases to be itself.</p><p>Going Beyond the Rio Madeira Project</p><p>It is in this context that we have to examine the broader process of restructuringthe continent. The dams and massive flooding are designed to remake the</p><p>6Eduardo Gudynas, The South American Hidrovia Parana-Paraguay: Environment vs. Trade?, Revista delSur, No. 160, 2005, pp. 45.</p><p>THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEGA-PROJECTS 9</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [M</p><p>cGill</p><p> Univ</p><p>ersity</p><p> Libr</p><p>ary] a</p><p>t 15:3</p><p>1 04 M</p><p>arch 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>topography in a gigantic effort to restructure the regions economy and place it at theservice of international capital. Little consideration is accorded to the millions ofpeople in communities that have tried to manage these ecosystems and protect theirresources, while forging a society and economy that take the biospheres needs intoaccount. The Madeira waterway...</p></li></ul>