The 1964 military takeover in Brazil marked a turning point in policy-making for Amazonia. Until then, public initiatives to exploit the region's resources had been piecemeal, narrowly focused, and inconclusive. Possibly because the military authorities were more sensitive to the geopolitical importance of integrating the Amazon Basin into the national economy, a new and more aggressive development strategy began. There were Brazilian nationalist fears over the intentions of suspected predatory foreign interests toward Amazonia. There was also the desire of some planners to open the region as a relief valve for peasants from northeastern Brazil, suffering from periodic droughts and an unequal land tenure system that forced them off the land.
While many projects were included in the new development strategy for Amazonia, including the Trans-Amazon highway, the Greater Carajas Program was the largest comprehensive development scheme ever undertaken in an area of tropical rainforest. It was officially inaugurated in 1980, 13 years after the largest known high-grade iron-ore deposits in the world were discovered in a region inhabited mainly by rubber tappers, Brazil nut collectors, and indigenous tribes. The project was based on export-oriented mineral exploitation and associated industrial activities to generate a trade surplus and help service the country's mounting debt. Loans for the project came, in part, from European and Japanese banks, and were tied to a contract that guaranteed 13 million tons of iron ore to be delivered annually to foreign smelters. To deliver the ore from the mines to the shipping port of Sao Luis on the coast, 900 km of railroad was built that carries trains having 160 freight wagons several times a day.
Part of the plan was to begin processing of the ore in Brazil itself, and so some 30 pig-iron smelters and industrial plants were planned near the railroad. To supply charcoal for the iron-ore smelters, 1,800 km2 along the railroad was to be set aside for eucalyptus plantations. Another major part of the project was the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Tucurui River, to supply power for processing the 2.2 billion tons of bauxite reserves in the region. Although there was a delay of several years, while Japanese and American interests competed for control of the project, eventually an accord was reached to share the operation with a Brazilian company, and the project began operation in 1984.
While mining was the core of the project, agricultural, livestock, and forestry enterprises extended the project out over 900,000 km2, the size of Britain and France combined. The Carajas Program transformed the social and economic landscape of the region. It attracted into eastern Amazonia thousands of construction workers in search of employment, gold panners in search of riches, small farmers in search of land, ranchers in search of pasture, and speculators in search of quick profit. Local towns have experienced population increases of 400-800%. Competition for land has led to violence. Ranchers and speculators who supposedly bought huge tracts from the government hired gunmen to drive off indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers who had previously claimed the land. The range wars have continued into the beginning of the 21st century. The consolidation of land holdings has resulted in worsened food security. In the towns there is urban poverty, high levels of unemployment, infant mortality, and malnutrition. The 1 million tons of charcoal required to fuel the local smelters require the removal of over 5,000 ha of forest annually. According to the 2004 website of the company that manages the mine, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (http://www.vale.com.br/), they are now searching for ways to protect the environment and the indigenous communities, and have established a community relations program in education and social welfare. However, the company does not have authority over the Greater Carajas region, that is, the land surrounding the mine, railroad, and hydroelectric facilities. It is not clear to what extent deforestation is still occurring in the Greater Carajas region, but social conflict is still rampant. As of 2002, a trial was still underway for 155 military police who surrounded 1,500 rural workers who were encamped in the Municipality of Eldorado do Carajas near the mines and killed 19 and wounded 69 of them (http:// www.labournet.net/world/0106/mst1.html, http:///www.mstbrazil.org/action 030102.html). Although the Carajas project may result in short-term economic gains by industry, the ecological and social consequences of this pattern of forest use will be catastrophic. The combined effects of industrial, agro-livestock, and lumbering activities are turning a large part of eastern Amazonia into an unproductive scrubland, leading to soil erosion, compaction, leaching, a greater frequency of flooding, siltation of rivers and dams, pasture degradation, and atmospheric pollution.
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