Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
In his masterwork of Paraguayan literature, Augusto Roa Bastos’ Yo el Supremo features a time-bending scene where, amidst the bloodshed of battle between neighbors Paraguay and Brazil, 19th century characters boast of a massive 20th century binational hydroelectric dam that stuns the world in its magnitude. Like Roa Bastos’ semi-fictional characters, the politicians and energy managers responsible for constructing and running Itaipu Binational Dam (Brazil-Paraguay) narrate the world’s largest dam as a triumph of human will and ingenuity in order to seize progress and development for the nation. But violence—gendered, racialized, and classed—accompanies the dam both in the book and in the physical infrastructure of Itaipu as centralized power centralizes the power of the state. As nature was sacrificed for progress, nature was redeemed via science: biology in the vast Mbaracayu reserve, anthropology as a historical transposition of indigeneity, the Paraná river and Guairá cataracts into a political-electrical machine. By tracing Itaipu in the history of human rights and social mobilization over hydro projects as well as the transmutation of sacrificed bodies (human and nonhuman), this paper uncovers the embodied violence of hydropolitics. In doing so, we explore infrastructure as nature 2.0 and as a nigh spiritual fulfillment of the potential of nature, discourses that are used to mask and justify dispossession.