Before the Flood

The Itaipu Dam and the Visibility of Rural Brazil

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 40 illustrations Published: November 2019

Author: Jacob Blanc

Environmental Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil

In Before the Flood Jacob Blanc traces the protest movements of rural Brazilians living in the shadow of the Itaipu dam—the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, local communities facing displacement took a stand against the military officials overseeing the dam's construction, and in the context of an emerging national fight for democracy, they elevated their struggle for land into a referendum on the dictatorship itself. Unlike the broader campaign against military rule, however, the conflict at Itaipu was premised on issues that long predated the official start of dictatorship: access to land, the defense of rural and indigenous livelihoods, and political rights in the countryside. In their efforts against Itaipu and through conflicts among themselves, title-owning farmers, landless peasants, and the Avá-Guarani Indians articulated a rural-based vision for democracy. Through interviews and archival research—including declassified military documents and the first-ever access to the Itaipu Binational Corporation—Before the Flood challenges the primacy of urban-focused narratives and unearths the rural experiences of dictatorship and democracy in Brazil.


"The colossal Itaipu Dam at the Brazil-Paraguay border may well be the most enduring monument to the ambitions of Brazil's twenty-one-year military dictatorship. And, as Jacob Blanc incisively argues in Before the Flood, its construction also formed part of a longer history of predation, with the spectacular visibility of Itaipu being premised on the invisibility of the region's agrarian population. This remarkable study not only rescues the displaced rural people from oblivion but reveals how their political struggles contributed to the ongoing efforts for a more equitable and dignified way of life in the Brazilian countryside.” — Barbara Weinstein, author of The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil

“During the waning years of military rule, tens of thousands of rural Brazilians were permanently displaced from their homes near the Paraguayan border by the Itaipu hydroelectric dam in the name of energy development and binational cooperation. Jacob Blanc's illuminating study traces the diverse historical paths of the affected communities to hierarchies of landholding patterns, cultural capital, and political visibility. In the process, he deftly explores the political dividends and divides that marked rural social movements' struggles for democratic inclusion in the Brazilian countryside.” — Seth Garfield, author of In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region

“… Before the Flood makes a welcome and timely contribution to our understanding of large dam politics and of rural empowerment. Blanc’s arguments are interesting, intricate, and convincing.”

— Peter Brewitt, Environmental History

Before the Flood ... makes important contributions to studies of the Brazilian dictatorship, Latin American democratization, and the global ‘concrete revolution’ of the twentieth century. It holds its own in the growing ranks of important books in the historiography of modern Latin America that combine analyses of land and labor, merging environmental history with histories of grassroots social movements. The book’s interventionist ambitions and organizational structure make it an excellent choice for advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars.” — Timothy Lorek, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

“A pleasure to read, this book illuminates forces of power and protest mobilized against a useful but predatory, and thus unsustainable, form of green-energy infrastructure—the hydroelectric dam…. Blanc’s fascinating and illuminating book is itself a form of protest, a scholarly performance that makes the hinterlands visible and the complications of history readable.” — Stephanie C. Kane, Journal of Interdisciplinary History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jacob Blanc is Lecturer in Latin American History at the University of Edinburgh and coeditor of Big Water: The Making of the Borderlands between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Abbreviations ix
Note on Terminology and Orthography  xi
Acknowledgments  xiii
Introduction. History as Seen from the Countryside  1
1. Borders, Geopolitics, and the Forgotten Roots of Itaipu  20
2. The Project of the Century and the Battle for Public Opinion  53
3. The Double Reality of Abertura: Rural Experiences of Dictatorship and Democracy  82
4. Sem Tekoha não há Tekó: Avá Guarani Lands and the Construction of Indigeneity  125
5. The Last Political Prisoner: Borderland Elites and the Twilight of Military Rule  154
6. "Men without a Country": Agrarian Resettlement and the Strategies of Frontier Colonization  170
7. Land for Those Who Work It: Mastro and a New Era of Agrarian Reform in Brazil  197
Conclusion. After the Flood  228
Notes  235
Bibliography  277
Index  291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, 2020 Antonio Candido Prize / Best Book in the Humanities, presented by the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0489-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0429-5