Before the Flood

The Itaipu Dam and the Visibility of Rural Brazil

Before the Flood
Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 40 illustrations Published: December 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 amongst 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


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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.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0489-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0429-5