Amid Brazil’s Rush to Develop, Workers Resist

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“JACI PARANÁ, Brazil — The revolt here on the banks of the Madeira River, the Amazon’s largest tributary, flared after sunset. At the simmering end of a 26-day strike by 17,000 workers last month, a faction of laborers who were furious over wages and living conditions began setting fire to the construction site at the Jirau Dam.

Throughout the night, they burned more than 30 structures to the ground and looted company stores, capturing the mayhem on their own cellphone cameras, before firefighters extinguished the blazes. The authorities in Brasília flew in hundreds of troops from an elite force to quell the unrest.

Men in camouflage fatigues still patrol the sprawling work site, reflecting a dilemma for Brazil’s leaders. Even as they move to tap one of the world’s last great reserves of hydroelectric power, the Amazon basin, strikes and worker uprisings at the biggest projects are producing delays and cost overruns.

“No one burns anything if they’re satisfied,” said Altair Donizete de Oliveira, a union leader here in Brazil’s western frontier. He listed salaries, cramped living quarters and requests for more home visits among the grievances that were contributing to the festering tension among the laborers, who number in the tens of thousands at various work sites in the Amazon.”

Read more: International Rivers

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