Although this book is a revision of a Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, it is more valuable for its history of Yacyretá, an Argentine-Paraguayan hydroelectric project on the Paraná River. Gustavo Lins Ribeiro states, “specialists within the Argentine energy sector . . . agree that the dam project is uneconomic . . . [and that it] was a ‘geopolitical response’ to . . . Brazilian control over the Paraná River, which increased considerably with Itaipú” (pp. 43-45).
Conflicts over financing, design, costs, and politics characterized this binational project. For example, Argentina financed it; payment for Paraguayan goods and services was calculated in guaranies, converted to dollars, and sent to Asunción. Argentina said that Paraguay overvalued its exchange rate, and Paraguay, despite statements that its monetary policy was a matter of national sovereignty, eventually agreed to payment at a rate between the free market and official rates (p. 47).
The alignment of the dam repeatedly was questioned. At issue was whether a less expensive dam flooding more Paraguayan land or a more expensive dam flooding a smaller area should be chosen. Ultimately, a Paraguayan area almost five times greater than the Argentine portion was to be flooded, the compromise being a payment by Argentine power consumers of $21 million to Paraguay and $6 million to Argentina. Argentina also financed infrastructure in Paraguay. All of this seems to have caused trouble: Ribeiro quotes President Carlos Menem of Argentina as saying that Yacyretá was a “well of corruption” (p. 49).
Companies submitting bids for contracts aligned themselves with various political groups in each nation. Subcontracting to local suppliers was guaranteed and various factions satisfied by splitting the highly competitive contract to build the dam’s turbines. Ribeiro concludes, “choosing national partners, . . . is a strategic decision that takes into account that stronger political support within the national state may be more valued than other types of support. In fact, the definition of each company’s share in a contract is due at least as much to political articulations, networkings, and lobbying as to the technical assessment of a company’s technical, production, and financial capacity” (preface and p. 84). But is this news?
Ribeiro goes on to describe the impact of the dam, its attraction of inflows of migrant labor, and its limited benefits to small local entrepreneurs. Contractors often brought experienced workers with them rather than invest in training the local labor force, which was hired for unskilled jobs. Expatriate workers formed a new identity not strongly tied to their nationality (pp. 127, 132, 145). These observations duplicate those for the oil industry in Latin America.
Ribeiro believes that the importance of large-scale projects and the emergence of a “worksite animal” identity make such projects discreet analytical entities. Furthermore, he disapproves of them, because they drain resources from other areas, lead to contraction after construction is finished, and benefit consumers outside the area where the project is built (pp. 162-63). Ribeiro prefers smaller projects serving local needs, but he does not adequately address the issue of how to persuade government, corporations, and international agencies to design and finance them.