Paraná-Paraguay River Basin

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Paraná-Paraguay River Basin

Ownership of the Paraná and Paraguay River basin is divided among Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay. Brazil controls the greatest part, which includes portions of the states of Mato Grosso, Goiás, São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul.

The Paraná basin, formed by the Paraná River and its tributaries, includes 1,980,000 square miles and is second in size only to the Amazon Basin in South America. It includes four major waterfalls with hydroelectric potential: Dourada, Santa André, Sete Quedas, and Urubupungá. The Paraná and Paraguay rivers join near the Argentine city of Corrientes. From there the Paraná continues to Buenos Aires and enters the Río De La Plata. The Paraguay River is navigable as far as Asunción by shallow-draft ocean ships, but beyond that only small riverboats reach into Brazil.

The largest subregion of the Paraná-Paraguay basin is the Gran Chaco, a low interior plain formed of sediment from the Andes. In the northern part of the basin, at the junction of Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, lies the low and swampy Pantanal. The eastern basin includes the Mato Grosso tropical grasslands. The Paraná Plateau in the southern area of the basin, primarily in the eastern Paraguay and southern Brazil, has rich volcanic soil. Tropical climates dominate in most of the basin; the winter dry period is most severe in the western subregions.

Early minor development by European colonists occurred in the basin in eastern Paraguay and the Misiones province of Argentina, although complaints about the Brazilian Bandeirantes persisted. The Tupi-guarani predominantly inhabited the basin before the Europeans arrived. By the early nineteenth century the basin's economy relied on subsistence agriculture but also included some commercial livestock farms and production facilities in Entre Ríos province of Argentina.

In the twentieth century the basin began to be settled intensively. Extensive cattle grazing became the land's primary economic use, with intensive irrigation introduced into the Gran Chaco region and coffee cultivation (which had started in the 1800s) begun on the Paraná Plateau. Lumbering also became a major industry in the Paraná Plateau's large stand of commercial-grade pines. Minerals played only a minor role in development, in spite of intensive petroleum searches. Poor transportation continued to discourage overdevelopment and often hindered exploitation of the available natural resources.

A number of international conflicts have erupted over the hydroelectric potential of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers. In 1973 Brazil and Paraguay signed the hydroelectric agreement at Itaipú, and hydro-electricity has since been the essential economic focus for developing the basin.

See alsoBrazil, Geography; Energy.


Thomas Jefferson Page, La Plata, the Argentine Confederation, and Paraguay (1859).

J. Eliseo Da Rosa, "Economics, Politics, and Hydroelectric Power: The Paraná River Basin," in Latin American Research Review 18, no. 3 (1983): 77-107.

Additional Bibliography

Cordillo, Gastón. El Gran Chaco: Antropologías e histórias. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros, 2006.

Mendoza Cortez, Omar. La lucha por la tierra en el Gran Chaco tarijeño. La Paz: Dirección de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica: Centro Eclesial de Documentación: Centro de Estudios Regionales para el Desarrollo de Tarija: Programa de Investigación Estratégica en Bolivia, 2003.

Redford, Kent Hubbard and Michael Painter. Natural Alliances between Conservationists and Indigenous Peoples. Bronx, NY: Wildlife Conservation Society, 2006.

                                 Carolyn E. Vieira