The Return of the Outlaw Cowboys

Glenn Switkes

Raul Seixas at the Tapajós River Garimpos
Raul Seixas at the Tapajós River Garimpos

When I traveled to Itaituba last month for community meetings on the planned Tapajós River dams, for me the image still remained of the period of the region's "Gold Rush" of the 1980's, when Itaituba was still a small town whose economy was dependent on providing services for the 70,000 gold dredgers ("garimpeiros") along the river. I found that this no longer applies – the city has matured, and has become more tranquil and organized. Now, Eletrobrás plans to take the region back to its glory days – this time, promising that Itaituba will become a launching pad from which workers will be dispatched to build a huge dam in the Amazonia National Park. The company has even posted a ludicrous video, which argues that there are too many protected areas in the region, and asks us to believe that helicopters will beam down workers who will open clearings in the rainforest to build the dam. Let's flash back to 1985, when Raul Seixas, arguably Brazil's most original rock-and-roller, was summoned to Itaituba to play a series of shows for the gold miners...

Itaituba-based journalist Nazereno Santos recaptures the moment in his book "Itaituba – Histories, Stories, and other Grist": "It was a time when everyone had a brand-new car which they dumped when it got scratched – The gold miners wanted to spend their money in a hurry and then go back and get more...People settled their own arguments, it was an open-air tribunal where the law of the .38 was what counted. And the press announced, 'The California Bar is going to explode, the police want to arrest everyone, there are drugs everywhere, the lights will go will be chaos...Don't miss the unbelievable show of Raul Seixas in the American Far West'."

And, as the story goes, Seixas was inspired by his brief experience at the gold mines to write the song "Cowboy Fora da Lei," or "Outlaw Cowboy," which we are pleased to present to you as a reminder of what will be ahead for Itaituba if Eletrobrás has its way. As the song goes, "Mommy, I don't want to be the mayor, because I might get elected and someone will want to gun me down...I'm not that stupid to get caught up in being a hero, I'm immune, I'm a cowboy, an outlaw cowboy."