Continuing advances in the archaeology of the Amazon have changed long-standing misconceptions about the rainforest as a homogeneous, nearly pristine environment occupied by small, scattered groups. Massive archaeological sites, deep deposits of anthropogenic soils, and earthworks found over thousands of kilometers now testify to the scale and intensity of past human impact in some parts of the Amazon. However, debate persists about the extent of such transformations, as distinct environments within the Amazon Basin (floodplains, savannas, seasonal forests) reveal different scales and intensities of pre-Columbian landscape modification. In that context, the discovery of hundreds of geometric earthen enclosures in the southern rim of the Amazon is proving that some areas that were previously considered virtually untouched forest may have been densely settled in the past. Although regional variations exist, most southern Amazonian enclosures appear to be defensive earthworks built at the turn of the second millennium ce, a period recognized by archaeologists as one of escalating population densities, migrations, and warfare across the Amazon Basin.
Pre-Columbian Earth Builders of the Amazon
Jonas Gregorio de Souza
The Cabanagem in Pará, 1835–1840
On January 7, 1835 a group of landowners, artisans, soldiers, and peasants stormed Belém, the capital of the Amazon region. Now known as the Cabanagem, this rebellion occurred during a time of social upheaval in not just Pará but also Brazil. On that first day a prominent landowner, Felix Malcher, was released from prison and declared the new president by popular proclamation. The administration in Rio refused to recognize him, despite his statement of allegiance to the Empire of Brazil. Soon factions erupted, aligned with differences between the local elites and their poorer allies; Malcher and a subsequent president were killed. After battles with imperial forces the third rebel president, Eduardo Angelim, was adopted by a victorious crowd in August 1835. The capital reverted to imperial hands on May 13, 1836; however, the rebellion had not been quelled as the rest of the region became embroiled in conflict. As it developed, ethnic and class alliances changed, and the battles continued for four more years. While rebels gradually lost towns and fortified rural encampments, they were never defeated militarily. Organized attacks continued until a general amnesty was granted to all rebels by Emperor Pedro II in July 1840. The Cabanagem, which involved indigenous people, was a broad and fragile alliance composed of different interests with an international dimension. Radical liberal ideas brought together those living in rural and urban districts and appealed to long-standing animosities against distant control by outsiders, the inconsistent use of the law to protect all people, and compulsory labor regimes that took people away from their families and lands. Yet the regency administration feared the break-up of the newly independent Brazil. The violent pacification of the region was justified by portraying the movement as a race war, dominated by “people of color” incapable of ruling themselves.
Labor, Territory, and Economy in the Colonial North
The Portuguese occupied the northern region of South America in the early 17th century. It constituted a separate province of the Portuguese possessions in South America. This province comprised several landscapes, including the vast Amazonian forest in the west and plains in the east. It bordered the other administrative province in Portuguese America, the State of Brazil and also the Dutch, French, and Spanish colonies in the Amazon region. For most of the colonial period, the region became heavily dependent on Indian labor force for agriculture and especially for the exploitation of forest products gathered in the vast Amazonian backlands (the sertão). The role played by Indian laborers (both free and slave), by forest products (known as drogas do sertão), and by the expansion of agriculture and grazing in the eastern plains shaped a centrifugal society and economy. Moreover, the fact that the region bordered Dutch, Spanish, and French colonies transformed the frontier into a central issue of Portuguese policies towards the region.
The Colonial Amazon
Rafael Chambouleyron and Pablo Ibáñez-Bonillo
The region known as the Amazon represents approximately forty percent of the territory of the South American continent. Today, it spreads through the territory of eight countries and one European overseas territory. In the colonial period, this vast area, which stretched from the piedmont of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, was an essential space for European imperial conflict in the Americas. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French struggled for the possession of the region from the 16th century onward. However, the history of this vast region begins much earlier. A multiplicity of ethnically and linguistically distinct peoples occupied this territory, and their social, political, and economic arrangements were crucial for European conquest and colonization. Many of these peoples were directly affected by the arrival and settlement of the Europeans, especially by disease and wars. Others integrated into colonial society through religious missions, voluntary settlement, and forced labor. The Indian labor force was crucial for the development of the colonial economy in the Amazon. However, European dominion over this territory was limited to the banks of the main rivers, and most of the Amazonian lands remained indigenous.
While historically “Amazon” could refer to a river, a basin, and later a forest, it has been shaped into a coherent regional space by the development politics of governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the 20th century, concealing a more complex cultural and ecological reality. Development discourses ignored the human technologies existing prior to the 16th century and drew on the imaginary of a “pristine” jungle, which actually resulted from the human depopulation that occurred in the Amazon during colonization. Colonialism (17th–19th centuries), nonetheless, connected the region to the global economy, indirectly leading to the “rubber boom” (1880–1920), when the Amazon became indispensable to the second industrial revolution. After state and business actors led different operations meant to “modernize” the region in the first half of the 20th century, “developing” the Amazon became a major target of the Brazilian government in the decades following World War II. The politics of the military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1984 in particular drove the expansion of roadways, cattle-ranching, mining, and dams. While statistically creating economic growth, this trend had disastrous consequences for nature, Indigenous livelihoods, and labor relations, which mobilized scientists, activists, and local communities against it. Yet, although by the 1990s the developmentalist model was highly contested, social and environmental movements did not manage to gather society behind a new consensus for the Amazon. Attempts to put development at the service of reducing inequalities and to reinforce environmental legislation achieved certain (mitigated) success in the early 21st century, but they did not prevent deforestation and land conflicts from trending upwards after 2015, threatening the Amazon’s very existence.
The Putumayo Atrocities
The Putumayo atrocities allude to an outrage that made international headlines between 1909 and 1913. The evolving press story drew public attention to the extreme exploitation of people and environment by a British-owned extractive rubber company in a contested region of the northwest/Upper Amazon bordering Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. The scandal contributed to the demise of the “boom” in the extractive rubber industry in the Amazon. Claims of atrocities were brought initially to the attention of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society (ASAPS) in London. Humanitarian pressure triggered a series of official investigations undertaken by the governments of Britain, Peru, the United States, and the Vatican. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, dispatched the consul general in Brazil, Roger Casement, to investigate. Casement made two separate journeys into the region in 1910 and 1911. In 1912, a British government Blue Book was published containing his reports and oral testimony gathered from British-Caribbean subjects recruited by the company to act as overseers. This was followed by a parliamentary select committee inquiry held in London that ran from October 1912 to April 1913. The US government organized their own commission of inquiry and published their own report. Despite the acreage of text produced, the efforts to help the rainforest communities proved too little too late. By the time the investigations had been undertaken, and the reports published, the main Indigenous communities living across the territory had been largely worked to death, displaced, or hunted down. In July 1914, an amendment to the Slavery Bill was passed in the British Houses of Parliament requiring transnational companies to assume humane responsibility and care for their workforce in whatever territories they operated. However, as Europe collapsed toward war, the legislation was never enshrined into international law, and this remains one of the unrealized goals of international labor relations to this day. Nevertheless, the Putumayo atrocities endure as the most closely documented and described incidents of the last years of the Amazon rubber boom and allow for consideration of the unfathomable human cost in a particularly vicious moment of untrammeled international colonial capitalism in South America.
An Environmental History of Brazil in the Nineteenth Century
José Augusto Pádua
Brazil’s political imagination under the monarchy sought to associate the grandeur of its territory with an idealized image of the national state under construction. Whether they praised or deplored Brazil’s natural setting, representations of the establishment of an enormous country in the tropics tended to be generic and superficial. Some men of science, however, followed a more pragmatic path, seeking to understand Brazil’s environmental diversity and criticizing the destructive use of its natural resources. A significant effort was made to distinguish among the various types of forests and savannas found within Brazil’s borders. As regions developed at different rates of economic and demographic density, this variety of natural formations influenced their growth in complex ways. The interaction was marked by four basic modes of socioeconomic activity: export agriculture; agriculture to supply local markets; ranching; and the extraction of flora, fauna, and minerals. Each of these modes entailed environmental problems. For the elites who controlled the pace and direction of regional occupation, however, the immensity of the territory produced a sense of unlimited frontier and abundance that made any concern for the conservation or cautious management of natural resources appear unnecessary. Meanwhile, the growth of cities, with their attendant problems of insalubrity and access to water, opened up a cosmopolitan space for intellectual and scientific debates. Several environmental themes such as climatic determinism and the relationship between slave-based agriculture and the destruction of soils and forests figured prominently in the cultural and political concerns of that age.
Health, Malaria Campaigns, and Development in Brazil
Since the early 20th century, Brazilian public health has focused on rural areas, the people living there, and the so-called endemic rural diseases that plague them. These diseases—particularly malaria, hookworm, and Chagas disease—were blamed for negatively affecting Brazilian identity (“a vast hospital”) and for impeding territorial integration and national progress. For reformist medical and intellectual elites, health and educational public policies could “save” the diseased, starving, and illiterate rural populations and also ensure Brazil’s entry into the “civilized world.” In the mid-20th century, public health once again secured a place on the Brazilian political agenda, which was associated with the intense debates about development in Brazil in conjunction with democratization following World War II (1945–1964). In particular, debate centered on the paths to be followed (state or market; nationalization or internationalization) and on the obstacles to overcoming underdevelopment. A basic consensus emerged that development was urgent and should be pursued through modernization and industrialization. In 1945, Brazil remained an agrarian country, with 70 percent of the rural population and a significant part of the economy still dependent on agricultural production. However, associated with urbanization, beginning in the 1930s, the Brazilian government implemented policies aimed at industrialization and the social protection of organized urban workers, with the latter entailing a stratified system of social security and health and social assistance. Public health policies and professionals continued to address the rural population, which had been excluded from social protection laws. The political and social exclusion of this population did not change significantly under the Oligarchic Republic (1889–1930) or during Getúlio Vargas’s first period in office (1930–1945). The overall challenge remained similar to the one confronting the government at the beginning of the century—but it now fell under the umbrella of developmentalism, both as an ideology and as a modernization program. Economic development was perceived, on the one hand, as driving improvements in living conditions and income in the rural areas. This entailed stopping migration to large urban centers, which was considered one of the great national problems in the 1950s. On the other hand, disease control and even campaigns to eradicate “endemic rural diseases” aimed to facilitate the incorporation of sanitized areas in agricultural modernization projects and to support the building of infrastructure for development. Development also aimed to transform the inhabitants of rural Brazil into agricultural workers or small farmers. During the Cold War and the anti-Communism campaign, the government sought to mitigate the revolutionary potential of the Brazilian countryside through social assistance and public health programs. Health constituted an important part of the development project and was integrated into Brazil’s international health and international relations policies. In the Juscelino Kubitschek administration (1956–1961) a national program to control endemic rural diseases was created as part of a broader development project, including national integration efforts and the construction of a new federal capital in central Brazil (Brasilia). The country waged its malaria control campaign in conjunction with the Global Malaria Eradication Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and, to receive financial resources, an agreement was signed with the International Cooperation Agency (ICA). In 1957 malaria eradication became part of US foreign policy aimed at containing Communism. The Malaria Eradication Campaign (CEM, 1958–1970) marked the largest endeavor undertaken by Brazilian public health in this period and can be considered a synthesis of this linkage between development and health. Given its centralized, vertical, and technobureaucratic model, this project failed to take into account structural obstacles to development, a fact denounced by progressive doctors and intellectuals. Despite national and international efforts and advances in terms of decreasing number of cases and a decline in morbidity and mortality since the 1990s, malaria remains a major public health problem in the Amazon region.
Conservation in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico
Ariel E. Lugo
Conservation is a long-term process that unfolds over time and seeks to develop harmony between human activity and ecosystems of all types. The unfolding of conservation in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico took place over a period of over 140 years, beginning in 1876. The conservation process in Puerto Rico involved the description of the biodiversity, the understanding of forest dynamics in relation to the conditions prevailing in the Luquillo Mountains, extensive research on the life history of critical species, understanding the basis of forest resilience, recognizing the social-ecological-technological context of conservation, applying advanced technological tools, and resolving the inevitable conflict that develops among the different actors involved in the conservation effort. Unfolding conservation within a country requires continuous and effective support from governmental, non-governmental, business, and scientific sectors of the social-ecological-technological systems of the country. These sectors come together at different moments in time, and the path followed is different in different countries. In Puerto Rico, the unfolding of conservation was triggered by the government in close collaboration with academic and governmental scientific sectors. Within the Luquillo Mountains, the business sector did not oppose conservation activities, and the unfolding process reached high levels of effectiveness. The rest of Puerto Rico benefited from the conservation process unfolding on the Luquillo Mountains. In contrast, conservation in the Amazon has been characterized by conflict among different actors competing for a common resource. In general, commercial activities that are based on resource exploitation lead to conflict and a slower development of conservation activities. When the business community used science to improve land productivity, as it did in Central America, conservation benefited because the science that was used stimulated conservation values. The establishment of government institutions with a focus on conservation through research and education appeared late in the mainland tropics compared to Puerto Rico, but when it happened, it accelerated the unfolding of conservation. All the countries examined here were most effective in conservation when the collaboration among the different sectors of society was high and based on objective and anticipatory scientific activity.
Alberto Santos-Dumont and Brazilian Aviation
Felipe Fernandes Cruz
Aviation has played a unique role in the history of Brazil, beginning with the life of Alberto Santos-Dumont. Most Brazilians consider him to be the true inventor of the airplane over the North American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. Born in the province of Minas Gerais in 1873, he became a global celebrity in the early 1900s when he designed, built, and piloted several of his dirigibles and airplanes in Paris. He won major prizes for his aeronautical feats, such as the Deutsch de La Meurthe prize for an aerial circumnavigation of the Eiffel Tower. Santos-Dumont is a beloved national hero in Brazil. The potent symbolism of his life was often invoked in calls for the development of Brazilian aviation. Throughout the 20th century, aviation was hailed as a technological panacea for Brazil’s problems. Many Brazilians thought its development could boost homegrown industry and technology, and that aviation would in turn enable Brazil to conquer its frontiers by air. The potential to connect vast and often inaccessible territories by air was very attractive to a state with a weak grip on its frontiers. The dictatorial government of Getúlio Vargas, for instance, used propaganda and cultural programs to engender great excitement among Brazilians for the mass development of national aviation. This notion of frontier conquest by air played a major role in the development of aeronautical technology in Brazil, creating a unique history of frontier expansion and interaction with indigenous peoples. Starting in 1969, Brazil also became a major exporter of airplanes. Originally a state-owned company, the now privatized EMBRAER is one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, selling military, airline and private jet aircraft around the world.
Spanish and Portuguese Commerce and Contraband in the Amazonian Borderlands
Juan Sebastián Gómez-González
Legal, illicit, and clandestine trade was fundamental for the social, political, and economic development of the Amazon basin during the colonial period. Since the second half of the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese establishments in this tropical region needed agriculture, livestock, and mining, but also exchanges of goods to ensure the stability and growth of missions and cities founded in their vast jurisdictions. Encomenderos, Indians, slaves, soldiers, bandeirantes, and Jesuits invigorated the illegal trade by establishing contacts through roads and tributary rivers of the Amazon River that linked different spaces through navigation. The scarce military presence in the border jurisdictions, especially between the province of Maynas and the captaincy of Rio Negro, in addition to the existence of gold mines, trafficking of manufactured goods, food, firearms, and other trade goods coming from both domestic and Atlantic markets, served as constant stimuli to strengthen the fraudulent business until the last decades of the 18th century. The prohibitions and monopolies decreed in the Luso-Hispanic laws, especially those stipulated in the treaties of limits, peace, and friendship verified in Tordesillas, Lisbon, Madrid, San Ildefonso, and Badajoz (from 1494 to 1802), were decisive to try to ensure the sovereignty and sociopolitical control in the Amazonian domains. However, the persistence of smuggling, as a complement to authorized trade and an indispensable resource for the Luso-Hispanic economies, would not have been possible without the complicity of governors, military, and astute Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who took advantage of corruption by encouraging participation in the illegal trade. This demonstrates that trade, smuggling, and fraud in those imperial margins were inseparable aspects of settlement and the defense of territories mutually stalked by Spanish and Portuguese vassals to the first decades of the 19th century.