|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|17. The colonization and occupation of Brazilian Amazonia|
In Brazil, the occupation of Amazonia and of other pioneer areas has seldom followed a governmental regional planning strategy. In the particular case of the Amazon, one may refer to an occupation strategy that has operated since the 1960s, when the new regime of 1964 decided to establish certain objectives which suited theoretically the regional characteristics. The philosophy behind the strategy is expressed in the slogan promoted at that time by the authorities: Security and Development. This implied a recognition of the necessity to occupy the border for security motives and for social-economic development needs.
Until now, the Amazonian region has been considered as an almost inexhaustible reserve of natural resources, although the actual dimension of this potential was unknown. A significant portion of the economic activities is related to the extraction of these resources in a disorderly, even irrational, manner. Industrial activities are insignificant, while mineral extraction, agriculture, and cattle-raising activities prevail. Historically, this has been the pattern of Amazonian occupation.
Nevertheless, significant changes have occurred since the Brazilian economic development model began to present new characteristics. In this respect, in order to understand the current situation in the Amazon, it is necessary to examine some fundamental aspects and trends of this recent evolution, whose focus is located in the central and southern parts of the country. The Amazon faithfully reflects the major characteristics of a social-economic model in which the proposed goals are not always compatible mutually or with the availability of resources needed to achieve them.
The new orientation and guidelines in the area's occupation after 1964 introduced a large set of programmes and goals that could not always be executed, as, for instance, in the case of pressure from firms with large capital resources for land appropriation, often with the objective of creating a value reserve against inflation.
The occupation of the area also induced a demand for land for agricultural settlement, although this may have caused conflicts with the several pressure groups resulting from internal migratory flows, whose participants occupied land spontaneously, or induced by the official or private colonization projects. A contribution to the inflow of foreign currency was also expected from the area, partially fulfilled through the creation of numerous mineral extraction centres, export cropping, and cattle raising. The social and political issues concerning Indian populations were highly aggravated in this context; rarely was there compatibility between the proposed economic development and the Indians' permanence in their original location.
The group of operating forces presents an extremely complex picture and hence its understanding cannot be restricted to the Amazonian region alone.) Therefore, a brief historical background of recent Brazilian economic development becomes necessary so that we can locate the Amazonian issue within its context. It will then be possible to examine the changes in the policies and guidelines regarding this area after 1964, changes which reinforced the goals established by the government and which reflect different occupational strategies which were put into effect simultaneously. The government played an important role in this process, creating the infrastructure and granting incentives to attract Brazilian and foreign private capital. Furthermore, it promoted several colonization projects and tried to regulate and to administer the land ownership issue in order to avoid conflicts.
As discussed in detail later, this occupation process is very far from being homogeneous. There are contradictions that deserve special attention due to the occurrence of significant interregional differences. Several initiatives can be noted, sometimes unfinished ones, which are restructured due to purely conjunctural reasons. There is not a definite, precise model of Amazonian occupation, but a significant range of actions forming a complex mosaic, whose characteristics change with amazing frequency. This can also be noted in the particular case of northern Mato Grosso, which is the area chosen for a more detailed study as part of the research project mentioned above.
Brazil's Economic Development since 1950
Significant changes occurred after 1964 in the Brazilian economy. Since that time the prevailing agricultural export aspects of the economy were put aside to enable the creation of conditions required for industrialization. In 1956, a development plan was outlined comprising four major objectives: (i) direct investments by the government in the transportation and energy supply systems; (ii) expansion and or installation of intermediate production sectors, especially siderurgy; (iii) installation of capital goods industries; (iv) building of a new administrative headquarters for the country, which would become the capital city. Brasilia is very remote from the dynamic poles of the economy, which are located mainly along the coast. At the time. the government explained the building of Brasilia as a way to direct development towards the central region of the country and to occupy an area which was considered of great potential, although not very well known and explored.
Once the conditions were created, even though not all the goals were achieved, industrialization developed steadily and became the main activity in the Brazilian economy. Industrialization was accelerated by an import substitution process, which was highly stimulated during the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1980, for example, the Gross Internal Product (GIP) increased at an average rate of 7 per cent per year, doubling every ten years, and growing more than ten times over the whole period. The manufacturing industrial sector's participation in internal income increased from 20.2 per cent in 1949 to 27.3 per cent in 1970, reaching over 30 per cent in 1980. The industrial sector as a whole, including manufacturing, construction, mining, and the public service industries, experienced an increase from 26 to 33.4 per cent between 1949 and 1970.
From the industrial sector's standpoint, capital goods and durable consumer goods became more important. On the other hand, the agricultural sector lost its dynamics; although responsible for 25 per cent of the internal income in 1949, its share decreased to 13.2 per cent in 1979/1980.
The Brazilian economy was also opened up more to the international market. Exports became one of the main sources of increased demand at the same time that the demand for foreign resources to finance growth increased. The same was not true for imports, whose growth rates have remained relatively low, especially after the recession and crisis of the 1980s. It is worth noting that exports have become highly diversified, and manufactured and semi-manufactured products have, since the second half of the 1970s, become more important than agricultural and mineral products.
Regarding labour, the economically active population in the secondary sector doubled between 1940 and 1980 (80% of this occurred after 1960). Also, since the 1960s, a more than 60 per cent decrease in the population working in the agricultural sector has occurred. A large concentration of income was another element which contributed to making Brazil, where the concentration coefficient is the most elevated, one of the world's ten leading countries.
The main characteristic of the agricultural sector is that production increased extensively as new areas were occupied. Technological modernization accompanied this expansion, although it was restricted to the central and southern areas, which acted as suppliers for exports and of raw materials to industry. The result was a large increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs (rice, beans, corn, manioc, and potatoes). Overall, the agricultural sector financed a substantial part of the economic growth process centred on industrialization and urbanization. Furthermore, the deficient supply of essential foodstuffs was to become one of the main arguments in explaining occupation of the Amazon. The government was attempting, especially through its colonization projects, to raise productivity in order to increase the food supply, in spite of the great distances from the largest consumer centres.
Brief Background of the Amazonian Occupation
As discussed before, regional concentration was observed as Brazil went through an industrialization process in the 1950s. In the beginning this process did not comprise the Amazonian region but it began to include it after 1964/1966. Presently, it is a region where the development of capitalism is the result of a decisive intervention by the government, through incentives for the creation of new companies and through creating a colonization infrastructure. However, as some authors (Cardoso and Mueller 1977, 10) state, "It would be incomplete to say that the present Amazon is explained by the existence of large national and foreign enterprises and by the Government's role played to assure their existence and to allow through nonformal delegation, brutal labour exploitation. There are other symbolic and effective dimensions of national formation and incorporation which are also expressed by the presence of attitudes taken by the government-which must not be minimized. This national integration function gives new colour to the ideological dimension of the government. The task of incorporating land, defending borders, preserving resources is part of the myth that surrounds the Amazonian penetration and any general study must take this into consideration."
That is to say, one must join together the several types of national and foreign enterprise interests, which received stimulus beginning around the year 1967, and the military interest, which aims at an incorporation of Amazonian territory as a way to affirm nationality and as a decisive stage in the process of making Brazil a power of global relevance. As the Amazon occupation proved difficult due to adverse national conditions the government provided stimulation and incentives, which gave this occupation the form of a promising opening of the market to the companies located in the central and southern regions of the country.
At the same time, it is possible to identify the near complete absence of social opposition in the 1960s to this kind of occupation. According to the same authors, "The interests which arose in the region were subordinated to the capital located in the South (jute and minerals), with no representation or political force (small producers, miners and jute planters) and were also dependent upon the short extractivist activities cycles. The Amazon has never structured its own interests and therefore, was unable to compete with outside interests. It was a land which, like those who worked on it, once used, was put aside" (Cardoso and Mueller 1977, 11).
This fact transformed the area into a place where the development characteristics observed in the centre and the south were reproduced. In other words, all the traits which marked the Amazon in the beginning of the 1960s, such as total isolation from national growth and development dynamics, were changed. Today, one may say that the Amazon is almost totally integrated in the Brazilian socio-economic sphere, although this integration presents certain aspects bearing consideration which, indeed, will be discussed later. However, it is necessary to observe how this rupture with the past happened in order to understand the role played by the different kinds of occupation (migration, colonization, enterprises), especially in the area chosen for the field study, northern Mato Grosso, where the present situation and problems differ from those observed in other areas.
The Rubber Cycle and Its Evolution
At the beginning of the twentieth century, governmental efforts to develop the Amazon were basically restricted to the rubber economy. Until the 1950s, this was the main activity in the area. The authorities were trying to reproduce a cycle that would bring about the same prosperity as that which occurred after 1870 and would likewise be based upon the monoculture of rubber.
The viability of rubber depended on international market prices, according to Mahar (1978). The first Rubber Plan failed due to declining market prices and the competition of similar Asian products. The results of this failure were felt for three decades. The area became stagnant, in demographic terms as well, since labour migrants were looking for economically more active areas. The remaining population dedicated itself almost exclusively to subsistence agriculture.
The United States's participation in the Second World War caused a new increase in the demand for rubber which generated growth in the Amazonian economy and lasted until 1945. Then, once more, the economy returned to subsistence production and the emigration of population.
Cardoso and Mueller (1977) claim that until the 1940s, the occupation was not specifically intended for colonization aimed at the occupants' interests, which is similar to what happened to the American pioneers. Occupation seldom involved land appropriation and land use in which the occupant would obtain basic goods for survival and sell the rest. Land was appropriated only if it had a natural product that could be exchanged. However, when this manner of occupying the land ceased, people again migrated, while those who stayed had to wait for a new extractivist cycle.
Between the decade beginning in 1940 and the period of 1967-1970, some economic diversification was observed which caused an extensive occupation of the area. In the 1960s, various enterprises, large estates, and smaller properties began to appear. But up until that time, locally produced resources were destined almost exclusively for the cash to purchase luxury goods, consumed by merchants and rubber plantation owners, without generating any productive activity which would make the rupture of the monoculture cycle possible.
After 1960, particularly with the building of the Belém-Brasilia highway connecting the north of the country to the centre and the west, occupation of the Amazon became slightly diversified. Consequently, national and foreign enterprises started exploring for minerals (gold and manganese), sometimes supported by the government, while groups of workers, coming mainly from the north-east, demanded land. In the period 19671970, local development became stronger as the national economy itself began to grow again after the recession between 1961 and 1967. At this new stage, the Amazon served as a place to absorb the surplus produced by capitalist accumulation, reflecting also the stronger Brazilian insertion into the international division of labour.
The Amazon and Recent Economic Development
One of the major points of the development strategy was the opening of the Brazilian market to foreign capital in order to finance industrial growth and to stimulate the export of agricultural goods. Cardoso and Mueller (1977; Mahar 1978, 20) remind us that '`in this context, the Amazonian space, although not yet integrated into the export model, except for some mineral resources, acquired new dimensions in the national economy. The Government financed the displacement of national and foreign private capital to explore minerals and the land (investments in cattle raising and food crops), in order to provide the basis for an exportoriented economy." Nevertheless, this phase, which limited the incorporation of the Amazon into the national productive system, was preceded by some frustrated government planning experiences. As noted previously, the end of the rubber cycle occurred approximately in 1945 and led the government to react to what it saw as a new, long regional isolation. The first development agency was then created with the goal of focusing specifically on the Amazon, delimiting the so-called "legal Amazonia region," which corresponds to almost 60 per cent of the Brazilian territory. This agency, the Superintendency's Plan of the Amazon (Superintendência do Plano de Valorizaçao Econômica, SPVEA), lasted from 1946 to 1967, without reaching its objectives.
According to Mahar (1978), "The flaws presented by public planning in the fifties were still present in the beginning of the sixties, although some innocuous attempts to restructure SPVEA and to reformulate its goals and strategies were made. After 10 years of operation, the SPVEA could claim some achievements, such as the construction and supervision of the BR-14 highway (Belem-Brasilia), the modernization of SNPP-Serviço de Navegação da Amazonia e Administração do Porto do Para and the financing of some industries." Nevertheless, SPVEA's general impact in the area was minimal. In 1964, the new SPVEA superintendent described it as a failed and disorganized institution that was unable to fulfil its obligations as an organization responsible for the socio-economic development of the area.
With the political and institutional changes, new trends in Amazonian development planning appeared while the government strived for greater efficiency through incentives to private business, which, until that time, had had little participation in the area. Furthermore, the official philosophy intended to make technical criteria prevail over the political orientations which had dominated in the past. This resulted in the Operação Amazonia, a government programme, which began early in 1967 and aimed at the following:
(i) the establishment of growth poles, with stable and self-sufficient
populations, especially along the border
(ii) offering incentives to private capital, combined with the development of an infrastructure for economic growth and with complete information about the natural resources potential
According to Mahar (1978), two factors contributed to the achievement of these goals: economic and political. The economic factor was based on a development model applied with success in the north-east. This model depended on industrialization based on import substitution. The majority of the capital was intended to come from the central and southern regions of the country, with government support in terms of infrastructure generation (roads, communications, etc.). However, the author reminds us that Operação Amazonia left undefined specifications regarding the infrastructure, a fact that did not occur when SPVEA was active.
The other factor was concerned with the occupation of Amazonia by the military government via interregional migration (along with foreign immigration) and the establishment of permanent self-sufficient settlements along the border. The government was also concerned about the low population density in view of the necessity to maintain national sovereignty over the natural resources located along the border. During this period, the occupation developed by neighbouring countries was objected to because of its supposed harmful consequences for the Brazilian project.
The government in power in 1964 then created a new development agency, Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento da Amazonia (SUDAM), and a bank, Banco da Amazonia S.A. (BASA), repeating the model applied in the north-east (where SUDENE-Superintendência do Desenvolvimento do Nordeste-and BNB- Banco do Nordeste do Brasil-were founded). Since 1966, several fiscal incentive mechanisms have been elaborated with the objective of attracting capital to the Amazon from the central and southern regions. An important law, No. 5.174 of 27/10/1966, provided for the exemption from income tax for private enterprise until 1982 and also exempted regional products from export taxes, whilst machinery and equipment to be used in the area was exempted from import duty. Companies could benefit from a credit of 75 per cent of their income tax due if they used these resources to acquire BASA bonds. Furthermore, companies could deduct 45 per cent of the total tax debit if savings went to the projects approved by SUDAM.
During the first years of this new occupation stage, the Amazon had not even been individualized as a geographical area. Its development model was identical to the one utilized in the north-east. even though it did not present the same characteristics as the north-east. Even so, it was believed that the three challenges posed by the Amazon could be successfully handled. Those challenges were:
(i) low population density (until 1970, for example, the average density was slightly more than one inhabitant per square kilometre, a near equivalent to that observed in the Sahara)
(ii) traditional dependence upon the extraction of forest products as a source of income and employment
(iii) extremely precarious knowledge of the natural resources
In spite of the historical ties developed between Amazonia and foreign countries, its per capita income level remained low for many years. Until 1978, it was estimated that this income was barely equivalent to 50 per cent of the national per capita income.
Amazonian Development in the 1970s
The government created SUDAM as a typical regional development agency which centralized all the projects aimed at the achievement of the above objectives. However, reality illustrated that there was a strong discrepancy between these objectives and the availability of resources to achieve them. SUDAM itself controlled only slightly more than 10 per cent of the resources approved by the first Quinquennial Plan (of 1967) and had no means to complement the private sector's capital investments. This discrepancy between planning and execution resulted in the creation in 1968 of the first Directive Plan, which was to be extended until 1970, with strong appeals to increase public investments and to correct the distortions observed. However, this plan was not officially approved and, consequently, the results, though poor, were due solely to private initiative. The presence of SUDAM did little to help promote governmental objectives.
From 1970 to 1975, government action in the area intensified steadily as it came to be considered a "border of resources" and not a desolate, depressed area, which was the official view of the north-east. Consequently, the policies regarding the Amazon and the north-east began to differ.
The main activity performed by the government during this decade was the building of the Transamazônica, whose objective was to connect the eastern side of the region with the western-a distance of 1,200 km-where official colonization projects would be developed through the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agraria (INCRA). According to Mahar (1978), this governmental agency managed to settle only 92,000 people up to 1974, which was less than 10 per cent of the expected total. In spite of the difficulties, the government found it necessary to proceed with these activities. The authorities also had to deal with several social conflicts, since the land ownership situation had not always been legalized and INCRA itself took care of the issues very slowly. Furthermore, strong demographic pressures generated a kind of occupation which was totally beyond official control. As it can be seen, SUDAM did not assume the role of a colonization agency. The regional policy objectives did not interact harmoniously: on the one hand, it was necessary to stimulate the establishment of enterprises through fiscal incentives; on the other, the region was obliged to help in solving the strong migratory pressures (coming mainly from the north-east). This resulted in a conflict of objec fives and different occupation priorities, which are the causes of several problems the area currently faces.
The few productive activities then registered were limited to those of private initiative. However, the majority of the resources were applied to cattle raising or to the acquisition of land (the opposite of what was observed in the north-east, where there were more industrial projects and additional capital was invested). The enterprises in the central and southern regions of the country drained income away from the Amazon region. The absence of control over forest destruction contributed to a predatory exploitation of the Amazonian forest which caused serious ecological imbalances. The benefits of the Manaus Free Trade Zone (Mahar 1978; Cardoso and Mueller 1977) were limited to the city and its surroundings, inducing a concentration of industrial activities related to electronics and the textile industry and based almost exclusively on fiscal incentives. One could not expect the few benefits of those projects to extend to the remainder of this huge region.
The few results which the government managed to obtain by its territorial integration policy derive from a strategy based on the building of large roads. Connections between Belém and Brasilia, Sao Paulo-Cuiabá-Acre aimed at articulating the Amazon with the rest of the country, while the Transamazônica, connected the north-east to the Amazon, reflecting the possibility of a better connection with the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, the importance of fluvial and air navigation (Becker 1982), which were the major strategies during this period, decreased.
In the mid-1970s the approach regarding the area was altered once more and with the second National Development Plan, the Amazon began to be considered as a market for industrial products for the north-east. Development of the northeast received more emphasis than the Amazon. Exploitation of natural resources and an established infrastructure continued to be considered of first priority. The second NDP orients the economic activity towards cattle raising, mining, and timber exploitation, local raw material processing and tourism. Governmental projects showed concern for environmental preservation for the first time. The projects encouraged the development of cattle raising activities in semi-arid lands (pastures) which do not typically pertain to the Amazon. Furthermore, companies were obliged to reinvest their profits in this area. Even so, the investors from the central and southern regions continued to be the ones responsible for the economic integration, which developed very gradually.
One of the factors in the occupation of Amazonia changed during this period. The government began to consider it as a region able to receive the migratory flows from the central and southern parts of the country, from urban centres and areas of small-scale agricultural decline. Furthermore, "the external geopolitical implications were of no less importance. The large demographic emptiness and the northern location, extrinsic to the national spatial system, made the area extremely vulnerable to foreign interests. The possibility that development foci might also be foci of political change became a major concern. The national security problem also aroused concern regarding the internal dynamism of the neighbouring countries which had relations with Brazil. throughout the 11,000 kms of the border" (Becker 1982).
As Cardoso and Mueller (1977) state, "for many years, Brazilian people were aware that there was a 'blank' in the Northern part of the country, the 'Green Hell'. Therefore, periodically one would talk about the foreign 'longing' for the land." It should be recalled that there was an inflamed polemic in the 1950s regarding the proposal made to create the Amazonian Hilea Institute which was used by "foreign experts" to support the idea of "internationalizing the Amazon." After bitter accusations against such intentions, the Institute Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA) was created, and, in July 1968, another project was made public. The project was described in the Hudson Report and proposed by an American expert, Roberto Fanero, with the support of the Hudson Institute and its president, Herman Kahn. This new approach consisted of building large dams in order to inundate important areas and produce energy, to facilitate hydrographical interconnection and to establish a "commutation centre" for information throughout the Amazon. All this was based on modern technology and "international cooperation.'' The nationalist reaction once more was strong and this episode may be the most immediate antecedent-although not necessarily causal-for the transAmazonian proposal made by the Medici administration aiming at "occupying the blank" (Cardoso and Mueller 1977, 202).
Everything indicates that the government had managed, although in a disorderly manner, to remove the "threats" of excessive foreign capital participation. That does not mean that this capital was excluded from the regional development strategy. On the contrary, only a "denationalization" of the Brazilian Amazon area was avoided. Despite this, the latent contradictions between the occupational objectives were not eliminated. The government had always expected to succeed in the integration of the Amazon and continues with this policy, from the increase in the agricultural production of basic and exportable food crops to the direction of the migratory flows regarded as an important part of the solution of national problems. When the Transamazônica, was opened, the colonization along this highway was emphasized through public settlement projects, together with incentives offered to large enterprises dealing with vegetal and mineral extraction and to cattle raising farms.
However, official colonization rarely proved to be successful. The government no longer supports it as a basic regional occupation tool and all its efforts since 1973 have been devoted to large enterprises. SUDAM has been offering several benefits to investors from central and southern Brazil which were supported by other federal programs (POLAMAZONlA, Programa de Polos Agropecuarios e Agrominerais da Amazonia, PROTERRA, et al.) and complemented by incentives to private colonization. According to the official vision, the government planned to invest US$1 billion in this area in 1973, for until that date social colonization, which was concerned with the small colonist, was emphasized. Now the emphasis was to be on a consortium of large enterprises, in opposition to the idea that colonization favoured subsistence production, which provided low economic returns and offered no dynamic perspective. Therefore, it was necessary to change the guidelines, and, in 1974, INCRA subordinated the colonization projects practically to a lesser priority. The new policy preferred direct settlement schemes integrating agro-industrial and colonization projects developed by the co-operatives from the central and southern regions of the country.
INCRA also began selling large stretches of land to investors in private colonization, to owners of forest, agricultural, and cattle raising projects. Hence, only the rural family workers, with certain resources to support themselves, were provided with resources to remain in the area. The change of emphasis, from official colonization to private colonization, reflects the presence of private enterprise in the Amazon occupation.
Consequently, in the last 15 years, a series of activities have become more and more attractive to investors from the central and southern regions. As the official colonization lost its strength, the space available to the new migratory flows was narrowed. The border became progressively "closed" to spontaneous occupation, although previous problems relating to the legalization of the land continued. On the other hand, this shows that the source of the migratory pressures, the important changes that occurred in the central and the southern regions of the country, did not suffer significant change during this period. When the crisis and the economic recession cycle exploded in 1977/1978, the migratory pressures along the border increased and pressed on the space occupied by large enterprises.
Consequently, the potential for conflicts seemed to increase, as will be discussed later. Since official colonization was not successful in the fight against those pressures and neither was private colonization nor private investment, the government has always been faced with more acute problems in this area and, therefore, created an Extraordinary Department for Land Issues, commanded by a general. Since then, the authorities have demanded more effective results from private colonization. Now private projects coexisted with public initiative, with results that seemed to be more promising than previously.
The current stage of the colonization process is not uniform in the entire Amazonian region. On the one hand it continues to depend upon enterprises and on the goals of generating foreign exchange (notably through the Carajas Project).2 However, the occupation process is still highly influenced by the existence of serious conflicts over land ownership, which increases the responsibility of the policies carried out in the Amazonian region.