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Governing the RainforestSustainable Development Politics in the Brazilian Amazon$

Eve Z. Bratman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190949389

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190949389.001.0001

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Sustainable Development Meets the Amazon

Sustainable Development Meets the Amazon

(p.76) 3 Sustainable Development Meets the Amazon
Governing the Rainforest

Eve Z. Bratman

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 3 focuses centrally on the host of plans and policies for sustainable development conducted in Brazil beginning in the late 1980s, when the concept of sustainable development was introduced into the mainstream of global environmental politics. The chapter also elaborates on the contemporary major players of Amazonian sustainable development politics, focusing on the roles and historical formations of the Catholic Church, social movement groups, and activism in relation to various projects and socio-environmental struggles of the late 1980s and into contemporary times. Illustrative cases of Brazilian infrastructure and developmental priorities for the Amazon are discussed in order to illustrate the primacy of national integration and consolidation of state power—in other words, economic priorities with a strong modernization orientation—well beyond environmental protection and social equity considerations.

Keywords:   nationalism, territory, geopolitics, Olympics, dictatorship, sovereignty, democratization, social movements, civil society

People have been saying that we have to be sustainable; this became a sort of mantra. There was a Senator from Rondônia who presented a project that was titled “project of sustainable development that expands the clear cutting in the Amazon.” [ . . . ] I pondered: This [project] is not right, but just putting the word “sustainable” in [the title] is how the problem got resolved.

—Marina Silva, University of Chicago, April 9, 2016

In the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil was far from the lighthearted, samba-dancing, ever-sunny place that planners had hoped to show the world. Instead of celebrations, waves of protests marked the advent of the World Cup. In Rio, people took to the streets in 2013, signaling their frustration with higher bus fares; the protests sparked similar protests around the nation concerning corruption and a government that seemed to care more about making positive impressions on foreign visitors than its own citizens. News coverage speculated about whether Brazil was “ready” to host the impending flood of foreign visitors for both events. Jokes were made about how soccer fans would see wet paint signs on the walls of new stadiums, many of which were behind deadline.

In the Amazonian city of Manaus, three construction workers died while working round-the-clock to construct a soccer stadium, called the Amazon Arena, in time for the start of the World Cup games (CNN 2014). Several soccer stadiums were criticized for being white elephant projects. Most notable among them was the 41,000-plus seat Manaus stadium. It took three years to build at $300 million in cost and involved draining a river tributary to prepare the proposed site. Once completed, the stadium hosted exactly four World Cup matches. In the opening Italy versus England World Cup match, stars such as Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney graced the pitch, exciting fans. But subsequently the lack of a first- or even a second-division soccer team in the region made the stadium rather useless after the World Cup, and maintenance costs were high (Garcia-Navarro 2015).1 Once the games were over, people in Manaus (p.77) speculated that the stadium might become a prison processing center, and noted that it would only occasionally host Evangelical Christian rock concerts (Panja 2013). A bus rapid transit project was begun, originally slated to take World Cup fans from the city center out to the stadium and to serve around 80 km of the city. Subsequently the project stalled so considerably that its anticipated opening was slated for 2020, well after the World Cup (Rocha 2015a).

For World Cup tourists and non-tourists alike, Brazil’s troubles were thinly masked. Brazilian leaders hoped to present the nation as a rising power and a newly strong global economic leader. Yet in practice, Brazil’s low capacity to effectively manage its ambitious projects was widely apparent. Only two years later the country faced a triple crisis in the lead-up to Brazil’s hosting of the Olympics: the mosquito borne Zika virus reached epidemic levels and scared off foreign travelers, especially given warnings from the World Health Organization that pregnant women should not travel there. Compounding the already bad situation, the economic slump in the country was one of the worst in recent memory.2 Finally, a corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash embroiled many of the nation’s major construction firms and top politicians. Making matters worse, a corruption scandal of epic proportions led to the ousting of Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, who then charged that her removal from office was in fact an orchestrated coup d’etat. Corruption indictments against numerous other high-level officials caused newly appointed cabinet ministers to step down from office and forced the resignation of the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha. In 2010 public confidence in the Brazilian economy was as high as 62 percent, but in 2015 only 13 percent of the population deemed the economy to be in good shape (Zainulbhai 2015).

By the time the Olympics began, the pollution in the Guanabara Bay caused some sailing teams to withdraw from participating altogether. Poor construction and project delays also became a source of public embarrassment, as construction for the Olympic Village in Rio was so behind schedule that the Australian teams opted to check into a hotel instead over concerns that the gas, plumbing, and electrical work were incomplete. Strong waves associated with ocean undertow currents caused the collapse of a sailing ramp, a flagship new bicycle path, and damage to the media building that was being constructed on Copacabana beach less than a week before the games were scheduled to open. The official response to such problems was focused on ensuring that the biggest symbols of success such as the stadiums glistened, even if only for a short while.

The grandiosity of Manaus’ Amazon Arena soccer stadium might well be compared to the extravagant opera house in Manaus that had opened over a century earlier, in 1896. The Renaissance-style building was replete with mosaics from France and an elegant tapestry from China. A Portuguese architect was contracted to design the theater, which was built by wealthy rubber barons to (p.78) show the opulence and cultural prominence of the city. Manaus was the epicenter of wealth generated from Brazil’s virtual monopoly on rubber. The opera house took a dozen years to build; some say that the entire endeavor was aimed at luring the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso to perform in the remote Amazon city (Morton 2014). But after rubber prices plummeted, the theater fell into disrepair. It sat empty for around ninety years.

It is notable that the world-famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti traveled to the Amazon in the 1990s, compelled to sing there by the idea of following in Caruso’s footsteps.3 Pavarotti traveled by boat and found the theater closed upon arrival (Magiera 2008). A memoir of his career recounts the trip: “[W]e located a piano but found the theatre out of use. Nevertheless, we went in and he sang two arias from Tosca, E lucevan le stelle and Recondita armonia to an audience of about five” (Kington 2008). Eventually, in 2001, the theater was renovated and restored. Today it is a tourist destination and occasionally hosts concerts. For most national and international visitors, it stands as a reminder of the glory and global importance the city once claimed. On a daily basis, however, the area surrounding the theater is relatively devoid of life. Large groups of cruise ship tourists disembark their boats to visit the theater, but there are few shade-offering trees in the plaza surrounding the building, so street life is lacking in the vicinity. Tickets to shows are expensive, and the area is not considered especially safe for a casual afternoon stroll.

In both the cases of the Amazon Theater and the Amazon Arena, the mismatch between aspirations of grandeur and short-lived usefulness was glaring. Instead of creating infrastructures that symbolized success, the buildings and the process of constructing them became excessive wastes. They were symbolic more of an Amazonia involving dashed hopes and fleeting cameos on the global stage than of durable eminence. For any country, undertaking major projects aimed at showing national achievement would be a source of investment and point of pride during times of economic strength. It was overconfidence in sustained wealth conditions, emphasis on external validation as a mark of success, and the remarkably short periods of usefulness that distinctively marked such endeavors in the Amazon.

This chapter unpacks the contemporary history of development in the Amazon region with a focus on how the discourse and framework of sustainable development began to take hold in policy and practice, along with the disjunctures and contradictions that appear along the way. It builds upon the historical discussion of the previous chapter that established the foundations for capitalist expansion into the Amazon and developmental visions for the future of the region, and focuses on the time period of the late 1980s until the mid-2000s. This chapter’s historical treatment centers on the question of how the state and (p.79) society articulated sustainable development through policies and activism in the Amazon region. More specifically, it examines how geopolitical security interests and the concept of environmental sustainability informed what ultimately are manifested as changes in Amazonian landscapes, the built environment, and mega-projects, as well as complex social dynamics in the region.

Development goals factor into the economic ambitions driven by state planners, whether as a driver of increased commodity production and exportation or as a producer of energy to fuel the nation’s rising consumption as it industrializes. For some, especially state planners and military leaders, the Amazon is symbolically wrapped up with a nationalist drive for territorial control. A vision about Brazil’s worldwide position as a powerful political actor and a presence commanding respect underpins many of the plans that are made concerning the region, aiming to make it “orderly” (in the common parlance of the Brazilian armed forces and Ministry of Defense) or “legible” (to borrow anthropologist James C. Scott’s term for how state planners envision engaging such remote areas) (Scott 1998). For others, the globalist vision regarding the Amazon takes a different tack; the Amazon holds the world’s largest freshwater reserves, the forest is a critical carbon sink. Many people see preservation of the rainforest through creation of more parks and wilderness areas as imperative to addressing the global challenge of climate change and biodiversity protection. And then there are those perspectives on the Amazon that lie somewhere in the middle, aiming to provide Brazil with commodity-based economic growth through production of soy and beef that derives from the Amazon but on lands that would involve no new deforestation. Others seek to make viable livelihoods out of the forest ecosystems through protecting land rights and creating more robust economies for Brazil nut gatherers, rubber tappers, fishermen, and the like. All of these involve contested visions for the region, which are positioned in some degree of friction with each other—not to mention the myriad other aspirations and realities that are the stuff of the local experience of living in the Amazon for the millions of residents that call the region home.

The gaps between those visions are present where the terms of how people should live have not been fully established by universal norms or policies (Tsing 2005). Understanding the tensions and gaps that are present between those visions “calls attention to the bad transportability of demarcations of human livelihood versus nature conservation, productive farms versus forest reserves, and settled culture versus the wild” (Tsing 2005, 175). The theoretical framework outlined above helps orient our exploration concerning how certain ideas change based on relationships, context, and necessity. Our historical discussion continues with a focus on the ways in which sustainable development became articulated as a political project in the Amazon.

(p.80) Conservation or Development? The First Sustainable Development Debates

The notion that there was an “internationalist conspiracy” aiming to steal and control Amazonian resources was first articulated in 1948, in response to a UNESCO proposal to establish an international research center in the Amazon (Sartre and Taravella 2009). Not helping to dispel such paranoia, true quotes from Al Gore, François Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, and Mikhael Gorbachev encouraged these beliefs, both during the years of military rule and shortly thereafter:

  • “Contrary to what Brazilians think, the Amazon is not their property, it belongs to all of us.” (Al Gore, senator and later vice-president of the United States, 1989)

  • “Some countries must relinquish their sovereignty in favor of global interests.” (François Mitterrand, president of France, 1989)

  • “Brazil must delegate part of its rights over the Amazon to qualified international agencies.” (Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the former Soviet Union, 1992)

  • “If the underdeveloped countries do not manage to pay their foreign debt, then they will sell their wealth, their territories and their richness.” (Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, 1983)

The above examples illustrate clear links between Brazil’s natural resources and foreign interests in transnational environmental concerns. For Brazilians, such statements were generally received with resentment or outright objections, as they stoked anxieties about foreign takeovers of sovereign territory and resources in the name of conservation. News stories about the exploitation of Amazonian forest and freshwater resources by non-Brazilians tend to infiltrate popular consciousness and fuel fears about the “internationalization” of Amazonia, even into the present day.4 Such fears were stoked and popularized during the military era and continue to be prominent in the present.

Aside from such concerns, Brazil did also take some steps toward environmental protection in the 1980s, although a general emphasis was maintained on subsuming environmental issues under more highly prioritized economic goals. An early advent of Brazilian environmental attention was the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), first approved in 1981. The legislation sought to “make social economic development compatible with the preservation of the quality of the environment and the ecological balance ( . . . ) aiming at its rational use and permanent availability.”5 Here, the foundations of a sustainable development discourse are rather blatantly expressed; “social” modifies the phrase (p.81) “economic development,” and compatibility with environmental quality and ecological balance establish the idea of harmonization between the various conceptual foundations of the sustainable development framework. The notion of rational use, further, and the idea that development is becoming compatible with the environment (rather than the other way around) emphasizes that the legislation is essentially not conservationist but rather about reigning in and steering development along a more environmentally friendly trajectory over the longer term. The NEPA became enshrined in Brazil’s democratic constitution of 1988, along with a host of local, state, and federal agencies, which were tasked with doing environmental impact assessments as part of the legal requirements for licensing new projects. The public participation component of Brazilian environmental laws is also substantial; once the assessments are completed, the relevant environmental agencies must organize and conduct public hearings about the proposed projects.

1988 was an important year for Brazilian politics and for environmental protection. Brazil underwent a gradual opening-up process of transition toward democracy; José Sarney was the vice-presidential candidate in a ballot led by Tancredo Neves, and they were indirectly elected by the Brazilian Congress in 1985. Tancredo Neves died a few weeks after that, and Sarney took his seat as president of the country in March 1985. By 1988, Brazil’s new constitution was approved, and democracy was fully restored. Under President José Sarney, the Brazilian government began acknowledging environmental concerns and drafted a conservation plan called Nossa NaturezaOur Nature. The plan, which was formally approved in 1989, had a nationalist tone: President Sarney said, “Amazonia is ours, even to destroy” (Allen 2006, 66). Still, the plan addressed concerns about pollution from gold mining activities and promoted the creation of new national parks and protected forest areas. Little immediately changed on environmental grounds during the transition from the dictatorship into Brazil’s democratic era, but the new constitution of 1988 had a whole chapter devoted to environmental issues. This laid the foundation for new regulations and, eventually, the creation of a national environmental agency. Nossa Natureza is an especially illustrative example of the frictions involved in how Brazil navigated responding to international pressure to address deforestation while maintaining national autonomy and emphasis on economic development.

Nossa Natureza

Amid heated international debate concerning the possibilities of debt-for-nature swaps, Brazil staunchly refused to consider any degree of compromised national sovereignty or territorial concessions in exchange for foreign aid or (p.82) debt relief. Nossa Natureza attempted to appease international public opinion and simultaneously keep discussion on the Amazon confined to the Brazilian domestic realm (Barbosa 2000). It recognized the traditional populations living in the Amazon, which included ribeirinhos (riverine peasants), seringueiros (rubber tappers), as well as nut harvesters, coconut-breakers, and other river-based peasant populations and descendants of slaves who had lived lightly off the lands in the rainforest for at least a generation prior to the 1970s colonization efforts. Nossa Natureza also instituted tough penalties for illegal burning of the rainforest, regulated the use of mercury in mining operations, and even suspended some road building projects. IBAMA, the national environmental agency (formally known as Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) was created through the program.

Spurred by a combination of international pressure, Brazilian social movements, and also by his own initiative, President Sarney showed that some policy, even if imperfect, was still a positive step forward. Nossa Natureza at least offered acknowledgment that the environment was, in fact, an issue that needed a backbone institutionally and legally (Barbosa 2000). Moreover, it granted state recognition to the hitherto invisible populations of forest peoples in Amazonia6 and incentivized research on the consequences of environmental degradation and protection efforts relevant to those populations. It also sparked the creation of communal, non-privatized landholding, which was aimed as a strategy to address the uncertain land titling and identity status of garimpeiros (artisanal gold miners), riverine peasants, and rubber tappers. It recognized the reality that the gold mining areas emitted toxic pollution from mercury, although the regulations often had few teeth in terms of enforcement. New national forests were created in Amapa and Amazonas, national parks were established in Acre and Mato Grosso, and some lip service was paid to the idea that land reform outside of the Amazon should take place to address the flow of migrants into the region (Hecht and Cockburn 1990). In all of those ways, Nossa Natureza was a policy that helped social and environmental protection in significant ways.

While such initiatives would give the appearance that Nossa Natureza offered formidable emphasis on Amazonian environmental protection, a healthy dose of skepticism is also merited about the depth of those commitments. The policy suspended the incentives of the SUDAM (Superintendency for the Development of the Amazon) program for cattle ranching and land clearing, and limited the logging of whole trees for export. Many of these initiatives were already underway and winding down, however. It omitted any treatment of the migrant populations that were already present in the Amazon and said nothing about some of the most blatant ongoing forms of environmental destruction that were (p.83) taking place in the region. These included massive dams like the Balbina hydroelectric project, the proposed Xingu river dams, and extensive roadbuilding throughout the region. Aside from Nossa Natureza, overall, Brazil remained staunch in its commitment to development, allowing little in the way of environmental considerations to impede national economic growth. Scholars Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn observe:

. . . what Nossa Natureza made quite clear was that the real Amazonian policy would be covert, or at least undiscussed in public, in much the same manner as the deals made nearly a quarter of a century earlier [when Operation Amazonia was announced by General Castelo Branco in 1966]. (Hecht and Cockburn 1990, 140)

Under Sarney, the land values near roads remained high, the investments in infrastructure were still seen as a means of boosting economic growth and deterring the region from its persistent isolation, and the larger struggles over land remained a constant. For environmentalists, who were growing in numbers and prominence as a movement in Brazil and around the world during this time, Sarney’s forays into Amazonian development appeared to provoke a vicious cycle. As ranching, mining, and mega-dams expanded, ecological degradation took place, and conflicts over land frequently became violent.

Chico Mendes and the People of the Forest

Just before Nossa Natureza was scheduled to launch, events in the remote Amazonian state of Acre shook the world. A rubber tapper who lived there named Chico Mendes was assassinated. In the far western Amazon, rural violence and land conflicts were not uncommon, so when his assassination made front page news around the world, Brazilians were shocked.7 Mendes was a leader of the seringueiros and, together with local rural workers’ union leaders, their aim was to protect the forest upon which they and their families had practiced sustainable extractivist activities for several generations.8 Their conflicts frequently involved face-to-face confrontations with chainsaw-carrying workers who were deforesting lands at the behest of powerful local ranchers. Mendes and the rubber tappers organized empates, or nonviolent standoffs, to protect their trees from being cut and their land from being claimed by nearby ranchers. The empates, practiced since the mid-1970s as ranching was increasing, became a widely recognized protest action. Chico Mendes reflected on the challenges they faced in taking a largely oppositional stance in response to the problem of deforestation and land claiming:


A moment arrived when we began to get worried, because we had got a fight on our hands, the struggle to resist deforestation, but at the same time we didn’t really have an alternative project of our own to put forward for the development of the forest. We didn’t have strong enough arguments to justify why we wanted to defend the forest. (Mendes 1989, 37)

As the struggle being waged in Acre gained momentum, the rubber tappers organized into a national movement and became increasingly prominent. The rapid deforestation rates in the Amazon were gaining attention both in Brazil and internationally. The rubber tappers sought to gain government officials’ attention by holding the First National Rubber Tappers’ Congress of May 1985, in Brasilia: “Why Brasília? Because it was the decision-making centre of the country. Also because most of the authorities thought the Amazon region was just one big empty jungle. We wanted to show them the Amazon was in fact inhabited—there were people living and working in the forest” (Mendes 1989, 39–39). Mendes gained traction with public officials, and the rubber tappers’ movement caught the attention of several anthropologists who were working in the region. Chico Mendes was charismatic and articulate, and provided an accessible human voice to outsiders that the rainforest was not just a jungle wilderness devoid of humans. He helped give a public face to the fact the people of the forest—including those who were not indigenous peoples—had long histories of being economic contributors to the nation as well as protectors of the forest.

The prominence of the people of the forest was further bolstered when Mendes began internationally traveling during the 1985–1988 interval as a national leader of the rubber tappers. Through meetings with US Senate Foreign Operations Sub-Committee9 and officials at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, the story of the rubber tappers became more politically important and resonant back in Brazil. The death threats against Mendes over a specific local land conflict in Xapuri had been mounting for some time. Mendes’ struggle was poignantly articulated to international officials, especially because while under this pressure he raised awareness about the struggle the rubber tappers as a whole faced as the rainforest was being lost to ranchers and new highway projects.

For many, Chico Mendes represented a charismatic personal story about the importance of Amazonian conservation. His presence conveyed to people around the world that threats to the rainforest from ranchers and development projects had a real human impact, in addition to the flora and fauna that were being lost. Ultimately the rubber tappers did come up with a proposal, one that responded to the idea that aside from wanting deforestation to halt, the rubber tappers had an alternative development trajectory they could offer for the region. This was the idea of the extractive reserves (reserva extrativista, or RESEX), (p.85) which were intended to be communally held and managed areas where the rubber tappers and other traditional populations engaged in low-impact, renewable resource–based activities could live off of the forest with minimal impact. Such activities include fishing, rubber tapping, Brazil nut gathering, and even small-scale farming. In a sort of exchange for being the eyes and ears on the ground of forest protection, the resident populations are given a degree of extra support from environmental agency personnel, who ideally help them protect and steward the land with their enforcement capacities.

The RESEXs offered a policy framework for achieving environmental aims in harmony with ecological protection goals. Creating protected areas where long-standing residents could live with a minimal environmental footprint was a win–win: it simultaneously offered the government an on-the-ground presence (in the form of the traditional populations living in the RESEXs) as a form of protection against illegal encroachments by would-be loggers and ranchers, while giving the traditional populations a collective property title that secured their ability to stay living on those lands. The otherwise unregulated land uses in the region were thus put toward conservation, with the people of the forest at the center of the strategy (Allegretti 1990, Allegretti 1995).

When Chico Mendes was gunned to death on December 22, 1988 by a hit man (who was hired through a contractor of one of the local ranchers, named Darly Alves), it was a story of a death foretold. The story resonated with a much wider audience than that in Acre, especially since Mendes had strong international allies and attended meetings that influentially resonated in Brazilian politics (Keck and Sikkink 1998). When Mendes was assassinated, his death reverberated in the international media much more than any of the 1,500 or so prior deaths that had previously occurred in Amazonian conflicts over land and forest protection (Moore 2008). Mendes’ assassination was an Amazonian “shot heard around the world” for the problems of Amazonian forest loss, and he became a social movement martyr as an environmental defender (Revkin 1990).

Mendes’ defense of the forest—and his death for that cause—had several important implications for Amazonian sustainable development politics. First, it showed environmentalists around the world that social and environmental issues could be addressed in tandem. It functioned to raise awareness of a socio-environmental or “social greens” framework for addressing issues at the intersection of conservation and development (Keck 1995). Second, it weakened some of the nationalist claims that foreign interests were greedily stealing the Amazon as many on the Brazilian left, who would have acceded to this nationalistically driven reasoning, instead began looking inward at the nation’s struggles (Hochstettler and Keck 2007, Hurrell 1992). The international response to Mendes’ assassination stunned Brazilian officials and put their Amazonian endeavors under increased scrutiny. A few months after the assassination, World (p.86) Bank and Inter-American Development Bank financing for highway projects in the Amazon was withdrawn, largely over pressure they were experiencing from environmentalists in the United States and Western Europe (Hecht and Cockburn 1990). Accountability measures to assess the environmental impacts of multinational bank lending and development policies increasingly became part of the banks’ standard operational protocols (Rich 1995, Clark, Fox, and Treakle 2003). The assassination made clear that Brazil’s new environmental law, Nossa Natureza, would be internationally questioned, and that there could be tough consequences for the nation’s development agenda if proper protections were not in place for forest peoples or the land upon which they depended.

Not least, by the mid-1980s the rubber tappers and indigenous peoples were “considered legitimate participants in the debate” in global environmental politics (Dore 1996). Less included in that debate were the small-scale farmers of the Amazon who had been encouraged to colonize the region throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The newer settlers largely were blamed for Amazonian deforestation by the Brazilian government, although they were victims in the sense that they were unable to receive support or encouragement to do much else (Bratman 2011). Incentivized to come to the region, the training, agroforestry assistance, social supports, financial credits, and health conditions that were promised in Amazonian colonization schemes failed to meet their expectations. Given little resources or training to do anything else, the absence of support established conditions for ongoing slash-and-burn practices that depleted soils and spurred unplanned colonization (Schmink and Wood 1992).

In the aftermath of Mendes’ death, a gathering took place that united a wide range of forest peoples including indigenous tribal groups, seringueiros, and an array of others. The tone of the meeting demanded change: “Things can’t be as they were, and to dream that they would be would drive us to ruin” said Osmarino Amâncio Rodrigues to the assembled crowd (Hecht and Cockburn 1990). Among the shifts that were taking place, clear organizing structures began to emerge among rainforest peoples and conservation activists. The composition and formation of those broad domestic social movement alliances, and the international civil society linkages that also influenced the political dynamics of the time, involved considerable conflicts, failures, and successes, all of which inform subsequent debates over how sustainable development should take place in the Amazon. These merit a more detailed discussion, to which we now turn.

Amazonian Social Movements

Well before the sustainable development discourse and the high-profile assassination of Chico Mendes, social movement activism, especially in the (p.87) form of labor rights and agrarian reform, had been brewing in the Amazon since the early 1970s. A demand, articulated as early as 1973, that a “wide and massive agrarian reform” be executed in the Amazon catalyzed much of the organizing (Almeida 1991). Under the military government, however, trade unions were highly controlled and stifled; but as democratization and civilian rule resumed in the early 1980s, the union movement gained more freedom and considerable momentum (Mendes 1989).10 Paradoxically, despite the repression of the military era, the rural poor undertook significant mobilizations during this time (Maybury-Lewis 1994). An important explanation for this is institutional, because Brazilian corporatism specified that each county could only have one rural workers’ union that was officially recognized by the government. Doing agrarian reform of some sort was “part of the official discourse on transforming Brazil” because the military generals had hoped to avoid a revolution similar to Cuba’s by attempting to organize agrarian redistribution (Font 2003, 91). But since the agrarian reform process was so disorganized, violence and land conflicts tended to ignite and mobilize the poor. The organizational and moral support of the Catholic Church was also behind those efforts, strengthening them considerably while shielding them somewhat from the repressive violence that could be leveraged by the military regime.

Church and Union Mobilizations

While there was growing momentum surrounding the extractivist-based and indigenous groups that comprised the peoples of the forest, the newer migrants to the region were getting educated about inequality and social justice issues. Often, such groups did overlap, as both met in Catholic Church settings, where they were spurred to organize into workers’ unions and cooperatives. Chico Mendes, for example, was a secretary of the rural trade union in 1975, and in 1977 organized the Xapuri Rural Workers’ Union. He did so along with help from Marina Silva, who was once an aspiring nun and later became a national politician and head of the Environmental Secretariat.11 Such mobilizations were largely thanks to the grassroots ecclesiastical communities (CEBs), which were organized by the Catholic Church as early as 1966. The CEBs were one of the rare forms of social organizing that was allowed during the dictatorship era, largely because of the sway held by the Catholic Church despite the censorship and repression perpetuated by the military leaders of the times. Guided by liberation theology, the CEBs were intended to instill a more profound sense of communion within church life. Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologist, explains some of the religious philosophy behind the CEBs:


The adjective ‘ecclesiastic’ is more important than the noun ‘community’ because it is the principal constitutive of community and gives structure to community. The religious inspiration is Christian and binds together Christians as a group, and confers upon it all of its objectives; both those that are social and liberation-oriented, these are evangelizing characteristics. The consciousness and the explicitness of Christianity constitutes, thus, a characteristic of the CEBs and an element of the discernment in relation to other types of community. (Dornelas 2006)

The Transamazon colonists—especially those involved with the rural workers’ unions—were strongly linked to religious life in the Catholic Church. A rural community leader along the Transamazon Highway near the Uruará parish described the ways in which the Church got involved in politics: “Church, union, political party . . . if, at the Catholic mass, you speak of the PT [the Worker’s Party], the union, it is a prayer because it’s considered a healthy thing. . . . Those that do not participate in the union and in the local commercial cooperatives do not have the right to receive any sacraments, nor to baptize their children” (Araújo 1991, 128). It was not infrequent for Church leaders to ask laypeople about their political participation and engagement in meetings. The Xingu Prelature, in the state of Pará, helped in the formation of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT) in the region, and organized its rural workers. It is significant too that in this part of the Transamazon, the demand from social movement activists for “working the land” was secondary to their demand for better infrastructure for the region. The paving of the Transamazon, the construction of secondary roads, hospitals, and schools, were always the central demands of the social movements in the region (Araújo 1991, Toni 2006).

Land reform–oriented organizations like the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, or CPT) and the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento Sem Terra, or MST) emanated from the Catholic Church and the CEBs in the early 1970s as well. The CPT arose out of several heated land conflicts, many of which involved progressive priests supporting peasants in their struggles against the large landowners. In the state of Mato Grosso, a rural prelacy called São Felix do Araguaia was one site of a formative struggle. A 1971 letter from the region notes the importance of the Church in standing up for the poor: “São Felix will be either the Church of the people, or it will not exist! It cannot become the church of calves and cows, which is inevitable if it does not support the resistance of the posseiros [small landholders] and Indians against the greed of capital held by modern latifúndios” (Poletto 1985, 30). The CPT was created with the intention of being a pastoral branch of the church, focused on the linkages between land and oppression of the poor. The existence of (p.89) CIMI—the Indigenous Missionary Council—set a precedent for the Church’s involvement in social justice issues, and, at the same time, the CPT was intimately linked to the class-based struggles that were being led by the syndicalist organizations. This closeness and affinity between the Church, the unions, and political parties was explicitly documented and encouraged by the mid-1980s as the social movements collectively gained strength: “Beyond support from above, institutionally, it is fitting for the CPT to stimulate the critical participation of the camponeses [peasantry] and rural workers in the syndicate at CUT [the Unified Workers’ Central], in the syndical opposition in PT or in other parties, and in forms of organization” (Poletto 1985, 56). The CPT’s role in this regard helped to address the challenge of the traditionally perceived distance between the urban working classes and the rural peasantry, despite their common class struggles. The CEBs provided the training ground for activists who later became leaders in the social movement groups and in the PT party as well. In meetings of the CEBs, local organizing used the strength of the Catholic Church to articulate critiques of the military regime.12 Brazil’s Landless People’s Movement, or MST, was a major force behind the Church-led and civil society push for agrarian reform as well.13

The Church’s 1960s and 1970s progressive focus on mounting opposition to the military regime shifted by the early 1980s into building political engagements and a robust cadre of social movement leaders within Brazilian civil society. It is also important to note the presence of the links between union organizing and the church. CONTAG, the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers, was similarly conceived out of the CEBs and the work of the CPT. It also spurred a labor movement of considerable magnitude and variety and played a unique role in influencing Brazilian political parties.

CONTAG emphasized a distinction between agrarian reform and colonization, criticizing the transfers and compulsory removals of colonists and urging immediate action to settle the families in the places where they were already living and cultivating the land (Almeida 1991). Using a top-down model, they organized state and local union groups across the Amazon as early as 1979. Their efforts aimed to build an organizing strategy, so that the unions would influence the nation’s eventual opening into a democratic transition.14 In the Amazon, several strong unions were prevalent. One important union was the Rural Workers Syndicate (Sindicato de Trabalhadores Rurais or STR), which organized laborers alongside CONTAG, encompassing many of the new migrants in the region who were working as agriculturists. The unions sometimes politically conflicted with each other,15 but alliances and overlapping memberships were also common.

Social movement activism in the Amazon became more prominent toward the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s as Brazil fully transitioned into democracy. A significant derivative of the many meetings and civil society organizations (p.90) was a robust focus on land rights, class issues, and inequality. In Brazil and other parts of Latin America, conversations emerged on a more widespread basis about how to address environmental and development issues together. The framework was called socioambientalismo, or socio-environmentalism. The rising movement of socio-environmentalists saw nature and the lifestyle of regionally based social groups as indissoluble, and it emphasized the political and economic basis for environmental problems (Alonso, Costa, and Maciel 2005, Hecht 2011a).


Stemming from leftist discourses and ideology, socio-environmentalism emphasizes the negative effects of capitalist development on the middle and lower classes, and at the same time champions the poor as protagonists in finding environmental solutions (Keck 1995, Hochstettler and Keck 2007). Brazilian socio-environmentalism is strongly linked to concerns about class-based oppression, and integrated a broad swath of the population into its ideological tent, including rubber tappers, river-based peasants, coconut-breakers, and the agrarian reform movement (Esterci 2003). Even as those groups were embraced by socio-environmentalism, the forest peoples themselves did not directly know about or embrace environmentalism and ecology; their narratives happened to run in parallel. Only as the socio-environmental movement evolved did the idea that forest peoples were an embodiment of socio-environmental values become recognized by all parties that were participating within the movement (Rodrigues 2007).

Socio-environmentalism grew at a time when the environmental justice movement in the United States was also gaining a strong foothold, and political ecology was on the rise in Europe. As a Brazilian variant, socio-environmentalism was positioned against both a strong environmental conservation stance as well as more neoliberal perspectives on the economic values of nature. While natural resources and society are often framed as being at odds with each other in the debate surrounding sustainable development, Brazilian socio-environmentalism frames society instead as not only compatible with environmental protection but even as conducive to achieving it. Socio-environmentalism critiques capitalism and capital-intensive farming, as well as the idea that nature should be set aside for biodiversity protection purposes (Hecht 2011b).

By the 1990s, socio-environmentalism was the predominant form of organizing and activism in the Amazon.16 It embraced inequality and social harm issues head-on, finding natural affinities with the land reform and labor movements as well as the PT party. Poverty and environmental degradation “were part of the same causal story” in socio-environmentalism (Hochstettler (p.91) and Keck 2007, 109). While sometimes the links were unclear about exactly what steps should be taken using a socio-environmental framework, the democratic transition, the Chico Mendes story, and the Rio Earth Summit all helped to bolster the idea that socio-environmentalism—as both a movement and a set of ideas—offered an important means of conjoining ecological and social justice questions (Hochstettler and Keck 2007).

Other more “mainstream” environmentalist orientations gained ground in Brazil during the 1980s and early 1990s as well, and engaged in political protests.17 “All the activists were pondering how to make the best use of newly opened channels of political access, whether the opportunities originated in domestic democratization, keystone events like the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, or newly available funding from businesses and the state” (Hochstettler and Keck 2007, 102). The Atlantic forest conservationists formed the SOS Atlantic Forest Foundation (SOS), which became a powerhouse by the mid-1990s in influencing conservation and deforestation discussions for that region. A separate group that was a byproduct of a cross-partisan coalition (the Interstate Ecological Coordination for the Constituent Assembly, or CIEC), put together their own list of endorsements for political candidates in 1986, which was known as the “ecologist platform” (Hochstetler and Keck 2007). A NGO coalition group called Gaia was formed by José Lutzenberger in 1987, aimed at offering a Brazilian organizational basis for tackling global environmental issues. The various NGOs coalesced around anti-nuclear activism and local anti-pollution struggles. Also in 1987, they formed the Brazilian Green Party. Lutzenberger, who had been more of a locally oriented anti-pollution environmental activist in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in the 1970s, won the Right Livelihood Award18 in 1988 in recognition for his work (Rohter 2002). He became a Minister of the Environment in 1990 under President Fernando Collor de Melo (1990–1992) and convinced him to recognize and protect 36,000 square miles of land for the Yanomami Indians in the far northern Amazon. Creating the Yanomami reserve involved expelling considerable numbers of garimpeiros from the area, who were decimating the Yanomami tribe and destroying their rainforest habitat (Rabben 1998).19

Another important step for the socio-environmental movement, illustrative of the strength of these transnational networks, was the 1988 a meeting of indigenous peoples in Altamira, Pará in protest of the Belo Monte dam. This event, called the First Encounter of the Xingu, captured the spotlight of international media and was the largest gathering of indigenous peoples of the Amazon at the time (Bratman 2015, de Sousa Júnior, Reid, and Leitão 2006, Fearnside 2012a, Hall and Branford 2012, Jaichand and Sampaio 2013, Sevá Filho 2005). As the international environmental movement gained strength worldwide, campaigns were launched against international funding for the Brazilian highway (p.92) infrastructure projects, on the basis that they were both socially and environmentally irresponsible.20

It is also important to recognize the role of transnational advocacy networks in shaping Amazonian political dynamics. Whole books have been written on the topic of activist groups in transnational alliances relation to environmental (and socio-environmental) activism in Brazil and other countries.21 Of special note were the effectively powerful ties between internationally based scholars and grassroots actors. Darrell Posey, an ethnobotanist, and Janet Chernela, an anthropologist, played central roles in bringing indigenous leaders and Chico Mendes to Washington, DC to meet with officials at the World Bank in 1988 to voice their concerns about financing for Amazonian dams (Rabben 1998). Others, such as the Environmental Defense Fund’s Stephen Schwartzman and his mentor, the anthropologist Terrence Turner, also played central roles in understanding the indigenous tribes, brokering meetings for their leaders, and working on lobbying together to bring them into contact with Brazilian officials, US Congressional representatives, and the Inter-American Development bank (Keck and Sikkink 1998).

The role of nationally connected organizations and key individuals in the scientific and applied anthropology communities also played important supporting roles in strengthening these networks.22 While socio-environmentalist activists in Brazil worked most often at grassroots levels, national-level activism also supported their work, often through partnerships with groups such as the Social Environmental Institute (ISA) as well as the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission, the National Council of Rubber Tappers, and the Landless Worker’s Movement. Often, their work was in conjunction with international allies including the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Environmental Defense Fund, International Rivers, the Centre for International Forestry Research and, occasionally, organizations with a slightly more conservationist bent such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy. Multiple Amazonian scientific institutions, such as the Institute for Amazonian Environmental Research (IPAM) and the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA), in addition to state-led agricultural extension services, supported local initiatives through research and technical support. A robust epistemic community of researchers had grown since the mid-1970s and effectively raised attention to deforestation and biodiversity concerns taking place in Amazonian geographies.

Facing international pressure that was the result both of the legacy of Chico Mendes’ assassination in December 1988 and the lead-up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Brazilian government began to establish national parks in the early 1990s, which emphasized forest conservation and ecological research.23 Dovetailing the new emphasis on ecological conservation, indigenous reserves were also created, and these served not only to help protect many of (p.93) the Amazon’s most threatened tribes from the intrusions of illegal land claiming and logging but also to support the goals of forest protection. Table 3.1 details the establishment of the history and magnitude of these protected areas in the Amazon, noting the federal and the state-level conservation efforts. As new reserves, parks, and extractive reserves were created, land speculation was dramatically reduced, and the rates of deforestation began to notably decline in those areas. These plans, for the first time, were explicitly aimed at bringing a set of (p.94) environmentally oriented policies into the region that simultaneously strove to balance social needs.

Table 3.1 Protected Areas in the Brazilian Amazon (1961–2016)

Presidential Perioda

Government Type

Total Size Created (ha)b

% of Total Conservation Areas







































































(a) Protected Areas were combined in year groups based on who was the president at the time.

(b) Data from the Protected Areas Monitoring Program and Geoprocessing Laboratory of Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). The organization monitors the Federal Official Gazette and the Official Gazettes of the states of Legal Amazonia daily to report any creation of new protected areas. ISA also consults other NGOs, such as the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, and administrative bodies to keep track of changes to current conservation areas.

Through constructing plans for the region’s future that included efforts at environmental protection, significant demarcations of indigenous territories, and creation of protected areas for environmental conservation, the Brazilian government began making efforts to convince the world that it could be an environmental leader at the same time as it grew as an economic power. Likely, too, those steps positioned Brazil better as a host for the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where undoubtedly the nation’s track record surrounding deforestation would be scrutinized.

The Rio Earth Summit of 1992

Global environmental political agreements were in need of revitalization by 1992. The Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (1972) resulted in many unmet hopes for environmental protection, and between the geopolitical shifts, new scientific knowledge about environmental problems, and civil society mobilizations in the twenty years since the Stockholm conference, 178 representatives from different nations recognized the need to rekindle their commitments. Maurice Strong, the Secretary-General for the Rio conference, praised the central role that Brazil would play in giving the “Only One Earth” summit momentum:

There could be no better place to hold this historic Earth Summit. This great country of Brazil, which takes pride in being a part of the developing world, is a universe in itself, rich in the resources with which nature has endowed it and in the diversity, the vitality, the creativity and the charm of its people. It is, at the same time, one of the world’s leading industrial countries and one of its most urbanized, while containing some of its greatest frontier areas. The EcoBrasil exhibition in São Paulo and EcoTech ‘92 here in Rio have demonstrated, too, the impressive quality and range of Brazil’s scientific and technological capabilities. The economic, social and environmental challenges which Brazil is tackling with characteristic vigor and dynamism mirror the whole panoply of issues this Conference is addressing. And the initiatives Brazil has taken under your leadership, Mr. President, in dealing with some of your own critical environment and development problems have set an enlightened example to the international community. (Strong 1992)

The lofty praise set a congenial tone for the start of the conference, but Brazil’s way of coping with environment and development problems was by no means wholehearted.

(p.95) Despite its hope to become an environmental leader, Brazil’s embrace of environmental concerns at the Earth Summit was only tenuous. Brazil led nations of the Global South in championing rights for development over conservation interests. As the nation transitioned out of military dictatorship and into a young democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leaders were only reluctantly spurred by international outcry to try to set a new course for the region. José Lutzenberger, who went from the NGO world into becoming Brazil’s Minister of Environment, stepped down only a few months before the conference was to begin. At the summit, the nation maintained its stance on the importance of national sovereignty over forest resources, ultimately resisting international efforts to make a treaty to combat deforestation. Largely, environmental issues remained more rhetorically important to the government during this time than substantively encoded as a set of values and enforced policies (da Costa Ferreira and Tavolaro 2008).24 Each time it faced the international limelight, a somewhat contradictory stance marked Brazil’s position. It made gestures toward conciliation with international environmental concerns, even if only rhetorically, but then defiantly asserted its national sovereignty through resoundingly nationalist campaigns (da Costa Ferreira and Tavolaro 2008, Hochstettler and Keck 2007).25

By the early 1990s the environmental problems of the Amazon took center stage in global environmental governance debates, particularly those surrounding biodiversity and deforestation. The social and economic efficacy of earlier policies began to be questioned by Brazilian officials, who were confronted with both evidence of the environmental damages such policies had caused as well as substantial international pressure to improve its environmental protection if it was to credibly maintain a leadership position in global environmental debates (Schweickardt 2003). Newly democratized Brazil had any number of political and economic barriers to overcome, but the environmental conditions in Amazonia remained a focus of international attention. The SOS Atlantic Rainforest director, João Paulo Capobianco, left SOS shortly after the Rio Earth Summit and became the founding director of ISA, the Instituto SocioAmbiental, which became the premiere research and advocacy organization working within a socio-environmental approach (Hochstettler and Keck 2007).26 A growing body of social movement and civil society groups increasingly shaped government priorities concerning environmental issues.

On the heels of contentious arguments at the 1992 Earth Summit over forestry issues, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon continued to rise. Between 1991 and 1994, some estimates cited a 34 percent increase in annual Amazonian deforestation (Serrill 1997). Although significant progress was made in creating new conservation areas and indigenous reserves, deforestation rates climbed continuously higher.27 Pressure mounted through domestic networks of socio-environmental activists as well as in the international media for the nation to (p.96) act to counter the shockingly high rates of deforestation occurring in Amazonia. But the general trajectory of environmental losses continued, as is illustrated in Figure 3.1. By 1996, Amazonian deforestation was at record levels, and the rates shot even higher in 1998, when fires burned out of control in Roraima and reduced about 15 percent of the state’s forests to ashes (Espach 2002, Muchagata et al. 2003).


Sustainable Development Meets the Amazon

Figure 3.1 Rates of deforestation in the Amazon plummeted from 2004–2007, although subsequently began to rise. The total area of forest losses has continuously increased over time.

The multinational banks, which had a long history of supporting Brazilian federal programs to incentivize cattle ranching, infrastructure, and industrial developments in the Amazon, began to change their approach around this same time. Through the World Bank, Brazil received around $1.56 billion in funding oriented toward environmental research and conservation from the G7 nations in 1991. The Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forest (commonly known as the PPG-7) sought to provide long-term support for community-based agroforestry activities and to bolster Amazonian production of forest products for commercialization (Espach 2002, Becker and Lèna 2002, de Lima and Buszynski 2011). Sometimes these projects were more valuable to NGO intermediaries than the local peasants whom they were purported to empower and benefit. But the pilot projects did notably encourage a high-level discourse of sustainability, participatory management, and agroforestry activities in relation to the Amazon (Barbanti 2013). Increasingly, a neoliberal orientation began marking Amazonian conservation, with landscapes positioned as having an agro-industrial and modern utility. Export-oriented monoculture production is exemplary of the highest transformed manifestation of such landscapes. As soy was planted in the state of Mato Grosso, especially, the contrast between Amazonian protection and Amazonian “productive” land uses became more marked (Hecht 2011b). Long critical of debt-for-nature swaps, Brazil accepted its first one in 1991 and began embracing the possibilities that international cooperation—including from long-resisted NGO actors—could offer for Amazonian conservation.

The era of sustainable development took hold in the early 1990s, as practices that aimed to avoid juxtaposing environmental strictures and economic development gained momentum. Illustrative of this is the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration’s (1994–2002) progress with the Planafloro program in Rondônia. Despite many long years of negotiations with skeptical NGOs, Planafloro was an ambitious plan for statewide agro-ecological and economic zoning, largely funded by multilateral banks. It was an extremely ambitious plan, intended to limit frontier expansion by intensifying agriculture and infrastructure in already-settled areas, and to do more to protect environmentally vulnerable areas and indigenous reserves (Keck 1998). Rondônia was “environmentalists’ object case of colonization run amok,” and Planafloro was crafted with considerable disjunction in its aims (Keck 1998, 185). The contradictions persisted well into the plan’s implementation. Planafloro was a notable example of sustainable development because it explicitly attempted to address ecological issues and economic growth in tandem. It did so through protection of existing conservation units, creation of extractive reserves, regulation of timber logging, and discouragement of settlement in unsuitable areas, while at the same time it sought to invigorate social infrastructure for local populations and to build new infrastructures for them (p.98) while expanding farm production and logistical efficiencies. Civil society’s activism, both locally in Rondônia and transnationally, also represented a notable level of engagement and concerted efforts to influence such plans (Keck 1998, Rodrigues 2004).

The national Forest Code, which had been first established in 1965, was also strengthened during the mid-1990s. While provisions of legally protected forest reserves and prohibitions on clearing vegetation from environmentally sensitive areas were already in place, the new revisions required that Amazonian landowners maintain 80 percent of their lands as intact forest (Espach 2002, McElhinny 2011). Subsequently, the Forest Code would become a revisited bone of contention as, beginning in 2011, legislative changes weakened the 80 percent protection standard and waived some of the penalties for prior deforestation. The Planafloro program and the Forest Code epitomize early attempts to translate sustainable development theory into practice.

The discourses that entrenched nationalism and national sovereignty that marked the dictatorship’s ideological views toward the Amazon continued to be articulated even in this era, however. Illustrative of this is the following snippet of a speech made to the Senate on June 7, 1999, by Senator Luiz Otávio (at the time, a PPB party member from Paraná), criticizing the international NGOs in Amazonia:

The organizations [NGOs] are captained by our media headlines. Greenpeace, by the way, will set up a base there in the Amazon; they will have their own boat there to travel our territories, our riches, also to interfere with the ecological balance and our resources, of our riches. I give you my alert: por aí, não! [not that way!] One cannot think only of the Amazon as the world’s lungs, as minerals or as a large biodiversity reserve, forgetting the millions of Brazilians who live in the region and need to support their families . . . They [NGOs] will not intimidate me! As they go there to supervise us, we will also go there, to supervise them!” (Campos 1999)

A former Commander of the 2nd infantry of the jungle for the Brazilian army in Pará, Luiz Otávio supported investigations of international organizations. Despite such resistances, accepting the possibility that environmental issues could be addressed hand-in-hand with economic and social concerns was perceived as a more credible approach by most Brazilian leaders. The role of NGOs in partnership with the Brazilian state became more prominent during this time as well, despite the persistent undercurrent of nationalist sentiment that objected to their presence.

While distinctions between the socio-environmentalists, conservationists, and neoliberal approaches appear sharp in ideological terms, in practice, (p.99) especially in the present, conservation and development practice in Amazonia is far more muddled. Despite the wide variety of approaches to conservation, the spectrum of voices does tend to find common ground in terms of crafting and advocating for environmental policies (Hecht, Morrison, and Padoch 2014). An early example of this was the creation of Extractive Reserves, and the socio-environmental movement itself is representative of the intersectionality that oriented the activism of many actors in Amazonian civil society.

Renewed Developmentalism in the Amazon

With this context of policy and activism established, it is important to understand how sustainable development in the Amazon was extended through contemporary political-economic models. This section examines how the political economy of renewed developmentalism influenced—and was influenced by—articulations of sustainable development in the Amazon. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Brazil increasingly embraced market-opening policies, which left Amazonian ecosystems more vulnerable to global market prices and technological advances. Especially since the PT party in Brazil rose to power in 2003 under President Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula), a leftist political rhetoric combined with strategies for intensifying agricultural production and exploiting natural resources (Baletti 2014, Morais and Saad-Filho 2012). Lula’s administration adopted a hybrid model for economic development, both embracing neoliberal prescriptions and, in parallel, taking on a new developmental approach.28 Sometimes called “neodevelopmental,” the renewed developmental approach involved constructive interactions between a strong state and the private sector, with the former providing macroeconomic stability, supporting distributive outcomes directly, and nurturing large domestic firms (“national champions”) (Morais and Saad-Filho 2012, 790). The emphasis in the renewed developmental approach focuses on encouraging global market competitiveness, and values states’ roles as regulators of private enterprise and as providers of infrastructure. The framework of sustainable development also consolidated in the 2000s, as new procedures for possessing and utilizing Amazonian territories were explored (Campbell 2015, 36). Bresser-Pereira argues that new developmentalism involves “a concern with the protection of the environment or with sustainable development that did not exist under old developmentalism” (Bresser-Pereira 2009, 250).

The central aim of renewed developmentalism was to expand states’ productive capacity and increase accumulation of capital. At the same time, the renewed developmental approach gives substantial importance to addressing social inequalities as part of the path toward growth (Morais and Saad-Filho 2012, (p.100) Siscú, de Paulo, and Michel 2007, Amado and Mollo 2015, Cornwall and Eade 2010, Bresser-Pereira 2011). The renewed developmental approach differed from the earlier developmentalism of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean through its recognition of the failures both of import-substitution and of the extensive state intervention in markets. In fact, much of the new approach to developmentalism aimed to correct and mitigate the effects of the earlier developmentalist policies. The renewed developmentalist turn also significantly differed institutionally from Brazilian developmentalism of the 1970s and 1980s, in which a bureaucratic-authoritarian approach led to highly technocratic planning oriented almost entirely upon economic growth (Sikkink 1991, Hochstetler and Montero 2013, Amado and Mollo 2015).

Up until 2004, soybean prices, cattle ranching, and deforestation all spiked, suggesting a new wave of development emphasis concomitantly occurring in the region (Nepstad et al. 2014, Hecht 2014). The satellite images made clear that not only was deforestation increasing from 2002–2004, but also that the greatest rates of deforestation were happening along the same roads where industrial-scale soybean agriculture was being expanded.29

As Figure 3.1 shows, in the 2002 rate was similarly high, at 9,845 square miles, a size comparable to the state of New Jersey. The rates were only between 5,000–7,000 square miles per year from 1996–2001, however, so the increase was especially alarming to observers. The steep declines of later years can largely be attributed to strong institutional enforcement, and the uptick in deforestation since 2014 tends to also correlate with other political and economic turmoil in the country (Monteiro, Seixas, and Vieira 2014, Fonseca et al. 2015, Pfaff et al. 2015, Butler 2017). Seeking to continue these trends while still offering high growth rates, renewed developmentalism aimed to couple attention to environmental governance and social policies with a doubling-down on infrastructure plans. Ironically, for Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, the commodities boom and natural resource extraction in large part offered the funding pool from which financing social policies and conservation activities could be achieved (Strassburg et al. 2014, Gudynas 2016, North and Grinspun 2016).

Paradoxically, a more traditional growth and development model was championed throughout Latin America’s “new left” governments at the same time as alternatives to the modern paradigm of economic development were being articulated. In Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions, the idea of buen vivir, that is, living well within community, was championed, as was the idea of extending the human rights framework to nature through the idea of the rights of nature (Gudynas 2011, Kauffman and Martin 2017). Yet, under sustainable development, especially as far as Brazilian development politics were concerned, the environment–development conflict was accentuated rather than alleviated. One example is the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure (p.101) of South America (IIRSA), where the discourse behind planning is distinctively couched within the sustainable development paradigm:

. . . IIRSA’s comprehensive approach to projects places a priority on environmental protection and is responsive to a growing awareness of its importance by the people of the region . . . The IIRSA approach of applying the concept of hubs helps address environmental issues in a structured way and offers planners and other stakeholders a vision of development opportunities, alternatives and needs to ensure effective and balanced regional integration. (IDB October 2006, 17, quoted in [van Dijck 2008, 101])

The emphasis on road building30 and integration fundamentally focused on economic opportunities in each hub of IIRSA infrastructure development projects. The proposed highway through Bolivian Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) is a prominent example of this tension. The TIPNIS highway would connect the Amazon to the Andes, motivated largely by the possibility of transporting Brazilian soybean shipments out from Pacific ports to China. Oil exploration rights near the TIPNIS park are also held by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras (Friedman-Rudovsky 2012). The result of TIPNIS was an exacerbated geographical pattern of uneven development and a system of investments that prioritized benefits to multinational firms well above environmental protection and social equity considerations (Castro 2012, Kanai 2016). This brief example illustrates the significance of Brazil’s economic strategy in a regional context. Moreover, it highlights the influence of large state firms such as Petrobras and the Chinese government over the development of Amazonian spaces.

In the Brazilian case, the social policies that were also derivatives of renewed developmentalist strategies did have considerable success in reducing extreme poverty and growing the middle class. The push to achieve land reform in the Amazon, and simultaneously to mitigate the concerning rates of deforestation that were occurring in the region, resulted in one especially significant new land use plan known as the Project for Sustainable Development (PDS). The PDS is a type of land reform settlement that involves strict environmental protection protocols while allowing newer (nontraditional) Amazonian residents to engage in farming and settlement. The PDS model is discussed in more depth in Chapter 4. The PDSs were initially created in the western Amazonian state of Acre, and then were scaled up as a planned agrarian settlement model beginning around 2003 (Campbell 2015).

Agrarian reforms, coupled with a strong economy and substantially redistributionist social policies, did go a long way toward reducing inequality and poverty in Brazil. The poverty rate declined by more than 55 percent between (p.102) 2003–2012, going from around 35.8 percent of the population to around 15.9 percent during that time period (Weisbrot, Johnston, and Lefebvre 2014). Brazil was not alone in its renewed developmental orientation. Across Latin America, leaders such as Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Kristina Kirchner in Argentina, and José Mujica in Uruguay all embraced resource-intensive production of commodities as a strategy for achieving higher economic growth rates in tandem with conditional cash transfer programs and other distribution-oriented policies aimed at reducing inequality (Escobar 2010).

The renewed developmental approach was ignited with a host of infrastructure-oriented national plans. Under the Avança Brasil (Forward Brazil) program initiated under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 2000, $43 billion would be allocated for the construction of roads and dams, many of which were in the Amazon. Avança Brasil funded the paving of 7,500 km of Amazonian roads, a significant sum considering the region’s predominantly unpaved character. Table 3.2 illustrates the extent of road paving throughout the country. It is notable that despite the major funding allocations, there have been only incremental improvements to paved road conditions on both federal and state levels since the early 1990s.


Table 3.2 Road Paving in the Brazilian Federal and State Road Network (1970–2007)







% Paved




% Paved


















































































Source: Ministério dos Transportes, http://dados.gov.br/dataset/rodovias-federais. Data from after 2007 is not available.

Avança Brasil also supported the rapid expansion of industrial soybean production, and Brazil quickly become a global leader second only to Argentina in terms of soybean exports by 2003 (Baletti 2014, Hetherington and Campbell 2014, Flaskerud 2003).31 Joining with neighboring countries in South America to build infrastructure projects, Brazil also launched the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA) in the year 2000. In twelve South American countries, the IIRSA plan included 510 infrastructure projects and totaled more than $130 billion in investments, some of which came through public–private partnerships, and others of which were from the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) and regional development banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank. One major IIRSA project was the $1.3 billion Interoceanic highway,32 which connects São Paulo to the Pacific coast in Peru by traversing through both the Amazon and the Andes (Reel 2014). IIRSA entailed commitments of over $69 billion in roadbuilding, hydroelectric dams, and other major infrastructure projects throughout South America, including in the Amazon region.33 The strategy contemplates a total of 348 projects for the continent, many of which impact Amazonian ecosystems (Killeen 2007).

An important component of the renewed developmental approach was the pluriannual Plans for Accelerated Growth (PAC), initiated under president Lula and continued by his successor, President Dilma Rouseff. PAC I (2007–2010), at BRL$503.9 billion or around US $153.8 billion, and its tripled-budget successor PAC II (2010–2014), which was a BRL$1.59 trillion plan (around US $485 billion), proposed major investments by the Brazilian government in projects to achieve economic growth through major civil construction projects for highways, energy infrastructure, and support of industrial zones.

Much like the impetus for the Transamazon and the BR-163 highways that were first cut under Operation Amazonia, Brazil’s goals from IIRSA and the PAC plans were primarily based on the rationale that territorial integration and global connectivity would lead to a more efficient connection to the global economy.34 Furthermore, national consolidation could be achieved, allowing greater opportunity for improving cross-country logistics and shorter travel times. An additional contribution was the growth these investments could foster in Brazil’s budding tourism industry (van Dijck 2008, Kanai 2016). Throughout South America, the projects exacerbated already uneven territorial development patterns, privileging urban nodes and existing networks for further investment while tending to leave those who live in peripheral areas and who experience more limited economic opportunities and access to governmental programs in continued marginal positions (Kanai 2016).

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Brazilian annual growth rates hovered at around 5 percent, and the nation joined the echelons of the world’s top (p.104) agricultural commodities producers. Simultaneously, many observers feared what these changes would mean for the Amazon and for the global environment, as the growth strategy was predicated on development models which typically involved substantial losses for the rainforest and the smallholder populations living on its land (Araujo et al. 2008, Nepstad et al. 2014, Aldrich et al. 2012, Martino 2007).35

While the renewed developmental policies introduced some social reforms and new monetary strategies into a more leftist orientation of economic strategies, the emphasis on integrated economic engagements, private investments, and market competition was seminal (Escobar 2010, Castro 2012, Baletti 2012, Ban 2012, Hochstetler and Montero 2013). Coupled with Brazil’s economic growth from 2003–2011, investments and cooperation with China grew substantially, and Brazil took cues from Chinese state capitalist models for development. The strengthened Brazilian National Bank for Social and Economic Development (BNDES) had a lending portfolio consistently larger than the World Bank’s during this time, at around $190 billion USD.36 The BNDES lent monies to finance export activities and to foreign governments, mostly in Africa. Notably, over 60 percent of the BNDES portfolio was invested in large Brazilian firms including Petrobras, the meatpacking giant JBS, and the world’s leading iron ore exporter, Vale (Leahy 2015). State control extended to businesses and stocks as well. In 2011, some estimates suggested that 20 percent of industries in Brazil had the government among their top five shareholders (Ban 2012, 314). As Brazil was “rising,” the Economist magazine (“Brazil Takes Off” 2009) observed that hubris would be one of the biggest threats to Brazil’s economy. Sacrificing a stable, slow, and steady model in lieu of too rapid a reach into major investments without diversification was a recognized risk. But this is indeed what happened; prices dropped for the major commodities of oil, sugar, and coffee, while Brazil’s tax and pension systems were severely bloated. The result was that considerable public expenditures extended well beyond the pace of GDP growth. The massive public expenditures from statist policies led to significant public debt and a budget deficit, putting Brazil into economic stagnation from 2012–2015 and, after that, a serious economic decline.

During the economic growth period of 2001–2010, a sense of hopeful nationalism prevailed. Brazil catapulted into becoming the world’s sixth largest economy, and President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s (2003–2010) popular leadership pulled millions out of poverty. Brazil won its bid to host the 2014 World Cup, and Rio de Janeiro won the honor of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. Politically, the nation positioned itself to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, clearly aiming for global leadership that was not only economic ( Neves 2012, Grant 2014). By 2011, however, the corruption scandal that embroiled the state-controlled company Petrobras, which is Brazil’s biggest investor, froze spending, and consumer confidence fell dramatically. Cascading (p.105) effects with high unemployment rates and downgrades to Brazil’s credit rating ensued. The government had little money in its coffers to try to boost more investments.37

Public expenditures were so heavily leveraged toward large corporations, in fact, that critics suspected BNDES of crony capitalism, and these allegations were affirmed during the extensive corruption investigations known as Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash. During the investigation, corporate heads of JBS, Petrobras, and a host of other major firms were all found to have been connected to bribes and kickbacks with high-level politicians, including former President Lula da Silva. By 2016, between the economic crisis, President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, and constant political turmoil from the corruption scandals as well as the outbreak of the Zika virus in the country, Brazil faced a “triple crisis,” and the era of renewed developmentalism effectively came to an end.

A significant legacy of renewed developmentalism in Brazil is that of a reshaping of the physical landscape and infrastructures in much of South America. The state-financed encouragement of soybean production, investment in bauxite and other mining operations, and the financial backing of loans for hydroelectric dams intended to increase Brazil’s energy infrastructure to fuel continued economic growth, meant permanent shifts in the ecologies of the Amazon (and other regions), leaving notable reminders of extraction-oriented industries, hydrological shifts, and agro-industrial production on the watersheds, flora, and fauna of the region. At the same time, the renewed developmentalism involved a significant emphasis on strengthening governmental institutions for environmental enforcement and regulation. Along with the clear push for global economic integration through commodity production, environmental governance was a strategy offering prospects for reducing deforestation, quelling the “expansion” of the frontier, and substantially reducing or even eliminating rural land conflicts (Baletti 2012, 2014, Fearnside 2007a). Through formalizing relationships between civil society, researchers, the government, and private enterprise, political will to ensure forest conservation at the same time as massive infrastructure investments were taking place was thought by some close observers to be feasible (Nepstad et al. 2002, Campos and Nepstad 2006b, , Nepstad et al. 2014). Such moves involved threading a very fine needle between environmental protection and economic growth, however.38 In fact, a striking drop in deforestation rates did occur in 2004, with rates precipitously declining by 70 percent over the next decade (Hecht 2011b, Nepstad et al. 2014, Rudel 2013). These declines in Amazonian deforestation can be credited to several factors. These include intensive management of the supply chains for soy and beef, widespread implementation of property registration systems, participatory forms of planning, a substantial increase in territories designated as new protected areas and extractive reserves, substantially improved enforcement (p.106) regimes that penalized deforestation, and agreement upon new policies for forestry. (Nepstad et al. 2014, Hecht 2011b).

In the longer run, however, maintaining these policies and programs became a dubious prospect. In 2012 and 2013, the Brazilian government revised the Forest Code. In 2014 the size of several conservation areas in the Amazon was reduced, and this happened again between 2016–2017 as over a million hectares (25 million acres) of protected areas were proposed to be removed from protection. Coupled with changing land registration proposals and extensions, the uncertain legal and policy context for environmental protection led to upticks in deforestation. Serious concern was voiced by government ministers (speaking anonymously in the press) that Brazil was “backsliding” on land use and indigenous protections (Arsenault 2017). A stagnant national economy and severe cutbacks of the environmental agency budget (by over 40 percent in 2017) suggested that Amazonian conservation would be sacrificed to the perceived economic imperatives for increasing agricultural production and shrinking state spending (Nepstad et al. 2014, Patterson 2017).39 One of President Jair Bolsonaro’s first steps upon taking office in 2019 was to shift the authority to declare and demarcate indigenous territories from the Fundação Nacional do Índio, (the National Indian Foundation, FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture. Such moves, along with his stated promises to gut the protections on conservation areas and criticism of the number of indigenous territories in the Amazon, gives the trajectory of mining and agribusiness a major boost while simultaneously causing grave concern for environmental and human rights interests.

Finding Common Ground within Sustainable Development

Instead of the traditional opposition between the developmentalist position, which sought to maximize growth and environmental conservation, the embrace of land organizing and environmental governance in the Amazon could be understood as following from a common set of problems (Baletti 2012, Brainard and Martinez-Diaz 2009).40 Specifically, these logics contended that efficient production could be achieved in tandem with regulation of property rights and adequate mitigation of deforestation risks, thus enabling conditions for an Amazonian development strategy that involved substantial economic productivity, greater social equality, and also reduction and mitigation of environmental damage.

The new model of Amazonian conservation and development that is captured through the environmental governance model, however, remains almost inevitably contentious. As Brazilian socio-environmental activists began embracing renewed developmentalist strategies, increasingly they became implicated in (p.107) processes oriented toward sustainable development and its policy outgrowths, namely, the “green economy” or what some social movement activists in the Amazon call “green capitalism.” Environmental nongovernmental organizations play a substantial role as liaisons within this approach, enabling “participatory” approaches and channeling funding for territorial ordering and environmental planning which takes place at local levels. Environmental activists from across the spectrum of conservationists, socio-environmentalists, and those with more neoliberal orientations maintained a tenuous place of mutual understanding, and could come together to find common ground over land management decisions (Hecht 2011b, 2007). Local activists, as well as the everyday shopworkers, farmers, smallholders, and hired hands (who may be on the front lines but do not generally think of themselves as activists) often experience a subtle form of political control through their participation in environmental governance initiatives as stakeholders in the renewed developmentalist plans, becoming complicit in the green economy (Baletti 2014, Barbanti 2013). The alternative, also uncomfortable for many, is to become coopted by it as they collaborate with the powerful interests of state power, multilateral financial institutions, and global capital. Rather than reducing inequality and domination, this form of governance instead has a concerning tendency to reproduce inequality and the hegemonic power of the state, environmental NGOs (especially large ones), and multinational corporations, and destabilizes the resistance and political action that otherwise would stem from actors organized at local levels.

Articulations of sustainable development that derive from environmental governance are frequently refracted through other cultural and economic boundaries that comprise the diverse social fabric of Amazonian cities and towns. Sociologist Roberto Da Matta has observed that in Brazilian social life, institutional pressure is exerted from bureaucratic norms and laws, but a second key axis of pressure stems from “webs of personal relations to which all are subjected and by the social resources which these networks mobilize and distribute” (Da Matta 1987, 318). Local media outlets and politicians are often tied to families of wealthy businessmen, many of whom represent cattle ranching or logging interests. Those same groups often influence the civil police, typifying the dynamics of small-town Brazil where “everyone knows everyone.” Nepotism, personal relationships, and trust are powerful influences in local political dynamics (Prado 1995). The more powerful interests of the economic elite and those “outside” of the politically left-leaning social movement activist groups press on social life in (usually) unspoken but ever-present ways. Not only are material interests and competing values often at stake, but also a fragile sense of trust and safety. Amazonian land conflicts are so frequently marked with death threats and assassinations that suspicions of betrayals and long-standing antagonisms run deep.

(p.108) As the next chapter will detail, despite the continuous efforts beginning around the year 2000 to put concerted attention into public participation and projects involving road paving, which almost uniformly was perceived by residents, wealthy and poor alike, as something that would bring “progress” and “development,” the region continued to wait for such developments to arrive. Sometimes the promise of these infrastructures was met with eagerness and other times with resignation. The road paving and ecological-economic zoning plans for the BR-163 highway area were very much a part of the modern project of sustainable development in the state of Pará. In the BR-163 highway region especially, the results involved shared experiences of grassroots actors being downtrodden by the decades of promises and subsequent failures to follow through on the modernist plans. In Ferguson’s description, abjection from development entails a sense of betrayed promises and of being cast outward and downward from the fuller circle of humanity (1999). Despite decades of promises that desired infrastructures and land organizing initiatives would take place, and active public participation toward that goal, land use reversals and infrastructure implementation voids persisted for decades. The people who were left behind from sustainable development plans were often those living in the very spaces those plans were meant to most benefit.

Throughout its contemporary history, the Amazon has been in a process of being reimagined through the lens of sustainable development, which is the focal point of environmental governance. In this imaginary of sustainable development, Brazil has aimed to show the world that its global leadership will be one of strong economic growth as well as some degree of environmental protection in the Amazon, enforced through techno-managerialism. This imaginary is a derivative feature of modernity itself, even as, at times such as under the military dictatorship and in Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, nearly all semblance of environmental protection and most discourses of sustainable development fall by the wayside. Finding a path wherein agribusiness is responsible to commitments to zero deforestation, where hydropower does not damage waterways, and where mining operations do not inflict lasting damage upon the earth is an almost utopian view of what is possible for rural development in the Amazon. As environmental governance strategies take shape, multiple narratives implicating calls for sustainable development are evolving on an everyday basis. Prior to accepting any starry-eyed or doomsday scenario of regional transformation, one should closely examine how the realities of the various plans being made and policies being implemented are experienced on the level of those closest to such plans. The chapters which follow aim to do just this, examining the frictions, contradictions, and power relations that emerge as sustainable development plans and discourses take place in practice.


(1.) The stadium was approved for use as a 2016 Olympic soccer venue, but outside of mega-events such as this, only sparse utilization is expected. The costs of maintaining the stadium is around 780 thousand Brazilian Reais (BRL) per month (approximately $222,699.00 USD at 2015 exchange rates). The Amazon Arena cost 669.5 million BRL to construct (around $329 million US dollars, at a 2013 exchange rate).

(2.) The economic contraction rates in Brazil were between 3%–4% from 2014–2017, comprising eight consecutive quarters of recession. See: http://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/brazils-highs-lows.

(3.) The Manaus opera house was also made famous in the early 1980s when it was used in the filming of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. The film’s production was perhaps more eccentric than the real-life story it told; in the film, an eccentric opera lover (with a crew composed of indigenous peoples) drags a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects as part of his effort to shortcut between Amazonian (p.278) rivers to fulfill his mission to build a theater in the Amazon. The film is based upon the real-life persona of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald. In reality, he had a 30-ton boat disassembled, carried over an isthmus from one river to another, and then reassembled.

(4.) A survey from the magazine Veja, along with CNT/Sensus, was released in 2008 and showed that 82.6% of people in the Brazilian military believed that Amazonia faces the risk of a foreign occupation. A book called Amazonia and International Greed by Arthur Cezar Ferreira Reis details many of these arguments and has had five editions come out since its original publication in 1960. For greater discussion on the implications of these nationalist-driven concerns, see Sartre and Taravella 2009, and Mitchell 2010.

(5.) Federal Law 6.938/81, Articles 4, I and 4, VI.

(6.) “People of the forest” is a common term for the broad category of indigenous groups, ribeirinhos, quilombolas, rubber tappers, extractivists, smallholders, and other forest resources–dependent peoples (Conklin and Graham 1995, Allegretti 1990, Campos and Nepstad 2006a, Cronkleton 2008, Schneider et al. 2015).

(7.) The violence involved in the struggle for land was unsurprising, with an estimated 1,500 deaths over land conflicts by the mid-1980s. From 1971–1976, one out of every two reported Amazonian land disputes had victims, with more than half of those victims as deaths. There were some 6 million posseiros, or subsistence peasants who typically occupy land without having formally recognized titles to the property, in Brazil in 1980. The violence involved not only posseiros but also indigenous groups whose lands were not recognized. In the case of the Xavante Indians, occupation of big estates located in their territory was a strategy for driving away landowners and their employees and force pressure for the demarcation of those areas as indigenous reserves. The conflicts would be spurred when a would-be land trafficker, or grileiro, with falsified or incomplete land titles hired gunmen (jagunços) to keep watch over the land they were claiming. Often in conjunction with local police, the jagunços would pressure the posseiros to abandon the land, usually by burning their houses down, torture, or other forms of physical violence. For more, see Martins 1980.

(8.) Extractivist activities is the common term for the type of resource use that is based on renewable resource harvesting, such as rubber tapping or Brazil nut gathering. In contrast, extractive economies or extractive activities refers to nonrenewable resource use, such as mining.

(9.) Specifically, Mendes met with Senators Robert Kaspen and Daniel K. Inouye, the subcommittee co-chairs. His visit was facilitated by the National Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund, with support from Mary Allegretti, a Brazilian anthropologist, Adrian Cowell, a British filmmaker, and Steve Schwartzman, an anthropologist affiliated with the Environmental Defense Fund.

(10.) An August 1981 meeting called the National Conference of the Working Classes (Conferência Nacional das Classes Trabalhadoras, CONCLAT) joined 5,000 delegates, although at the outset clear divisions were present between two major blocs. One was the autênticos—led by Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (who later became president) and loyal to the PT party, the progressive Church, and holding Trotskyist (p.279) orientations. The Unidade Sindical (Union Unity) bloc was composed of those who benefited more from the status quo and was backed by the political parties PCB, PCdoB, and the PMDB. Both groups had equal representation in a commission that aimed to establish the Unified Workers’ Central (Central Única dos Trabalhadores, or CUT). Because of disputes between the groups, however, CUT was not established until 1983, and a rival body was formed in 1986 by the Unidade Sindical which was first named CONCLAT and in 1986 became the General Workers’ Congress (Central Geral dos Trabalhadores).

(11.) Marina Silva also notably left Catholicism and became an Evangelical in later years. She ran for president against the PT party in 2014 and 2018, affiliated with the Rede Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network, or REDE).

(12.) In the 1960s and 1970s, the Church encouraged rifts between unions and local organized groups with the political groups that were being legitimized by the military regime. This was seen as a way of experientially concretizing the rupture with an older situation, conditioned by the subordination of the poor to the wealthy. The existence of the external group, those characterized as “evil” for the Catholics on the frontier, involved stark contrasts between “Us” (agriculturalists/poor people/smallholders) and “Them” (vendors/wealthy/big landowners). Of note, the Evangelical populations on the frontier were similarly focused on narratives of good and evil, though the idea of sinning for the Evangelical groups was far more a question of individual salvation, and in many of the Evangelical sects, illegal land claiming and work in certain sectors, like machinery importation, agricultural inputs, and cargo transport, were frowned upon (Araújo 1991). The Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Church in Brazil (IECLB) in 1981 and the Catholic National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) in 1986 established annual themes concerning land questions, and turned their attention to building more robust alliances across civil society groups.

(13.) As the largest organized popular movement in the country, the MST played a key role in advocating for Brazilian agrarian reform. It was especially strong in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná, and in the northeastern states of Pernambuco, Sergipe, Ceará, and Espiritu Santo (Carter 2010). The MST was only marginally present in many of the Amazonian land conflicts in the 1980s. More than 90% of the land distributed in Brazil since 1979 resulted from peasant groups that were not linked to the MST; this is largely because so much of Brazilian land redistribution has taken place in the Amazon, where huge amounts of land have been allocated for agrarian reform along an agricultural frontier. Aside from a few high-profile MST mobilizations and land conflicts in the Amazon, the groups of landless squatters on the front lines of agrarian reform were often independent, or organized by local activists in the CPT, the STR, or other groups. In later years, the MST took strong oppositional stances against genetically modified organisms and pesticides, which speaks to the ways in which their class-based struggle for land became tied to values of environmental protection and critiques of industrial, corporation-dominated agricultural systems.

(14.) Maybury-Lewis (1994, 119–120) notes that there were 2,275 rural unions in existence in 1979, all participating at this CONTAG congress in 1979 where the strategy (p.280) was elaborated. In 1964 there were 785 rural unions in existence, and by 1985 the number was up to 2,732.

(15.) For example, CONTAG was an active force behind the split that happened between CUT (the Central Única dos Trabalhadores) and the Unidade Sindical, and the creation of the CGT. The political rivalries and, at times, alliances that were formed between the various political parties that were linked to the union groups also played a significant role in these disputes.

(16.) A rich history of the environmental movement is offered in Hochstettler and Keck 2007. By contrast to the socio-environmentalists, conservationists maintained a more bio-centric stance, generally defining the environment and seeing the Amazon as protected only through scientific and technical expertise. For more on this history, see also Alonso, Costa, and Maciel 2005.

(17.) Earlier waves of environmental politics and activism had also been present, although not nearly so robust of a presence. The first Brazilian environmental institutions had already emerged between the 1950s and the 1970s and were mostly focused on linking scientific research to environmental conservation. NGOs such as the Brazilian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature (FBCN), led by Alceu Magnanini, and the National Campaign for the Defense and Development of the Amazon were some notable early examples. (For a detailed and thorough contemporary history of environmental activism in Brazil, see Hochstetler and Keck 2007).

(18.) This is sometimes referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize. The award was established to “honor and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today” and was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull.

(19.) While the creation of the Yanomami reserve did mean notable progress for the protection of the group, the wildcat gold miners are still present in the area and continue presenting a threat to some of the indigenous peoples there; some Yanomami report seeing other uncontacted Yanomami, who they call Moxateteu in the reserve, and it is generally suspected that the Moxateteu live in the areas with the greatest concentration of miners. (For more, see: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/yanomami.)

(20.) The central highway of concern at that point was the 900-mile BR-364 highway (Cuiabá– Porto Velho), which ran through Acre to the Peruvian border. It was supported through World Bank financing of Polonoroeste, the Northwest Brazil Integrated Development Program, and was the main impetus for the development of the state of Rondônia and ensuing environmental degradation there (Cf. Mendes 1989, Rodrigues 2004). The World Bank also withdrew its financing from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project soon after the 1989 meeting.

(21.) See, for example, Keck 1998, Rodrigues 2004.

(22.) Mary Allegretti is an anthropologist exemplary for being this sort of lynchpin between local activism, national politics, and international networks. Her 1979 thesis research about the rubber estates of Acre led to a 1980 cooperative and literacy program with the Xapuri seringueiros. By 1984 she was working as a lobbyist at a human (p.281) rights center in Brasília, and she later founded a Curitiba-based organization called the IEA, or Instituto de Estudos Amazônicos, which offered support for the rubber tappers and conducted research on Amazonian issues.

(23.) These parks were established in the early 1990s, although the National System of Conservation Units, or SNUC, which delineated various types of conservation areas serving different levels of conservation purposes (research, recreation, etc.) was only established officially in 2000 under Law No. 9.985/2000. SNUC was the result of a protracted set of debates among Brazilian environmental groups and the government, and was finalized after ten years of negotiations and revisions. See https://uc.socioambiental.org/en/o-snuc/what-is-the-snuc.

(24.) Even the word enforcement itself is somewhat alien in a Brazilian context; there is no literal translation of the word into Portuguese, although there are expressions that translate to following the law (lei seja cumprido), surveillance or inspection (fiscalização), and monitoring (monitoramento).

(25.) One flagrant example of this was the Calha Norte (Northern Trench) program, which was first approved by President José Sarney. It relied on the language of sustainable development but was mainly a program aimed at appeasing the military interests by establishing larger-scale operations in the name of national security, especially to the north of the Amazon River (cf. Espach 2002).

(26.) In 2003, Capobianco left ISA to become a high-level official in the Ministry of the Environment.

(27.) The total area of land placed under federal protection as national parks, ecological stations, extractive reserves, or other conservation areas nearly tripled from approximately 130,000 km2 to approximately 440,000 km2 between 1985 and 1997. This represents over 5% of Brazil’s total land area; when indigenous reserves are included in that figure, the total land area is around 17% of national territory (Arrarás et al. 2002). The government estimated that in 1998, 16,800 km2 was deforested in the Amazon, up 27% from 1997. Violent conflict in the Amazon region diminished during this time; there were around 40–50 reported cases of murder in land disputes each year in the 1990s, whereas in the 1980s the annual average was around 100 per year.

(28.) Some of the Portuguese literature describes this as novo desenvolvimentismo or “new developmentalism,” and often the term used in the literature is neodevelopmentalism. As there is no scholarly consensus on the standard term as of this writing, I use renewed developmentalism throughout, suggesting the historical echoes of developmentalist strategies of the past.

(30.) Three-quarters of the IIRSA Consensus Agenda was devoted to road infrastructure from 2005–2010.

(31.) Given the prescient concerns of environmentalists that deforestation would occur when the original Amazonian highways were being cut, protests and news stories followed about the encroachment of monocrop soybeans northward into the Amazonian forests from the state of Mato Grosso.

(32.) Costs far exceeded the $1.3 billion figure, however; the total cost was US $2.8 billion in 2014 (Reel 2014).

(33.) The $69 billion figure is for the 31 IIRSA projects completed by 2010. For more on IIRSA, see http://www.iirsa.org/ and http://www.bankinformationcenter.org/regions/latin-america/biceca/.

(34.) The transportation sector investments were among the most significant, aiming to allow goods to be more easily transported through other countries in South America and via the Pacific coast to China.

(35.) Indonesia, a country with considerable rainforests, similarly experienced significant deforestation increases as their economy grew during this same time period.

(36.) This is more than the entire country of Uruguay’s GDP, for comparison.

(37.) The economic crisis was, of course, also made worse by the Zika outbreak and the lack of confidence in the nation’s political system that was wrought by the corruption scandals. While the Petrobras scandal was a major factor in the economic crisis, the economic instability was in fact already afoot in 2011 when the Central Bank prematurely slashed interest rates, causing inflation to rise. Low industrial competitiveness coupled with red tape and high levels of public spending made matters worse for the Brazilian economy as well, and both were operative factors prior to the Zika epidemic and the apogee of the Petrobras scandal. See, for more detail, http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/04/economic-backgrounder.

(38.) An illustrative case is Marina Silva’s tenure as Brazilian Minister of the Environment 2003–2008. A former rubber tapper, friend of Chico Mendes, and a founder of the rural worker’s union in the state of Acre, Silva was a vocal socio-environmentalist. Her most notable contributions as Minister of the Environment were the creation of new parks and federal extractive reserves, which contributed to a substantial lowering of deforestation rates in Amazonia, especially from 2003–2006. Silva met resistance from the government over her positions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), over finding alternatives to agrobusiness, and her opposition to certain large dam construction projects, including on the Madeira and Xingu Rivers. Ultimately, Marina Silva resigned on May 13, 2008, signaling her larger dissatisfaction with federal decisions that seemed too often to privilege development interests over environmental considerations.

(39.) Amid Brazil’s generally stagnant economy during this period, agricultural exports were one of the strongest areas of economic productivity. This was a marked change from Brazil’s 1970s and 1980s economic base (Barrientos and Amman 2015).

(40.) Those themes in the Amazon are centered over the political economy, the ideas of property rights, and of efficient production; these define the question of land tenure as the barrier to either maximum growth or effective conservation (Baletti 2012).