The Amazon corresponds to the region occupied by the dense Amazonian equatorial broadleaved forest , of great biodiversity, occupies about 40% of the Brazilian territory and is today one of the great concerns of the international scientific community due to the interest in the preservation of its resources (wood, minerals, soils and Water).
The occupation process
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the occupation of the Amazon took place through traditional activities such as hunting, gathering and fishing, limited to areas of easier access along the riverbed of the Amazon River. At that time, the extraction of so-called “ drugs from the sertão ” (spices) was the most important activity. This characteristic was only superseded in the 19th century with the development of latex exploration in rubber trees for the production of rubber.
Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the increase in international demand for the product, stimulated the exploration and migratory movements of northeastern people to the region, which triggered the formation of several agrovillages involved in the production and transport of rubber to the coast.
The rubber cycle was the main responsible for transforming the cities of Belém and Manaus into the two main urban centers in the North of the country. It is important to emphasize that this export activity did not eliminate the main subsistence activities in the Amazon, such as agriculture in the river floodplains, fishing and gathering. In the first decades of the 20th century, the activity went into crisis, especially due to the Asian competition that managed to produce rubber at more attractive prices than Brazilian ones.
It was only in the middle of the 20th century that, through the action of the federal government, the region returned to present a new stage of growth. The State’s intention was to territorially attract, through infrastructure works, new investments for the area. For this reason, in 1953, the SPVEA (Superintendence for the Economic Valorization of the Amazon) was created , which would later become the SUDAM (Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon). In the same period, SUFRAMA (Superintendence for the Development of the Manaus Free Trade Zone) was created , with the objective of encouraging industrial development in the western portion of the Amazon, especially in Manaus.
According to WEDDINGINFASHION, the Brazilian Amazon region, after the government’s integration initiatives, now has two types of basic occupation. The one in the eastern portion, which has the Belém-Brasília Highway as its main axis on one side and, on the other, the implementation of large mineral projects, such as the Carajás Project. The development of these projects caused great occupation along the railroad from Carajás to São Luís (in Maranhão).
In the western portion , the occupation took place along the Cuiabá-Santarém and Brasília-Acre highways. In Rondônia and also in the north of Mato Grosso, several settlements emerged that reinforced the occupation of the west of the North Region with the creation of the Manaus Free Trade Zone . In this process, Manaus and Belém came to occupy a prominent place in the polarization of space in the North region as regional metropolises.
The military regime and the occupation of the Amazon
To accelerate the occupation and economic exploitation of the Amazon, the regional institutions created after the Getúlio Vargas government were modernized from 1966, under the seal of “ Operation Amazon ”. Undertaken by the Castelo Branco government, it reorganized basic legislation and institutional rules to attract large corporate capital, placing the region in the sights of investors.
To occupy the Amazon, it was necessary to know this immense region. To this end, the Radam Project (Radar da Amazônia) was created, which “has the objective of surveying the basic elements necessary for a rational planning of the integrated use of natural resources in the Amazon region”.
Based on the Radam Project during the presidency of General Ernesto Geisel, Polamazônia was created , whose purpose was to establish fifteen priority areas for occupation, aiming at the exploitation of agro-mineral and agricultural resources in the Legal Amazon.
The creation of Sudam, the restructuring of the Legal Amazon and the Radam Project would not be enough to promote the occupation of the immense region. For this reason, President Emílio Garrastazu Médici signed Decree-Law number 1 106, which created the National Integration Plan ( PIN ).
The main purposes of the PIN were the opening of the Transamazônica, Porto Velho-Manaus, Perimetral Norte, Cuiabá-Santarém (BR-163) and Cuiabá-Porto Velho (BR-364) integration highways. Another decree of April 1971 declared the unoccupied lands in a 100 km strip, alongside the highways in the Legal Amazon, as areas of national security, in which the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (Incra) would implement official plans for colonization by delivery of the lots to the colonists.
Along the Transamazônica highway, which is connected to the Northeast region, Incra implemented colonization programs ( agropolis , rurópolis , agrovilas ) to attract northeastern migrants, confirming the phrase “we are going to take the landless men of the Northeast to the landless men of the Northeast. Amazon”. Along the Cuiabá-Porto Velho highway, colonization was also carried out by Incra, configuring the pattern of occupation called “fishbone”.
Along the Cuiabá-Santarém (PA) highway and, later, on secondary roads, the colonization process was predominantly private, carried out mainly by colonization companies. This fact contributed on a large scale to the emigration of southerners to this region and to the development of the agricultural sector. Currently, the state of Mato Grosso is the largest producer of soy and cotton, has a large cattle herd, and several municipalities stand out in production and productivity per hectare, among which we can mention Sorriso, Lucas do Rio Verde, Primavera do East, Sapezal, Sinop and Campo Novo dos Parecis.
Therefore, the highways became occupation wedges (fixed and flux), directing migratory flows to the Legal Amazon. As the main consequences of this rapid occupation, we can highlight: the accentuated population and urban growth, the increase in exchanges with other regions and the environmental impacts.
The issue of deforestation
The Amazon region has worrying deforestation rates. By the late 1970s, only 3.8% of the original forest had been cleared; today this percentage exceeds 20% in the Brazilian portion.
According to Inpe, between 2000 and 2017 around 180,000 square kilometers of forests were consumed by logging companies and agricultural projects, an area larger than many European countries, such as Switzerland, for example. The regions closest to the roads, with easy access, were the most affected and form an arc at the edges of the forest.
The government’s strategy, from the 1960s onwards, of integrating the region with the economic development processes in the Center-South of the country, considerably stimulated the destruction of the forest, seen as a great reserve of wealth, ready to be explored and generate large profits .
However, in addition to stimulating deforestation, many conflicts between miners , grileiros , squatters and Indians began to intensify in the region, as, as the expansion of exploratory activities increased, the limits between the areas of interest of these groups diminished.
The spread of conflicts in the region led the federal government, in the mid-1980s, to intervene in order to minimize them. One of these interventions was the Calha Norte Project , which foresaw the installation of several military bases in the northern limits of the North Region. The objective, in addition to border inspection, was to intimidate the actions of loggers, miners and drug trafficking. Shortly afterwards, in the 1990s, it was the turn of the implementation of the SIVAM Project (Amazon Surveillance System), which introduced radars to track the Amazon airspace.
The indigenous question
Of the approximately 900,000 Indians who inhabit the Brazilian territory, more than half live in the Northern region of Brazil. The various tribes and indigenous communities suffered great decimation during the process of occupation of the region, a fact that was only reversed with the demarcation of lands and the creation of preservation areas. Today the indigenous populations have returned to grow and increase numerically.
In the 70s of the last century, the Amazon region became the target of the federal government’s territorial integration policies. The so-called national integration highways, such as the Transamazônica, Perimetral Norte, Cuiabá-Santarém and Manaus-Boa Vista would cross the region in various directions, cutting and facilitating access to Amazonian lands, exposing areas of indigenous villages.
Due to their land being occupied by loggers, mining companies, construction of hydroelectric plants, mines, among others, the native communities ended up being unable to survive, many disappeared and others were totally incorporated as cheap labor or migrated to the cities. The introduction of more advanced techniques for the exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon has brought a lot of damage to indigenous life, which, in many cases, is involved in this process.
Therefore, the demarcation of indigenous lands is a way to preserve and guarantee the survival of the Indians and their descendants. However, many sectors of society interested in exploiting these lands are opposed and often come into conflict with native groups.