Dispelling the Myths
Chapter 2: Occupation, Changing Migration Dynamics, and Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
INTRODUCTION 2.1. Despite the front-page publicity given to deforestation, the Amazon embraces still the world’s largest area of intact tropical rain forest. It has a relatively unexplored resource potential and is regarded as one of the last agricultural frontiers. Figure 2.1 shows that the Brazilian Amazon comprises the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Maranhão, Pará, Rondônia, Roraıma and Tocantins, totaling an area of over 5 million square kilometers, equivalent to 60 percent of Brazil, and sufﬁciently large to accommodate the entire Western Europe. Of this, approximately 4 million square kilometers is covered by forest formations. In the 1970s, the Brazilian government and people were blithely optimistic regarding the future of the Amazon region. The military regime (which had taken power in the previous decade) set out to colonize the region and tap its natural resources through a series of high-proﬁle development projects. The federal government launched credit and tax incentive schemes to attract private capital to the region, and it ﬁnanced the construction of the Transamazon Highway – an unpaved road extending some 5000 kilometers from the state of Maranhão in the east through Pará and Amazonas to the unpopulated Amazon basin to the westernmost state of Acre on the border of Bolivia. The modernization of Amazonia was to be achieved through the National Integration Program, which envisioned colonization by smallholders on 100 hectare plots along both sides of the Transamazon Highway. Similar to the Homestead Act in the United States 100 years...
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