State intervention in the Amazon



A historical, sociological and economic balance of the activities of the Brazilian State in the Amazon

In one of his novels, Manauara writer Márcio Souza constructs a broad historical, cultural and fictional mosaic of the Brazilian Amazon and its relationship with the World laid bare in the last quarter of the last century. The romance The end of the third world establishes many bridges with the sociological and economic treatment of the human significance of the Amazon at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, but a strong point in that poetic coming and going built by the author is the continuous intemperance of the national State acting on the inclement becoming of those societies that inhabit the rivers and stilts from the lands of Ceuci, an indigenous mythological figure who comes to life at the hands of the novelist to deal with the historical and social shock established in the contemporary Amazon.

Following in the footsteps of several authors, but especially the works Dictatorship and agriculture, by Octavio Ianni; Geopolitics of the Amazon, by Berta Becker and Historical Synopsis of the Amazon, by Aluízio Leal, we seek to address four aspects of state intervention in the Amazon: (i) what is the historical framework in which the role of the national State in the expansion of capitalist accumulation in the region since the second post-war period is observed; (ii) how the State acts as the main factor in the extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism, within a configuration of deepening Brazilian dependence on the capitalist center; (iii) the specificities of the relationship between the Amazon sub-periphery and the center of national economic and political power; (iv) finally, we try to test some insights about the role of the State in the most recent period, especially in the last 20 years.


Ceuci meets Leviathan

With the decline of the Amazonian gum economy at the end of the 1910s, the Amazon region largely began to have an “inward-looking economy” dynamic, with little interaction with the national economy for more than thirty years, as pointed out by many interpreters of Amazonian realities, including the almost non-existence of national State intervention during several decades after the 20s of the last century.

The post-rubber cycle Amazonian society inherited a series of difficulties arising from the characteristics of the economic form established in the period, one of them, perhaps the most serious, was the low institutional organization, either from the point of view of society organization, or of the point of view of the capitalist mercantile logic itself. Another referred to the treatment of population contingents resulting from the rubber boom period. The absence of structuring exits from the economy and the noisy collapse of the cycle itself determined a long phase of economic lethargy and involution of the Amazonian capitalist society after the 20s, which imposed subsistence conditions for a considerable portion of the Amazonian population and a mercantile economy of low environmental impact.

With the end of the rubber boom, Amazonian society began a process of restructuring its profile, as Leal (2010) observed, there was the “sub-bourgeoisie” layer, formed by traders, small-scale regional industrialists, liberal professionals, farmers, extractivist entrepreneurs and landowners in general; an intermediate tier, made up of civil servants; and the less privileged layer of society in the region. Regarding the latter, he emphasized how the “disinherited” and the “impoverished mass of the forest” were the Indians and caboclos who would since then become part of that mystery treated by Márcio Souza in a land at the end of the world.

Roughly speaking, the characteristic of Amazonian society in the phase following the rubber boom was marked by low growth and low economic dynamism in almost all sectors. Rubber exports fell sharply, mainly in the second half of the 1920s. It was only from the 1940s onwards that the attention of the Brazilian central government turned to the region, whether in what was erroneously called the second rubber cycle during the Second World War, or from 1946 with the insertion of article 199 in the Brazilian Constitutional Charter.

This constitutional norm arose due to pressure from parliamentarians from the Amazon who claimed the insertion of a constitutional instrument that would guarantee greater attention from the federal government to the region. Based on that article, the elaboration of a Plan for the Economic Valorization of the Amazon (PVEA) became mandatory. The aforementioned constitutional article 199 states: “In the execution of the plan for the economic recovery of the Amazon, the Union will apply, for at least twenty consecutive years, an amount not less than three percent of its tax income”.

In 1953, the Superintendence of the Plan for the Economic Valorization of the Amazon (SPVEA) was created, constituting the first experiment in regional development planning in the Amazon and perhaps the first Brazilian experience of its kind,[I] establishing from there a continuous state intervention in the region, even though it was always guided by a logic of favoring the accumulation of capital at any cost and with little, or no, concern for the indigenous populations, quilombolas or even caboclas that constituted an important portion of the companies established there. The creation of the Superintendence of the Plan for Economic Valorization of the Amazon marks Ceuci's first encounter with the Brazilian Leviathan, something, to maintain the dialogue with the novelist Marcio Souza, it is shown how the original perception of the Superintendence of the Superintendence of the Plan for Economic Valorization of the Amazon was already “opening the Amazon frontier to businessmen and entrepreneurs from the Center-South and foreigners” (Ianni, 1979; Becker, 2015), since then being thought of as a “frontier of natural resources”.

The Superintendence of the Plan for Economic Valorization of the Amazon brought the idea that the economic recovery of the region would no longer pass through the arbitrary action of “economic agents”. The notion of planning as a condition of “occupation” of space for the consolidation of national “development” was established as a strong discourse even in the Vargas period, indelibly marking the regional social and economic trajectory since then.

The experience of the Superintendence of the Plan for Economic Valorization of the Amazon has incisively established the necessary desideratum of state intervention in the last six decades, and some icons of this “reinvented” regional occupation will have great importance in the following phases. In this sense, it is worth highlighting the construction of the Belém-Brasília highway, which generated a huge rush through the marginal lands of the highway, concentrated in large properties, in addition to the near destruction of local industries, mainly those that were located in Belém. Thus, the Belém-Brasília highway established the meaning of Amazonian integration into the national economy: consuming products from the Brazilian Southeast and supplying them with raw materials.

This role not only remained in the following decades, but was deepened, particularly with Operation Amazonia (1966) and with the option for large mineral projects from the second half of the 1970s. This marked the process of including the Amazon in the Brazilian capitalist reproduction. , strongly conditioned by the marks of state intervention and its integration into the peripheral and dependent pattern established by the military and business dictatorship.


The great lake and the euphoria of capital

In the same year of extinction of that body, in 1966, two others are created in its place, the Superintendence of Development of the Amazon (SUDAM) in that same year, as well as its Siamese sister SUFRAMA (Superintendence of the Free Zone of Manaus) in 1967, curious that this double institutionality imposes the rules of modernity that will be so curiously treated in Márcio Souza's fiction. In the referred novel reflected here, one of the characters represents the bourgeoisie from São Paulo that dominates the economic rights over the Amazon.

The character (Petro Pietra) is a bad example of the Brazilian bourgeoisie that, allied with the lords of the State (the generals) and international capital, established the dazzling plan to build a gigantic hydroelectric plant on the Amazon River, forming a gigantic lake that would even alter the planet climate. When the author idealized his novel, many facts gave him bases for his imagination and, in fact, the formation, for example of the gigantic lake of Tucuruí, has no similarity with the great lake of the novelist's imagination.

Based on the so-called “Operação Amazônia”, the dominant discourse of the military government to modernize the Brazilian economy, but within a pattern of dependence associated with large transnational capital, incorporates the Amazon and makes it a center for granting incentives and exemptions to attract the business community for the economic exploitation of the region. As Octávio Ianni (1979) points out, it was a matter of “transforming the Amazon into a region that favored intense and generalized capitalist accumulation (…) external indebtedness required by the adopted model”. Since the second half of the 1960s, a dynamic has been observed that has since marked the contemporary history of the region: the advance of large land ownership, imposing increasing deforestation and social and environmental degradation; the establishment of “plantations”, mainly oil palm, pepper, cocoa and sugar cane; the great mining capital and a new territorial and population ordering.

Thus, the capitalist economic expansion of the Amazon took place via five main basic formats: the implementation of large projects in the mining area; the Manaus Free Trade Zone and the logic of low-complexity “maquiladoras”; agricultural, livestock and logging exploitation centered on large estates, generating strong land concentration and little development; the gradual advance of oil palm and soy “plantations” advanced rapidly, establishing and deepening agrarian accumulation and; the urban industrial, commercial and service economy with low added value.

State intervention in the territory, as an economic space, is historically processed from a movement to favor and guide capital accumulation, and in the Amazonian case, state intervention marks both the predatory occupation of the territory and a complete subordination to the interests of big capital transnational, and throughout the 1970s tax incentives and financial resources increased, most of them concentrated in Pará, Mato Grosso and Amazonas. In this sense, state intervention establishes the most important links for boosting the conditions for the expanded reproduction of capital, proceeding with the management mechanisms, via public policies, of the main components necessary for accumulation: the workforce, land and infrastructure as core portion of the means of production.

In the Amazonian case, state intervention took place in the very process of establishing a surplus population that came from migratory flows, mainly from the Northeast, enabled the structuring of relatively modern urban centers, however characteristically swollen from the demographic point of view, something that establishes super-urbanization and expansive peripherization of Amazonian cities, as so well analyzed by Berta Becker (2015).

State intervention was central in the process of making natural resources available to big capital, as well as legislation favoring forms of appropriation of extraordinary income (supplementary profit) that could be extracted from Amazonian soil, either through agricultural exploitation, especially the different modalities of “plantation” and extensive livestock spread throughout the eastern Amazon; be it the mineral exploration of large deposits located mainly in the state of Pará.

State expenditures were mainly intended to supply the physical infrastructure necessary for the development of economic activities and also for social reproduction, being a portion of the economic infrastructure necessary for accumulation, such as road transport systems, the energy and electrification system and the sanitary and of water supply. The social infrastructure necessary both for the development of conditions for capitalist reproduction and for supplying collective social needs in general is what we call the public endowment fund, an important component of State expenditure.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the development of a set of mining projects in the state of Pará, part of the strategy adopted by the military governments, still in the second half of the 1970s, to seek relative complementarity with the country's industrial base. This process, fruitful since the II National Development Plan (II PND – 1975/79) of the Geisel government, converging the National State’s “indebtedness” efforts towards the assertion of programs that had as their goal the production of capital goods and inputs basic.

The preliminary interests of the national State around the installation of these undertakings were composed of an amalgam of issues, with two aspects standing out: (i) the generation of foreign currency with a view to equating the burning exchange rate crisis that was beginning to take shape; and (ii) the role that the region would play as a supplier of primary or semi-manufactured goods to the industrial hub of the center-south. If we go down, however, to the details of the logic to which the implementation of mining-metallurgical, agricultural and other projects was linked, we will see that their magnitude, involving large productive scales, intensive in capital compatible with international standards , were determined, in the last instance , due to subordination to production circuits that have their decision centers in central countries, or more precisely, in transnational companies in the sector.

We have a strong characteristic of “autorating” these enterprises in relation to the rest of the dynamics of the regional economy. The quite generalized perception is that of little integration with the region's traditional productive structure. In this sense, the dysfunctionality of large projects has already been highlighted in the face of the creation of reverberating effects on local economies, given that these large projects internalize little income and differentiated investments throughout the region covered.

On the other hand, these undertakings focused on a local economic base with a low level of capitalization, imposing different economic and social times and unimaginable transformations for local actors and subjects. The disruption of past patterns of social and economic organization increased the complexity of social problems, population density, workers' spatial and occupational mobility, a type of development not only articulated, but determined from a primary-export economy pattern.

In Marcio Souza's novel, the transatlantic "Leviathan" continued aimlessly lost "somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean without any law or command and adrift", from the 1990s onwards the vast Brazilian transatlantic and its "endless lands" walked accelerated to the logic defined already in the II PND of the Military Dictatorship (1975-1979) reaffirmed “a strategy for the extensive and intensive development of agriculture and livestock [and mining], for Brazil in general, and for the Amazon, in particular” as well signaled Octávio Ianni.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Six decades of state intervention in the Amazon (Paka-armadillo).



Alizio Leal. A historical synopsis of the Amazon. Journal of Paraense Studies. Belém: IDESP, 2010.

Bertha Becker. Geopolitics of the Amazon: the new resource frontier. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond, 2015.

José Raimundo Barreto Trindade. Six decades of state intervention in the Amazon. Bethlehem: Paka-Tatu, 2014.

Mario Souza. The end of the third world. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2007 (1990).

Octavio Ianni. Dictatorship and Agriculture: the development of capitalism in the Amazon (1964-1978). Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1979.


[I] The creation of the Northeast Development Superintendence (SUDENE) followed the creation of SPVEA, which denotes both the innovative perspective of this institution and its experimental character.


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