Military dictatorship, Amazon and agriculture

Image: Somchai Kongkamsri


The dictatorship deepened Brazilian dependence, trapped society in an iron circle of poverty and subservience, the center of which was control of the land and the annihilation of the Amazon and its original peoples.

The Military Dictatorship of 1964 had many faces, most of them grotesque and consistent with a type of conservative modernization that consolidates a dependent society, whose main characteristics are extreme social inequality, police violence and subordination to the hegemonic imperialist system. One of the most important and necessary aspects of the debate refers to a triangulation of key points, especially the space occupied by the Amazon as a key relational form for the development of Brazilian agriculture as a central action of the dictatorship.

The expansion of Brazilian agribusiness intensified following its insertion into the global dynamics of food production. commodities on a large scale, occurring mainly from the last decades of the last century, as well as due to the accelerated process of reprimarization of the Brazilian economy. In effect, there is a process of expansion of capital accumulation centered on large-scale agricultural production, disseminated throughout the national territory, but with a relevant focus on the Amazon region.

The treatment of the current phase of Brazilian agrarian production cannot, however, neglect the historical evolution and especially how the Military Dictatorship consolidated an economic model whose agrarian exploitation based on large estates and large-scale production of commodities for export were based on their project of power and economic dependence.

The core of this article goes back to the thesis developed by professor Octavio Ianni who, in extensive and original works,[I] observes that the Amazon had extensive use “for the political economy of the dictatorship”, standing out in two points: firstly, “it is transformed into a region of big business”, functioning as a “frontier of capitalist accumulation” and spatial base for primary-export production ; second, it functions as a space for an agrarian counter-reform, avoiding “any change in the land structure” in other parts of the country through the “'productive' absorption of large contingents of the army of reserve workers, coming from the Northeast, South and other parts of the country ”.

The relationship between the dictatorial power installed in March 1964 and the Brazilian landowning sectors is deeply recognized, being part of the historical bloc that formed the installed regime, alongside the financial bourgeoisie, the national and international monopolistic industrial bourgeoisie and the military and legal institutions. . As Octavio Ianni considered, “the agrarian bourgeoisie, made up of landowners and businessmen, national and foreign, represents an important element of this power bloc”. The subsequent evolution of the Brazilian economy and society seems to lead us to consider the prospect of reinforcing the importance of this link in the dictatorial project. Thus, if there was a segment of the Brazilian bourgeoisie that gained the most from the dictatorship, the champions are agribusiness and the financial sector.

Slavery and latifundia were the main historical forms of development of class relations established in Brazil. The Land Law of 1850 and more than a century later, the Land Statute of 1964, present four common and fundamental elements for understanding peripheral and dependent Brazil: (i) land rent organizes economic relations; (ii) the super-exploitation of work (slavery and wage labor) defines social relations; (iii) political culture based on oligarchic relations; (iv) the oligarchic State.[ii]

Land rent is established as a key factor in the expansion of capitalist accumulation, for reasons that we will summarize: (a) the so-called absolute rent, resulting from the private ownership of land itself, with the appropriation of increasing pieces of land enabling extraordinary gains; (b) depending on the characteristics of the land and access to certain properties such as minerals, energy or control over market access, it allows a “monopoly income”, for example, mining companies and hydroelectric plants have access to this social and natural kindness;

(c) to the extent that land has different productive capacity, for example, one plot of land is more fertile in relation to another, we have differential income. Thus, social control over land is something that will be very advantageous and, as a result, the bourgeoisie will impose its priority relationship with landowners, those who control large areas, or it will itself be a landowning bourgeoisie, as is the Brazilian case.

The Amazon constitutes an enormous space to obtain different incomes from the land, constituting both a frontier for the expansion of accumulation in agricultural, mineral, energy and extractive production in general, as well as being related to control over the production of extraordinary incomes to be obtained by landowners or landowner entrepreneurs.

The military dictatorship was the great supporter of this extensive exploitation of land in the Amazon. Octavio Ianni exemplifies with two exemplary cases this process of handing over the Amazon to large land capital: the case of Companhia Jari and Companhia Vale do Rio Cristalino. The first belonged to the American tycoon Daniel Ludwig and the second to the German transnational Wolkswagen.

The area of ​​land donated by the generals and their businessmen was gigantic. In the case of the stupid and barbaric American Ludwig, Mr. Roberto Campos, grandfather of the current owner of the Central Bank, called on him from his ivory towers to occupy, explore, kill and endlessly deforest the forest and the people living and singing there. Still during the terrible dictatorship, the Brazilian National Congress held a CPI (Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry) in 1966, the aim was to find out how much “brazilian lands” were being sold to international groups and interests.[iii]

The data that Octavio Ianni, still under the dictatorship, released is the clearest portrait of how the military dictatorship had a plan to completely surrender Brazil to American interests, something that the new generations should, Lula saw, know: in the case of the clumsy foreigners were three billion square meters sold or ceded by the dictatorship, in the case of Wolksvagen close to 1,4 billion square meters, something close to six thousand times the area of ​​the Maracanã field in this case, measurements that should be as well known to the people Brazilian.

The military dictatorship not only deepened Brazilian dependence, but created a society incapable of breaking out of an iron circle of poverty and subservience, the center of which was control over land and the annihilation of the Amazon and its original peoples.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda for debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependency and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints (paka armadillo).


Octávio Ianni. Dictatorship and agriculture. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1979.

Octávio Ianni. The Dictatorship of Big Capital. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1981.

Jose Raimundo Trinidad. Six decades of state intervention in the Amazon. Bethlehem: Pakatatu, 2014.


[I] IANNI, Octavio. Dictatorship and agriculture. Sao Paulo: Brazilian Civilization, 1979.

IANNI, Octavio. The Dictatorship of Big Capital. Sao Paulo: Brazilian Civilization, 1981.

[ii] On state intervention in the Amazon cf. Trindade (2014).


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