Sunday, January 03, 2010

Land Grabs in the Amazon

My interest in Brazil originated in the problem of deforestation, and I chose to go to Rondonia, because in the mid-1980s it was experiencing the highest rates of clearing, and this was combined with a poorly understood process of urbanization. That part of the Amazon has a majority urban population now, and a growing economic base that will place pressure on natural resources for generations to come.

Now the most rapid clearing seems to be far to the east, in São Félix do Xingu. This New York Times article describes federal efforts to control the fraud, corruption, and violence in this area of Para state, as well as the deforestation itself.

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Ironically, the article alludes to the importance of geography -- by explaining how poor mapping contributes to the confusion, conflict, and destruction -- but then fails to give any indication of where the story takes place. Para, after all, is almost twice as large as Texas!

The problems of mapping and land tenure are, by the way, relevant to my Brazil program. Even though urban development is our focus, the geotechnology and planning tools we study are relevant in rural areas as well, and do relevant research.

As much as the violence described in this article does concern me, it is an example of a kind of one-diminensional media attention that also deserves some critical thought. Almost a decade ago, we published a small book about perceptions of the region, and if anything the coverage has become less nuanced since then. We are hoping to have a second edition of our book -- Olhares Sobre a Amazonia - Looking at the Amazon -- available soon.

Thanks to my friend Vernon for bringing this article to my attention!

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