Land, gold, and farmers


Material Information

Land, gold, and farmers agricultural colonization and frontier expansion in the Brazilian Amazon
Agricultural colonization and frontier expansion in the Brazilian Amazon
Physical Description:
x, 222 leaves : map. ; 28 cm.
Butler, John, 1955-
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural colonies -- Brazil -- Belém   ( lcsh )
Tucumã (Brazil)   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
offprint   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1985.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 217-221).
Statement of Responsibility:
by John Robert Butler.
General Note:
General Note:

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 000585655
notis - ADB4294
oclc - 14258096
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Full Text








I owe a debt of gratitude to many people and

organizations for helping me with this dissertation. First

of all I would like to thank the people of Tucuma who

provided me with the information for this study. Time and

space do not permit me to thank each one of them

individually. Numerous farmers, miners, merchants, and

other informants shared their stories, hopes, and dreams

willingly and generously.

A number of persons in Tucuma deserve special thanks.

Joaquin de Lira Maia, Rosilene Mafra, Gerson Cabral, and

Pedro Nazare of Empresa de Assistencia Tecnica e Extensao

Rural (EMATER) are to be thanked for providing logistical

support and sharing their knowledge of agriculture in Tucuma

with me. Gonzalo Sampaio, the sub-prefect, and his staff

offered an important perspective on events in the community.

Apolo Gazel, Sueli, along with David and Vania Ono, Nanando,

Ricardo, Tulio, Dante, Marquinho, Paulo, Bel, Raoni, and

Maira deserve special thanks for their sustaining friendship

during and after my year in Tucumf.

Without the support, encouragement, and cooperation of

numerous individuals at Construtora Andrade Gutierrez

(CONSAG), my research could never have been undertaken.

Manuel Costa and Marilia Andrade opened the right doors at

the right time and provided congenial hospitality on


numerous occasions. I especially want to thank Jose

Eustaquio, director of the project, and Elza Guimaraes at

the Bel4m office. I am especially grateful to Marco Antonio

and Regina Godinho who took me into their home and treated

me as their brother.

Dr. Charles Wagley has been a constant source of

encouragement and support. My development as an

anthropologist has been greatly influenced by his humanistic

approach and his dedication to Amazon studies. I would also

like to thank the other members of my dissertation

committee, Dr. Paul Doughty, Dr. Maxine Margolis, Dr.

Marianne Schmink, and Dr. Charles Wood for their help and

encouragement. Thanks also go to Dr. Emilio Moran for his

help with soil sampling and farmer surveys.

Funding for this project was provided by The

Organization of American States and The Fulbright-Hays

Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program. Additional

support came from a grant-in-aid from the Wenner Gren

Foundation for Anthropological Research. The Amazon

Research and Training Program at the University of Florida

provided additional funding for research assistants in the

field. My initial visit to the Tucumg field site in the

summer of 1981 was funded by a grant from the Inter-American

Foundation. I am very grateful for this support for without

it this study would not have been possible.


I wish to thank the staff of the Museu Goeldi in Belem

for their support and hospitality. I am particularly

grateful to Dr. William Overal and his wife Graca for

opening up their home to me. Anthony and Sueli Anderson

also provided me with a home away from home. Samuel and

Elisa Sa were gracious hosts and very helpful in providing

guidance in my work. Dr. Horst Schwassmann provided both

companionship and a place to stay during my visits to Belem.

Felizardo and Cathy Bentes, whom I met by chance on my way

to Brazil in 1983, provided many evenings of good

conversation and hospitality. Centro de Desenvolvimento e

Planejamento Regional (CEDEPLAR) in Belo Horizonte served as

my institutional affiliate while in Brazil. I especially

wish to thank Don and Diana Sawyer for their many useful

comments and moral support during my stay in Brazil.

I owe a great deal of thanks to my parents, Charles and

Marilyn Butler, who have continued to support me through my

work in more ways then I can count. Barb Platt, my

companion and colleague, not only assisted in the final

preparation of this manuscript but provided moral support

through the course of my graduate studies.






. vii




. . .

Background . .
Private Colonization and Frontier
Expansion ..
Organizational Outline .
Research Methodology. .


S. 1


. 12
. 23
. 25

CONSAG: Growth and Diversity 32
An Agricultural Colonization Project in the
Amazon . 35
Acquisition of the Land . 37
Road Construction and Local Politics 42
Securing the Boundaries of the Project 43
Project Construction and Management 47
Colonization and Land Sales .. 55


The Company Town .
The Mining Community .
Social Groups . .
Health Care on the Frontier .
Miners and the Mining Company .
Gold and The Local Economy .


. *

Moving to the Frontier. .
Land Holdings . .


. viii





* *

. .

The Physical Environment .. .127
Credit and Farmers . 133
Labor and Availability .. .137
Health Constraints and Farmers 140
Sales of Commodities . 144
Off-Farm Work . 148


Frontier Farming Systems .. .154
Five Frontier Farmers .. 170





Table Page

3-1 Birthplaces by State of Household Heads in
Tucumg .. ... .. 88

3-2 Area of Previous Residence .. .. 90

3-3 Date of Migration to Tucuma by Year 91

3-4 Range of Monthly Cash Income for
Households in Tucuma .... 94

3-5 Range of Monthly Household Expenses 96

3-6 Health Care Problems for Families in
Tucuma . . 99

3-7 Blood Tests Examined by Area 100

3-8 Occupational Variation in Tucum 110

4-1 Health Problems Reported by Farmers 141

5-1 Frequency of Commodities on Tucumg Farms 160

5-2 Farming Systems and Farmer Categories
for Tucum5 Farmers . 163



Figure Page

1-1 Location of the Tucuma Project in
Southern Para . 3

3-1 The Tucuma Project Area .. 69


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of
the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



John Robert Butler

August, 1985

Chairman: Dr. Charles Wagley
Major Department: Anthropology

The Brazilian Amazon is presently undergoing profound

ecological, political, and socioeconomic changes as a range

of interest groups struggle to exploit this vast and complex

region. Current government policy emphasizes private

colonization as a means of establishing farming communities

in Amazonia. Private colonization is becoming a dominant

feature in the occupation of certain frontier areas. The

400,000 hectare Tucuma Project, in south central Para, is

the central focus of this study.

The Tucuma Project encompasses several settlement types

including the company town, the spontaneous gold mining

communities, and the farmers living on their homesteads. In

particular the study examines a group of colonist-farmers

during their first years of adjustment to frontier farming.

The high costs of moving and establishing a viable farming

operation resulted in the decapitalization of many farmers.

While the colonization effort at Tucuma suffered both

from the inexperience of the colonization firm and severe


cutbacks in expected government funding, the unplanned event

of the gold rush provided a boost to the local economy in

the initial phase of the project. The opportunities for

off-farm work helped many farmers subsidize the heavy costs

of moving to the frontier. Given the dynamic nature of many

contemporary Amazon frontier areas these findings stress the

importance of being adaptable and open to unplanned


Although private colonization provides an alternative

for small farmers with some financial resources it

effectively closes the frontier to a large segment of the

migrant population, including the landless poor. The

private colonization firms are also major beneficiaries for

they are able to acquire large tracts of government land at

a very low cost. Private colonization serves the interests

of an agribusiness model that advocates large mechanized

farms and the production of cash crops for the international

market. Paradoxically it is this model that forced many

frontier colonists to leave their small farms and move.

The Amazon continues to be thought of by policy makers

as a solution to many national problems. Unless major

changes are made in Amazon frontier policy it is likely that

the inequalities found elsewhere in Brazil will be

replicated on the frontier.




The Amazon extends over 6,600,000 square kilometers and

comprises part of five Latin American countries. Most of

the Amazon, close to five million square kilometers of it,

lies within the national territory of Brazil. "Legal

Amazonia," Brazil's administrative definition, comprises

over 60% of the nation's land area but only 9% of its total

population of 128 million.

Today Amazonia is as much a paradox as when the first

European explorers arrived in the 16th century. Skeptics

see the Amazon as an obstacle to development, and a place

where the impression of rich natural resources is illusory.

Optimistic assessments view the region as a storehouse of

natural resources and the area where national hopes for

economic development and expansion can be realized.

For the last two decades Brazilian government policies

for the Amazon aimed to populate and integrate the area into

the national economy. These policies have been implemented

through colonization schemes, tax incentives, and large

scale construction projects. Within this context, a wide

range of interest groups whose goals are affected in


different ways by government policy struggle to exploit and

utilize this vast and fragile frontier area. This frontier,

presently undergoing profound ecological (Goodland and Irwin

1975, Smith 1976), political, and socioeconomic changes

(Cardoso and Muller 1977, lanni 1979, Martins 1980,

Pompermayer 1980), is the setting for this study.

In the late 1970s, when the Brazilian government was

shifting from the public colonization efforts of the

Transamazon highway to private colonization, a large

colonization firm bought up close to one million acres in

south central Para. This area, which later became the

Tucuma Project, had been auctioned off by the government

with the understanding that the colonization firm would

bring farmers and other colonists into the area and provide

the basic infrastructure necessary for colonization. In

1981 the state highway had reached the project area and the

company began recruiting farmers to come to the project.

The discovery of gold in the region prompted the influx of a

wide variety of individuals from all over Brazil seeking

relief from the severe national recession.

The private colonization project of Tucum4 is located

in Para (see Figure 1-1). The state of Para is the location

of several large development projects currently being

carried out by the Brazilian government. These include the

Carajas mining project, the Tucurui hydroelectric project,

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and the Trombetas port facility. The Tucumg project serves

as the locus for the activity of small farmers, gold

miners,federal and state officials, the colonization company

and its employees, sawmills, and mining concerns. It

provides an excellent laboratory for the study of change in

the frontier region of southern Para. In addition, this site

was chosen because of previous and ongoing studies by other

social scientists which complement the analysis of

socioeconomic change in this area over time.

This study sets out to do three things: 1) to describe

the Tucuma project as one form of frontier settlement, 2) to

describe the small farmers who were to be the major

beneficiaries of the private colonization project and the

problems they have had in adjusting to the frontier, 3) to

evaluate the potential of private colonization as a means to

settle small farmers in the Amazon. It is my hope that this

study will contribute to the body of literature that

explores human adaptation and utilization of the humid

tropics. The results of this study are relevant to the

understanding of social change and to the formation of

development policy.

Since the early days of European discovery, over four

centuries ago, the political economy of the region can be

seen as a series of cycles in which native resources have

been removed for the enrichment of other nations. Prior to

the 1950s, the boom-bust cycles in the regional economy, and

to a large extent the national economy, responded to a

strong, but often short lived, demand for a single resource

on the world market. In the Amazon the local manifestation

of this type of economy was the aviamento system. Here

large companies advanced goods on credit to river traders

who, in return for the specified forest product, advanced

supplies to trading posts who traded the goods with the

gatherers who brought in the natural products (Wagley 1976,

lanni 1978, Moran 1981). These natural products have, over

time, included sarsaparilla, cloves, cedar, brazil nuts

(known as drogas do sertgo), animal skins, turtles, and

rubber. When the world market was saturated or, in the case

of rubber, when the national monopoly was broken, the local

frontier economy collapsed. After 1912 people and capital

left the region. Those who remained survived by returning

to former subsistence strategies. This phenomenon has

become known as the hollow frontier (Wagley 1971, Margolis

1973 and 1977, Cardoso and Muller 1978).

As the frontier advanced the struggle intensified

between the powerful and weak social groups. When Carvajal

first went up the Amazon River in 1542 the native population

was concentrated most heavily along the rich Amazon

floodplain. War with the Europeans drove aboriginal peoples

further inland. Western disease, to which native peoples

had little resistance, took its toll. Frontier expansion

continues to have a negative impact on native groups as they

come into direct contact with Brazilian colonists. The past

and present impact of Western civilization on native peoples

in Brazil has been documented by Denevan (1976), Wagley

(1977), Hemming (1978), and Davis (1977).

In the decade of the 1950s the goals of populating the

Amazon, securing national frontiers, and integrating the

region with the rest of the nation gained new importance.

The seeds of this new emphasis were planted in the

proceeding decade when then President Getulio Vargas gave

his famous Amazon address where he called for the opening

up, occupation, and utilization of the Amazon and its


One of the first concrete steps toward the goal of

development and population of the Brazilian hinterlands was

the government's decision to build the new national capital,

Brasilia, in the state of Goias in the arid north central

backlands. It was hoped that this move would help break the

concentration of economic activity and population along the

fertile coastal strip. A further step was taken in 1960

with the completion of the Belem-Brasilia Highway,

effectively linking northern Brazil overland with the rest

of the nation for the first time.

Following the military coup in 1964, the government

moved toward a national plan of development and integration

in an effort to quell growing social and economic problems.

SUDENE, the Superintendency for the Development of the

Northeast, created prior to the 1964 coup, provided a model

for SUDAM (Superintendency for the Development of the

Amazon). SUDAM resulted from the reorganization of SPVEA,

the old regional development agency. During this same time

the government also reformed the national land statute

(Estatuto da Terra), supposedly in a move to support the

rights of squatters while dissolving Brazil's long standing

minifundio-latifundio complex.

Northeastern Brazil, poor, overpopulated, and suffering

from a cyclical drought, provided the spark for government

action. During a 1970 visit to drought victims in the

Northeast, General Medici, then president of Brazil,

promised to relieve their suffering by "taking men without

land to a land without men." The first Plan for National

Integration (PIN), announced after the President's visit to

the Northeast, stressed government-sponsored agricultural

colonization in the Amazon coupled with road construction

and large-scale ranching and development of other natural

resources. During this initial phase of PIN it seemed that

frontier land would become accessible to poor farmers.

The Transamazon colonization project, which planned to

settle 100,000 small farm families along 100 km strips on

either side of the Transamazon Highway, was by far the most

innovative aspect of this program. The agency created to

carry out this resettlement scheme was the Institute for

Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA).

At the same time the Brazilian government continued to

grant large concessions of land to Brazilian and foreign

corporations (Wagley 1974:8). The newly created SUDAM began

to approve large development projects for the Amazon region

encouraging them with generous fiscal incentives. These

incentives included a 50% reduction of corporate income

taxes on investments destined for the Amazon, exemption from

import duties for raw materials and from export duties for

certain commodities, full tax exemption from approved

projects up to 1982, and special credit arrangements often

with matching funds (Kleinpenning 1977). These dual

objectives, of encouraging large-scale investment, on the

one hand, while making land available to resource-poor

farmers, on the other, often seemed contradictory and to be

working at cross purposes (Wagley 1977, Panagides and

Magalhaes, 1974). These contradictions in policy, which

brought groups with fundamentally different objectives into

contact, set the stage for future conflict (Schmink 1981).

The Transamazon colonization effort came under sharp

criticism only a few years after it was initiated. Many of

the critics of the project saw its intended beneficiaries,

the landless farmers, as a hindrance to development as well

as a hazard to the region's ecology. This type of criticism

amounts to little more than blaming the victim (Wood and

Schmink 1979). The project suffered from a variety of

problems, ranging from the inadequate maintenance of primary

infrastructure to poor advice to farmers and a general

inability to deal with the large influx of spontaneous

migrants (Moran 1975, Smith 1976, Fearnside 1978, Foweraker

1981). The lack of the political will to see the project

through was one of the more important factors in the early

termination of this public colonization effort.

By 1975 the Transamazon colonization project had been

almost totally discontinued. Instead the government

concentrated on promoting large-scale private investment in

regional development. The Polamazonia program, begun in

1975, focused on developing large agricultural, mining,

hydroelectric, and forestry projects. Strategic areas were

designated as growth poles for development. By 1976 the

government had already authorized 335 large agricultural

projects, 171 industrial projects, and 22 projects for

infrastructural improvement (Kleinpenning 1978:9). Private

colonization was on the increase too with 25 new projects,

some as large as 500,000 ha., authorized by INCRA in 1979

for northern Mato Grosso and southern Para (Schmink 1981).

This policy shift effectively transferred much of the task

of land distribution, sales, and colonist selection to

private firms.

Major migratory streams into the Amazon can be seen as

a response to socioeconomic pressures in other regions of

Brazil. Historically migrants into eastern Amazonia have

come from the Northeast of Brazil (Velho 1972, Foweraker

1981). The coffee frontier moved across the state of SSo

Paulo in the 19th century and into the state of Parana in

the 1920's (Stein 1957, Velho 1972, Margolis 1973).

Margolis (1973) reports how fluctuations in the world market

for coffee led to the introduction of colonization projects

in Parana. Here real estate companies sold land to small

scale coffee farmers, many of whom were former sharecroppers

or wage laborers on large coffee farms in Sao Paulo.

In the 1940s and 1950s large numbers of poor

Northeastern farmers in search of land were attracted to the

new coffee frontier in northern Parana. As the soil became

exhausted from the practices of extensive coffee cultivation

farmers moved into areas that were less appropriate for

coffee farming. As small coffee farms became less viable

and government policies shifted to favor larger operations

like cattle ranching and soybean production many farmers

were forced to sell to larger landowners. These ecological

and socioeconomic factors combined to force small farmers to

move to frontier areas in Amazonia (Margolis 1973, 1979).

More recent migration from southern Brazil resulted

from a similar combination of factors. In the last two

decades Rio Grande do Sul, one of the most agriculturally

productive areas in southern Brazil, has seen tremendous

change. Traditionally the area was divided between small

farms on the hilly slopes and valleys and larger farms on

the flatter plateau and plains areas. Norman Rask (1977)

provided a description of farming systems in this area 20

years ago. At that time small farmers accounted for two

thirds of the rural population. Large farms concentrated on

the production of cattle, sheep, and wheat while small

farms, averaging 25 to 30 ha., concentrated on corn, beans,

and hogs. Many families also produced milk and cheese for

sale. Most farmers were descendants of European migrants

(mostly Italian and German) to the area in the late 1800s.

In 1964 the transition from wheat to a greater concentration

on soybeans had already begun.

By 1981, when I first visited this area of Rio Grande

do Sul, soybeans were the primary cash crop in the area.

Small farm plots had dropped in size but rose in number as

farmers were forced to divide their land among their

children. The average size of the small farm had been

reduced to about 12 ha. Tobacco farming, supported by

strong incentives from tobacco multinationals, continued to

be important in certain areas. Small farmers still relied

heavily on oxen and manual labor. Increased mechanization

on large farms, dams being built for rural electrification

projects, an increased emphasis on export crops, and other

government policies that tended to favor the development of

larger farmers all combined to force small farmers out of

this area.

Private Colonization and Frontier Expansion

Frontier expansion in Brazil has been characterized by a

pioneer cycle with several well-postulated stages (Foweraker

1981). During the first stage lumber, minerals, and other

natural resources are extracted. Small farmers in search of

land arrive during the second stage and begin to plant

subsistence crops. In the third stage a market for land

develops and large landowners start to consolidate property

at the expense of the small farmer, who is often forced to

become part of the landless rural labor force. It is at

this point that small and landless farmers and large land

owners are in direct competition for resources, and many

small farmers choose to move on to another frontier area

where land is still available, starting the cycle again

(Martins 1980).

In the case of the Amazon, the government, largely

through fiscal incentives, gave value to large landholdings

long before they would normally have developed a commercial

value, thus eliminating much of the peasants' role of adding

value to valueless frontier land during the pioneer cycle

(Schmink 1981). Private colonization firms occupy large

tracts of fertile land which are settled gradually by

colonists who add value to the company's investment through

the purchase of land. By effectively excluding the small

farmer with no capital resources, private colonization

contributes to the premature closing of the frontier to this

segment of the rural population.

Historically, agricultural production in Brazil has

increased through the opening of new frontier lands rather

than through more intensive utilization of existing

farmland. This type of extensive rather than intensive

agriculture can exist only in countries like Brazil where

there are still large, sparsely settled frontier areas.

This type of agriculture has also made it possible for the

Brazilian government to avoid real agrarian reform which

would involve the restructuring of the land tenure system

throughout rural Brazil.

Often the same patterns of land use that exist

elsewhere are reproduced on the frontier. Colonization

programs are part of this process. In the case of private

colonization, small farmers who can no longer compete with

larger farmers are attracted to frontier areas. Here they

hope to break out of the small farmer category and become

larger farmers themselves. Colonization programs in Brazil

have as their central objective to occupy the area with

small and medium-sized farmers who will produce crops for

the national and international market. The ideal plan

advocated by many colonization firms is that farmers plant

food crops (rice, corn, and beans) during their first

several years on the frontier then gradually shift to

perennial cash crops. These cash crops (cacao, guarana,

rubber, black pepper, coffee), thought to be appropriate to

the Amazon environment, are encouraged through special

credit programs.

Since the shift away from large-scale public

colonization, private colonization has become the central

means to implement this policy. Private colonization

companies have become a dominant feature in frontier areas

of southern Para and northern Mato Grosso. Private

colonization is not new to Brazil. Margolis (1973: 21-22)

speaks of the central role of the Northern Parana Land

Company in the agricultural development of that state.

Recent private colonization efforts in Brazil have received

little attention in the frontier literature. Farmers

attracted to this type of project are different from both

the landless squatter and the Transamazon farmer that have

received so much attention in the literature on the Amazon.

The type of community that develops inside such a project is

different too.

In recent years the state of Mato Grosso has seen the

greatest number of private colonization projects. Mato

Grosso draws on the same flow of southern migrants that had

earlier populated Mato Grosso do Sul and later Rondonia.

Projects like Alta Floresta, Vila Rica, and Colider

(Colonizadora Lider) were initiated at a time when

government funding for many of the crops sponsored by these

projects (cacao, coffee, and rubber) were still available to

colonists. In addition the PROTERRA credit program provided

loans to help farmers purchase land at these private

projects. The TucumZ project, in southern Para, began at a

time when many of these programs were being cut back. It is

clear, however, that private colonization is altering the

socioeconomic configuration of the Brazilian frontier.

There are two major types of agricultural colonization:

planned and spontaneous. Proponents of spontaneous

colonization have pointed to the repeated failure of planned

projects. In a study of 24 colonization projects in Latin

America, spontaneous communities proved to be both more

stable socially and more agriculturally productive than

planned communities (Nelson 1973). Both Poleman (1964), in

his review of the Papaloapan Project in Mexico, and Wesche

(1967), in his analysis of colonization in the Putumayo

region of Bolivia, show high drop-out rates and low

agricultural productivity in government sponsored projects.

The Transamazon colonization project was one of the largest

and best documented projects of this sort (Moran 1975, Smith

1976, Fearnside 1978). It too has been roundly criticized.

Despite an official policy in Brazil that emphasized planned

settlement, spontaneous or unplanned occupation of land by

landless migrants continues to be the major form of frontier

occupation (Wood and Wilson 1984).

Much of the debate concerning different types of

colonization projects hinges on the issue of selection.

Dozier (1969: 200) argues that spontaneous colonization

selects those colonists who have the experience to survive

in a frontier environment. In the Brazilian Amazon,

however, this natural selectivity must be questioned given

the magnitude of migratory movements, the unfamiliarity of

the migrants with the Amazon ecosystem, and the lack of

options for many small and prospective farmers. On the

other hand Moran (1975: 145) criticizes INCRA's selection of

Transamazon colonists based on criteria such as formal

education, region of origin, and years of participation in

agriculture. These criteria, Moran felt, had little to do

with successful farm management in the Transamazon frontier


Private colonization represents a third type of

colonization with distinct selection criteria. Private

firms are in the business of selling land. To be successful

these enterprises must not only be cost effective but also

turn a profit. The government agreed to sell large tracts

of land to these companies at a very low cost. In return

the companies assumed the costs of building a basic

infrastructure of roads, schools, and townsites, and

attracting colonists to the area. The colonization

company's major costs are those associated with building the

infrastructure and attracting colonists to the area. The

company makes money primarily through the sale of land.

Some companies exploit other resources, in particular wood,

or utilize their key position to serve as middlemen for the

marketing and processing of agricultural products produced

by colonist-farmers.

The Tucum' project primarily attracts small and

medium-sized farmers who are interested in acquiring more

land under the security of a large colonization firm. Many

of these farmers come from areas where land is a limiting

factor. They see the frontier as a springboard that will

allow them to become larger farmers. Most of these

colonists have some land or other financial resources that

can be used to purchase land in the project area. The fact

that this project is run by a large company is also a factor

in attracting this group. At such a project many small

farmers feel that their land titles will be guaranteed. The

company has an interest in protecting these farmers from

land grabbers and squatters. In addition the company has

special access to many lines of rural credit.

Initially the colonization firm at Tucum' developed a

rather involved selection process based on a colonist's

financial assets and, to a lesser degree, his expertise in

farming. The economic crisis in Brazil reduced the pool of

farmers to select from by limiting their ability to sell

their land in their home area. In the end the only criteria

actually used were economic. If one had money to buy land

one could buy land. Landless farmers who have no financial

resources are generally not able to buy land in the project

area. Cheaper land can be acquired outside of the project

but the risks are greater. Larger farmers often preferred

to take those risks in order to acquire large tracts of land

more cheaply.

Selection based solely on economic criteria is not a

sufficient condition to determine small farmer success on

the frontier. In addition, this type of selection does not

determine who can afford to start farming on the frontier,

for buying land is not the only expense. Many small farmers

did not realize the full costs associated with moving to the

frontier and establishing a farming operation there. Nor

did the company's sales agents warn them, for they were

under pressure to increase sales. Farmers in particular

have suffered from the cutback of technical assistance and

infrastructural support brought on by government-imposed

austerity measures. In the past preferential rural credit

had always been available for frontier colonists. If one

were to evaluate agricultural credit and assistance through

official propaganda alone it would be difficult to discern

the drastic change that has come about in only a few short

years. The government continued to extol the Brazilian land

reform movement as the largest in the world, while banks and

federal programs such as PROAGRO and PROBOR continued to

promote their programs. But project farmers seeking loans

soon found out that banks and special credit programs were

rapidly running dry.

Many farmers in Tucuma were seriously decapitalized

before they had really been able to establish their farming

operation. This problem could easily have undermined the

long-term future of the project. Instead the unforseen gold

rush provided an alternative means of capitalization for

farmers during the early period of frontier settlement.

Because of the gold rush farmers were able to find off-farm

work and a ready market for their crops.

In recent years one of the most important growth poles

in Amazonia has been the Carajas Project in southern Para.

Carajas, with its associated complex of mineral and

agro-industrial projects, is the centerpiece of the present

government's efforts to develop the Amazon. With the

Carajas development project mining has gained new importance

in the development of the Brazilian Amazon. Iron ore,

copper, bauxite, cassiterite, and gold from Carajas are seen

as playing a key role in the country's balance of payments

problems. Other important projects in this area are the

hydroelectric project at Tucurul on the Tocantins River and

mining port facility of Trombetas. The private colonization

project of Tucuma is centrally located in this important

development pole area (see Figure 1-1).

The gold rush in southern Para has become the focus of

national media attention with stories of overnight wealth

and spectacular discoveries by poor prospectors wandering

along small uncharted stream beds in the forest. Mining has

gained a new political dimension as miners and mining

companies compete, sometimes violently, for rich mining

sites. The rich gold strike at Serra Pelada, inside the

Carajas project area near Tucuma, is a case in point. Here

the government, under pressure from thousands of miners,

postponed the entrance of heavy mechanized mining into the


In southern Para conflicts between large landowners and

landless migrants have steadily increased over the past

decade (Schmink 1981, Martins 1980). These conflicts are

complicated by complex land titling procedures and policies

that tend to favor the large holder. Many of the landless

farmers arrive from the recent frontier areas of northern

Goias and western Maranhao, where they had failed to gain or

retain access to land. A new organization, GETAT (Executive

Group for the Araguaia-Tocantins Lands), was created in 1980

to mediate land problems in areas of special social tension.

GETAT, with direct links to the Federal Government, has

taken over many of INCRA's functions, most importantly

regularizing land titles and surveying holdings.

Southern Para continues to be an area of sporadic

violence. Squatters and certain factions of the Catholic

Church continue to clash with large landowners and local

police. As recently as November of 1984 violent clashes

over land resulted in the shooting of a landowner and the

arrest of several squatters and a priest, prompting the

Brazilian Senate to appoint a committee to investigate the


In the area of southern Para, native peoples, most

notably the Kayapo, have recently been involved in conflicts

over gold mining rights. After several years of inaction

it was agreed that FUNAI (The Brazilian Indian Foundation)

would supervise gold mining in certain areas within Kayapo

territory. The presence of FUNAI, however, has not been

able to stop the invasion of Indian land by miners,

squatters, and land grabbers. Lea (1984) documents the

recent invasions by gold miners onto the lands of the

Gorotire Kayapo.

National events in Brazil have forced more people to

migrate to the frontier in search of economic relief. The

years 1983-1985 have been difficult ones for Brazil. Rising

unemployment brought food riots and the sacking of

supermarkets in several of Brazil's largest cities.

Northeastern Brazil gradually emerged from a five-year

drought, the longest in recent memory. Floods in the

southern agricultural states left thousands homeless. The

demise of the small farm continued in the south. A strike

by the workers on several of southern Brazil's largest sugar

cane plantations brought the plight of these workers into

the national limelight.

By the end of 1983 the inflation rate in Brazil was up

to 211% annually. During 1984 the Brazilian national debt

topped US$100 billion, making it the largest of any nation

in the world. The Brazilian economic miracle and its

phenomenal annual growth rate is now only a distant memory.

In 1984, after agreeing to the strict conditions of the

International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brazil received a new

loan package of US$6.5 billion. Unfortunately, over one

third of this loan went to pay the interest on the national

debt. About US$100 million has been set aside for

infrastructural improvements in the state of Para.

The Brazilian political system is also going through a

period of transition accompanied by a great deal of social

tension. After a great public appeal for direct elections

the country's military leaders opted for indirect elections,

a forum in which they had more control. On January 16,

1985, the official opposition candidate, Tancredo Neves, was

elected in an overwhelming majority. Tragically, Mr. Neves

was not able to take office. After several months of

illness he died. Jose Sarney, the vice-president, does not

enjoy the huge public support that brought Mr. Neves to

power. The central question that remains as Brazil emerges

from 21 years of military rule is how effectively the new

civilian president will be able to deal with the current

economic crisis.

Organizational Outline

This is an analysis of a private colonization project

in a very dynamic frontier area in the Brazilian Amazon. As

such it helps complete the picture of human adaptation to

the humid tropics, in general, and Amazon community studies,

in particular. Ethnographic work in the Amazon has

considered indigenous communities, traditional riverine

communities, spontaneous migrant communities, and

settlements along the Transamazon highway network. Private

colonization as a form of frontier settlement has received

little attention in the literature concerning settlement in

the Amazon. The presence of a private colonization firm in

this frontier area is only one of the features that

determine the form of frontier occupation that is taking

place in this part of southern Para. The local gold rush

combined with the availability of other resources such as

wood and land, help determine the nature of frontier


Chapter II discusses the rise of CONSAG, the company

that runs the Tucuma Project. It traces the rise of CONSAG,

now one of the largest construction firms in Brazil and

explores its entry into the private colonization business.

Through an analysis of the company's structure and decision

making process I provide a background for understanding how

company officials dealt with various problems in managing

the project. Special attention is paid to their recruitment

and settlement of farmers in Tucuma.

Chapter III considers community life within the project

area and the impact of the present gold rush in southern

Para on these communities. Particular attention is paid to

the differences between the company town and the mining.

communities. Chapter IV focuses specifically on the

colonist farm family. Here survey data are used to follow

farmers from their region of origin to their arrival at the

project and through their initial period of adjustment.

Basic demographic information is used to describe the

population of farmers. The decision to leave home and come

to the frontier, the cost of making the move, and the cost

of living in a frontier area are explored in more detail.

Chapter V considers the problems associated with frontier

farming in southern Para. The discussion ranges from local

climatic and soil conditions to farmers' choice of farm

land, crops, and marketing options. An evaluation of

farming systems that are emerging in Tucuma is also

presented here.

The final chapter summarizes the findings while

exploring just what the particular type of frontier found in

the Tucuma project area has come to mean to a large private

firm, to small farmers, to the region's migrant poor, to the

particular brand of frontier merchant and entrepreneur, and

to the gold miners. In particular I am concerned with the

way private colonization changes the nature of a frontier

area. I also address certain larger questions including the

role of directed and spontaneous colonization in the Amazon,

and the relationship between the national economic crisis,

the gold rush, the partial collapse of the rural credit

system, and small scale farming in the Amazon.

Research Methodology

A total of 14 months were spent in the field. During

the first trip to the field site, from June through August

of 1981, I was part of a Center for Development and Regional

Planning (CEDEPLAR) research team. During this time

baseline information on the private colonization firm, the

prospective colonists, the Tucum* project, and the region of

southern Para in general was collected as part of ongoing

research on the impact of frontier expansion associated with

the construction of the new state road (PA-279). It was

also during this time that I made my first contacts with

officials from the colonization firm.

The second phase of field research was conducted

between July 1983 and July 1984. Although most of the

research period was spent in the Tucuma Project area and the

Municipality of SAo Felix do Xingu (9 months), numerous

trips were taken to other communities along the road,

including the important regional centers of Xinguara,

Redencao, and Conceicao do Araguaia. Three months were also

spent in Belem, Belo Horizonte, and Rio de Janeiro

consulting with colleagues, researching institutional

documents, interviewing and consulting with officials from

colonization firms, government agencies, lumber and mining


The population within the 400,000 ha. Tucuma project

area included a wide range of people and occupations:

farmers, gold miners, employees of the colonization firm,

and merchants, laborers, pilots, truck drivers, prostitutes,

and various agents of the state. The residents of the many

gold mining camps, roughly 20,000 individuals, were by far

the most numerous group in the area. The town of Tucuma had

just over 3,000 residents. In addition to the townspeople

and the miners, there were 60 farm families residing in the

rural areas surrounding the towns and gold mining camps.

With farmers representing such a small proportion of

the total project population I decided to broaden my survey

work to include both the Tucuma townspeople and the gold

miners. Despite their low numbers the colonist farmers as a

group remained my central concern. During my first visit to

the fieldsite in 1981 all information seemed to indicate

that farmers, who were to be the primary beneficiaries of

the project, would be a major group within the project by

1983. Reasons for this relatively low number of

colonist-farmers will be explored later.

Formal surveys were conducted of colonist-farmers,

residents in the town of Tucuma and gold miners.

Questionnaires were developed in the field. Although

previous work with CEDEPLAR in 1981 provided an initial idea

of the type of questions relevant to the frontier situation,

other questions developed in the course of protesting the

survey schedule. The three surveys were designed to gather

similar information in the following areas: basic

demography, migration and previous residence, family size

and income, cost of living, nutrition and health, reasons

for coming to the frontier, credit and kinship. In

addition, each survey contained specific questions relating

to the groups being interviewed.

The most comprehensive survey was carried out with the

colonist-farmers. To determine the universe of farmers to

be sampled a list of all rural property owners was obtained

from the colonization company. This list, containing 93

names, required some modification before it could represent

the number of permanent full-time farm operations within the

project. Of the 93 persons listed, 13 (14%) never or rarely

visited the project. This group included land speculators,

farmers who had abandoned the project prior to my arrival,

and those who had purchased land but were unable to leave

their home area. In five cases (5%) where the owner rarely

visited the project I talked to the caretaker instead of the

owner. Additionally, seven cases (8%), represented multiple

properties managed by a single individual. Finally eight

cases (9%) represented colonist-farmers who had sold their

land and left before I had a chance to interview them. Thus

the total number of farmers sampled (60 cases) represents

virtually 100% of the farmers established and operating

farms during the year I spent in Tucuma.

Between July and September I attended weekly community

work sessions for the construction of a rural school and

community center. It was during this time that I got to

know most of the farmers personally and was able to pretest

the questionnaire. Between December 1983 and January 1984,

45 farm families were surveyed. The questionnaire,

containing 85 questions, took one to one and a half hours to

administer. Often an additional visit was needed to

complete or update interviews.

During June 1984 Dr. Emilio Moran and I collaborated on

a second survey which gathered new data on community

formation and participation among colonist farmers. A total

of 50 farmers were surveyed at this time. Of that number 35

had been surveyed earlier and 15 were either new arrivals or

farmers that I had not been able to contact between December

and January. In addition to gathering new information and

updating old survey information, I also used this time to

apply the questions from my first survey to those who had

not been surveyed previously. At this time 23 soil samples

from 17 different farm plots, representing the major areas

within the Tucuma project where farmers have settled, were

also taken.

The survey of those living and working in the numerous

mining camps within the Tucuma project area was administered

between January and March 1984. The interview schedule

contained 88 questions and required between 45 minutes and

one hour to administer. Two assistants were used to collect

a total of 55 surveys. After consulting various sources,

including company officials, merchants, federal police,

SUCAM (malaria control) agents, and miners, I determined

that the mining population ranges from 15,000 during the

rainy season to over 20,000 during the dry season. Miners

are a very mobile group. They may stay in the same mining

camp anywhere from a day to several months or more before

moving on to another site.

Given the unstable nature of the mining community, the

drawing of a representative sample of this population seemed

impossible within the limits of the time and resources

available to me. Areas where miners were likely to

congregate were staked out by interviewers on certain days

of the week. These areas included hospitals, the post

office, supermarkets, bus and taxi stops, the Caixa

Economic (the branch of the Federal Bank that bought gold),

and the airport. This particular survey, conducted on an

opportunistic and sometimes spontaneous basis, does not

claim to be a representative sample. I believe, however,

that the survey as such provides quantifiable data that not

only complement other observations and interviews of miners,

but also provide baseline data for future studies.

The final survey was carried out in 70 (11%) of the 650

households in the company town of Tucuma between April and

May of 1984. The interview schedule contained 73 questions

and took between 30 and 45 minutes to administer. Four

assistants were used to help administer the survey. A

company map of the town, a list of the owners of the urban

lots, and preliminary visits were used to determine which

lots were occupied. Some houses are occupied only a few

days during the week or in some cases, a few months out of

the year. The community has several distinct neighborhoods

that reflect the different directions in which the community

has grown. A strategy was used where every fifth house was

sampled. If the house was unoccupied the house to the right

was substituted. If the house to the right was also

unoccupied then the house to the left of the selected house

was sampled.

While it is the survey that provides general

demographic and aggregate information that will allow for

comparisons within and between groups, in-depth informal

interviews add the human dimension to this study. In-depth

interviewing was carried out with key individuals in the

area including pilots, prostitutes, owners of bars and

supermarkets, owners and workers at the goldmines, company

directors, security guards and police, doctors, the head of

the farmers' co-op, extension agents, and day laborers.

Biographical sketches of one merchant and five farmers are

presented below. The names used in these sketches as well

as the names of company officials are fictitious.

Participation in local events and the observation of

day-to-day life during the year that I resided in the

project area were also a key part of the overall research

strategy. Participant observation is a day-to-day task and

goes much deeper than simple participation in community

events. During the time I lived in Tucumg I resided at

different periods with a doctor and his extended family, a

small-time merchant in the goldmining area, and an official

of the colonization company. Following the daily lives of

these people and talking with them in an informal way gave

me a unique picture of the project that would have been

difficult to attain if I had lived alone.

Secondary materials, ranging from company documents to

newspaper articles, allowed me to keep track of regional and

national events and policy that affected colonists and

residents in my research area. Ample documentation, ranging

from maps and feasibility studies to newspaper files and

other public documentation of the project, was provided by

the colonization firm. Conversations with colleagues in

Belem and southern Brazil also helped to verify these larger




The 1983 edition of Quem e Quem na Economia Brasileira

(Who is Who in the Brazilian Economy) placed CONSAG

(Construtora Andrade Gutierrez) fifth in its list of the top

twenty private firms composed of 100% national capital. The

key words here are national capital and private firm. While

there are larger firms than the assorted construction,

mining, airline and supermarket concerns on the list, these

are either partially owned by the state or composed in part

of foreign capital. CONSAG is proud to be among the leaders

of these wholly national private firms.

CONSAG: Growth and Diversity

Construction firms in Brazil have grown as the nation's

economy has developed. Brazilian construction firms

benefited from large government contracts for a range of

projects designed to create and improve the basic

infrastructure of the nation. Andrade Gutierrez is a good

example. In the late 1940s three young engineers decided to

form a civil engineering partnership in Belo Horizonte, the

capital of Minas Gerais. Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third

largest city, has long been an important industrial center.

Minas Gerais as a whole has played an important role in

the development of Brazil's center-south. In 1948 this area

was just starting its economic expansion. The young firm's

first contracts involved urbanization projects in rapidly

growing Belo Horizonte. Within a year they had expanded

into the rural areas of the state where they built roads,

airstrips and were fully involved in the state's aggressive

effort to create a basic infrastructure for economic

development. During the decade of the 1950s the Brazilian

government increased its emphasis on the creation of a basic

industrial infrastructure. During this era heavy

construction grew and rapidly diversified. CONSAG helped

build everything from dams and irrigation works to port

facilities and highways.

In the early 1960s, as Brazil experienced increasing

economic and labor problems, public funding of large

construction projects began to dry up. In March of 1964 the

Brazilian military took control of the government. In the

late 1960s, following a period of severe retrenchment, the

new military regime embarked on an aggressive program of

economic expansion. Public funds were once again directed

toward large construction projects. The construction of the

Transamazon Highway typifies this era. This project

captured the imagination of the nation. It also opened a

new area of the country to heavy construction firms.

Construction companies involved in road building were among

the chief beneficiaries of this phase of the Brazilian

economic miracle. CONSAG was involved in the construction

of the major highway systems linking the Amazon region of

Brazil with the rest of the nation. CONSAG was contracted

to build sections of the Belem-Brasflia highway, the BR-319

(Manaus-Porto Velho), and the Perimetral Norte.

At its peak in the early 1980s CONSAG had over 24,000

employees, 5,000 pieces of heavy equipment, including 14

airplanes, 50 projects under construction, 18 offices

throughout Brazil, and an annual profit of 176,240 million

cruzeiros (about US$352 million). Its operations ranged

from oil production and mining to participation in such

major national projects as the huge Itaipu Dam, Brazil's

first nuclear power station, and S1o Paulo's new metro

system. The expertise gained in building roads in the

tropics allowed CONSAG, along with several other Brazilian

construction firms, to gain contracts outside of Brazil. By

the early 1980s CONSAG had projects in Bolivia and in the


Between 1982 and 1983 public funding for new

construction projects suffered dramatic reductions in the

face of the mounting economic crisis. Construction firms

were forced to drastically cut their work force and start

taking on smaller projects to help them survive the crisis.

Interest in projects abroad increased during this time. In

order to survive, construction firms had to compete for

smaller projects and diversify into areas other than heavy

construction. CONSAG is the only construction firm that has

become involved in a full scale colonization effort.

An Agricultural Colonization Project in the Amazon

As early as the fall of 1975 certain members of

CONSAG's directorship were considering involvement in an

agricultural colonization project. It was argued by the

pro-colonization faction that this type of project would

develop the firm's expertise in a new area. These company

officials thought that few projects had been able to provide

a setting conducive to stable socioeconomic growth.

In 1976 feasibility studies for a colonization project

in the Amazon area were undertaken. Studies were also

commissioned to examine the farming areas in southern Brazil

to determine the demand for Amazon frontier land by farmers

there. The company also had a study done of the private

colonization project of Alta Floresta in northern Mato

Grosso to get an idea of what other colonization firms were

doing. At the same time possible sites for colonization

were explored. Through the use of the RADAM Project's

satellite maps a very promising area was found in southern

Para southwest of the important mining area of Serra dos

Carajas and just due east of the riverine community of Sao

Felix do Xingu at the confluence of the Xingu and Fresco

Rivers (see Figure 1-1). Due southwest of here lies the

Kayapo Indian Reserve. This area contains one of the major

occurrences of Terra Roxa soil in the Amazon making it among

the most appropriate areas for farming in the region. The

state of Para intended to build a highway (PA-279)

connecting the community of Sao Felix do Xingu with the

state highway PA-150 which linked the important regional

centers of Maraba and Conceicao do Araguaia. Highway

PA-279, which would bisect the proposed colonization site,

would connect this part of southern Para with the rest of

Brazil. CONSAG later won the contract to build this


Over the past decade Para has become the locus of many

Federal projects, including the Carajas Project. The

combination within this area of mineral wealth, land-related

conflicts, and national security concerns stemming from the

organization of peasants by antigovernment groups resulted

in a great deal of direct federal government involvement.

The role of the state of Para has been secondary. At one

time the government even considered creating a new federal

territory out of the Carajas area. Southern Para was more

closely linked, both socially and economically, to the

surrounding states of Goias and Maranhao than to the state

capital of Belem. Much of the local population came from

areas outside the state, in particular from Goias and


The majority of current private colonization projects

are in the state of Mato Grosso, an area that benefited from

the same flow of southern migrants that populated South Mato

Grosso and Rondonia. The Tucuma project is the only project

of its type in southern Para. The presence of the Carajas

Project near the colonization project was seen as an

advantage by CONSAG for several reasons. Because Tucuma was

one of the projects included within the Carajas development

pole area the company was eligible for special funding

considerations. Linking the Tucuma Project to the Carajas

Project would increase the prestige of the project. Tucuma

would benefit from the media coverage being given to Carajas

because it would help the general public locate the project

in the Amazon.

Acquisition of the Land

Land ownership in Para is quite complicated. Properties

often have multiple titles, some that go back to colonial

days. There are also a variety of claims to land, ranging

from the fraudulent to those in the process of being

legalized. In addition there are concessions for the

exploration for certain forest products. Areas where these

resources are found in concentration, such as a seringal

(rubber tree area) or castanhal (Brazil nut area), may be

titled for exploration. The Tucuma Project falls within an

area referred to as a polygon of Brazil nuts (poligono do

castanha) because of its large concentration of Brazil nut


Land with multiple claims can only be sorted out

through lengthy legal procedures or with one claimant buying

out another's claim. Land originally obtained through

fraudulent means can gain a measure of legitimacy as it.

passes from one owner to another. For large land owners

there is always the threat of invasion by squatters, and for

small holders their ever-present threat of expulsion.

Violence or the threat of violence is a common way of

settling land disputes in this part of Para. One reason that

CONSAG was attracted to the area that eventually became

Tucuma was that there were no squatters or major land claims

within the area.

The company's first purchase in the area was a large

tract of land that became the project's experimental farm.

At least part of this property turned out to be a castanhal

belonging to a family living in Belem. A price was agreed

upon for the purchase of the area and paid to the family.

There were several peasant households (caboclos) living

along the Fresco River near where the farm was to be built.

Upon receiving compensation for their improvements on the

property they moved their homes to the other side of the

river where they continued to plant small gardens, hunt,

fish, and collect rubber and brazil nuts for sale. In

addition to selling excess game and fish, these families

worked from time to time for the company. They also made

use of the company clinic, which they considered as part of

their compensation.

By the fall of 1976 the company had begun to build the

experimental farm. The area eventually became known as

Krimet. Krimet is a Kayapo word meaning big house and was

used by the Kayapo to refer to the large guest house built

on the shores of the Fresco River. Krimet served not only

as a site for testing the many crops being considered for

the colonization project but also as a showcase for the

various government agencies enlisted to promote the project.

At its peak Krimet had between 50 and 100 workers. The

area was beautifully laid out with an airstrip and a huge

guest house on a small ridge overlooking the river. There

were wooden homes for families and a dormitory for single

workers. A large kitchen with two dining rooms served the

needs of workers, staff, and guests. A small clinic, a

warehouse, a small sawmill, a mechanic shop, a school, a

central office, and the larger homes of some of the

administrators completed the picture. A whole range of

crops, both annual and perennial, were planted surrounding

the camp. The photographs used in the first sales campaign

were taken here. Following the construction of Tucuma and

the experimental farm there, Krimet began to decline.

The acquisition of the 400,000 ha. area that would

become the Tucuma project began with a feasibility study

done in 1977. The land had no squatters and appeared to

have no owners. The land was classified as terra devoluta

or state land. In southern Para there were two groups,

ITERPA (the land agency for the State of Para) and INCRA

(the federal agency), that had to be dealt with in obtaining

state lands for colonization. Some of the unclaimed lands

in Para were under the jurisdiction of ITERPA, others were

controlled by INCRA or in certain areas of special conflict,

GETAT. State land was often divided into large segments

(glebas) of varying sizes for juridical purposes. The area

chosen for the Tucuma project was in the Carapang Gleba

under the jurisdiction of INCRA.

Acquiring land, even for private colonization

encouraged by the federal government, could be a long and

slow process. CONSAG's negotiations with INCRA and the

Ministry of Agriculture began in 1977. In 1978 a contract

for private colonization in Tucuma was granted to CONSAG

with the approval of the National Security Council (Conselho

de Seguranca Nacional). The company spent a great deal of

money and used all their considerable influence with the

federal government to lobby for the colonization project.

The design of the main town of Tucuma was done by Sr.

Camargo, an urban planner famous for his designs of the

communities (agrovilas) along the Transamazon. Elaborate

studies were prepared for official

organizations like SUDAM and INCRA. People of influence

were flown in to visit the project.

The government subsidized colonization efforts by

selling the land to the firms for a nominal fee. Calculated

in May 1983 the 400,000 ha. project cost the company 173

million cruzeiros. This translates to about US$346,000 or

.87 cents per hectare (Construtora Andrade Gutierrez 1983).

Because the project exceeded 300,000 ha. in size, Brazilian

law required that it also be approved by the Brazilian

Senate. By November of 1979 the project had been approved

by the Senate as well.

By 1976 the construction of the highway (PA-279) that

was to link Sao Felix do Xingu with Xinguara had begun.

Road building and other heavy construction projects in

remote rural areas require a great deal of coordination to

proceed smoothly. During the construction of state highway

PA-279 the company had a constant crew of over a thousand

men. Ranchers were subcontracted along the way to provide

beef. Construction materials and other supplies were all

brought in by truck. Good communications between the

central headquarters and the construction site were

maintained through regular radio communications and mail

pouch service. Temporary airstrips were constructed at

larger campsites. As soon as the road arrived at Tucumg the

company began to build an airstrip. The company's fleet of

14 planes was used to provide regular air transport between

the project and the rest of the country until commercial

service began in the fall of 1983.

Road Construction and Local Politics

May llth was the founding day of Tucuma,

celebrated each year with an official observance. On that

day in 1981 the state road that CONSAG was building arrived

at the project area. During my first visit to the project

during the summer of 1981, CONSAG had closed the most

recently completed portions of the road. The reason given

for this was that the state of Para had not paid for the

work done on the highway. When a state hires a contractor

to build a road or some other large project, money is

advanced to begin the work followed by successive payments

as portions of the project are completed. The issue of

payment was only one of several controversies surrounding

the road. Understanding these problems and the way they

were dealt with is central to understanding later conflicts

between the company and other social groups in the area.

Originally the road was to extend from the PA-150 at

Xinguara to Sao Felix do Xingu, a distance of 255 km. When

the state ran out of money and stopped making payments on

the road, CONSAG stopped building the road. While road

construction within the project area between Tucuma and

Krimet continued, the remaining portion of the state highway

to Sao Felix (approximately 95 km) was not completed. The

residents of Sao Felix claimed that CONSAG had been

interested only in seeing the road reach their own project

and they had no intention of sharing the road with the

people of Sao F6lix. The people of Sao Felix do Xingu were

not to get their road until 1983. At that time the

municipal government was able to link Sao Felix with Krimet

where an access road connected the experimental farm with

the Tucuma project and the state highway.

CONSAG's attempt to force the state to pay up by

restricting the traffic on a portion of the road angered

local ranchers, lumbermen, miners, and others. The general

sentiment seemed to be that while a private firm might

restrict access to its own property it did not have the

right to do so on state property. It was felt that the

issue of payment was between the state and the construction

firm and that local residents should not be penalized for

some lapse in the contract. Several months later CONSAG

allowed access to the rest of the road leading up the

entrance of the project. The restricted access to the state

road and the project as well as the uncompleted road to Sao

Felix do Xingu left many people with bitter feelings toward

the colonization project.

Securing the Boundaries to the Project

Access to the project itself was closely monitored by

the company's security force which in 1981 included 40 men,

several jeeps, and a small airplane for project

surveillance. Entering the project involved passing through

several checkpoints where those that could not prove that

they were either company workers or persons who had business

within the project area were stopped from entering. The

company believed that if it allowed access to the project

before it was occupied with colonists, the area would be

flooded with landless migrants. It was thought that

prospective colonists from southern Brazil would be

reluctant to purchase land here if they felt that squatters

might invade the project at any time. Several farmers and

merchants from nearby areas in southern Para, Maranhgo, and

Goias were turned away during their first attempts to visit

Tucumg. They eventually succeeded in convincing company

officials that they were capable of making an investment

within the project and were allowed to enter. This

situation reflects the initial bias toward southern Brazil

where the company was recruiting colonists.

In the end the company had more trouble with large land

grabbers (grileiros) and lumber companies than with landless

squatters. Several grileiros laid claim to land on the

fringes of the project. Few actually hoped to win in a

legal battle against such a powerful company; rather there

was the expectation that they would be paid off out of

court. Some of these persons were taken to court or

threatened with legal action. Others simply had their claim

bought out. In these situations it is often easier to pay

claimants than to tie up the issue of land ownership in


In mid-July of 1981 an event occurred that shaped

future relations between CONSAG and the miners and other

migrants arriving in the area. This event was the expulsion

of a group of goldminers working within the project area.

By 1981 gold had been discovered in the area, though not in

the large amounts discovered in the spectacular finds at

Serra Pelada and Cumaru further to the east. Small

airplanes carrying miners had been allowed to land at a gold

claim within the project. The airstrip had been constructed

by a mining firm called PROMIX that had a permit to explore

for cassiterite within the project area. Planes were

required to land first at Tucumg where occupants and cargo

were registered with company security. Miners also had

begun entering the project illegally by cutting trails into

the area from the state highway.

In mid-July 1981 some of these miners were expelled by

company security guards from a small claim just inside the

project. Miners claimed that they had been beaten and their

gold taken away from them. Security guards claimed that the

miners had been warned not to enter the project illegally.

Several days after the incident a helicopter carrying

federal police from the Cumaru Project (a

government-controlled mining area) landed at Tucuma. These

men had a conference with the head of project security.

Some of the miners expelled from Tucuma had arrived in

Cumaru and were trying to rally support for a miner's

invasion of Tucuma. Cumaru officials were concerned that

there might be an outbreak of violence.

In a matter of days miners, indignant about their

expulsion, spread the word among their friends at other

camps that there was much gold inside the project area.

Miners riding in the backs of pickup trucks, some carrying

guns, proceeded toward the project with the intention of

taking back their claim, by force if necessary. Since

Brazilian law states that the subsoil belongs to the Union

(federal government), the miners contended that the

colonization company could not restrict access to the

subsoil within the project. Miners stated that all they

wanted was gold and they had no intention of becoming


The miners were not stopped when they arrived at Tucuma

but were allowed to return to the site they had been

working. It was probably a wise decision on the part of the

local security force not to try to stop the returning

miners. During that year major newspapers had reported the

violent clashes between miners and security guards at Alta

Floresta, a private colonization project in Mato Grosso.

While access to the project continued to be closely

monitored there was a general relaxation. Along with this

there was a gradual realization that if the Tucuma Project

were going to benefit from the gold rush it would have to

accept the goldminers.

A squatter settlement located near the entrance to the

Tucuma Project developed in August of 1981. In the early

days it was referred to as Guaritai or simply guarita (guard

post) in reference to the company's guard post at the

entrance to the project. Finally, several years later, it

became known officially as Ourilandia (gold-land).

Ourilandia grew quickly, surpassing Tucuma in size. Its

residents saw the town as a symbol of resistance against the

company town of Tucuma. Critics of the project consider the

failure to open the project to miners at an earlier date to

be one of the greater mistakes made during the early years

of colonization. It was argued that if the project had been

opened up earlier the company could have taken full

advantage of the economic boom brought by the miners instead

of forcing the miners to carry on much of their commerce

outside the project.

Project Construction and Management

Those within the company who had conceived the idea of

a colonization project were in the minority. They had to

convince other factions of the value of a project like

Tucuma. This pro-colonization faction, which considered

itself to be more socially progressive and less traditional,

felt that this project was different from the type of

construction projects that CONSAG was used to coordinating.

They felt that the company should hire individuals competent

in the various areas of specialization that would be needed

for a colonization effort of this size. This faction was in

direct control of the project from its inception through the

purchase of the property. With the arrival of the road

construction crew in Tucuma, control passed gradually into

the hands of the engineers. The project began to look more

like a regular construction project. By this time the

people that had gotten the project started began to concern

themselves with the recruitment of colonists in southern


Most construction projects were run by engineers whose

interaction with other social groups was limited to the

relationships they had with the men that worked under them.

This type of organization was needed during the building of

Tucuma. The workers at a road construction site can be

broadly divided into three occupational groups: the

unskilled workers, the skilled workers (heavy machinery

operators, mechanics, master carpenters and other

construction workers, lower level clerks, and foremen), and

the engineers and upper level administrators. Engineers,

administrative personnel, and guests had separate dining and

living quarters from the skilled and unskilled workers. The

workers' dining and living accommodations were considerably

more modest than those of the engineers and administrators.

The construction camp hierarchy provided an organizational

model for the town in the early days.

The services of the road building team were easily

turned from the construction of the state highway to the

building of Tucuma. The infrastructure for the project

included primary and secondary roads, the town site of

Tucuma, the airstrip, electric generators and power lines,

sewage and water works, a primary and secondary school, a

hospital, a police headquarters, administrative offices, a

community activities center, a public utilities building,

and 60 homes of various sizes for company employees.

Because the site chosen for the town of Tucuma was not near

a river, an artesian well had to be drilled in order to

provide water for the town. This basic infrastructure was

put in as quickly as possible. It was argued that the road

work had to be completed before the heavy machinery had to

be moved to another project. The company had several other

larger construction projects in the area. In addition,

company-commissioned studies in southern Brazil showed that

there were many small farmers eager to buy land in Amazonia.

All signs indicated that the company would have no

trouble meeting its tentative timetable for settling farmers

in the area. The project was divided into three roughly

equal sections. The first section was to be occupied within

a period of six years. Initially the whole

project was to be occupied within 15 years. In May 1983 the

estimated cost for completing the whole project was put at

35 billion, 216 million cruzeiros. At the exchange rate of

500 cruzieros to US$1 this is approximately US$70,432,000.

Over 44% of this amount (15.5 billion cruzeiros) was

designated for road construction and an additional 1.6

billion cruzeiros for the construction of urban facilities

(Construtora Andrade Gutierrez 1983).

Most colonization firms are not part of a large

construction firm. As such they have access to a smaller

and less sophisticated pool of heavy machinery. They open

up new roads and provide infrastructural services only when

enough people are in the colonization area to justify such

an expense. When rural roads are built without the

accompanying settlement of farmers, the road system can

quickly become overgrown, thus adding the cost of upkeep to

the original construction cost. This is clearly what

happened in Tucuma when the Andrade Gutierrez company acted

according to the rationale of a large construction firm

rather than that of a colonization company.

Initially colonists were impressed with the amount of

work that had been done. They saw the extensive

infrastructure already in place as a testament to the

company's commitment to the project. Some of the colonists

had visited other projects where much less work had been

done. Later on, however, many critics said that the cost of

maintaining the unused infrastructure of roads was being

passed on to colonists in the price of the lots. The

company claimed that it had kept land prices down, even

below those of many competitors. The burden of an elaborate

infrastructure also became a complaint of the sub-prefect of

Tucumg. This issue is explored in more detail in the next


CONSAG cultivates the image of being a leader not only

in modern engineering technology but also in the progressive

treatment of its employees. Company headquarters in Belo

Horizonte is designed to remind one of both the company's

origin and its future. Outside the modern office building

sits one of the first bulldozers ever used by CONSAG; on the

inside are the computer terminals. A brochure celebrating

the company's anniversary refers proudly to "35 years of

technology and humanism." Inside, the brochure states that

the company sees itself as an instrument for the personal

realization of all of its employees rather than a simple

tool for making profit. This humanistic ideal is evident in

the attempt to equip Tucuma with modern hospital facilities,

school buildings, community services, and a clean water

supply. Workers who have been with the company for some

time can count on substantial medical benefits and a fair

amount of job security.

Between 1981, when the road arrived at the project

area, and the beginning of 1983, two men shared the

direction of the project and came to epitomize the early

years of the Tucuma Project. When informants would refer to

this period they would invariably mention these men. The

man directly responsible for project security, a retired

military officer, was commonly referred to as the colonel.

It is not uncommon in Brazil for a large firm to have a

retired military man as a trouble shooter. The other

central figure was the chief engineer and project director,

Sr. Pedro. The majority of the company's engineers were in

their thirties and forties, had gone to school together, and

were from Minas Gerais. There was a definite camaraderie

among these men for most of them had worked together in the


During the building of the town and the access roads,

the project was administered like any other construction

project, by engineers. Many of the CONSAG personnel at this

time had been transferred from the Trombetas port

construction project. One informant described Trombetas as

a massive project representing a high point in terms of

company's lavish treatment of its engineering corps. To a

certain degree this treatment continued at Tucuma. This

included regular trips to Bel6m or home to visit families,

and privileged use of many of the facilities at the project.

Engineers and their families lived in the nicest homes in

the project.

Tucuma, because it was owned by the company and because

many head engineers thought they would be there for some

time, provided the opportunity for personal investments that

were not possible at other projects where the company was

under contract. The company provided a 10% discount for

employees that bought land in Tucuma. A number of employees

and their relatives bought urban lots. Three engineers

bought commercial lots and built facilities to be rented to

merchants. The largest of these, called TUC-Center, was a

small shopping mall containing about 30 small offices or

stalls for rent. Several engineers also bought a large farm

plot. All this served to fuel the rumor that this was a

project for the rich and not for the average person.

The worsening economic situation in Brazil in 1983 did

much to change the company structure at Tucuma. The era of

abundance and large construction contracts was over. CONSAG

had to cut its work force by more than one half. Many of

the men who had stayed on as part of the permanent Tucuma

maintenance crew (carpenters, electricians, and mechanics)

lost their jobs. Many of these people continued to live in

Tucuma after losing their jobs. The firm has a tradition of

moving its employees from one project to another whenever

possible and only laying off persons in the last instance.

This provides a measure of job security for many of the

engineers and administrators who have been with CONSAG for

most of their professional careers. This policy was fairly

easy to live up to in the decades of growth and expansion

but became increasingly difficult as Brazil entered the

worst economic crisis in recent memory.

It was becoming clear to the company directors that

corrections were needed for TucumA to proceed on schedule.

Dona Marisa, one of the original designers of the project,

was called back in to oversee the restructuring of the

project. Many of the key individuals, including the colonel

and Sr. Pedro, were transferred to other projects. These

people were replaced with individuals who, in general, had

no previous association with the project. This was a slow

process with much opposition from those who were directly


Within TucumB attempts were made to open up the project

to the general population and downplay the elitism that had

been fostered by the previous administration. Zoning laws

were liberalized and merchants in the mining towns were

permitted to operate more freely in Cuca, the principal

mining town within the project. A move was made to

distinguish CONSAG from the colonization project by

referring to the colonizadora or the colonization firm, as

different from the construtora or construction firm.

During May 1984 the company administrative and land

sales offices were moved from their original site to a site

near the experimental farm at the entrance to town. This

was a visible effort to separate company and local town

government. Here a new reception area, including a

dormitory, a place for outdoor meetings, and a lunch room,

was built. Previously, prospective colonists had been

housed in a hotel adjacent to the old headquarters. The

hotel had initially been the company's dormitory for its

workers. Later it had been sold at a nominal fee with the

agreement that it would continue to provide lodging at

reduced rates for visiting and newly arrived

farmer-colonists. This arrangement worked well for a while

but eventually was discontinued following complaints of poor

service by land sales agents. The owners of the hotel

accused the sales people of not giving them information

concerning the size and arrival date of caravans of

colonists. The company land sales division also felt that

by moving the reception area to the entrance of town, near

the well laid out experimental farm and the building for the

new cooperative, farmers would get a more favorable

impression of the project.

Colonization and Land Sales

During the first year of the project (1981) the central

office for colonist recruitment was in S-o Paulo. The

company designated 18% (about US$12,684,000) of its overall

project budget for project sales promotion (Construtora

Andrade Gutierrez 1983). Sales agents were contracted in

certain key sites in southern Brazil. These people included

real estate agents and other people who had experience

selling to farmers or working with the rural population in

some other ways. Initially it was thought that the company

would be able to select its colonists. Prospective

colonists were asked to fill out a long form that took note

of financial assets and, to a lesser degree, experience in

agriculture, the use of agricultural inputs and machinery,

and participation in cooperatives and rural credit programs.

This form proved to be complicated for both the sales agents

and the clients and was soon replaced with a short form for

recording only basic financial and demographic information.

A formal selection process of any sort requires a

sufficiently large pool of potential colonists to select

from. This pool became smaller as the economic crisis

worsened in southern Brazil. In the end the company's

elaborate colonist selection process turned out to be little

more than an elimination of all those who could not afford

to buy land in the project. Yet simply having the financial

resources to buy land is no guarantee that one will be a

successful colonist. A colonist must have enough money not

only to buy land but also to make the move to the frontier,

clear the land, plant the crops, and survive until the first


The company had trouble finding sales agents who could

attract new colonists at a rate commensurate with the

opening up of new lots. After two years only two sales

agents were sending substantial numbers of southern

colonists to the project. I was able to visit one of these

agents in southern Brazil in 1981. The sales agent had a

team of salesmen each with a specific sector of the rural

community to cover. Agents not only visited individual

farmers but attended meetings at local cooperatives and

rural worker unions (sindicato de trabalhadores rurais). At

these meetings the salesmen would give a slide presentation

and a sales talk on the merits of farming in TucumS. The

central point of many of the sales talks was that one could

buy, for the same amount of money, ten times as much land in

Tucuma as one could locally.

Tucuma was also advertised using local radio programs

and newspapers. The two central sales slogans were "Tucuma:

A New Life in Southern Para" and "Plant Your Seed in

Tucuma." Shirts, hats, and pencils carrying these slogans

were prepared to give away as presents to colonists. In the

beginning plenty of this sort of support material was

available. Later on sales agents complained that the

company was not providing enough support material for the

sales campaign to be run properly.

The land salesmen were not employees of CONSAG. They

received a commission as soon as a farmer made the down

payment required to reserve a lot. In an attempt to

interest farmers in the project, sales agents described

Tucuma in less than realistic terms. Farmers thought that

the salesmen they had spoken to in the south were company

employees who were telling the truth about the project. For

example, some farmers were told that malaria was similar in

severity to the common cold. The company later cautioned

its agents not to make claims of this sort but rather to

stress that with proper precautions malaria need not be a

major problem.

Many farmers were told that they could easily pay off

the cost of their farm just through the sale of the valuable

wood on the lot. Yet many lots did not have much wood of

commercial value to begin with and owners complained that

they had been deceived. The company claimed that they had

never said that all the lots would have wood and in any case

farmers were free to choose their own lots. In some cases

timber had been removed from a lot after it had been

purchased. Here the company tended to blame the illegal

lumber men. Farmers felt that CONSAG should do something to

protect their investment. The company felt that colonists

who had bought land were responsible for that land and if

they were not going to live on the land they should put

someone there to watch over it. In some cases road

construction crews or lumber crews commissioned by CONSAG

had removed lumber for construction projects in town. The

company claimed that this had been done prior to the sale of

the lots and not afterward.

The misinformation given out by some sales agents was

not the only problem the company had in dealing with

farmers. The first bus load of farmers from southern Brazil

arrived in August of 1981. Many of these farmers had been

instructed to reserve lots for their friends and relatives.

Unfortunately there were not enough surveyed lots to go

around and several farmers had to return empty-handed.

Though this situation was quickly remedied it set a

precedent for misunderstandings and poor communications that

were to mar transactions between farmers and the company.

One farmer claimed that he had made a down payment on a

plot and later several engineers had decided that they were

going to purchase this piece of land. Although this

allegation was never substantiated, several engineers did

purchase a large chunk of project land forming a rather

loose corporation to farm it. They called themselves GIPA

(Grupo Investidores do Para).

During the 1982-83 crop year the company helped many

farmers who had arrived late or who, for some other reason,

had not been able to clear and burn their land before the

rains. CONSAG was eager to impress the few colonists that

had settled in Tucuma. The company used its heavy equipment

to clear enough land for these farmers to begin to plant.

The company allowed the farmers to wait until harvest time

to pay for this service. During the 1983-84 crop year,

when many farmers found themselves in similar circumstances

they went to company officials soliciting the same treatment

farmers had gotten before. While much of the road

construction machinery had been removed to other sites,

CONSAG had left a skeleton crew to maintain the roads and

lay out certain urban sites. Farmers were asked to put

their names on a list, and were told that they would be

assisted as soon as the machines were available.

Higher company officials decided that it would not be

prudent to continue this policy. They stated that most of

the available machines were in full use. In addition a

number of the farmers who had had their land cleared the

previous year still had outstanding debts. Some company

officials alleged that certain farmers found this to be a

simple solution to having to clear the land themselves, in

other words they were lazy. The clearing program was

cancelled after several farmers had their land cleared.

Many farmers were bitter, claiming that had they known that

CONSAG was going to renege on their promise they would have

made other provisions. The company arranged for an

independent firm to help with the clearing if enough farmers

could be enlisted to make it profitable. Few farmers signed

up, claiming that the rates were too high. The problem for

most farmers was not simply the high rates but that the

independent firm would demand payment immediately.

This situation, and others like it, gave colonists the

impression that the colonization officials were operating in

confusion with no clear policy. Such conflicts also

undermined the authority of local company employees by

giving the impression that they were constantly being

overruled by the main office. Part of the problem was the

sheer size of the company. Decisions were normally approved

at the top with a rather rigid chain of command existing

between project and main office. Even after an attempt was

made to give the colonization effort some autonomy many

decisions still had to be approved by the central office.

The poor communications between the central office, the

sales agents in the south, and the project office in Tucuma

did not help matters either.

The issue of bank loans and agricultural financing also

brought farmers into conflict with CONSAG. Company sales

propaganda gave the impression that it would be relatively

easy to obtain loans for most agricultural needs. These

claims were made primarily on the assumption that government

programs would continue to offer preferential treatment to

frontier farmers at private colonization projects. Many of

these loan programs were severely cut back as part of the

government austerity measures in 1983. Many farmers felt

that this was another example of unfulfilled company

promises. In one particular instance, farmers trying to get

loans at the Bank of Brazil were refused credit because they

did not have a definitive title to their land. The Bank

told them that CONSAG would have to sign as guarantor on the

loan. The company, already having had several bad

experiences with farmers who owed them money, refused.

Those affected claimed that this was another example of

company insensitivity. When many farmers with definitive

titles did not receive loans either, it became obvious that

this particular loan program, PROINVEST, had practically no

money available and that the request for the company to be

the guarantor was only a means of stalling.

The incidents described above illustrate the confusion,

the inconsistency, and the difficulty the company had in

dealing with both colonists and miners during the first

years of the project. While it is true that the economic

crisis in Brazil made it difficult for southern farmers to

find buyers for their land in order to purchase lots in

Tucuma, some of the blame for CONSAG's poor recruitment

record was connected to their inexperience in the area of

colonization. Engineers only had experience dealing with

workers. They had never worked with land sales people,

miners, lumbermen, or farmers. The company's early

assistance to farmers in land clearing gave farmers the

impression that the company would be a patron they could

count on for favors. CONSAG was not interested in this type

of relationship.

The settlement of the Tucum5 project was to take place

in three stages. Each stage corresponded to a section of

the project. Farmers could not buy land in other areas

until this area had been occupied. Each section was to have

a central town, much like the town of Tucuma in section one.

With the very low number of rural colonists arriving in

Tucuma a pattern emerged where farmers settled near the main

road to the mines or in the area between the entrance to the

project and the town of Tucuma. This meant that farmers

were spreading out along the road without occupying those

lots removed from the road.

This pattern of occupation led to other problems.

Farmers said that they had been led to believe that there

would be rural schools for their children. The company,

which had already built one rural school, said that they

would build other schools as soon as enough farmers with

children were in the area to justify this.

By early 1983 it became clear that the project was not

going to reach its goal of settling 4,000 farm families in

the area within a six-year period. The program of land

sales in general needed restructuring. Senor Schwartz, who

had played a central role in the colonization of Mato

Grosso, was hired. Senor Schwartz began to put together a

more professional and experienced sales and recruitment


Senor Schwartz suggested that colonists who were unable

to bear the financial burden of relocating on the frontier

should be discouraged from coming to Tucuma. It was felt

that these farmers would arrive at the project with

insufficient funds to get their farming started and end up

returning home spreading negative propaganda about the

project. This situation had already happened once when a

farmer had returned to the south and talked to his parish

priest who began to tell other farmers not to go to Tucuma.

Farmers were to be given a realistic picture of Tucuma.

Land agents were responsible for meeting quotas of a

specified number of buyers.

Senor Schwartz decided that farmers should be allowed

to buy land only in that portion of section one where

farmers were already settled so as to occupy one area fully

before moving on to the next. Larger lots near the road

were subdivided to allow more farmers to buy smaller plots

near the road.

Small landed farmers from the states of Rio Grande do

Sul, Parana, and Santa Catarina were now traveling to visit

the project on buses that left for Tucuma on a bimonthly

basis. A district supervisor, permanently stationed in the

south, was in charge of making sure that the land agents

were doing their job correctly. This supervisor, in turn,

was responsible to Senor Schwartz, who traveled regularly

between Tucuma, the southern recruitment areas, and the

headquarters in Belo Horizonte.

In light of the ever growing number of miners within

the project area the company also began to sell plots

originally designated as agricultural in the mining camps of

Cuca and Manelao. Initially land was sold in the mining

camps with a modest downpayment and an agreement that the

balance would be paid over a period of several months. If

the merchant or miner who had bought the plot went broke or

moved to another site he simply stopped making payments.

CONSAG soon learned what merchants dealing with miners had

learned long ago: namely that costs must be covered and

profits made with the down payment.

The company also turned to lumber sales as a further

means of exploiting project resources. In early 1984 the

company contracted with three large lumber firms to cut wood

within the project area still unoccupied by farmers. This

was done in an effort to control illegal wood extraction

within the project area. It was also felt that if CONSAG

did not do something to attract the lumber mills to the

project they would relocate somewhere else. Some sawmill

operations did move directly to Sao Felix do Xingu. Up

until this time CONSAG'S monthly income from wood was around


The three large lumber firms were primarily interested

in mahogany for the export market. In addition numerous

small sawmills, run by southern colonists, began to operate

in and around Tucuma. These mills, many of them family run,

catered primarily to a local demand for construction



Thus, despite the low volume of rural land sales CONSAG

was able to find other means of exploiting project

resources. It was clear that private colonization offered

numerous opportunities for profit.



The Tucuma project area encompasses several types of

settlements. As the local headquarters of the colonization

project, the village of Tucuma is essentially a company

town. Beyond the urban perimeter are the farmers who occupy

land located at varying distances from the administrative

center. The mining camps, which sprang up in the wake of

the recent gold rush, are yet another settlement type. Each

of these communities, and their associated activities,

profoundly influence one another. We must therefore see the

social and economic aspects of Tucuma in light of the

interaction between the distinct social groups which

comprise the colonization project.

Neither the company town of Tucuma nor the squatter

communities centered around the mining of gold bear much

resemblance to either the traditional riverine communities

(Wagley 1976, Schmink 1981, Miller 1979) or the older

agrarian-based migrant communities (Sawyer 1979, Poats 1979)

in the Amazon. Ourilandia was similar to spontaneous

communities like Agua Azul, Xinguara, Rio Maria, and

Redengao. These towns developed around certain resources

(lumber, land, and gold) along the roads penetrating

southern Para. Tucuma bore some resemblance to the large


company town of Monte Dourado in the Jari Project (Fisk,

personal communication, 1985). Both the company town and

the squatter communities were very young communities. None

predate the arrival of CONSAG to the area in mid 1981.

The Company Town

If you travel the seven kilometers from Ourilandia to

the town of Tucuma (Figure 3-1) you see evidence of both

agriculture and mining. As you near the town you pass the

busy airstrip on the left and, on the right, the entrance to

the experimental farm and the land sales office. The road

swings abruptly to the left past the gas station, the

company sawmill, and the main generators for the town's

electricity. The road moves in a slow semicircle past the

airport and down through the main street of town. The town

of Tucuma is located on a gentle slope overlooking a marshy


Tucuma was a planned community designed by architects

and engineers. From the air one saw neat rows of houses

built by CONSAG in Tucum'. This was in contrast to the

houses crowded along the road in Ourilandia. On the planning

maps the town was divided into commercial, industrial, and

residential subdivisions. The residential section was

subdivided into units with and without water and

electricity. The iwalthier people lived in the areas with


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these facilities while the poorer people lived in the areas


The better part of town was adjacent to the central

business area, the school, and the general hospital. The

company built homes for its employees here. On top of the

hill, overlooking the town, were the largest and most

attractive homes. During the first years of the project,

when the engineers were in charge, these homes were reserved

for the chief administrators and company guests. Later, as

the company staff was reduced, these houses were occupied by

doctors, dentists, and other professionals. On the streets

below these homes lived the second level managers and

foremen. Later these homes were occupied by local

merchants, entrepreneurs, and bureaucrats. The company

constructed two additional neighborhoods on facing slopes

for its lower level workers.

The houses built by the company varied in size but the

construction materials and the basic floor plan were

similar. The foundation was of poured concrete, the walls

were varnished and fitted wooden planks, and the roof was of

molded concrete shingles. Inside, the house was divided

into a living and dining room, bathroom, kitchen, and

bedrooms. Even the smaller houses had two bedrooms. All

company houses .:ere equipped with running water, a septic

-tank for sewage, and electrical wiring. All the windows had

shutters and screens. In addition, the larger houses had

maid's quarters, a storage shed, parquet wood floor, and

tiled bathrooms and kitchen.

Houses built by colonists varied quite a bit from the

company houses. Many merchants simply lived in a back room

of their store. Southern colonists built houses with raised

wooden floors (usually about a foot off the ground),

unvarnished planks placed lengthwise to form the walls, and

sheets of tin for the roof. Two small factories (olaria or

ceramica, located on the outskirts of town, sold kiln-fired

bricks for construction. Wood from the many small sawmills

was by far the most common construction material.

The homes of more modest means usually had walls made

of scraps of roughly cut lumber, roofs of thatch (palha),

and pounded dirt floors. Nicknames were often very

descriptive of the living conditions in certain parts of

town. There was Vila dos Apertadinhos (the cramped), Vila

do Rato (Vila of the Rat), and Vila dos Dorme Sujo (Vila of

those who sleep dirty) in reference to the area of town with

no running water.

At the time of this study there were about 3,000 people

living in Tucuma. Up until mid 1982 the employees of CONSAG

made up over 30% of the population of Tucuma. As the major

construction of the project was completed many of the

workers were transferred to other sites. The company kept a

permanent staff of about 90 workers to maintain the project

and do minor construction work. By mid-1983, when the

company was starting to feel the full impact of the economic

crisis, about half of the work force was laid off. Many of

these workers decided to stay in Tucuma. About half of this

group had bought urban property in Tucum'. Four former

employees had bought rural lots. These people felt that

their chances of employment were better here than in some

other part of the country. CONSAG continued to employ some

of their former workers on a contract basis. Some opened

small businesses like a restaurant or a mechanics shop.

Others worked on independent construction projects.

One of the areas of considerable activity was the

airport, with almost 50 small planes based there. Miners

used the airport to fly to small mines (9 as of mid-1984)

located outside the project area. All of the supplies going

to these mines must be flown in by plane. The airport in

Tucuma was the busiest in the area. The FAB (the Brazilian

Airforce) had an officer on duty to keep track of the

flights and to make sure that all the pilots were flying

registered planes. The price of a fare rose with each

increase in the price of gasoline. In mid-1983 there were

no commercial flights to Tucuma. In October of 1983 Taba

(Taxi Aereo do Baixo Amazonas) began to make biweekly trips

between Tucuma, Carajas, and Belem. This two and a half

hour trip cost about US$50. By May of 1984 the cost of the

same fare had risen to over US$100. A trip to the gold

mines, all within a half an hour's flying time, could cost

between US$25 and US$35 per person. A plane could usually

carry between four to six people. The pilots as a group

were closely connected to mining operations. They were

often part owners in a mining claim. Some pilots owned

several planes and had a license to run a small air taxi

service. There were five such air taxi services in TucumE.

Other pilots worked for the owners of the planes.

There were two principal commercial areas in Tucuma,

one planned and the other unplanned. The main commercial

district, running along Tucum9's main street, had two large

supermarkets (one about the size of a basketball court, the

other about twice as large), a smaller general store, two

pharmacies, a bank, telephone office, an airline office, six

restaurants, a hotel, two hardware stores, three clothing

stores, a record shop, two butcher shops, and three stores

that specialized in mining equipment. The unplanned section

of town near the airport became the fastest growing part of

town. Small shops selling magazines and luggage,

restaurants, and many peddlers made the area seem like an

open air market. Many of the peddlers would arrive each day

from Ourilandia to sell refreshments and other articles like

wallets and combs. Eventually the subprefecture decided

that a small commercial district be created here.

In mid-1983 the colonization firm attempted to give the

town of Tucuma a separate identity from that of the company.

This required the naming of a local authority, the

subprefect, who could take over most of the town's

administration leaving the colonization firm to concentrate

on land sales. Company officials and local residents alike

hoped that Tucuma would become the most important town in

the area, and that following the eventual subdivision of the

Municipality of Sao Felix do Xingu, it would become the seat

of a new municipality. CONSAG was interested in passing on

much of the financial burden of providing basic services

(health care, utilities, education, road maintenance, and

police protection) to the appropriate government groups as

soon as possible.

Tucuma was still within the municipality of Sao Felix

do Xingu and until a separate municipality is created all

local officials in Tucuma had to be appointed by the prefect

of Sao Fl6ix do Xingu. Up until the time of the

subprefecture elections in Tucuma the company hired

individuals to serve in the unofficial position of

subprefect. By mid-1983 the municipality and the company

saw the need for someone who would be an official

representative of the municipality in Tucuma. One of the

company's former sales agents, Gonzalo, became the official

candidate. At the last minute an opposition candidate came

forth, claiming to represent dissatisfied factions in

Tucuma. The opposition candidate, an ex-company official who

had recently lost his job, represented a group of

individuals with personal grievances against the company.

Not wanting to offend either side, the prefect suggested

that the two factions compete in an election and then he

would appoint the victor. Following several weeks of

campaign activity and registration of voters the elections

took place. Election results were almost five to one in

favor of Gonzalo, the official candidate.

Although the elections carried no legal weight they

did give the subprefect of Tucum5 a certain credibility.

The creation of the Cultural Association of Tucuma (ACTUC)

by CONSAG was another step in the direction of community

redefinition. Through the first year of its existence

ACTUC's purpose remained poorly defined. It never really

succeeded in establishing an identity separate from that of

the company. The organization served a variety of functions

including school administration, organizing sports

competitions, fund raising, and general activities

coordination (vaccination campaigns and voter registration).

ACTUC also coordinated the sporadic publication of a small

weekly newspaper called Folha de Tucuma. This paper first

came out in a rather elaborate offset printing, and later

was replaced by a mimeographed version.

Following the election of the subprefect, CONSAG

donated several pieces of used company equipment to the

community through ACTUC to aid the subprefect with some of

its new responsibilities. These included a dump truck, a

garbage truck, a water truck, a small tractor, and a road

grader. The administration of city water, zoning, local tax

collection, licensing of merchants and cab drivers,

administration of the airport and its growing commercial

district, and street and road maintenance were all turned

over to the subprefect.

Once the cost of maintenance and administration of

these new responsibilities became apparent, the

subprefecture began to complain that CONSAG had simply

dumped these responsibilities in its lap without the

financial support needed to properly carry out them out.

The problem local officials faced was having to maintain an

infrastructure that was created during the early days when

expenses were not an issue. When the local government could

not maintain the project in the fashion that the company

had, it gave the impression that the town was not being

properly maintained. In October 1983 the subprefecture

raised US$57,600 from a variety of sources to pay for the

maintenance of Tucuma. During the same period the costs of

running the town reached US$58,387.

The local government used various means to raise money

locally. These included bingo games, dances, toll roads, and

requests for donations of goods and money from local

merchants. These events required community participation

and created a measure of community spirit in a company town

with an artificial rather than spontaneous beginning.

Of all the community projects the most interesting was

the campaign for the parabolic antenna (satellite dish),

which brought Brazilian national television to Tucuma. In

the fall of 1983 proponents of the antenna first presented

their idea to the community. From the beginning the project

was a popular one. The families of company employees and

local merchants were among the most enthusiastic supporters

of the antenna. It was felt that the antenna would not only

make Tucuma a less isolated place by linking it to the

national television network but it would also boost the

image of Tucuma as a progressive community. Local fund

raising efforts included donations from merchants and two

bingo games in which a new car was given away as the first

prize. The installation of the antenna in January 1984 was

a big event. Once the television signal was received,

fireworks were set off and television owners switched on

their sets. That night TucumS was a changed town. Every

television set was on full volume and every room with a set

was filled with people.

While bringing television to Tucuma was a triumph for

the subprefecture, the cost of the antenna and the

maintenance of the transmission station were more than it

had bargained for. In addition the national television

network, Rede Globo, demanded a rental fee for the use of

their signal. Funds were still being solicited to pay for

the antenna when I left in the summer of 1984. While the

subprefecture of Tucuma did not derive any economic benefit

from the antenna, those who sold and repaired televisions

were its immediate economic beneficiaries. Local television

salesmen sold sets at double what they would have sold for

in Belem, the state capital. Radio repairmen soon became

television repairmen.

The negative side of Tucuma's acquisition of the

antenna was that it reinforced the idea of Tucuma as a

community of the privileged. People living in the sections

of Tucuma that had no running water or electricity felt that

they should have gotten these basic services before the

antenna was installed. Some of these people began to buy

televisions and connect them up to car batteries. The

television set had become a status symbol in Tucum$.

Feelings of resentment were especially strong in

Ourilandia where many had difficulty picking up the

television signal. Since some donations for the antenna had

been made by Ourilandia merchants, people there felt that

they had been cheated by Tucuma. They threatened to come

over to TucumS and tear down the antenna. Tucuma claimed

that practically no support for the antenna had come from

Ourilandia. Eventually the satellite dish was adjusted so

that those in Ourilandia with tall home antennas could pick

up the programs.

Both communities felt that they would be the likely

choice for the seat of the new municipality. The leaders of

Ourilandia had a voting population three times that of

TucumS. Tucuma, with banks, telephone, airport, post

office, electricity and running water, and three

supermarkets was better equipped and in many ways a more

attractive center for a municipal seat. It irked residents

of Ourilandia that when important guests, including the

prefect of Sao Felix, came to visit they generally stayed at

the guest house in Tucunm. At one point the community of

Ourilandia threatened to build their own airport.

TucumS, Sao FMlix, and Ourilandia, the three principal

communities within the Municipality, had to simultaneously

compete for municipal funding and cooperate in petitioning

the state for aid. Many trips were made to Bel6m to solicit

help. Sometimes the tensions between the various

communities flared up. During a regional meeting between

community representatives in southern Para and the governor,

the representative of Ourilandia accused the subprefect of

Tucuma of being a puppet of a wealthy company that could

well afford to meet the needs of that company town. This

was just the kind of image that Tucuma was trying to live

down. The leaders of Ourilandia encouraged the image of

their community as the town of the common people while

painting Tucuma as the town of the wealthy. In addition

government officials often assumed that CONSAG would provide

many of the services for towns within the project area.

In January of 1984 a SUDAM task force paid a visit to

the project. The group was impressed with Tucuma's

potential for growth and promised to recommend funding in

certain crucial areas, in particular health care and

education. The big break for Tucuma and the other

communities came when the federal government allocated a

portion of the huge 1984 IMF bailout loan to the state of

Para, with southern Para as a primary beneficiary.

Important road networks, including PA-150, were to be

improved and, in some cases, paved. The municipality of Sao

Felix do Xingu was promised increased assistance in the

areas of education, road maintenance, and health care

(particularly from SUCAM). The state promised to build new

schools in Sao Fl6ix and Ourilandia while Tucuma would get a

public health post. The company school in Tucuma was also

to be taken over by the state.

The Mining Community

During the period of this study (mid-1983 to mid-1984)

there were between 15,000 and 20,000 gold miners in the

Tucumg project area. Ourilandia, with close to 10,000

inhabitants, was the largest of the spontaneous mining

communities. Most miners lived in small camps that remained

populated as long as there was gold to be found nearby.

These camps had anywhere from five to 200 miners. In

addition to Ourilandia there were two other mining towns:

Cuca and Manelao. Both were inside the project boundaries.

Cuca's population in October of 1983, according to SUCAM

estimates, was about 2,500 people. In April of 1984 Manelio

had about 900 inhabitants. Mining towns were centers of

economic activity where miners spent much of their free time

and money.

Mining communities have a very temporary look to them.

During their early years all three mining communities looked

much the same. Thatched huts and shacks, often covered with

plastic, were rapidly thrown up to serve as bars, homes, and

businesses. As business thrived, merchants invested in such

things as a tin roof, a cement floor, or an electric


The three mining towns can be seen as a continuum

from Ourilandia, the oldest and most permanent, to Manelao,

the youngest and least developed. In early 1984 Cuca was

already experiencing a decline as mining activity moved on

to Manelao. Manelao and Cuca were literally mining camps

that boomed into towns. They were adjacent to the mining

areas that they served.

Ourilandia was founded by miners expelled from the

Tucuma Project. In the early days there were active mining

areas quite close to Ourilandia. While most of these have

since declined, Ourilandia continues to grow. If you are

traveling by land on the state highway PA-279 the first

community you come to as you near the project area is

Ourilandia (Figure 3-1). As you move through this community

you are struck by the amount of general hustle and bustle or

movimento as it is referred to in Brazil. Small shops,

bars, and homes are crowded into every available space on

both sides of the rutted road. As you pass the location of

the old check point, where a night club stands today, you

enter the TucumK Project. The entrance may not be

immediately apparent since Ourilandia merchants purchased

property just inside the project resulting in an extension

of the community.

In the beginning most of the buildings in town were

small one or two room affairs. Later people built bigger

buildings, even two storied structures. Planks of finished

wood, brick, cement, tin, and glass replaced thatch,

plastic, and poles. One of the largest buildings in town,

the Cinema Kelly, held close to 100 people in its theater.

The better structures were closest to the road. These were

the first lots occupied. Migrants that arrived later had to

take lots further removed from the road.

For many residents of Tucuma, Ourilandia was a

disorganized and crowded example of a mining community. On

closer inspection, however, two major divisions of the

community became apparent. The section of town that

extended from the entrance to the Tucumg project back a half

a kilometer along the road to the town's only gasoline

station was the major commercial district. Here were the

bars, the nightclubs, the cinemas, the hotels and boarding

houses, the butcher shop, and many other small stores. From

the gasoline station on out of town away from the project,

there was an established residential section. Most of the

churches were also in this part of town. For poor migrants

with families Ourilandia provided an alternative to the

company town, on the one hand, and the mining camps, on the


Ourilandia, no longer strictly a mining town,

accomodated a wide range of groups. Farmers who had been

given farm plots by GETAT also lived here. Most people in

Ourilandia were engaged in some sort of commercial activity.

There were street peddlers, shoe shine boys, ice cream

vendors, music stores, people selling fruit and food from

small carts, stores that sold major electrical appliances,

pharmacies, a private hospital, and mechanic shops. The

variety of items for sale was greater here than in Tucuma.

Transportation was important to the frontier community

of Ourilandia. If one were traveling from Ourilandia

eastward to Xinguara there were several alternatives to

choose from. Vans and microbuses left almost every hour or

as soon as they got enough passengers for the trip. Four

times a week the Transbrasil bus line would leave Tucumi for

Xinguara. The bus fare was about US$5, while the van fare

ranged from US$7-8. Taxis were generally only used to

travel between Tucuma and Ourilandia. Almost all of the

merchandise sold here had to be brought in by truck. Small

merchants had to rely on independent truckers to fill their

orders for supplies. A few of the larger stores had a truck

of their own.

Of all the mining communities, Ourilandia was the only

one that had achieved the degree of diversification that

might allow it to exist after the decline of the gold boom.

Ourilandia's location on the principal highway leading into

the project made it a commercial center. Not only did it

provide services not available in Tucum5 but it offered

another outlet for agricultural commodities. Farmers

sometimes found better prices for the produce here. As the

largest community in the area, its size served to attract

federal and state attention. Ourilandia grew at a time when

federal and state agencies, along with competing political

parties, sought local power bases. It is the site of GETAT

and SUCAM (Malaria Control) offices. Ourilandia also

received state funds for a new school.

Social groups in the mining areas can be divided into

two general groups: the miners and those that provide goods

and services to the miners: the merchants, professionals,

and prostitutes. Among the miners a distinction can be made

between mine owners and miners. The owner of a mine or a

claim (dono de trecho) may also be a miner in that he may

work in the mine along with the other men. Many miners

(especially mine owners) were merchants as well.

Occupational distinctions were often blurred in mining


Mining was not limited to men. During my study of

Tucuma I met two women who were owners of claims. In

addition women were often employed as cooks in the mining

camps. Sometimes these women panned for gold too.

Prostitution, as a part-time supplement to other income or

as a full time occupation, was widespread in the mining

towns. The arrangements between the women and the owners of

the bars where they work varied. The owner had two sources

of income: the sale of drinks and the sale of a key to a

room. Once the client had paid for a key to a room the

woman negotiated with the client for a fee for her services.

The owner of the bar usually provided the women with room

and board. In some cases women got a percentage from the

drinks their client bought. In some of the smaller

operations there were no keys. Here the women worked in the

bar and were used to attract clients but were not charged

for the use of the rooms. Bars liked to alternate the women

that worked for them on a regular basis so that they could

boast of always having new women. Women often were recruited

from the nearby states of GoiAs and Maranhao. In other

cases they arrived on their own.

The mines within Tucuma were open mining areas. Access

to the mines by any group or commodity was not restricted as

it is in government controlled mines, like Serra Pelada and

Cumaru, or in the small mines only accessible by airstrip.

Government and airstrip mines were often called closed mines

(garimpo fechado) because women, firearms, and liquor were

prohibited. Women, firearms, and liqour were thought to be

the key ingredients for violence in the mining areas. The

owner of the cantina (supply store) in a closed mine

maintained a monopoly over all commodities that were sold

there, whereas commerce was free to operate in open mines.

The owner of a claim, sometimes called the provider

(fornecedor), had an unwritten contract with his miners to

provide them with food and shelter. An individual must have

a small amount of capital to be a provider. The miner

agreed to divide the gold he found with the owner according

to some fixed percentage. The percentage the miner received

depended on the skills the miner had to offer and the degree

of the owner's investment. If the owner invested in a

motorized pump, which allowed the miners to work a claim

much more quickly, the owner received 60% of the earnings

and the remaining 40% was divided among the miners based on

their skills. In a manual mining operation, which required

less investment and less specialization, the miner and the

owner each received 50% of the earnings. After a sufficient

amount of gold accumulated in the sluice box it was taken

out. This was called the despescagem. In mechanized

operations this process took place every 10 to 14 days. In

manual operations the time span was longer.

A survey of miners revealed some of the attractions of

this type of arrangement. The miner can leave for another

mine anytime he is dissatisfied. He is not in a debt

relationship with the owner. A share of the profits is more

satisfactory for the miner than is wage labor. As one miner

put it: "if we strike it rich we all get a cut, if we don't

at least we eat." This work relationship is good for the

owner too since it keeps the actual labor costs much lower

than a salaried relationship would. Finally, there is

always the chance that one will strike it rich, although

most also realize that this seldom occurs.

Social Groups

The population of southern Para was largely made

up of people who were born and raised outside the Amazon

region. Tucumg, a town of just over 3,000 residents,

reflected this general pattern. Only 1% of the population

of Tucuma was born in the Amazon region (see Table 3-1). By

far the largest segment of residents (46%) were born and

raised in neighboring states of Maranhio and Goias. A full

25% of the local population came from the Northeast of

Brazil, an area which has a history of sending migrants to

the Amazon region. Finally, 28% of the urban population

came from the south and center south of Brazil. The initial

recruitment campaign conducted primarily in Rio Grande do

Table 3-1

Birthplaces by State of Household Heads in Tucuma

State %

Bahia 4
Pernambuco 4
Ceara 9
Piauf 4
Parafba 4

Adjacent States
Goiis 34
Maranhao 12
Amazonas 1

Center South
Sao Paulo 5
Minas Gerais 5
Rio Grande Do Sul 14
Santa Catarina 2
Parana 2

TOTAL 100%


Sul was reflected in the fact that 14% of the population

came from this state alone.

In Table 3-2, which lists the place of previous

residence, a very clear pattern emerges of colonist movement

along the roads that penetrate the frontier region of

southern Para. Of those interviewed 38% were already living

and working in southern Para before their arrival to the

project area. Most people lived outside Para, many in the

adjacent state of Goiis. Most of the southerners came

directly to the project area while the northeasterners had

spent time in other states prior to their arrival. Table

3-3 shows the date of arrival of migrants to Tucuma by year.

This table shows that over half of the population arrived in

1983 alone.

The ages of household heads in Tucuma ranged from 19 to

62 with the average age being 31. A full 65% of this

population was under the age of 35. Households had an

average of six persons each. While there were many poor

families living in the community, the number of skilled

professionals and white collar workers was higher in Tucuma

than in any other community in the municipality. This was

reflected in the level of education of its residents. Only

4% of those surveyed had no education at all, 50% had

between one and six years of school, 31% had completed their

secondary education and 15% had some education beyond high


Table 3-2

Area of Previous Residence

Previous Residence %

Ceara 4

Adjacent States
Goias 24
Maranhgo 4
Mato Grosso 2
Amazonas 1

Center South
Sgo Paulo 5
Minas Gerais 5
Rio Grande Do Sul 13
Parang 2

Maraba 4
Xinguara 10
Rio Maria 3
Conceigao Do Araguaia 7
Redencao 7
Belem 2
Carajas 2
Tucuruf 2
Other Places in Para 3

Total 100%