The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha

The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha

Susanna B. Hecht

Language: English

Pages: 632

ISBN: 0226322815

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The fortunes of the late nineteenth century’s imperial and industrial powers depended on a single raw material—rubber—with only one source: the Amazon basin. And so began the scramble for the Amazon—a decades-long conflict that found Britain, France, Belgium, and the United States fighting with and against the new nations of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil for the forest’s riches. In the midst of this struggle, Euclides da Cunha, engineer, journalist, geographer, political theorist, and one of Brazil’s most celebrated writers, led a survey expedition to the farthest reaches of the river, among the world’s most valuable, dangerous, and little-known landscapes.
 
The Scramble for the Amazon tells the story of da Cunha’s terrifying journey, the unfinished novel born from it, and the global strife that formed the backdrop for both. Haunted by his broken marriage, da Cunha trekked through a beautiful region thrown into chaos by guerrilla warfare, starving migrants, and native slavery. All the while, he worked on his masterpiece, a nationalist synthesis of geography, philosophy, biology, and journalism he named the Lost Paradise. Da Cunha intended his epic to unveil the Amazon’s explorers, spies, natives, and brutal geopolitics, but, as Susanna B. Hecht recounts, he never completed it—his wife’s lover shot him dead upon his return.
 
At once the biography of an extraordinary writer, a masterly chronicle of the social, political, and environmental history of the Amazon, and a superb translation of the remaining pieces of da Cunha’s project, The Scramble for the Amazon is a work of thrilling intellectual ambition.

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Crown in their affairs seemed “mostly to grasp and meddle.” Amazonian elites, well beyond the imperial system, were commanded more by global demands and local administrators than an indifferent emperor and, as we will see, resisted royal incursions. New elites found themselves shut out from the delightful sinecures of the Brazilian “Versailles” of the Braganças and from meaningful political expression. They faced obstructive economic policies even as the taxes from their successful ventures paid

(and trade goods) enhanced both trading polities and lineage societies by reinforcing the power of their elites, increasing both competition and cooperation among them, and inflaming regional indigenous politics. In addition, the Caribbean Amazon was at a complex intersection of a “Great Game” between France, England, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, native Amazonian nations, and the quilombo settlements and polities over the region. Runaways, castaways, mutineers, pirates, and privateers also

Calçoene, and indeed gave him the title Capitão-Governador do Amapá. This title infuri-  Chapter Seven ated the triumvirate, who took Trajano prisoner. This news was accompanied by insinuations that Cabral had been bilking miners and embargoing entrance of the French into the Calçoene. This spurred the governor of Guiana into action. He sent Captain Lunier and a crew of soldiers on the warship Bengali to investigate the matter. When they arrived on the Amapá River, a pitched gun battle

spices, fruits, rubber—the usual plentitude—and have access to the tractable and able labor provided by the local settled Indians, whose virtues were so nicely evoked by Gibbon. The real lure was the Caupolicán area, to which Piper’s company had exclusive territorial and mineral rights for fifty years, an area deemed by Church and other observers to be extremely rich in alluvial gold deposits, which could be exploited by the new techniques elaborated in California gold fields and silver mines. On

July , with support from the state of Amazonas and its intrigue-minded (and open handed) governor, José Cardoso Ramalho Junior, the Acrean seringueiros rose up and expelled the Bolivian delegation based in Puerto Acre. The Acreans feared complete dispossession of their holdings and had mobilized to forestall any local Bolivian action. This event ushered in a new republic. The Independent State of Acre was proclaimed with the Spanish adventurer and journalist Luis Galvão as its president. With

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