Preparing for Take Off: Aviation and Development in Peru’s Huallaga Valley, 1948-1987

Courtesy of the Archivo General de la NacionFigure 1Figure 5

“The government convenes the greatest highway bidding in the country’s history.”[1] That announcement in Lima newspapers in March 1964 presented the Tarapoto-Río Nieva road to the public in a fashion typical of development boosterism—brash, bold, and only partially true. Tarapoto, nestled as it was in the remotest corner of the Huancabamba Depression, was only reachable by air on its western approach, and the new highway promised at last to connect coastal markets with the vast arable lands of the Huallaga Valley. The Huallaga, a diverse and dynamic area of the Western Amazon, was the site of rich, transnational imaginings for a host of actors ranging from national planners and global construction giants, to early climate scientists, campesinos and cocaine cartels. The highway was the lynchpin in President Fernando Belaúnde Terry’s pet project, the Carretera Marginal de la Selva,[2] which enlisted Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia in a quixotic enterprise aimed at colonizing the eastern Andean flank through one vast road network. Billed as a response to worries of demographic explosion and concentrated land ownership, politicians and international boosters resorted to racial and gender imaginaries to tout La Marginal as a crucial motor of economic growth and regional interdependence that hinged specifically on exploitation of the subtropical dry forests that dotted valleys like the Huallaga. La Marginal represented the reigning development doctrine’s imposition on the Huallaga landscape and a critical component of its construction was a scientific appropriation of the region’s socio-ecological realities. One phenomenon that fed this boom in Huallaga development was the early introduction and utilization of aviation as a means of transport and study.    

By focusing on a large Latin American road-building project, I hope to help redirect the growing body of development history that treats the phenomenon as an imperial projection of U.S. hegemony around the globe.[3] Though the U.S. foreign aid complex was directly implicated in La Marginal’s funding, imagining, and some of its construction, I prefer to look at the Peruvian Amazon as a contact zone where imperial designs were assimilated, contested, reimagined and inscribed into the landscape to produce a uniquely Latin American form of development that enlisted the heavy construction giant, Morrison Knudsen, a national survey institution, and unnamed pick-wielding peasants in the same endeavor.[4] Moreover, building La Marginal embodied the reigning developmental ideology that, contrary to signifying the general improvement of humanity—as one development historian has defined it—specifically tied environmental transformation to human progress.[5] This is a specific meaning of development that only comes into focus when viewed through an environmental lens. My choice of the Huallaga Valley responds not only to the fact that it was also the preferred ambit of modern explorers and planners, but to the dearth of studies that question how the age of development remade river valleys beyond sinking them behind massive hydroelectric dams or reworking them through overwrought reclamation projects.[6] Much of my analysis of aerial photography is indebted to James Scott’s interpretation of the state’s synoptic view, but while Scott seeks out failure in most any project that relied on schematization, or “bracketing out”, of nature’s complexity, I am more keen on asking how the complex articulation of aviation and road construction conspired to re-envision Peru’s Amazon and how the new view from above remade the land below.[7] This endeavour is also then informed by Bruno Latour’s concept of the closed system of “circulating reference” that underwrites scientific legitimacy and nourishes what I consider the techno-scientific invention of the Huallaga.[8]

“… that appealing and little known valley.”[9]

On a cold winter morning in Lima two trucks full of scientists left before dawn. It was July 9, 1948, and the expedition leader, Dr. Cándido Bolívar, insisted on a 6:00 a.m. departure. Their destination was the Huallaga River town of Tingo María and they had a lot of ground to cover. “The morning was cold and cloudy, but we passed into bright sunshine on arrival at Chosica,”[10] remarked the expedition’s botanist, Ramón Ferreyra. Travelling with him was a contingent of diverse scholars brought together by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the newly formed International Institute for the Hylean Amazon (IIHA). Besides Bolívar, a leading Spanish entomologist, and Ferreyra, Director of Peru’s Museum of Natural History, the group included Pedro Weiss, from Lima’s National University of San Marcos’ Faculty of Medicine; Edwin Doran, a U.C. Berkeley geographer working under the world-renowned human geographer Carl Sauer; and Ecuadorian anthropologist Aníbal Buitrón. Loaded with equipment and having joined the rest of their team at La Oroya, the Bolívar expedition crossed the vast high prairies of the Pampa de Junín to a small stream outside of Cerro de Pasco. There, at the source of the Huallaga River, the expedition went to work. In the next two and a half months, various teams set out to compile a compendium of social, geographic, and biological knowledge that would lay the foundation for the area’s colonization.[11]

In 1948, transportation through the Huallaga merged the modern with the rudimentary and the expedition team utilized both to meet their needs. After an initial period of collaboration in Tingo María, during which balsa rafts were fashioned to take the men down river, the team separated into compact working groups that covered strategic areas of the valley. Construction of the rafts drew the attention of botanist and anthropologist alike, though the account of Ferreyra, the botanist, included an inventory of plants used and revealed just how much the expedition relied on the valley’s resources for transport. Buitrón, on the other hand depicted raft travel in the most vivid manner. Once in Juanjuí, the team set up a secondary base of operations and made a cursory trip to Saposoa by air. They eventually reached Yurimaguas. Along this second leg of their float they passed the confluence of the Huallaga and Mayo rivers, where they encountered the worst of the river’s rough series of rapids that has forever plagued Huallaga navigation. For two straight days, the team rehearsed the same redundant litany: prep, brace, and recompose; prep, brace, and recompose. On approach, the oarsmen dismantled the tambo roof and secured it with the cargo under tarpaulins fixed to the log platform by ropes. Then, they all tied themselves to a sturdy cable anchored in the platform’s strongest member. “When they [had] finished these preparations, and had the usual drink of brandy, the oarsmen [were] ready to pass, or in their own words, to ‘mount’,” the rapids. They would position the raft along the path of least resistance, bring in the oars, and surrender to the river’s mercy.[12]   

The journey was harrowing, but exhilarating as well. The excitement bordered on fear when coupled with the oarsmen’s drinking, which they justified “under the pretext of ‘giving themselves courage’ and of ‘strengthening their vision’”.[13] It also made transport unpredictable. Their personal experiences gave a sense of the commonalities of travel through the region.

After forty days on the river, Buitrón, Doran, their assistants and oarsmen reached Yurimaguas, where they established another base of operations. It was here that they experienced the full impact of aviation’s recent introduction into the valley. Part of Doran’s work included preparations for a future aerial survey of the central valley, and while in Uchiza he had made a series of flights to the chosen points for star sights used in aerial survey.[14] Once in Yurimaguas air transport also became their primary means of travel. For Doran “[t]he development of aviation in the Huallaga Valley [was] amazing”.[15] In less than a decade, air travel had become second nature to many of the area’s inhabitants and both Doran and Buitrón marvelled at the nonchalance on boarding a plane exhibited by people who had never seen a train or a car.

The central valley was dotted with fifteen airstrips of varied size and quality, often carved from the forest by the locals with zero government support. The larger population centers of Tingo María, Tarapoto, and Yurimaguas boasted rather frequent connections with the coast on the Fawcett company’s DC3s, while two other operators—TAMSA and CAMSA—operated smaller planes with sporadic service to the rest of the valley. Though Doran was impressed with the ease of air travel, Buitrón remarked on the unpredictability of service. The economic viability of aviation also puzzled both observers. Doran commented on the inefficient—though necessary—use of air travel for cargo export. Buitrón, though, stressed how planes would “land anywhere to pick up a single passenger or a little freight. If the pilot [was] invited to a good lunch, the plane just [stayed] there until after the meal”.[16]

The lack of good ground transportation made such extravagances possible. The treacherous nature of pioneer trails crisscrossing the valley floor in heavy rains were hardly suitable even for pack animals. With the exception of the Lima-Pulcallpa highway that ran through Tingo María and marked an unofficial boundary between the Central and Upper Huallaga, roads were non-existent. Indeed, after leaving Tingo María, the expedition team only encountered two vehicles: both Jeeps, one used by the doctor in Yurimaguas to get to the hospital and the other run by an engineer in Tarapoto. For the men of science bringing modernity to the Huallaga, these machines and others offered a comforting encounter that tethered them to the metropolises from whence they came. “It is indisputable that the aeroplane has made these woodland localities a part of civilization,” Buitrón proclaimed. But they also exposed an underlying competition over the type of modernity the Huallaga would see, a competition that underwrote the ambivalent positionality of many of the ecologists, biologists, social scientists, and geographers who would help make the Huallaga a sight of modern development.

The situation encountered by the Bolívar expedition in 1948 confounded the binary logic that pitted tradition against modernity. For one, the introduction of aviation to the region, the most modern of all transport, slowed the push for other modes of modern transport like road building by adequately meeting people’s relatively small need for freight service and regional travel. Moreover, the travel options on offer meant that the same person could walk off a rudimentary craft, cobbled together from elements of forest with little more technological aid than that of a machete, and walk on to a modern aircraft, as Edwin Doran often did. These technologies existed in a state of awkward symbiosis. In his detailed and loving description of the balsa raft, Ramón Ferreyra stressed that amongst the cargo sent down river by raft, one of the more common commodities was fuel for the valley’s small aircraft. Conversely, by a similar kind of interdependence, Buitrón and Doran noticed how boatmen—unable to float upstream—“return to their homes by plane”.[17] Though the traditional and the modern existed in symbiosis at this early date in Huallaga development, the introduction of air travel also effected a class-based segregation of transport. While the trip down river called for strength, courage and occasionally drunkenness, the trip by air was available to anyone with the economic means to compete against anvils and cement for precious space on a plane.  While manliness could get you downriver, only money could get you on a DC3.

Such ambiguity not only characterized the way the men moved through the valley, but their reason for being there as well. Though mostly descriptive, the expedition reports raved about the Huallaga’s untouched land base and speculated on the great potential for future colonization. But all the expedition members agreed that a functioning road network would be essential to expanding the agricultural frontier.

Bolívar himself guessed that the valley could accommodate from one million to one and a half million new inhabitants if a proper road system—following the river’s course north to south—were built.[18] With that goal in mind, his expedition included some of the earliest surveys meant to assess the viability of future colonization, but these would hardly be the last. During the 1950s, a legion of ecologists, ethnographers, agronomists, and surveyors studied the area, dispatched mainly under the auspices of the Costa Rica-based International Institute of Agricultural Science (IICA) and its in-country partner, the Inter-American Service for Agricultural Cooperation (SCIPA). Perhaps the most significant study came from Joseph Tosi, the IICA’s chief forester in Lima, who in 1960 compiled the first ecological map of Peru and highlighted the dry tropical forests north of Juanjuí as some of the most apt for agricultural settlements (Figures 2 and 3). At the same time SCIPA conducted a detailed assessment of the agricultural potential of the valley, which offered a model design for future colonization and laid the groundwork for what would become the Tingo María-Tocache-Campanilla Colonization. Again, the key component was road construction, and when Belaúnde entered office in 1963, he personally headed negotiations with New York-based engineers Tippets Abbett McCarthy Stratton (TAMS) to conduct a preliminary study of La Marginal.[19]

The long decade beginning with the Bolívar expedition marked the scientific invention of the Huallaga with an underlying current that stressed its untapped potential. Alternately referred to as “unoccupied,” “empty” or “virgin,” science made the Huallaga a place-in-waiting and the ultimate ecological goal of colonization was “domestication”: the wild jungle reordered in the service of a capitalist family unit. As part of the 1960s planned colonization of Peru’s eastern forests, the Huallaga landscape was being reordered according to a developmentalist worldview that envisioned land in individuated, monochromatic terms. TAMS projected that La Marginal’s incursion through the Huallaga would accommodate 60,000 families, and SCIPA worked on allocating parcels that would serve each one, but now that the valley had been invented as a developable space, it had to be made visible.

Modernity’s children: SAN and La Marginal

Twelve years after the Bolívar expedition, two members of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP) in Tarapoto were suiting up for a routine sortie. Hoping to get a jump on the vultures, Captain Camino and his photographer, Technician Second-Class Villegas,[20] were surely planning an early take off. By late morning, a sizable committee of vultures would have recolonized the end of the runway, as per their daily penchant, and flights would be restricted to only the most urgent departures. Also, if they could start shooting before noon, they’d get the sunlight right: high enough not the exaggerate shadows, but not straight over head so as to avoid projecting the shadow of their own aircraft over their subject matter. The two men climbed into their new English Electric Canberra, outfitted with a Wild-Heerberg RC-5A vertical camera (Figure 4) and prepared to take off. Once airborne, Camino took them northwest until they passed Moyobamba and then described a broad, tilting about-face across the sky, setting a trajectory back toward Tarapoto. He levelled off at 23,000 feet, set his airspeed, checked his gages, and gave Villegas the all-clear. With the RC-5A set at one frame per second, Villegas unceremoniously flipped its shutter release and set in motion an unmistakably mechanical sonic barrage akin to that of a ghostly flying printing press. The two men sat still and waited. The Canberra’s jet engines shot them past the Soritor River, over Moyobamba, and straight down the valley carved over millennia by the Mayo River’s deluge. Some two hundred frames later, the men and their machines were back over Tarapoto. With just as little pomp, Villegas then shut off the RC-5A’s auto advance, marked the exposures in his log, and Captain Camino carved another about-face and brought them down onto the single tarmac of Tarapoto’s overcrowded airport. The vultures were hardly impressed.

That was in the dry season—June 8, 1960, to be exact—and over the course of the next month and the following year's dry season, Camino and Villegas would repeat this routine, each time charting a path just as exact and as regimented, but a degree or so to one side of their prior path.[21] With successive sorties they covered a grid pattern and built up a compendium of imagery that eventually comprised 1,825 flat, squared, black-and-white prints. Once the images were sent back to the headquarters of the National Aerial-Photographic Service in the Lima suburb of Chorrillos, they were sorted and assembled into a mosaic that recast the Mayo Valley in stark and depthless tones, something only the men and their machines could render. And surely unbeknownst to them, as Captain Camino and Técnico Villegas methodically made their way over the Mayo Valley and sent their photography back to Lima for interpretation, they were also making La Marginal before there was a Marginal to be made.

The Mayo route signified a coup for Huallaga development. It had been considered almost since the Bolívar expedition brought the Huallaga to national prominence.  As early as 1950, pioneering explorer-cartographer, Arturo Solís Tovar, first surveyed the area by plane and returned convinced that the valley was the most feasible conduit to the Huallaga.[22] But spotty knowledge of the area’s terrain hindered progress for years. It was only with the SAN’s growth into a national center for aerial survey, and the geographical detail proffered by the exploits of SAN technicians, that planners reached a level of scientific confidence need to go ahead with construction.

In mid-1950, an engineer with the Civil Aviation Service approached Arturo Solís Tovar with a proposal. As the Roads Service’s[23] Regional Engineer, Solís Tovar was no stranger to the difficulties of connecting San Martin with the coast; he’d spent years trekking the Cordillera Central in search of the ideal route and amongst his colleagues he gained fame as a tenacious and dedicated explorer because of it. When the Civil Aviation engineer, Juan Pardo de Miguel, insisted he’d found a passable depression near Pomacochas and suggested the two men do a flyover, Solís Tovar must have been intrigued. With the backing of the Roads Service director, they charted a course from Patapo (near Chiclayo) to Yurimaguas checking three potential road routes. On September 16, 1950, accompanied by an anonymous SAN photographer and a mechanic, the men boarded Pardo de Miguel’s personal plane and set out.

I had travelled so many times from Chachapoyas to Moyobamba studying the highway route that I was almost certain that in that part of the Cordillera Central there were no passes lower than 3,500 meters, but they exist! As often as needed to calculate land elevations, Pardo de Miguel would descend in a spiral until just 500 or 600 feet off the ground. I admit this wasn’t the most pleasant way to measure elevation because if it failed, there’d be no one left to tell it, but it is very practical for the speed at which you can work. By merely flying, and with an expert pilot who knows the region, we were able to do all we did in two days of study.[24]

On their return from Yurimaguas the next day they concentrated on the treacherous Cordillera Oriental that separated Moyobamba from Tarapoto, where they found a viable route through this last barrier of the Andes.[25]

Solís Tovar and Pardo de Miguel’s two-day excursion became the stuff of legend, not just for the low mountain pass they discovered but for the innovative use of an airplane to conduct complicated reconnaissance and measurement. Seven years later, as their dream of breaching the pass that now bears Pardo de Miguel’s name was becoming a reality, the Roads Department’s monthly bulletin published Solís Tovar’s report as a milestone, a landmark in Peruvian road history.

Beyond discovery and innovation, however, this initial survey stood out for how it differed from what became the standard of aerial survey in Peru. For one, the written report was still tinged with the kind of heroics that characterized pre-aviation survey and echoed in the rafting experience recorded by Aníbal Buitrón.[26] Solís Tovar’s description of the hair-raising aerial acrobatics needed to get a sense of elevations cast himself and his expert pilot as the central protagonists in a survey drama that gendered exploration as a masculinist conquest of feminized nature, the product of brawn and bravado. Moreover, his various interjections fed such a narrative by personalizing him and his report, giving depth to his own role as a character in this reconnaissance. Early aerial survey was thus another chapter in the story of land’s conquest, and the daring men who flew them were new protagonists.

Throughout the 1950s that changed, as the SAN became more of a central player and its piecemeal adaptation of cutting-edge resources and techniques masked the individualized interventions of pilots, surveyors, photographers, and cartographers. When Pardo de Miguel and Solís Tovar flew the Mayo Valley in 1950, they had reached out to a SAN specialist to accompany them in a mission conducted by the Roads Service. That man’s presence in the archive—his role as protagonist in the historical transformation of Amazonia—remains little more than a nameless footnote in Pardo de Miguel’s great discovery. As the SAN grew and aerial survey was increasingly standardized, such anonymity became the norm. By the time of Camino and Villegas’ mission in 1960, it was the SAN conducting the survey at the Roads Department’s request, and the vestiges left by it in the archive are completely depersonalized. While photography itself proffered dehumanized views of the land below, it was also true that the institutions charged with making the images were dehumanized.  No more heroics, what one finds in the National Aerial-Photographic Archive are vacant, nameless re-presentations[27] of the land. Pilots and photographers appear in the archive with as much depth and detail as the machines they manipulated: plainly listed in the flight logs under the specifics for each SAN project.  Such depersonalization was an effect of what Stephen Bocking relates to the increasing professionalization of the sciences. Over the two decades that Solís Tovar was involved with highway work in and around the Huallaga, his own résumé shifted from the broad category of “engineer”—requiring skills as varied as soil analysis, exploration, and photography—to that of cartographer, the discipline he adopted for much of his long tenure at the Roads Department. And, as Bocking also asserts, this change and its connection to the global view offered from the air, altered the way that institutions saw the landscape.[28]But while new constructions of credibility and professionalization introduced hitherto unknown ways of seeing landscapes, they also engendered problematic depictions of the land, not merely because of what went unseen through the globalizing camera lens at 20,000 feet but because of the complexities and imperfections that attended the introduction of new survey technologies.

As it took on more importance and grew into a national center for land survey, the SAN became a key site of disembodied knowledge production where Amazonian nature was assimilated into the Peruvian state’s synoptic gaze. By fixing the landscape in the photographic form, a veritable army of pilots, photographers, cartographers, and engineers turned an area of vast biodiversity and immense geological and climatic complexity into a manageable space that, once known, was then transformed by the road builder. Aerial photographs also allowed boosters to characterize the natural landscape using a development vernacular fed in large part by the system of life zone ecology devised by L.R. Holdridge and used by Joseph Tosi to the partition of the national territory into discrete zones. Together, ecology and photogrammetry helped planners understand land as an isolated, individualized commodity.[29] By reducing the landscape to a Cartesian logic of spatial relationships, articulated on x, y (distance) and z (topography) axes, aerial photography helped make the distant valleys of the Cordillera Oriental knowable in these terms. But early aerial survey hardly proffered credible reproductions of the land.

By aiding in the creation of physical and topographical maps, as well as helping to estimate forest resources, aerial photography was a critical precursor to road construction. A survey’s legitimacy was constituted based on the degree to which human intervention was supplanted by that of the machine, but concomitant to its rationalized applications there was a cultural aspect to aerial photography. In a way reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ mapmakers, mid-twentieth-century aerial photography betrayed a fiendish and quixotic obsession.[30] Aerial photographs—like much photography—evince a compulsion to accurately reproduce reality through the modern machine god. Yet the fact that a typical survey could comprise a team of numerous photographers and pilots—all of varied skill—flying multiple sorties, often over months and sometimes years, already compromised the fidelity reflected in a final project. Camino and Villegas’ Project 68-60 was a rarity in that the two of them flew every sortie, but their work still spanned two dry seasons. Another project flown over the Huallaga River, Project 304-79, also took well over a year to complete, meaning the same area was depicted both before and after a rainy season that stood out in the Ministry of Transport and Communications Archive for the amount of landslides and debris flows brought on by intense rains.[31] These factors, plus the complexities of focal length, point of view, ground topography and navigation technique all promised that the individual photograph surely distorted the reality of the land below, while the very nature of the camera’s frame omitted some features and overemphasized others.[32]

In some ways, what the individual aerial photograph did to the Huallaga Valley resembles the efforts to produce reliable cadastral maps that followed the agrarian reform projects of 1969 and 1974: both took vastly complex ecological, topographical, geological, and hydrological amalgams and severed them into discrete geometric abstractions. The abstracting view of the individual photograph, coupled with all of the omissions, distortions, and resulting miscalculations introduced throughout the photographic process, served to fracture and fragment the landscape, as though SAN photographers, their cameras like scalpels, were carving forests and river valleys, bogs, and craggy cliffs into convenient, manageable nine-by-nine squares, only to splice them back together later in a less intimidating representative patchwork. This was one way in which aerial survey brought road planning out of the elements and into the surveyor’s office. But it also marked the invention of new, virtual landscapes represented variably as project indices, contour maps, or the pinnacle of technology-based abstraction: the longitudinal profile, which reduced regional topography to one single line. (Figures 5 and 6) Whereas aspects like soil analysis still required planning on the ground—though, when not put off until the build, even that usually involved helicopter aviation—La Marginal’s planning represented a significant shift to the sky. The Preliminary Survey and segment-specific studies made by New York-based Tippetts Abbett McCarthy Stratton (TAMS) relied almost exclusively on aerial survey projects for route selection, as did the segment studies made by Brown & Root for the Mayo Valley and the southern region of the Central Huallaga.[33]

The view from the air depicted a new stage in the process of circulating reference by which a forest became a photo, became a road, and then became an agricultural colony of new, modern, abstracted eco-assemblages.[34] The distance achieved through aerial photography proved a critical step in allowing these assemblages—the mono-cultural plantation, the family farm, the cattle ranch—to literally be inscribed into the landscape through the project of road colonization.

In 1967, as progress on La Marginal was moving through the Central Huallaga, Roads Department engineers were faced with a choice between two possible road courses: one, down the left bank of the Huallaga, was a straighter—thus cheaper—path, while the other, through the small Biabo valley east of the Huallaga, was thought to provide access to more arable land. To solve their problem, they took to the air in a series of helicopter flights between Juanjuí and Tocache. Images from the flights demonstrate what I mean by inscription. Much like SAN photogrammetry, the images they brought back abstracted the land below, purging it of dimension and scale (see Figure 7 for an example from near the hamlet of Sión). These visual fragments of the valley were then analyzed at Roads Department offices in Juanjuí, where the first interventions of the planner’s hand were documented in the form of dotted lines, kilometer marks, and toponyms inscribed onto the photos in blue ink (Figure 8). This process was then mimicked in life size as road workers inscribed La Marginal’s centerline into the left bank of the Huallaga. Photos taken in the same area five months later showed scars of cleared forest directly where the engineers had run their blue pen on photographs (Figure 9). In one of Solís Tovar’s last contributions to La Marginal, he documented this change of course in a 1968 series of maps and profiles.

As planes replaced expedition caravans, and men like Solís Tovar moved out of the wilderness and into the workplace, the Huallaga underwent a process of transmogrification, rendered and re-rendered in the institutional vernaculars of planning institutions like the SAN, SCIPA and the IICA. By mimicking copies of copies of copies (longitudinal profiles, based on contour maps, based on photographs) errors, miscalculations or omissions were amplified through the entire photogrammetric process, further distancing the representations from their respective reality. But I don’t make this point in some attempt to show how wrong cartography could be. Indeed, if anything the shift from craft to profession that characterized photogrammetry in the 1950s and early 1960s, saw specialists working in a frenzy to correct inaccuracies as best as possible.[35] Instead, what photogrammetry’s fissures revealed was the invented nature that was used to imagine the project of road colonization. The Amazon that was put on display for engineers, financial institutions, politicians, and the general public, was not a space of complexity, chaos, and species diversity; it was reduced and schematized, reinvented according to a logic of abstraction that individuated land fragments in anticipation of the valley’s capitalist conversion.

Developing cocaine

In May, 1973, The Superior Court of Huánuco saw the first of what would turn into a torrent of cocaine-trafficking cases over the next thirty years. Manuel Arcayo Céspedes, and two associates, brothers Wilmer and Eybel Pinelo, had been processing coca into PBC in small quantities of around one kilo out of a fundo—or rural property—outside Monzón for nearly six months.[36] Their operation consisted of a rudimentary chemical process that used sulphuric acid and kerosene to extract the cocaine alkaloid (one of twelve present in the coca plant, Erythroxylum coca) from coca leaves utilizing clandestine plastic-laden “pozas”, or pits, hidden amongst typical subsistence and small commercial crops (Figure 10).[37] In the following years these pozas littered the valleys of the Huallaga and its tributaries as cocaine production seeped north from its traditional origins farther up river, marking not only its spatial spread over the next two decades but its increased sophistication. By 1986 cocaine was wrecking socio-ecological havoc on the Huallaga. In addition to autochthonous cartels aligned with Shining Path militants who inflicted a culture of terror on the valley, Colombia’s infamous Medellín Cartel exercised transient power throughout. The environmental consequences were dire, too. More than 120,000 hectares of cleared forest went to coca production and it was estimated that annual discharge from the pozas amounted to some 57 million litres of kerosene, 32 million litres of sulphuric acid, 16 metric tons of unslaked lime, 3,200 metric tons of carbides, 16,000 metric tons of toilet tissue, 6,400 litres of acetone and almost as much toluene, all spilling unchecked into the Huallaga’s hydrological web.[38]

At first, the geography of cocaine paste mapped exceptionally well to the varicose expansion of the regional road network. The drug’s heartland adhered with astonishing precision to the confines of the Tingo Maria-Tocache-Campanilla Colonization, the planned colonization project launched in 1966 once construction of La Marginal opened the valley. Over the 1970s and 1980s production tracked northward from the nearly exhausted traditional coca lands between Huánuco and Tingo Maria to settle for its capital on the quiet hamlet of Uchiza, perched some ten kilometers up the small Chontayacu River, tributary of the Huallaga near Tocache.[39]

The road network not only sketched the boundaries of the early geography of cocaine capitalism, it also facilitated growth of the illicit sector. Pozas were regularly discovered near road access, sometimes within meters of La Marginal.[40]And in some cases road-building was the activity that brought future narco-trafickers together.[41] These early years were characterized by small crews running PCB out to the coast on roads, but as the illicit cocaine trade expanded, it outgrew the road network and instigated a move back toward the time when aviation ruled in the Huallaga.

The case of the Tupiño García family in the Boquerón del Padre Abad, along the Tingo María-Pucallpa highway exemplified the first inklings of a new, darker chapter in the history of Huallaga aviation. In February 1978, agents from the Peruvian Investigative Police (PIP) surprised the Tupiño Garcías at their fundo with seventy-one kilos of cocaine, a Helio Super Courier utility aircraft, and three bulldozers they had commissioned in the construction of a clandestine runway. Three of the brothers were taken into custody while the eldest, René—who boasted a history of near convictions for other drug-related crimes—was killed in the raid.[42] The raid on the Tupiño García land and the discovery of their homemade airfield presaged how cocaine transport changed going into the 1980s.

One telling case from 1985 illustrates the retrenchment and development of aviation in the valley as part of cocaine’s growth. As part of the ominously named Operation Condor III, the Civil Guard raided a rural fundo outside Uchiza in December. Flown in by helicopter, they started at the site of a clandestine airfield, which they debilitated by blowing craters into the cleared ground. From there, the police report detailed how they proceeded along a narrow trail through steep terrain, passing various pozas and drying sites along the way. After more than a one-kilometer trek, they came upon a vast complex that included a 15-kilowatt diesel generator that powered a radio communications station and a PCB processing lab where the dried PCB was refined. Moving on toward a camp that enclosed an 18-bed dormitory and fully equipped kitchen, they were ambushed by automatic-pistol and rifle fire. In the resulting shoot-out, the Civil Guard detained two of the fleeing gunmen and shot Abraham Cárdenas—a relative of the infamous Huallaga cartel leader, Guillermo Cárdenas Dávila (AKA Mosca Loca)—in the mouth.

The case against Cárdenas indicated the exponential growth of the industry. The self-contained mega-processing complex where Cárdenas et al were encamped hardly resembled the artisanal pozas that dotted the road network in the 1970s. The fact that the Civil Guard confiscated hydrochloric acid and acetone indicated that the Huallaga was no longer merely a source of pedestrian PBC. This was a laboratory capable of refining higher-grade “washed” PBC and cocaine hydrochloride.[43] But beyond an enhanced processing capability, the encampment featured its own integrated transport network in the form of an airfield. While traffickers relied on the Roads Department in the 1970s, an economy of scale pushed narco-families away from roads and into remote forest locales. If investigations focused on automobiles and colectivo drivers through the 1970s, then the clearing and maintenance of clandestine airfields--those storied and tell-tale pockmarks in the jungle that so flourished in the era of Colombian trafficking—were the activities that investigators homed in on in the early 1980s. The area where Abraham Cárdenas was apprehended in late 1985 had already represented a thorn in the side of authorities for more than a year. In mid-1984—the same year that the Civil Guard established a special anti-drug-trafficking unit and the base of operations for the U.S. drug eradication program was set up in the small Huallaga hamlet of Santa Lucía--there was a spate of tit-for-tat demolitions/reconstructions of airfields that pitted the Civil Guard’s Mobile Unit for Rural Patrol (UMAPOR), the PIP, the Air Force and Sinchis (or Peruvian gendarmes) against Colombian and Peruvian traffickers and the legions of peasants they conscripted to work on clearing and maintaining landing strips.  In one operation in May, authorities demobilized twenty-three airfields in the area of Uchiza alone. The blown landing strips were quickly rehabilitated, so authorities returned a few weeks later to blast them again: work done in vain as an air patrol at the end of June revealed that six of the airfields were already rebuilt. Indeed, the crescendo of blasting and rebuilding led authorities to devise increasingly daring and confrontational interventions, like the one that injured Cárdenas. This was epitomized in December of 1987, when nineteen Civil Guard officers surprised a group of traffickers at an airfield near Bellavista. The nine men were loading a plane—of Colombian provenance and presumably destined to return—with cash and cocaine when the authorities sent them scattering under a hail of gunfire. (The police report even boasted they lobbed a grenade, “with the objective of frightening the individuals present.”) In the hours that followed, all but the unidentified man killed on the runway were apprehended one by one from their hastily chosen hideouts in the surrounding forest.[44]


Aviation proved paramount to the Huallaga’s exploration and colonization, but in contradictory and sometimes counterproductive ways. When the Bolívar expedition rendered the valley knowable in a new scientific vernacular, air transport was a catalyst, facilitating the expedition’s travels and situating the valley in an ambiguous modernity characterized by balsa rafts and DC3s. Aviation separated travellers from the forest resources so crucial to travel by raft and it disembodied the experience of travel. It severed peoples’ connection to the ground, but it also paradoxically fed the growth of ground transport and the colonial project of which road construction formed a part. When the Huallaga became the main focus of Belaúnde’s quixotic jungle colonization in the 1960s, aviation proved the primary means by which an unwieldy nature was made legible in a state vernacular. Aerial survey made La Marginal and its concomitant colonization schemes possible, but it did so by proffering an invented landscape. By distancing planners from the valley below, aviation allowed for a simplification and fragmentation of vastly complex broadleaf forests and riparian ecosystems. The practices of aerial survey then reproduced the Huallaga according to a developmentalist cosmovision that saw the land as a matrix of individuated commodities. By the 1970s, after the Huallaga portion of La Marginal was completed, a broad patchwork of smallholder parcels and industrial monocultures was expanding across the valley floor in a move that, from the air, looked a lot like the photo-mosaics made by the SAN over the previous decades: geometric and isolating boundaries inscribed into the land and reflecting market logic over bio-logic. And as more of the valley’s agricultural production shifted to illicit coca production, a combination of economies of scale and failure to maintain and improve La Marginal and its network led to a resurgence of air transport, this time determined entirely by the economic ability of traffickers.

While avoiding a tautology that would directly attribute the rise of cocaine capitalism to aviation and the god’s-eye view it afforded, I juxtapose these discrete permutations of Huallaga aviation in order to tease out some of the environmental epistemologies deployed in the age of mid-twentieth-century development. Development was by no means a benign phenomenon oriented toward improving the human condition; it was an historical process by which technoscience’s positivist domination was imposed on socio-ecologies around the globe.[45] The specific case of Huallaga colonization demonstrates more than another of development’s failures. Indeed, much of the logic of patriarchal capitalism that fuelled colonization—the fragmentation of a feminized nature, to be put to the service of monocultural, male-dominated smallholder economies—characterized the valley’s later illicit cocaine economy. Recent work in the history of development has uncovered similar continuities between river valley development and the emergence of illicit drug economies, but the subject demands further exploration.[46]          

[1] “El gobierno convoca a la mayor licitación vial en la historia del país,” Oiga, no. 67 (March 1964): 8–9. See Figure 1.

[2] Alternately referred to as Peru’s Marginal Highway, The Trans-Andean Highway, The Bolivarian Highway, South America’s Marginal Highway, La Carretera Marginal de la Selva, La Carretera Bolivariana Marginal de la Selva, or simply La Marginal, for simplicity’s sake, I will use “La Marginal” to refer to the complete road network, and refer to individual road segments by their termini (eg. Tarapoto-Rio Nieva, La Morada-Tocache, etc.). Usually when the terms Bolivarian (Bolivariana) or Trans-Andean are used, it refers to the trans-continental highway agreed upon at the meeting of the Regional Conference of the International Road Federation, held in Lima, May 17-22, 1965. There, ministers of Transport from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela (Colombia was later included) sketched the initial pact that would lead to discrete national construction efforts. Because the project was the brainchild of Peru’s President Belaúnde, the Peru segment was concentrated with the earliest vigor and became a synecdoche for the project writ large.    

[3] Corinna Unger and David Engermann identify this as one tendency that development history needs to overcome. David C. Engerman and Corinna R. Unger, “Introduction: Towards a Global History of Modernization,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 376–77, doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2009.00776.x; As examples they cite: Michael E. Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science And “nation Building” in the Kennedy Era, New Cold War History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America, New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); and Amy L. Sayward, The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965, New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations 1 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2006); As other examples, I would add: Michael Adas, Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006); Nick Cullather, The Hungry World America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); Amanda Kay McVety, Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Daniel Immerwahr, Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[4] Even much of the small body of work looking at development projects in Peru exhibits the tendency to see development as a U.S. imperial design, focusing on U.S.-originated projects like the Peace Corps and the Peru-Cornell Project in Vicos: Jason Pribilsky, “Developing Selves: Photography, Cold War Science and ‘backwards’ People in the Peruvian Andes, 1951–1966,” Visual Studies 30, no. 2 (2015): 131–50; Fernando Purcell, “Connecting Realities: Peace Corps Volunteers in South America and the Global War on Poverty during the 1960s.,” Historia Critica, no. 53 (May 2014): 129–54, doi:10.7440/histcrit53.2014.06; Paulo C. Contreras, “Struggles for Modernization: Peru and the United States, 1961--1968” (ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2010),; Jason Pribilsky, “Development and the ‘Indian Problem’ in the Cold War Andes: Indigenismo, Science, and Modernization in the Making of the Cornell-Peru Project at Vicos,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 405–26, doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2009.00778.x; Glenn Francis Sheffield, “Peru and the Peace Corps, 1962-1968” (ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1991),; To conceptualize what we might call a zone of development contact, I draw from the lessons of Latin America’s New Cultural History. Borrowing Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of the contact zone, a generation of Latin Americanists has complicated the binary portrayals characteristic of Dependency Theory and World-System approaches by exploring the unique and fluid amalgam generated by the encounter between two polities. Major works influencing my thinking here include: Ricardo Donato Salvatore, Catherine LeGrand, and Gilbert Joseph, eds., Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1998) (Especially for the emphasis placed on representation.); Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992); Kenneth J Andrien and Rolena Adorno, eds., Transatlantic Encounters: Europeans and Andeans in the Sixteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); McCook’s fruitful application of this concept to the plant sciences comes from Stuart George McCook, States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760-1940, 1st ed (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002).

[5] Immerwahr, Thinking Small, ix–x.

[6] Tom Robertson brought my attention to the development era’s predilection for river valleys. Thomas Robertson, “Cold War Landscapes: Towards an Environmental History of US Development Programmes in the 1950s and 1960s,” Cold War History Cold War History, 2015, 13–17.

[7] Indeed, While James Scott’s work sits at the centre of my analysis, the emphasis I place on reproduction and conversion owes more to the work of Bruno Latour and Jean Baudrillard, than Scott. See: James C Scott, Seeing Like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Bruno Latour, “Circulating Reference: Sampling the Soil in the Amazon Rainforest,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 24–79; and Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, The Body in Theory, Histories of Cultural Materialism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).

[8] In his now canonical essay on soil studies in the Brazilian Amazon, Latour traces the extraction, packaging, reordering, analysis and representation of forest soils to demonstrate how science legitimates itself with recourse to an unbroken chain of reference that is always already linked to its object of study or reference. In the cases Latour discusses fragments of soil were actually present along much of the chain of reference until they arrived in the laboratory. Only there did the process of representation—the replacement of soil with text and graphics—occur. This is the severance between nature and culture that I refer to: the point where some element of the forest is rendered in visual and textual language and thus replaced. Latour, “Circulating Reference: Sampling the Soil in the Amazon Rainforest.”

[9]Cándido Bolívar, “Report on the Exploration of the River Huallaga Valley, Peru” (International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, January 14, 1949), 3,

[10]Ramón Ferreyra, “Expedition to the River Huallaga, Peru; Report on Botanical Research in the Valley of the Huallaga” (International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, January 10, 1949), 3,

[11]UNESCO, Sixty Years of Science at UNESCO 1945-2005 (Paris: UNESCO Pub., 2006), 205–209; Patrick Petitjean and Heloisa Maria Bertol Domingues, “International Science, Brazil and Diplomacy in UNESCO (1946-1950),” Science, Technology & Society. An International Journal Devoted to the Developing World 9, no. 1 (January 2004), 29–50; No author, “International Institute of the Hylean Amazon,” Nature 163 (January 1949): 15, doi:10.1038/163015c0; Bolívar, “Report on the Exploration of the Huallaga  River Valley, Peru,” 2–3.

[12]Aníbal Buitrón, “Ethnological Survey of the Valley of the Rio Huallaga, Peru” (International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, December 17, 1948), 2–5,

[13]Ibid., 3.

[14]Edwin B. Doran, “Summary Report on the Geography of the Rio Huallaga Valley” (International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, November 25, 1948), 2,; Bolívar, “Report on the Exploration of the River Huallaga Valley, Peru,” 2.

[15]Edwin B. Doran, “Report on Geography of the Rio Huallaga Valley, Peru” (International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, January 7, 1949), 22,

[16]Ibid., 20–22; Buitrón, “Ethnological Survey of the Valley of the Rio Huallaga, Peru,” 10.

[17]Buitrón, “Ethnological Survey of the Valley of the Rio Huallaga, Peru,” 9–10; Ferreyra, “Expedition to the River Huallaga,” 7; Doran, “Report on Geography of the Rio Huallaga Valley, Peru,” 22.

[18]Bolívar, “Report on the Exploration of the River Huallaga Valley, Peru,” 3.

[19]Joseph A. Tosi, Zonas de vida natural en el Perú: memoria explicativa sobre el Mapa Ecológico del Perú (IICA Biblioteca Venezuela, 1960); Programa de Conservación de Suelos y Desarrollo de Tierras del SCIPA, “Evaluación de recursos de la selva: Departamento de San Martín” (Lima: Ministerio de Agricultura, 1960);Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, Estudio preliminar.

[20] All information on flights dates, locations, technologies and personnel come from the flight logs, or libros, of the Servicio Aerofotográfico Nacional’s (SAN) Central Archive in Chorrillos, Lima. First names were never used in the logs and they give no indication of flight times or the airbase of origin. This vignette is a composite used for effect and based on the knowledge that in 1960, Tarapoto’s was the heaviest used airport—and probably the only one capable of accommodating SAN aircraft—in the region.

[21] At least one of their flights (it’s not clear which) didn’t follow this path, instead covering the terrain northeast of Tarapoto to Yurimaguas.

[22]A.B. Solís Tovar, “Reconocimiento de la ruta carretera a Yurimaguas,” Boletín de la Dirección de Caminos 7, no. 61 (July 1957): 25–27.

[23] The Ministry of Development and Public Works’ Roads Service was the precursor to the Roads Department.

[24]“Había viajado tantas veces de Chachapoyas a Moyobamba estudiando la ruta para la carretera que tenía casi la certidumbre de que en esa parte de la Cordillera Central no existirían pasos de menos de 3,500 metros ¿Pero existen! [sic] porque cuantas veces fué necesario calcular la altura del terreno el Ing. Pardo de Miguel bajaba en espiral hasta colocarse en 500 o 600 pies del suelo.Confieso que no es muy agradable que digamos medir alturas en esta forma porque si falla, no se cuenta; pero es muy práctico por la rapidez con que se trabaja. Solo volando y con un piloto experto y conocedor de la región se pudo haber hecho todo lo que se hizo en los dos días de estudio”. Solís Tovar, “Reconocimiento de la ruta carretera a Yurimaguas,”


[25]“Nos que daba por estudiar con más dentenimiento la sección Moyobamba-Yurimaguas y la cordillera [sic] Oriental, última barrera de los Andes. I Qué cordillera! [sic] No es alta, apenas si tiene entre 1,000 y 1,800 metros de altura, pero qué topografía! Volamos siguiendo la línea de cumbres desde más al sur de Tarapoto hasta bien al norte de Moyobamba.De todos lados es difícil de abordar; pero no imposible …”. Ibid.

[26]This is a change Stephen Bocking also observes in his study of how aerial survey transformed the University of McGill’s Department of Geography around the same time. Stephen Bocking, “A Disciplined Geography: Aviation, Science, and the Cold War in Northern Canada, 1945–1960,” Technology and Culture 50, no. 2 (April 2009): 285–86.

[27]In his monumental study, Orientalism, Edward Said touches upon the intricacies of authority’s two-sided nature, teasing out what could eventually be labeled authorial hegemony, or the dominance of authorship. Centering on discourses engendered by the British and French colonial projects of the nineteenth century, as well as twentieth-century American neo-colonialism, he navigates the manner in which the entire geographic region of “the Orient”—and the subjects that populate it—becomes subjugated to the “expert’s” authorial whim with disastrous real-world—that is, extra-textual—effects. The key factor in this process is the “re-presence, or … representation” of the subject at hand. Photography, and particularly landscape photography, has been looked at in much the same way. Though I am not inclined to condemn all photography as a tool of appropriation like some, in the case of SAN imagery I think the Said-inspired critiques of photography offer a useful baseline. Edward W Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 21). Perhaps the strongest advocate of such a Saidian critique of photography: Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977); However, much of my thinking on photography—especially the depiction of environment—comes from: Thomas Andrews, “On Robert Adams’s New West Landscapes,” Environmental History 16, no. 4 (2011): 701–14; John Roberts, “Photography, Landscape and the Social Production of Space,” Philosophy of Photography 1, no. 2 (2010): 135–56; Jens Andermann, The Optic of the State: Visuality and Power in Argentina and Brazil, Illuminations (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007); Deborah J Poole, “Landscape and the Imperial Subject: U.S. Images of the Andes, 1859-1930,” in Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations., ed. Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 107–38; Deborah Poole, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1997); and Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).

[28] Bocking, “A Disciplined Geography,” 286–87; Also see: Thomas Robertson, “The Bird’s-Eye View: Toward an Environmental History of Aviation,” Journal of Transport History 35, no. 2 (December 2014): 220–24; and Marionne Cronin, “Northern Visions: Aerial Surveying and the Canadian Mining Industry, 1919-1928,” Technology and Culture 48, no. 2 (2007): 303–30.

[29]María Teresa Grillo Arbulu and Tucker Sharon, “Peru’s Amazonian Imaginary: Marginality, Territory and National Integration,” in Environment and Citizenship in Latin America, ed. Alex Latta and Hannah Wittman, vol. 101, CEDLA Latin America Studies (CLAS) (New York: Berghahn Books, 2012), 112–28; Alberto Chirif and Pedro García, Marcando territorio: progresos y limitaciones de la titulación de territorios indígenas en la Amazonía (Copenhague: IWGIA Grupo Internacional de Trabajo sobre Asuntos Indígenas, 2007), 31, 36–39.

[30]I’m referencing Borges’ one-paragraph “Del rigor de la ciencia”, which James Scott also references to open his chapter on city planning. My thinking, however, is also clearly indebted to Jean Baudrillard’s essay “The Precession of Simulacra”: Jorge Luis Borges, El Hacedor, 1. ed, ObrasCompletas / Jorge Luis Borges (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1960); Scott, Seeing Like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.

[31]Monthly reports and work logs from the Ministry of Transport demonstrate that road-building was plagued by slides every wet season as work on La Marginal inched its way through the Pichis and Palcazu Valleys of the Selva Central. The two rainy seasons between November, 1978 and February, 1980, however, were marked by a flurry of radio messages coming from the road terminus and the labour camps that spoke of continuous stoppages due to heavy rain and mudslides counted in the many thousands of cubic meters. In one more memorable event from December 1979, the road chief on site, one Colonel Villanueva, radioed word of four days’ non-stop rain triggering a slide that took one of their bulldozers with it down the hillside. “Libro de Proyecto: Carretera PTE. Paucartambo - Villa Rica - Pto.Bermúdez 6/75-11/85,” n.d., 40–68, MTC.

[32]For contemporary opinions about the shift from craft to science, see J. E. Odle, “Aspects of Airborne Camera Development from 1945 to 1966,” The Photogrammetric Record 5, no. 29 (1967): 351–65; J. A. Eden, “The Art of Taking Air Photographs,” The Photogrammetric Record  4, no. 23 (1964): 367–78; Brigadier H. A. L. Shewell, “Photogrammetry–a Worm’s Eye View,” The Photogrammetric Record  4, no. 21 (1963): 210–17; G. C. Brock, “Problems and Progress in Air Photography,” The Photogrammetric Record  2, no. 9 (1957): 169–84; and “Symposium,” The Photogrammetric Record 1, no. 5 (1955): 49–62.

[33]Brown & Root Overseas Inc., “Estudio de factibilidad. Carretera Marginal de la Selva, Sector: Teresita - Quimpiri” (Instituto Nacional de Planificación, February 1965), C-52; Brown & Root Overseas Inc., “Estudio de factibilidad. Carretera Marginal de la Selva, Sector: La Morada - Tocache” (InstitutoNacional de Planificación, May 1965), C-52, MTC; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, Estudio preliminar; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Jaén - San Ignacio. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica (draft)” (Ministerio de Fomento y Obras Públicas, 1965), C-30, MTC; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Jaén - San Ignacio. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica” (Ministerio de Fomento y Obras Públicas, 1966), C-30, MTC; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Vía Central - Satipo. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica” (Ministerio de Fomento y Obras Públicas, 1966), C-30, MTC; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Villa Rica - Puerto Pachitea. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica: Informe Suplementario” (Ministerio de Fomento y ObrasPúblicas, 1966), C-30, MTC; Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Jaén - San Ignacio. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica: Informe Suplementario” (Ministerio de Fomento y Obras Públicas, 1967), C-30, MTC; Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, “La Carretera Marginal de La Selva: Puente Paucartambo - Río Palcazu. Estudio de Factibilidad Técnica y Económica” (Ministerio de Fomento y Obras Públicas, 1967), C-30, MTC.

[34]My thinking here comes from Latour, “Circulating Reference: Sampling the Soil in the Amazon Rainforest” and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of  Minnesota Press, 1987).

[35]For some examples, see: J. A. Eden, “Loss of Negative Resolution Due to Printing and Examination Procedures,” The Photogrammetric Record   4, no. 21 (1963): 239–45; H. G. Reading, “A Method of Supplying Contours from Four Suitably Placed Spot Heights Using Parallax Bar Observations on a Pair of Air Photographs,” The Photogrammetric Record 2, no. 7 (1956): 65–75; Umberto Nistri, “‘A Practical Procedure for Carrying Out Spatial Stereotriangulation,’” The Photogrammetric Record  1, no. 6 (1955): 38–49; D. W. G. Arthur, “The Chatham-Dunkirk Road Aerial Triangulation,” The Photogrammetric Record 1, no. 6 (1955): 58–72; H. H. Brazier and V. A. Williams, “The Adjustment of a Block Aerial Triangulation Evaluated with the Wild A5,” The Photogrammetric Record  1, no. 4 (1954): 5–19.

[36]Atestado Policial dated May 2, 1973; Dictamen dated September 7, 1973; and Sentencia dated July 15, 1974 “Expedientes 930 y 932,” 1973, 1–3; 121–122; 195–206, Juzgado de Instrucción, Leoncio Prado, CSJH.

[37]The organic source of cocaine, the coca plant, is recognized as one of the oldest cultivated plants in South America, dating its cultural and economic significance much earlier than Abert Neimann’s 1860 invention of cocaine hydrochloride and its subsequent creo-lization by Alfredo Bignon. The work done by Timothy Plowman in the 1970s and 1980s (the boom years of the cocaine trade) to underline this plant’s millennial past has become the stuff of legend thanks in no small part to Wade Davis’ memorializing. For a sample of Plowman’s work on Erythroxylaceae see Timothy Plowman, “Botanical Perspectives on Coca,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 11, no. 1–2 (1979): 103–17. For the impact of Plowman’s work, see Wade Davis, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); On Alfredo Bignon, see Gootenberg, Andean Cocaine.

[38]Paul Gootenberg, “Peruvian Cocaine and the Boomerang of History,” NACLA Report on the Americas 47, no. 2 (2014): 48; Felipe E. Mac Gregor, Coca and Cocaine: An Andean Perspective (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993), 118.

[39]Coca was a long-standing crop farther up river, until overproduction led to soil exhaustion. Gootenberg, Andean Cocaine, 294–95.

[40]“Expediente 114,” 1976, 153, Juzgado de Instrucción, Leoncio Prado, CSJH.

[41]“Expediente 76,” 1975, Juzgado de Instrucción, Leoncio Prado, CSJH.

[42]Miguel Gutiérrez, “La Familia Que Nadie Quiere Recordar,” Revista Ideele: Revista Del Instituto de Defensa Legal, diciembre 2011,

[43]The process of converting Erythroxylum coca leaves into commercial cocaine hydrochloride consists of three basic steps. First, the leaves are soaked in a tincture of kerosene and later mixed with sulphuric acid and calcium carbonate to produce basic cocaine paste (PBC), the primary Huallaga commodity. PCB is then “washed” in a second step using potassium permanganate, and more sulphuric acid and calcium carbonate. The product of this concoction is commonly called pasta básica lavada, or washed basic paste (PBL). In a final step, which requires the kind of lab discovered in the Cárdenas case, the PBL is diluted in acetone and steeped in hydrochloric acid. Court records betray a frequent slippage between PBC and PBL, which reinforces the notion that the Huallaga was the source of pasta básica alone. But the confiscation of acetone and hydrochloric acid, along with the discovery of electric drying facilities, are clear indications that the Huallaga was not the source of artisanal PBC alone. For details on this process see: Romina Mella, “El dilema de los insumos,” IDL Reporteros, February 15, 2012, and Edmundo Morales, Cocaine: White Gold Rush in Peru (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989), 75–79.

[44]“… intervinieron en forma decida, efectuando disparos con las armas que portaba el personal y haciendo explosionar una granada de guerra con la finalidad de amedrentar a los individuos presentes, haciéndolo mismo [sic] el personal de apoyo del Ejército”. Resolución sin número dated January 6, 1988 “Expediente 2,” 1988, 3–4, Juzgado de Instrucción, Huallaga-Saposoa, CSJSM.

[45] The work of Arturo Escobar, while not the only, is still perhaps the best explication of this process. See: Arturo Escobar, Territories of Difference Place, Movements, Life, Redes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008); Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995); The conceptual basis of this assertion comes from: Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man; Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).

[46] See Nick Cullather’s work on Morrison Knudsen’s damming of Afghanistan’s Helmund River and the rise of heroin production. Cullather, The Hungry World America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia.