“The government convenes the greatest highway bidding in the country’s history.” 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, 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.
Don Benjamín is a proud cacao farmer living outside Tarapoto, Peru. His operation is typical in that it rests on a patchwork of varied forms of labour and tenure to succeed. The land he works belongs to an absentee landlord from Pucallpa.
The view from the air marked a new stage in the process of circulating reference by which a forest became a road, became an agricultural colony, one in which the land was abstracted into building blocks used to form new modern eco-assemblages.
Walter Miranda has worked for the Peruvian Ministry of Transport since before it was the Ministry of Transport. A long-time resident of Moyobamba, he had first-hand experience of the building that took place along the Tarapoto-Río Nieva segment of La Marginal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Originally exhibited at the Liu Institute's Lobby Gallery in the summer of 2012, this work seeks to augment the iconography of deforestation by examining the way that labour regimes intersect with processes of forest domestication and