Abstract: This paper interrogates the function of violence as a catalyst in the construction, proliferation, and transfer of developmentalist environmental imaginaries between state and non-state actors in Peru’s Huallaga Valley during the latter half of the twentieth century. Specifically, I ask how the 1960s project of road colonization helped to codify a set of masculinist and capitalist spatializations (Ojeda Ojeda 2011, Sundberg 2003, Merchant 1989) that were repeated, mimicked and reformulated through coerced confessions in cases of criminal drug trafficking through the 1970s and 1980s.

Work on the spatial dynamics of state formation pits dominant state fixations (Craib 2004) against localized discourses of resistance. By blending work that examines nature through a modernity / coloniality and decolonial thinking (MCD) lens (Blaser 2010, Escobar 2008) with Michael Taussig’s  (1986) concept of the space of death, I examine the land narratives generated through legal encounters. I contend that, in the court, subaltern actors hardly resisted the Peruvian state’s discourse of jungle colonialism. Instead, they often lent exceptional detail and nuance to the state’s broad understanding of the Huallaga Valley as a developable space. Torture and other forms of coercion figured significantly in such encounters and were a catalyst for the invention of the Huallaga’s cocaine imaginary.

This paper’s contribution is two-fold. First, it introduces new archival sources that significantly complicate and sometimes contradict the burgeoning historiography of Huallaga cocaine. Second, it situates the growth of Peru’s illicit cocaine industry along a broader trajectory of state-orchestrated experiments in jungle colonization.


Merchant, Carolyn. Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Almost thirty years ago, Carolyn Merchant demonstrated how a confluence of social and ecological pressures triggered a shift from predominantly subsistence-based agriculture to a surplus-oriented agricultural structure in eighteenth-century New England. She argued that the increased demographic pressure caused by colonization coupled with new demands on the regional ecology to push farmers toward a capitalist mode of food production with massive ramifications not only for soil fertility, but for the gendering of social relations, as many “farm women were not only wives, mothers and grandmothers, but also vegetable and poultry producers, food processors, cheese and butter makers, spinners, carders, weavers, sewers, herbalists, healers, and sometimes teachers or midwives, as well”.[1] The concomitant exhaustion of soils and feminization of commerce was something that Merchant also attributed to the system of patriarchal inheritance and its effect of reducing farm sizes over generations and exacerbating their dependence on dwindling ecological reserves. Merchant’s insights are invaluable, for they demonstrate the complex socio-ecological tensions between production and reproduction that push settler societies toward destructive, export-oriented agriculture. Moreover, the analytical nexus she draws between ecology, economy and gender offers a useful paradigm for understanding those tensions.[2] However, her analysis neglected the important realm of representation, especially the gendered representation of space.

[1] Carolyn Merchant, Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 150–53.

[2] I am drawing especially from Part Two: “The Capitalist Ecological Revolution” Merchant, Ecological Revolutions.


One of the great claims of modern architecture was its rebuke of history. In clean lines, open spaces, expressed structures and "honest" use of materials, there was a social preoccupation that looked on nationalism, history and their expression through ornamentation with a wary suspicion, one freshly jaded by world wars and the rise of fascism in Europe.
That's why it is so telling to see how modern aesthetics were seized upon at mid century, yet purged of their social significance. Another case of Derrida's dangerous supplement, flat roofs and horizontality proved easily co-opted in capitalism's search for an origin myth.
Take this 1958 Chrysler-made documentary on design:
"By the way things look as well as the way they perform our homes acquire new grace, new glamour, new accommodations, expressing not only the American love of beauty, but also the basic freedom of the American people, which is the freedom of individual choice". (5:40)

A close reading of V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River (1979).


Bigburger pictures looked like smooth white lips of bread over mangled black tongues of meat. (97)


Bigburger: Singular pronoun. Bigburger—“The Big One,” (ibid) curiously set opposite the Big Man, the president—is not merely a brand, product or franchise, it's a pseudo-state, assuming the role of accommodating refugees (99) and constituting the "New Domain" by rivaling the state's role in growing local real estate. Indeed, Bigburger represents Mahesh's "coup", (97) presumably displacing, or at the very least challenging, the Big Man's authority with the backing of international capital's new colonialism.

Pictures: Plural noun. Graphic representations of the Bigburger universe, conceived, manufactured and shipped in from the white outside. These representations interestingly condition our narrator's perception of that outside—in the end, after all, Bigburger becomes a sort of outside, resembling his notions of the U.S., (98) at least in that it provides a space of escape from "real Africa" (100).  These pictures contrast the photographs of the State Domain, which serve the same function in reverse, following an Africa-Europe trajectory.

Looked: Verb, preterit tense, indicating vision, or more generally, perspective. In this case the perspective can be assumed to be that of the narrator, wrapped up in all the complexities of his very fluid subjectivity.

Like: Conjunction, grammatically indicative of union between two clauses: here the representations (i.e photos) and our narrator’s interpretation of them. This term also embodies a sense of approximate resemblance, qualifying that interpretation as subjective and dependent upon the narrator's subject-position as a third-generation African of Indian descent whose loose use of the subject pronoun ‘us’ often includes characters of Indian, Middle-Eastern or European origins as well as Africans. At different times, all of these subjects are equally set up as others depending on the narrator's chosen point of view.  

Tucker, Richard

Tucker, Richard P. Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World. Concise rev. ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

Rooted firmly in the raubwirtschaft genre, Insatiable Appetite looks at the impact of America’s “ecological empire” in the first half of the twentieth century. It frames things in dichotomous terms (i.e. American capitalists and their local lackeys decimating tropical nature) and bestows agency upon the capitalists.

The value of this work is almost strictly empirical, although I would say that even in that sense, it suffers from the same weaknesses that Mosquito Empires does; namely that the net is cast so far that the empirical detail is more broad than deep. So this book gives accounts of the domestication of forest to make way for cane production in Cuba, Hawaii and later the Philippines. But it does not look at the role played by local actors in that process like McCook does. It gives details about the impact of the green revolution, explaining how shifts in cultivated species (Gros Michel to Cavendish), increased reliance on chemical fertilizer and pesticides (1950s) and migration (Honduras / Costa Rica to Ecuador / Colombia / Venezuala) resulted from the banana industry’s struggle against Panama Disease. But it does not give the kind of compelling vignettes of contaminated field workers that Miller does, or the very local-ness of United Fruit Co. enclaves in Colombia that Catherine LeGrand describes. It does, however give interesting detail on Firestone’s Liberia plantations, something that is grossly lacking in the other treatments of rubber history that I have looked at and written about here. (The extended first edition also has a sub-chapter on Fordlandia).

Martínez-Alier, Joan

Martínez-Alier, Joan. The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002.

For Martínez-Alier it all seems to boil down to a kind of economic determinism. That is, for him the incommensurability of natural capital seems to be at the end of his chain of analysis. He draws a lot from Otto Neurath’s theory of incommensurability to fuel ecological economics (this echoes the view already established in "From Political Economy to Political Ecology," and explains the notion that the environmentalism of the poor may be considered a new form of class struggle in Guha). Ecological economics focuses on problems of ‘taking Nature into account,’ (i.e. the valuation of natural capital). Given the incommensurability of resources, monetization (or valuation in general) of natural capital inevitably leaves externalities. It is in the space of externalities, the question of who pays those costs, where political ecology emerges to study ecological distribution conflicts.
The way Martínez-Alier ties political ecology to ecological economics has its worth in that it foregrounds the question of “who has the power to impose particular languages of valuation.” However, I do not see much emphasis on the process by which that power is constituted.

Mariátegui, José Carlos.

Mariátegui, José Carlos. "El problema del indio." In José Carlos Mariátegui. Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana. University of Texas Press, 1971.

El problema del indio, según Mariåtegui, es fundamentalmente un problema socio-económico. Para él no se trata de buscar resolverlo con remedios administrativos, jurídicos ni pedagógicos; ni tampoco se puede recurrir a discursos morales o humanistas para contrarrestar el pleito del indio. Para que una solución sea verdadera y perdurable, tendrá que enfrentarse al gamonalismo, y cualquier propuesta que no lo haga es uno más entre “otros tantos estériles ejercicios teóricos … condenados a un absoluto descrédito.” (35) 

No obstante, mientras que Mariátegui pulvoriza todos los argumentos que no se basen en un análisis marxista, también propone algo. Para combatir la lacra que es el gamonalismo y para desfacer agravios padecidos por la masa indígena, la solución estará en la provisión de tierra.

Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez-Alier.

Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez-Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

The introduction frames the essays to come in reference to post-materialism. Guha and Martínez-Alier juxtapose some of Aldous Huxley’s observations of tropical nature with the theories of his fellow privileged British intellectual, G.M. Trevelyan, to illustrate the core notions of the post-materialist view of nature. While Huxley could never see the tropics appealing to the British leisure travellers, Trevelyan was convinced that it was precisely the condition of affluence and so-called modernity enjoyed by Londoners that fomented a kind of reverence for nature, that with all material needs met by industrialization and urbanization (as Ronald Inglehart’s post-materialist theory goes), people pined for a clean, pristine environment. What Guha and Martínez-Alier argue here is that this view of the “full-stomach” environmentalism (calling on Nash) of the North neglects the possibility of the South’s “empty-belly” environmentalism. What I wonder is how firmly they will hold on to this North-South confrontation and whether it will get in the way of their analyses.

To close the introduction, they offer two groupings of sample cases: one shows Southern moments of opposition to northern forms of conservation (resistance to tiger protection by the Chenchus of Andhra Pradesh, India and by Siberians, also resistance by fisher folk in the Galapagos); while the other gives account of various forms of Southern environmentalism (Reaction to Eucalyptus farming in Thailand, the Ogoni struggle and a case of Southern experts doing an inspection of Dutch environmental policy and conditions).  

I've done seperate posts for the individual essays from this volume that I chose to focus on: