This paper explores the policies of the Brazilian and Peruvian governments in Manaus and Iquitos, the Amazon Rainforest’s two largest cities, during times of military dictatorship. For all their political differences, the juntas that ruled Brazil’s “Fifth Republic” (1964-1985) and Peru’s “Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces” (1968-1980) shared a similar nationalist and developmentalist ethos. In the urban realm, this translated into policies that attempted to alternative “improve”, integrate, control, coopt, and even increase or remove the expanding populations of the urban settlements that did not fit official definitions of formal cities: “favelas” and “pueblos jóvenes”. At the same time, in their relationships with remote, yet strategically important peripheries such as their Amazonian capitals, both military regimes were forced to establish alliances and negotiate their rule both with local elites and with popular classes.
In Manaus and Iquitos, cities inextricably linked to their rainforest environments, these social engineering and reform efforts were inseparable from ambitious schemes to gather knowledge about local landscapes and eventually to physically transform them. By exploring the theory and practice of these two military regimes in projects related to urban mapping, developmental planning, sanitation, and environmental management, as well as their more explicitly political initiatives in the urban Amazon, this paper approaches social and material engineering as the two complementary sides of parallel, yet distinctive, processes of authoritarian state formation in twentieth-century Latin America.