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The Trans-Amazonian highway is a 5,000 kilometre road which cuts across the heart of the Amazon forest, spanning Brazil from the coastal city of João Pessoa in the northeast to the border with Peru. It was one of the most ambitious resettlement and economic development programs ever devised, and one of the greatest failures.

The project developed in the 1970s after General Medici, military ruler of Brazil, visited the impoverished north-east of the country, which at that time was suffering under one of its periodic droughts. What he saw shocked and upset the General deeply. Land reform, the obvious solution to the peasants’ plight, was out of the question because the military who ruled the country relied too much on the support of landowners, and there was no way to convince those wealthy landowners to part with even the smallest fraction of their lands to the rural poor. General Medici, instead, decided to relocate the poor.

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