FACES OF MATO GROSSO
Mato Grosso is an Amazonian state of Brazil. During Brazil's period of military dictatorship (1964-1985) , the government encouraged small farmers and sharecroppers living in developed areas of Brazil to migrate to the Amazonian interior -- promising them schools, hospitals and housing. The first pioneiros, or "pioneers," as they came to be called, encountered a far more dangerous reality than the dictatorship depicted. In Mato Grosso, the pioneiros homesteaded in jungle areas plagued by yellow fever and malaria. They suffered food shortages, isolation from the outside world and a hardscrabble existence in towns without basic infrastructure -- without sewers, running water, electricity, medical care or housing. Many arrivees wrote letters home, warning their families not to join them, but mailing stations near homesteads were controlled by government police, who opened letters; disposed of mail critical of the dictatorship's scheme; and carried out reprisals against the letter-writers.
With time, the small towns the pioneiros carved out in the Mato Grosso Amazon -- Colider, Sinop, Alta Floresta, Claudia and many others -- flourished, despite all odds. Their founders and the immigrants who followed them have became farmers and ranchers, fishermen and small businessmen, homemakers and teachers, skilled workers and university graduates. Now, however, residents of Amazonian Mato Grosso are threatened with the loss of the lands they inhabit and cultivate. Hydroelectric dams are flooding farmland and jungle. Agribusinesses based in Brazil, China, the U..S., Canada and Europe are moving into Mato Grosso, polluting waterways and deforesting the Amazon, in order to plant corn and soybeans for livestock feed and ethanol use. These forces have destabilized local economies, driving out rural businesses, ranchers, farmers and fishermen, and eradicating native flora and fauna.
Here are portraits of some of the original pioneers and current dwellers of Amazonian Mato Grosso. This photography collection was undertaken as part of a research project on the deforestation of Mato Grosso and on Amazonian squatters' rights, spearheaded by Maria Ivonete de Souza, Professor of the University of Mato Grosso-- Sinop.
Brick Factory under Moonlight
Sinop, Mato Grosso
©2014 Paula Sharp