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BELA TERRA: Audiovisual work that deals with the North American occupation in Belterra-PA

ABSTRACT:  The present work presents the audiovisual work Bela Terra as a result of research and artistic experimentation of the scientific initiation project PIBIC/Universidade de Brasília. The research uses debate tools and the creation of new approaches about the Amazon. The construction of the investigation starts from the field experience, bibliographic research and audiovisual poetics, resulting in the production of the video “Bela Terra”.  Echoes of the ventures of the North American Ford Motor Company in Belterra-PA and Fordlândia-PA were analyzed, in order to question the colonizing development in the Rio Tapajós River region, Pará.


KEYWORDS: Amazon, American colonization, Fordlândia, artistic intervention, audiovisual.



The Amazon Project: Graphic, Poetic and Imaginary Visuality, linked to the Graduate Program in Design, of the Center for Advanced Multidisciplinary Studies at the University of Brasília (NEAz/CEAM/UnB), has the research proposal to create actions and projects that are linked to the fields of communication, art and design. With this in mind, one of the objectives is to study and analyze the language and its sign representations in the constitution of the cultural identity of the people who live in the Amazon and other conflicting regions.

The research has in the experience   with riverside communities of the Tapajós River (PA) the initial focus of investigation. Inserted in the Arts and Social Sciences, this project intends to obtain from field research and other studies, fundamental tools in the analysis of behavior, customs, religiosity, visual representations and knowledge of the most diverse peoples that make up the Amazon.

The present work is a by-product of the fourth expedition of Projeto Amazônia e da Vivência Amazônica 2017, promoted by NEAz. On the occasion, through a collective and collaborative construction, 40 people, including students and teachers, carried out a series of training and fundraising actions to enable an approximation with the Amazonian reality, contributing to scientific and cultural exchange through experiences and exchanges of experiences in the field of research and extension.

In a bus that left Brasília and crossed a large part of the Transamazon Highway (BR-230), academics from different areas of knowledge passed through Araguaína-TO, Marabá-PA, Brasil Novo-PA, Medicilândia-PA, Santarém-PA , Itaituba-PA, Serra do Cachimbo-PA and Cuiabá-MT. In this way, enabling contact with indigenous, quilombola, political, governmental, academic, agroecological and rural education practices.

The visit to Santarém-PA, especially the Universidade do Oeste do Pará (Ufopa), was a major factor in the return of the Amazon Project to the Bragança/Marituba Indigenous Land, located in an area overlapping the Tapajós National Forest and which has about of 50 families distributed in the two villages. In addition, the riverside communities of Nazaré and Lago do Marai are also located in this region of the Flona and share, together with the Munduruku People, similar problems of spatial, educational, political, cultural and communicational isolation in the region (SANTOS, 2018).

The overland road leaving the community of Bragança towards Alter do Chão-PA took us through Belterra-PA on Friday afternoon of December 8, 2017.  Belterra-PA , or Bela Terra, known for its fertile soil of 'Terra Preta' as a result of indigenous occupation, arouses curiosity for its architecture and remnants of the unfolding of an American colonization based on the exploitation of Brazilian natural resources and a policy favorable to colonizing occupation.

Belterra appears in a context of bankruptcy of Fordlândia, an American city created in an area of one million hectares, granted by the government of Pará, located on the banks  of the Tapajós River, with the objective of supplying Ford Motor Company with latex rubber, fruit of rubber trees, for making car tires. Henry Ford, founder of the company, is considered one of the entrepreneurs who took the USA to the position of world power in the beginning of the 20th century. It revolutionized the North American and world industry in several aspects (DUARTE JR., 2015).

The Amazon region, especially the developed cities close to the meeting between the Amazon and Tapajós rivers, lived   a period of economic stagnation after the rubber boom, from the 1910s to the mid-1910s. 1940. And even with initiatives such as the Rubber Plan, in 1912, which presented tax exemption facilities, access to the state's vacant lands and natural resources for international capital, they were not enough to ensure the desired success with the plan ( MAHAR, 1978).

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is a tree native to the Amazon that, due to its value and great international interest, transformed the economic and urban life of Manaus and Belém during the First Rubber Cycle, also known as the Amazonian Belle Époque.  Belém and Manaus experienced advances in the areas of sanitation and urban transport (through electric trams), regular lines of ships directly to Europe, and became two of the main diamond business centers in the world at the beginning of the 20th century, directly rivaling London and New York (DUARTE JR., 2015).

In yet another process of exploitation and misuse of Brazilian natural resources without national understanding, the British Henry Wickham, between 1869 and 1872, traveled throughout the Tapajós River region and managed to send around 70,000 rubber tree seeds to the United Kingdom to study and acclimatization (DUARTE JR., 2015). This fact made it possible to plant seeds in British colonies in Southeast Asia, which   began to offer natural rubber on an increasing scale in the international market and at lower prices than Brazil, leading to economic stagnation in the Amazon region.

Henry Ford, dissatisfied with the dependence on British rubber, decides to create his own rubber plantation. After an agreement with the Brazilian government that allows total exemption from export and import tariffs, the right to exploit all existing resources on the ground, construction of any engineering work along the Tapajós River without consulting Brazilians, opening of banks and commercial representations on its land, constitution of a police force, etc., the old land known as Boa Vista gave way to Fordlândia.  


Two ships were sent from the US directly to Fordlândia. Ship holds contained everything imaginable for building a city: tractors, generators, hoes, shovels, axes, road machinery, jackhammers, hospital and concrete-making equipment, office supplies, work clothes. , food, an ice factory etc. (DUARTE JR., 2015).


According to Grandin (2010, p. 18), at the time, the Washington Post and Time Magazine reported that the project to industrialize the jungle proposed by Henry Ford was a possibility for the white man to take the magic of civilization “to the wild”. . In the late 1930s, Fordlândia was already structured as a North American city in the Amazon, with houses with gardens, a bilingual school, a national reference hospital, a railway, a collection station, water treatment for the Tapajós River, etc.

Rise and Fall of the Amazon Development Project

According to Sena (2008), Fordlândia caused major changes in the local culture, altering work relationships and the lives of its inhabitants. The 1930s, during the Estado Novo period in Brazil, was marked by the advance of capitalist accumulation; redefining the economic role of the State; implementation of an industrial base; and the affirmation of the urban-industrial model as the predominant axis of the Brazilian economy (MENDONÇA, 1990).

The disrespectful way in which Americans addressed Brazilian workers, treating them in a discriminatory manner, with derogatory nicknames usually related to skin color, smaller stature and possible physical disabilities (DUARTE JR., 2015) and _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b -136bad5cf58d_the lack of knowledge about climate, soil, rivers, rubber tree cultivation and about social life in the region (PEREIRA, 2016) were crucial factors for the failure of the project.

Regardless of the high investments, the Fordlândia project failed in 1934 due to the poor choice of location for the enterprise and the “leaf disease”, a disease that attacked the rubber plantations and destroyed practically all the plantation at that time ( SENA, 2008), not to mention the uneven terrain for the rubber tree development, the distance between the project and the port of Santarém (the main city in that region and the place where the available labor is concentrated) and the difficulty of navigating the ships. higher during the dry season (CRULS, 1939).

According to the study by Grandin (2010), even with the scarcity of human resources for the plantations, indigenous labor was discarded, as they were considered “undomesticated”, “unfit for work ”, “lazy”, “undisciplined” and “treacherous” by the leaders. After having invested US$ 7 million dollars and six years of work in Fordlândia, specialists linked to the American multinational Ford, opted, in 1934, to move the rubber enterprise towards the city of Belterra-PA, where the new plantation would be developed and construction of  a new city similar to Fordlândia (GRANDIN, 2010).

According to Gramsci (1988), in a study on Fordism, the organizational and industrial system implemented by Henry Ford, a new type of human required by economic rationality was under construction, adapting to new forms of work and production. This profile was established in Belterra-PA through the combination of coercion mechanisms  and consent.

Belterra-PA saw the human hierarchy being represented and experienced, in the distribution of houses and individuals, the division of spaces in Vila Americana, where the Americans who coordinated the American project lived; Vila Mensalista, where the workers involved in management positions lived; Vila Operária, where workers with some specialization, such as mechanics, lived; Vila Viveiros I and II, where those who took care of the rubber tree seedlings lived; and Vila 129, where the workers who carried out the manual activities in the project lived. There were still two more sociofunctional spaces: Vila Timbó, intended for nurses who work at the Henry Ford Hospital, and Vila Pequiá, where the few rubber tappers and workers who did not live in huts lived (PEREIRA, 2016).


For analytical purposes, we can present the structuring elements of this experience in Belterra: 1) a set of procedures, uses and appropriation of the territory alien to the local people, under the rationality of profit and the use of the most sophisticated technique that, in practice, represented a process of expropriation of the nature of the families that lived there before the arrival of Henry Ford's company; 2) the destruction or disruption of the pre-existing ways of life in the place, with the recruitment of its population in the rural area and its displacement to the newly created city to meet the Company's labor needs, and its adjustment to the the new urban way of life took place through a process of (re)socialization in the city, which aimed to constitute the new human type, disciplined and hierarchical, necessary for industrial activity; 3) the predatory use of nature, caused mainly by large deforestation and fires; 4) the enunciation of stereotypes and the avoidance sociability on the part of the Americans, prefigured and stimulated by the hierarchical design of housing in the city, which expressed the premise of industrializing the jungle, leading to it the civilization of the white man; 5) a type of urbanization that had not yet been experienced in the region and that contrasted with the poverty and precariousness of the existing services, in the period, in the cities of the Amazon. (PEREIRA, 2016)

For Matos Pereira (2013), the reports indicate that the rubber from Belterra and Fordlândia did not supply the North American market, but it is said that, from there, they took gold, silver, wood and other ores. Belterra was repatriated   by the Brazilian government in 1945, integrating the municipality of Santarém after the Ford Motor Company gave up, in view of the emergence of synthetic rubber (derived from petroleum) and the low cost of rubber on the continent Asian.

The business cities of Fordlândia and Belterra, from the empirical point of view, meant the materialization of the “development speech” and the capitalist modernization project proposed by President Getúlio Vargas for Brazil (MATOS PEREIRA, 2013). Studies and communicational productions are necessary to understand the importance of the cultural heritage left by the Americans, in order to promote the locality.

The architecture of the houses, the city's spatial organization and the typical American water tanks are some of the most relevant traces that keep the memory of Belterra and Fordlândia alive, many of them considered historic heritage sites. In the case of Fordlândia, for example, the water tank became a reference for navigators on the Tapajós River  (DUARTE JR., 2015).

The idea of progress provided by the  American occupation is present in the official flag of Belterra, which bears the “Free to Progress” emblem. Just as it is also in the representation of a rubber tree, of fruits, of the Tapajós River, of the American sheds and of the water tank, which has become a kind of monument. The analysis and questions about architecture and design are objects of works by the German avant-garde photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, who present industrial architectural structures (silos, water tanks, boilers, etc.), denoting an aesthetic modeled from the own pragmatism of the object and its reproductive function of capital (COSTA, 2010).

North American domination and management included propaganda, given the political scenario at the time of competition with the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the strategy of keeping South America under the influence of the United States of America. Facts that promoted, in 1943, the production of a documentary co-produced between the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and the Walt Disney Studios. The documentary was part of a corpus of commercial films and documentaries dedicated to promoting the so-called Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America during World War II (WEINSTEIN, 2007).

Barbara Weinstein (2007) notes that the documentary, early on, uses elements of what would become the “modernization theory”, based on the notion that all people aspire to a more modern way of life, and that they only need the appropriate technology and capital to repeat the trajectory of the most “advanced” societies.


More specifically, the documentary repeatedly indicates that the “universal” human aspiration for progress and a better life is an attribute of the inhabitants of the Amazon; its potential for modernity and progress is defined as “dormant”, dormant, but latent and inherent – that is, already present in its culture and even in its daily life. To fully awaken and realize this potential, all that would be lacking would be the stimulus of foreign capital and technology. (WEINSTEIN, 2007)


We see that the idea of development and progress is constantly put forward, always associated with cultural symbols from countries considered to be developed. In the case analyzed here, the United States of America itself. This conception disrespects traditional knowledge, as it imposes a developmental model based on the foreign perspective. Glauber Rocha (1965), in his manifesto on an aesthetics of hunger, states that “Latin America remains a colony and what differentiates yesterday's colonialism from the current one is only the most refined form of the colonizer: and in addition to the colonizers in fact, the subtle forms of those who also set up future boats on us. (...)”.

Several audiovisual productions were created in an attempt to portray the attractions and history of Belterra and, mainly, of Fordlândia. As in the documentary “Fordlândia, a lost empire in the Amazon (2008)”, directed by Marinho Andrade and Daniel Augusto and which interviews survivors from the time when the company city was still in operation.


The work Bela Terra

From the empirical and field experience in Belterra-PA, intrigued by the architecture and history there during my brief stay, and also in view of the artistic condition made possible by the capture and production of videographic images with cameras and computers, a video that   documents the messages shared by the city and, experiment, in an attempt to express a little of the layers that the eyes and mind were sensitive to capture. This work can be checked at .

Authors such as Benjamin (1994) and Canclini (1998) place the city as a space of passage, where layers are crossed and accumulated (sounds and noises of all kinds, monuments, graffiti, advertising posters, shop windows, electronic panels, fences... .). And Doreen Massey (2008), in her perspective of politicizing thinking about space, states that videos point out the different trajectories that configure each place, in addition to presenting them as open trajectories, in constant becoming, linked and unlinked to a only time of the current global context.

A camera in hand and the curious look of someone who was in the Amazon, eventually coming across a city built on the North American perspective, made the concerns acquired there, in a fraction of everything that was happening, to be translated into a audiovisual product that explores the language that led me to an interactive state, of a nature that invites play, manipulation, transformation, rehearsal and change, experimentation and the invention of other aesthetic rules (PLAZA, 1998).

Video, as one of the main creative instances of art (MACHADO, 1997), enabled me to create the work “Bela Terra”, which brings images of a sequential shot of  one of the main streets of the old Vila Americana de Belterra, showing how this heritage follows an order towards its overcoming and adoption of new standards. However, at the same time, it reinforces the image of the water tank that marked the Tapajós navigators and is fragmented from the conflicting history between the Americans and the Brazilian Amazon.

Advertisements from the period of greater North American influence, still present in Belterra, were captured during this research and bear the Ford Motor Company brand with the text “A Gente tem Estrada”. The idea of development linked to the automobile and the asphalt is deconstructed in the very portrait of the reliquary outdoor, worthless and possessing the aura of a failed project, but decisive for the dynamics developed there daily. The logic was also adopted for the construction of the Transamazon Highway (BR 230), with surroundings destined to be occupied, to be “civilized”, a land “without owners”, waiting for hands to work it (LOMBARDI, 2009).

The video follows and its 2min04s duration is marked by the instrumental sound of the United States anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner), in order to expose the fruits of the North American-influenced enterprise in Latin America. Exposing a memorial that is not only Brazilian but also North American, an example of what the power of capital can do based on arrogance and trust in God.



In view of the idea   of “underdevelopment” and the continental dimension of the Amazon, analyzing cases such as those of Belterra-PA, in a video such as “Bela Terra” ( dHquUan), enables a better understanding of Brazilian history and its position in a global context of exploration. Few Brazilians have the privilege of knowing and immersing themselves in the immensity of such a rich and controversial country.

The importance of the Tapajós River and the communities that surround it are immeasurable. Unfortunately, in the Amazon, the expansion of agribusiness has destroyed and converted the forest into grain production areas to serve a global market. The land market sharpens to the extent that the advance of soy in the Amazon, discussed by the agrarian bourgeoisie and its allies, is the engine of such economic “development” (CONCEIÇÃO, 2017).

The Transamazônica, as well as Belterra-PA and Fordlândia, are an example of how pseudo-progress can be fatal for traditional communities. University extension, communication and education are essential for, based on reflections on the conditions with which we are interconnected, transgressive action and change can take place.  

It remains for us to reflect on which development model we want?



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