Plain Truth Magazine
March 1970
Volume: Vol XXXV, No.03
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Will today's STARVING MASSES be saved by growing food in the two and-one-half-million-acre Amazon Basin? Can the wealth of this vast jungle frontier be unlocked? Here are the little-understood, on-the-spot answers reported by our own staff.

Iquitos, Peru
   THREE-FOOT-HIGH waves lash our little launch. Gray, chill water threatens to swamp our boat as ominous fog closes in — cutting us off from the distant shore.
   The five Italians and I would normally not be so frightened by three-foot waves, stinging rain and fog, except for several strange facts: We are not at sea.
   We are nearly 3,000 miles up the Amazon River... lost in the fog... maybe miles from the river banks!

Anxious Moments

   Lost forever in the Amazon jungle... or only stalled by a tropical storm? This chilling question races through my mind as I grip the gunwales, hunching forward under a plastic tarp to avoid the splattering rain, eyes straining to see the ghostly outline of green banks. No land in sight! Only swirling fog and the jarring thumps of our launch against angry saw-toothed waves.
   "How can we get out of here?" "Head for shore," I think, "and hope we don't hang up on a sandbar in the middle of the river.
   "... Swimming's no good... there may be man-eating piranha fish here! Well, certainly we can find the opposite bank," I reassure myself (trying not to remember that the bank I saw three miles opposite Iquitos was only an island — the real bank was seven miles
   away!). "But even then it's dangerous to beach a boat just anywhere on these muddy and treacherous shores, without knowing what we are doing. The only bridge between us and survival is the 70-h.p. Johnson engine and its precious propeller. One slip, and a dead engine or a propeller broken by treacherous sandbars leaves us stuck in the mud! Without food or survival gear we'd be marooned. miles from anywhere!
   "Why am I here in this forsaken place anyway? Armed only with camera, tennis shoes, and briefcase, I am suddenly hundreds of miles from civilization. What takes a man 5,000 miles from family, home and office and plunges him into the midst of earth's largest, wildest, and remotest jungle river?"
   My anxious mind reaches back beyond the blinding fog... I remember how it all started with a simple phone call.

The Assignment

   Garner Ted Armstrong, voice of the World Tomorrow broadcast and T.V. program, called me out of the beautiful and civilized Pacific Northwest and rushed me to the uncivilized Amazon to investigate a proposed project of vast significance for the world's starving millions. A startling report told of millions of dollars pouring into the Amazon basin to open wilderness areas, to cultivate acres of virgin jungle, to offset imminent world starvation.
   Brazilian ex-President Artur da Costa e Silva had announced an ambitious plan "to turn the Amazon basin into the breadbasket of the world... Almost $10 million has been budgeted for roads alone. Agronomists are testing soils, planting experimental crops and preparing technical manuals for colonists..." The glowing report continues to tell of vast plans for developments of electric power, port facilities, airports, telephone and teletype communications, soil testing stations, etc.
   But such far-reaching, optimistic advertising propaganda leaves serious questions. How far will $10 million worth of roads go in the jungle? Where will the money to build dams, power lines, radio stations, ports come from? Where will the land-clearing equipment come from? How long will clearing, crop raising and marketing take? Can enough food be produced to feed even Brazil's starving millions... not to mention the world's starving HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS? Can it come before the world famine that scientists predict for the mid 1970's?
   These burning questions should concern us all. They concern Ambassador College. Our task is to inform you of the real meaning behind the giant problems that threaten the well-being, even the survival of mankind.
   Here, for PLAIN TRUTH readers, is a firsthand report about the Amazon from the Amazon, answering the one overall question: Will the Amazon feed the world?

The Insurmountable Barriers

   Beginning at Lima, Peru's airport I saw, as the trip progressed, more and more obstacles and barriers to cultivating Amazonia. The problems are insurmountable. At least for three or four generations.
   First barrier — transportation and communication.
   I almost lost my only flight opportunity in spite of prearranged reservations. Planes are old and break down; flights are not frequent enough to handle the few passengers headed toward jungle cities — cities which can be reached only by air. Few towns are, or can be, served by air as airports are poor and scarce. Flights are not cheap here, either. Boat travel is available on the Amazon and some branch rivers, but is often unscheduled, unreliable and always slow. Most of these towns have no telegraph office or service, not to mention telephones or power lines. Talk about a "communication gap"! And how can anyone open up millions of acres for cultivation without first spending millions on transportation and communications?
   But the biggest barrier to transportation is Peru itself, where the Amazon begins. Peru is a geographic marvel, and a geographic muddle. This ancient land is inseparably divided by three contrasting geographic regions. The coastal strip is barren, dry, hilly and very unproductive. The severe drought grip-ping the coast is obvious from the air. Call this a desert region. The central area is the unbelievably precipitous, jutting Andes mountain range — snow-covered and desolate. Across these mountains roads do not go.
   Thirdly, the interior is hot, steaming — an impenetrable jungle. How can these widely separate areas be tied together? That difficult, questioning challenge faces Peru... and any Amazon developer.
   Then, as I viewed the breathtaking spectacle of the White and Blue Ranges from the air, the question occurred, "How can divided Peru, even with her sister nations — Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador — ever develop the upper Amazon?"

World's Greatest

   After pushing the maximum altitude for a prop-driven plane, we descend to the remote jungle outpost, Pucalpa. This outback jungle settlement, on the Ucayali River, lies about as far below the equator as Panama City lies above the equator. The Ucayali River is an upper extension of the Amazon.
   Pucalpa is connected to the outside world by airplanes. River traffic exists here, but it is local — not international. Pucalpa is sweltering hot. Locals boast of a soil experiment station... but I see few jungle clearings, fewer crops. Even at the airport the major activity is fighting to keep the strip clear of the encroaching jungle. One feels as though green walls are literally closing in.
   Leaving Pucalpa the plane lifts us above the stifling green walls of jungle, only to reveal a limitless, unending, tufted green carpet, fading into the horizon on all sides as far as the eye can see. I once again began to feel the overwhelming, sprawling vastness of the Amazon basin — Amazonia. The next superhuman barrier defying development begins to force itself upon us. That barrier is the Amazon itself!

Amazing Amazon

   There are no words to describe the Amazon. Having been on both ends of this giant snake, having crossed it several times, having flown nearly the full length of it — I fall far short of being able to describe it. But let's try to understand by putting some outstanding Amazonian facts on paper.
   The Amazon is the greatest single geographic marvel known to man — except the earth itself! It is the biggest river in the world. With that knowledge, you probably picture the Amazon as a running stream slicing through walls of green jungle.
   The Amazon is not like that.
   The Amazon is a sea-river. It is called precisely that in Portuguese, and resembles the Mediterranean almost as much as it does the Mississippi.
   "The Sea-river" — says the renowned Amazon explorer Willard Price — "has eleven hundred known tributaries. Ten of them are larger than the Rhine. Seven are a thousand miles long. The Madeira is three thousand miles long and collects ninety tributaries of its own before it joins the Amazon. Standing where they join you can just make out the other shore of the Madeira but you cannot see across the Amazon" (The Amazing Amazon, p.11).
   Every Amazon tributary is a story in itself. For example: the black Rio Negro is twenty miles wide as it pours into the brown Amazon. The Purus spills into the mother Amazon through two mouths — a hundred miles apart. The outside two mouths of the Japura's four are two hundred miles apart as they enter the Amazon.
   The near-4,000-mile Amazon, watered by the greatest sprawl of rivers on earth, drains close to three million square miles of territory. That is an area almost as large as the entire United States.
   Still your mind does not comprehend the depth and the breadth of the amazing Amazon. Keep trying to stretch your imagination.
   The Amazon is so wide at its mouth (from one hundred eighty to over two hundred miles depending on the capes you choose) that neither bank is visible from the middle — not even from an airplane! This "South American Mediterranean" discharges from four to seven and a half million cubic feet of water every second of everyday — 60 billion gallons an hour ! A wall of fresh water pushes more than two hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean with a current forcing ships off course. At its mouth, the River divides around an island, Marajo, which is bigger than Switzerland.
   Where this mighty "Dragon" bends south at Iquitos (2,500 miles upstream) the River is still one hundred twenty feet deep. And its width? You must go four hundred miles further up before the river shrinks to the width of the Mississippi at its mouth!

Beautiful But Savage

   Looking at the development problem geographically, the Sea-river is too long, too broad, too gigantic, too forbidding, too unpredictable, too dangerous, too powerful, too inhospitable to yield up the fabulous "El Dorado" hopes of politicians to feed the world. The Amazon Sea-river is a GREEN HELL. That's what the Spaniards called it.
   That's what I thought it was, trapped in a twelve-foot launch, forty miles from Iquitos. With rain splattering in my face, I thought of the one-hundred inch annual rainfall which drives most farmers mad. And even though the rainfall reaches two hundred inches a year in some places, the summer is a near drought.
   Typically as with tropical storms, the fog cleared around our launch, the rain stopped and the shore appeared! We made the final twenty-five miles to the Maniti Hotel — a stilt-supported, open-walled, grass-covered hut called a malocca — safely and uneventfully. Behind my partition in the exotic malocca, I began jotting down notes in flickering lamplight on the important lessons I was learning.

Learn a Lesson

   If you have never personally seen Amazonia — as the Sea-river and its giant basin are called — then perhaps you would accept this lesson on geography from an eyewitness.
   First, get the picture in mind. In mind, because the picture will not fit in your eye. The green, flat wilderness stretches for tiring, monotonous hours as your plane wings its way over a seemingly interminable jungle. Amazonia is overpowering. Amazonia is unbelievable!
   Then think about that newspaper report touting hundreds of road miles and a few million dollars.
   Here is the lesson.
   When you hear about optimistic programs of development, take a hard, realistic look at it before you jump on a bandwagon. When you hear of 500 paved road miles in the Amazon wilderness, try not to laugh! You may find it hard not to laugh — especially if you've been in this jungle, or if you have the picture in mind. A road has to go somewhere, and for some purpose. May I remind you there is nowhere to go in Amazonia?
   When you hear about hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars, don't be impressed. These figures should read in the hundreds of millions, and in the BILLIONS! Otherwise, neither dollars nor roads will be noticed. They will melt away into this green hell... without a trace.
   So much for the geographical problem. If everything counts on geography, the Amazon will not be developed in the next 100 years. In fairness, however, to any starry-eyed armchair philosophers, there is more to the story.

The Population Story

   Take population for example. Unfortunately, Brazil's population is a real puzzle.
   On the one hand, Brazil's famous industrial city, Sao Paulo, is the fastest-growing city on earth. Brazil's national population increase alone threatens to outstrip the entire nation's natural resources. This country's total population, at the present rate, will probably reach two hundred million by the end of the century!
   Yet on the other hand, the entire vast region of Amazonia contains barely five million people — most of them crowded into three or four cities, and the rest thinly strung along the Amazon's banks. That leaves two and one-half million square miles (conservatively estimated) to populate.
   Now just try to talk a Brazilian into coming here! As Bowen Northrup reports, "Brazilians elsewhere who routinely recite the wonders of the Amazon would be horrified at the prospect of living there" (Wall Street Journal, December 3, 1968).
   Naturally, there are already people in Amazonia. They create one of the terrors of jungle life — rude, savage natives who wander through large areas of jungle and savannah. My visit to the Yaguas Indians (tame cousins of wilder groups) proved a valuable but heartrending experience. In some ways cute and childish as Kewpie dolls, the Yaguas are ignorant, degenerate and malnourished. They have also gone to stupefying, mind-dulling drugs. While "hopped up" on some drug, the chief and his warriors beg the tourists for sindi, sindi — cigarettes. Though these harmless savages would not discourage all settlers or colonists, neither could they nor most of their cousins help civilize Amazonia. Most natives (indigenes) are a liability — a financial drain — on the government.
   Attempting to solve the problem, the government of Brazil is offering land to people who will go deep into Amazonia. So far three fantastically remote wilderness areas with exotic-sounding names — Amapa., Rondonia and Roraima — have been "colonized" by the government Ministry of Interior. These three areas have a combined total of 247,000 colonists (government estimate) clustered in a total area of 613,424 km2 — sparse settlements at best.
   These "colonists" are very hard to come by; they are still too few to conquer the jungle. Millions more are needed. Where will the needed myriads and millions come from? Will the Brazilian government force its teeming population into the green outback? Suppose then the green hell is penetrated by forced labor, or forced colonization. How will the colonizers survive against vast distance, unmapped wilderness, stifling heat, hostile jungle, cruel loneliness, deadly diseases, destructive rains, destroying insects, savage Indians, lack of food, lack of a chance for economic success? If excess population moved into this lost world right now, without superhuman help, chances are they would not survive. Amazonia would win again.


   Possibly those problems could be solved if enough money were spent. How much would it take? No one knows. We do know it won't be done in this century, as the Personal Advisor to Brazil's Minister of the Interior, Mr. Jose Wady Abuyaghi, told me in a personal interview. He said, speaking of developing Amazonia, "We cannot accomplish much without significant (he meant "massive") foreign aid." Such foreign aid would have to mount into BILLIONS to make a dent in this dense green carpet of death. No countries have yet offered Brazil these said billions.
   So Amazonia will not be opened soon. The Sea-river and its sprawling basin is not feeding the starving millions of Brazil, much less the starving hundreds of millions of the world. And it will not feed the world's starving if everything counts on communications, or counts on geography, or counts on population. Amazonia cannot be cultivated without someone "conquering" the geography, without more transportation, without an increased and able population. Those three factors are crucial factors.
   However, not everything counts on those three. Science and agriculture are out to hurdle these "barriers."
   New and potent insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and vermicides, new giant pieces of earth-moving equipment, new and marvelous fertilizers and soil additives. "The Amazon will yet feed the world."... or so we hear.
   What are the real facts behind these glowing and optimistic slogans of science? What are the real soil conditions? What are the chances of significant agriculture advances in Amazonia? Will promised advances come in time? Can food be produced in Brazil before the famine scientists say will come in 1975 does strike?
   These questions will all be answered in the April PLAIN TRUTH — Will Amazonia feed the World?
   Don't miss it!

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Plain Truth MagazineMarch 1970Vol XXXV, No.03