Weaponizing the Wilds

Counterinsurgency mappings and the geographical engineering of development in Cold War Latin America.

The “South American Great Lakes System” (SAGLS) was an unimplemented geographical engineering plan of the 1960s, envisioned to transform the Amazon -and other major tropical rivers- into gigantic interconnected artificial reservoirs allegedly providing enviro-technical solutions to the continents’ underdevelopment and socio-political unrest. 

I investigate why SAGLS was formulated, and by whom, demonstrating that for a decade it circulated among transnational networks of modernizers as a conceivable strategy for counterinsurgency and hemispheric modernization.

Even if unbuilt, I argue, SAGLS’s aim to “fix the continent’s geography” impacted many territories and populations, affecting later projects, mappings, and imaginations, while shaping key dimensions of Latin America and US relations.

My research includes the study of the Chocó Development Project (CDP), a SAGLS prototype plan proposing a first pair of interconnected and power-generating artificial reservoirs for the northwestern region of Colombia (an area of marginalized riverine indigenous and afro-Colombian populations,) that were intended to demonstrate the overall “Great Lakes System” concept feasibility, and to deliver a lowcost interoceanic passage alternative to the Panama Canal.

Conferece Papers - Videos 

Lobbying for real-time-mappings: cartographic ideologies and surveillance technologies”: 5th Symposium of the International Society for the History of the Map -ISHMAP- June 2020

“Controlando las aguas: las apuestas del desarrollismo. Megaproyectos en la Amazonia” Seminario internacional Narrativas históricas y cartográficas del Río Amazonas: desde el siglo XVIII hasta nuestros días, Área Cultural del Banco de la República, Colombia, July 2020

Mapas de futuros pasados. Tercer Simposio Internacional E-ARC, Ibagué Octubre 2021

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