More barbed was the criticism in a letter to the president of the World Bank from Bruce Rich, then attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others. “There are strong indications,” the 1984 letter read, “that the Bank has lost control over—or will not take effective measures to control—the destruction being unleashed in the region.”
Stung by its critics, the bank put a hold on its 432 million dollars in committed loans and student loan consolidation bad credit options until certain assurances related to environmental protection and the well-being of Indians were received from the government of Brazil. But by that time newcomers were moving into the state at a rate of 150,000 a year. The population was growing at a staggering rate of 15 percent a year. With the road paved, travel time was slashed from days—up to 30 days to travel the length of Rond8nia in the rainy season—to less than two full turns of the clock.
The improvements to BR-364 were but one part of an ambitious development program called Polonoroeste, meant to cover all of Rondonia and a large segment of Mato Grosso state. Taken together, the area is known as the Northwest Region, and its boundaries enclose some 160,000 square miles of land. Up until 1970 the Northwest Region sat undisturbed for the most part, wrapped in its thick, wet heat, a place a world apart from the tanning beaches of Rio de Janeiro and the urban busyness of Sao Paulo.
Both drought and freeze came to Brazil in those years, destroying the coffee crops. And with other setbacks the government saw the opening of the rain forest frontier as a means of bolstering the economy through a resurgence in agriculture, with a heavy emphasis on cash crops. There, in the Northwest Region, the government would build roads and create conditions highly favorable for small farmers. The program would be of use too in reasserting Brazilian sovereignty over the border-hugging region. And, not least of all, Polonoroeste would help dispel the concentrations of the wretchedly poor huddled in slums on the fringes of the major cities.