Starting in the early twentieth century, Latin American physicians organized expeditions to study remote rural populations living in their own countries. These expeditions usually aimed to solve scientific mysteries, spread western medicine, protect urban populations from epidemic diseases coming from the countryside and increase the productivity of new areas of economic exploitation. They also produced fascinating knowledge, images and stereotypes on individuals and diseases considered rare in Latin American cities.
In this paper I will analyze a similar case: the medical dimension of an effort to “colonize” or modernize the Peruvian Amazon during the 1940s. This region, an expanse of more than 500 square kilometers, was—according to a prominent Peruvian economist—“territorio inculto” scarcely populated by primitive tribes. Economic, nationalistic and political motivations coincided in the term Colonización de la Amazonía used by governmental and international agencies. Its meaning included diverse proposals such as: to encourage the migration of Andean peasants, the implementation of scientific agriculture, the creation of rural schools and military posts, the “civilization” of local natives—a process developed by religious orders in the nineteenth century—and the construction of roads to facilitate access to urban markets.