This article argues that land clearing of the Amazon rainforest has been historically determined by colonial plans that lead to high rates of tropical deforestation and social injustice. We explore how deforestation has been organized by different imaginaries of modernization and progress, which equate land development with varying economic, social, and environmental agendas. We identify distinct historical phases of land use change in the Brazilian Amazon, where resource extraction, agricultural and infrastructure development, and commodity production are shaped by colonial logics that work to eliminate or exploit Indigenous peoples. In the most recent phase, Bolsonaro’s far-right authoritarianism is reproducing the land development goals of the former military dictatorship with a concerted effort to displace Indigenous groups for agricultural and infrastructure expansion. The Amazon destruction has resulted in ecocide through large-scale environmental degradation accompanied by historical genocide and the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples. This article demonstrates that tropical deforestation is a continuing ideological process underpinned by narratives of progress, which in the case of the Brazilian Amazon takes the form of settler imaginaries of prosperous regional development. We emphasize the necessity of recognizing these commonly overlooked colonial dynamics as an essential starting point for returning political power to Indigenous communities.