Many believe that Amazonian communities could benefit from the growing market for timber through self-governed approaches to forest management. However, there is no clear understanding of how communities are to develop such approaches given logging frontiers that are characterized by informal negotiations with loggers and community forestry initiatives that are promoted by development agents. This article reports on research from four study areas in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru which reveals that external players exercise considerable power over communities. First, loggers and development agents impose forest management schemes directly on communities, hindering them from developing their own approaches. Second, paternalistic relationships with loggers and development agents prevent communities from identifying common interests and expressing these through their representative organizations. Finally, loggers and development agents use powerful discourses to shape acceptable schemes in forest management, silencing communities’ voices in debates. Through these different power mechanisms, external agents thwart the emergence of self-governed community management approaches.