Preçis from Tony Morrison
What does this road add up to? What will it mean for South
America - Will it be another nail in the Amazon coffin and a step
further to climate change?
When completed some parts of the road will be difficult and dangerous.
My journey was slowed by a thick mountain mist at 11,500 ft /
3.506 m where the driver could see less than 10 metres and with
a horrifying unguarded precipice to the right. The huge investment
is intended to get Amazonian products to the Pacific ports in
a couple of days but that seems to be pie in the sky optimism.
Even with crash barriers as safeguards the road is narrow and
in the mountains there are many U bends hardly suited to long
trucks. One Brazilian shipping specialist reckons that the relatively
straightforward route from the western Amazon direct to Brasils
major port of Santos is quicker and offers a shorter sea route
to Asia. By the time the drivers reach the higher parts
they will have been driving for a day or more and then they will
have to cope with the problem of reduced oxygen. It will be unthinkably
dangerous. A bus carrying 43 people went over the edge at
the end of 2007.
A great plus for the road is the integration of three countries,
the giant Brazil with a huge area of Amazon, Peru with its Pacific
coast and more than half its area in Amazonia and the curiously
land-locked Bolivia with enormous reserves of gas. The three Presidents
[Lula da Silva, Alan Garcia and Evo Morales] are backing the road
to the hilt and they prefer to be seen as the 'Guardians of Integration
and the Environment'. In the remote border towns the road
effect or more positively the Brazilian effect
is already felt. A Brazilian beat fills the airwaves while Brazilian
motorcycles and other goods dominate the streets. Brazilian steel
and expertise are ubiquitous. Odebrecht, Brazils world class
engineering company controls much of the work on the road.
- Citizens of the Forest
environmental impact of the road is more difficult to assess as
all three Presidents are acutely aware of the concern from environmentalists.
They know the Amazon forest is a sacred cow even though more is
cleared every day. To show respect for world opinion officials
use images of Chico Mendes the Brazlian rubber- tapper. Mendes
was a union leader who was assassinated in December 1988 for his
opposition to wealthy land-owners who were clearing the forest.
A 'Mendes Trail' has been created in Acre State so visitors can
enjoy the rainforest. Mendes name and photograph appear
liberally in government information about the project with the
very strong hint that he is officially remembered and his wishes
will be followed. Acre State says that 45 percent of its land
will be left untouched. In other words an area of about one third
of the size of the UK will be cleared of rich Amazonian forest.
Meanwhile Acre is promoting itself as the State of Florestania
- an invented word from the Portuguese 'Floresta' meaning 'forest',
it suggests the local people are 'citizens of the forest' who
will treasure its resources.
the line and it may well be true. But it is a clear fact that
roads bring people who need jobs, who need land, who need food.
Victor Lopez a Peruvian charapa, one of the Amazonian locals
who drove me along part of the road said people are coming
here from the poor highlands and theres plenty of work
in farming, timber milling and construction. But more
people using the land will simply add to the problem of global
research on the ground and up-to-the minute data from satellites
confirms the Amazon forest is getting hotter and drier. The burning
forest releases more carbon gases and smoke particles into the
atmospehere. The new roads and farmland break up the natural expanse
of the forest and are leading to significant regional climate
more than a stones throw away in Amazon terms two new dams
on the Madeira River have been given the go ahead by Lula da Silva
against strong opposition by environmental campaigners. Brazil
faces an energy gap and these dams will be on the rapids-strewn
Madeira river, the Amazons greatest tributary. Now the environmentalists
are shuddering at the thought of energy from the dams, the production
of biofuels, and soya in cleared forest coupled with the Asian
thirst for timber. Official handouts point to tourism as one of
the benefits expected from the road. Machu Picchu and the Mendes
Trail are touted prominently although the facts are rather different.
The Mendes Trail is modest and Machu Picchu would be a full two
days by luxury bus from Rio Branco the Acre capital, itself six
hours by air from Säo Paulo. To that would be added another
full day for the Machu Picchu excursion. This Amazon area is remote
and the integration concept may not be a bad deal politically
but it seems a stretch of the imagination to believe that a few
more tourists can merit this huge international investment.
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