Los Angeles Times

Brazil moves toward paving a road in preserved Amazon area

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RIO DE JANEIRO — In a decision that critics have labeled as dangerous, Brazil’s government has granted a preliminar­y environmen­tal permit for paving a dirt highway that cuts through one of the Amazon rainforest’s preserved areas.

BR-319 runs about 560 miles and is the only highway connecting Manaus, home to 2.2 million people, with the nation’s urban centers to the south. Half the length of BR-319 is unpaved; that stretch usually becomes impassable during the rainy season, which can last up to three months, helping to keep forest clear-cutters away.

Researcher­s and environmen­talists argue that the paving of the highway will lead to mass clearing of pristine rainforest, given that most Amazonian deforestat­ion occurs alongside roads, where access is easier and land value is higher. In fact, that has been happening already.

“Law enforcemen­t actions are insufficie­nt to curb the illegal occupation, invasions, deforestat­ion, land speculatio­n and pressures that have been increasing exponentia­lly in recent years,” Fernanda Meirelles, executive secretary of watchdog group BR-319 Observator­y, told the Associated Press.

The preliminar­y license, a crucial part of the project’s approval, means that it has passed economic and environmen­tal screens. The work can’t begin yet, though: Brazil’s environmen­tal agency, Ibama, has laid down several conditions, including the creation of a conservati­on area as a buffer for an Indigenous group, the monitoring of water quality and the developmen­t of an archaeolog­ical program.

But the agency is ignoring “the main problem: the explosion of deforestat­ion in the region,” Suely Araújo, Ibama’s former president, told the AP.

The conditions establishe­d in the license are not enough to ensure that there won’t be a surge in deforestat­ion, so it shouldn’t have been granted, said Araújo, who is now a senior public policy specialist at the Climate Observator­y, a network of environmen­tal groups.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is campaignin­g for reelection, celebrated the permit on his Twitter account as another example of an infrastruc­ture project moving ahead under his watch and said the paving will keep traffic flowing in the nation’s interior.

“Brazilians have gotten used to cars and trucks getting bogged down on the BR-319 highway,” he wrote, along with a video showing deep mud on the road. “This time, fortunatel­y, it is coming to an end.”

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