The text of this commentary is updated from an earlier Portuguese-language version of the author’s column at Amazônia Real.
The BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) Highway was built in the early 1970s by Brazil’s military dictatorship, but was abandoned in 1988. In 2016, a “maintenance” program was authorized, and the highway is now passable during the dry season.
The currently proposed “Reconstruction” of BR-319, which would build a new paved road atop the old dirt roadbed, is certainly among the most consequential decisions facing Brazil today. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project has been submitted to the licensing agency (IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency), where it is receiving accelerated treatment for what appears to be a foreordained approval. The hasty authorization of a project that implies a major expansion of the area in Amazonia that is exposed to deforestation is extremely unwise.
So far, deforestation has been almost entirely limited to the “arc of deforestation” along the southern and eastern edges of the Amazon forest in Brazil, and to the eastern half of the region where road access is already implanted.
Brazil’s Legal Amazon region. The “arc of deforestation” is the red area along the southern and eastern edges of the forest. The BR-319 cuts the remaining Amazon basin forest in half, providing access to vast areas of standing forest by those who have deforested the eastern and southern portions of the region. Deforestation data courtesy of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
The impact of the BR-319 will extend far beyond the strip along the highway route that is the subject of the EIA.
The BR-319 opens the central and northern portions of Amazonia to the migration of land grabbers (grileiros), loggers, cattlemen, individual squatters (posseiros) and organized landless farmers (sem-terras). These actors are already present in the “arc of deforestation” and have moved into areas in the southern portion of the state of Amazonas where there is road access, including Apuí, Igarapé Realidade and Lábrea (see black and white map below).