Brazil moves to paving key deforestation road

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RIO DE JANEIRO — In a move critics have called dangerous, the Brazilian government has granted a preliminary environmental permit for the paving of a dirt road that runs through one of the most unspoilt areas of the Amazon rainforest.

The road known as BR-319 stretches for about 900 kilometers (560 miles) and is the only highway connecting Manaus, home to 2.2 million people, to the country’s larger urban centers further south. Half the length of BR-319 is still unpaved, and this stretch usually becomes impassable during the rainy season, which can last up to three months. This difficulty keeps forest loggers away.

Researchers and conservationists say paving will lead to massive clearing of virgin rainforest, given that most Amazon deforestation occurs along roads where access is easier and land values ​​are higher. high. In fact, this is already happening before the paving even begins.

“Law enforcement measures are insufficient to curb the illegal occupation, invasions, deforestation, land speculation and pressures that have increased exponentially in recent years,” said Fernanda Meirelles, executive secretary of the ‘BR-319 Observatory, a monitoring group, to The Associated Press.

The preliminary license is a crucial part of the final approval of the project, as it signifies that it has passed the economic and environmental criteria. Asphalting work cannot start yet. The Brazilian environment agency, Ibama, has also set several conditions, including the creation of a conservation area as a buffer for an indigenous group, monitoring of nearby water quality and an archeology program .

But the agency ignores “the main problem, the explosion of deforestation in the region,” Suely Araújo, the former president of Ibama, told the AP.

The conditions set out in the permit are not enough to guarantee that there will be no increase in deforestation, so it should not have been granted, said Araújo, now a senior public policy specialist at the Observatory. du climat, a network of environmental groups.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who is campaigning for re-election, celebrated the permit on his Twitter account as another example of an infrastructure project underway under his leadership and said the paving would help keep traffic flowing inside the country.

“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’s coming to an end.”

After Bolsonaro repeatedly promised to pave BR-319, the area around it this year has become the main deforestation hotspot in the Brazilian Amazon for the first time, according to official data.

The BR-319 Observatory, a network of nonprofits including WWF Brazil, Greenpeace Brazil and the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations, says local communities were not consulted on the project, as required by law .

“The rights of these peoples have been violated,” Meirelles said. ___

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