In a move that has stirred significant controversy, the lower chamber of Brazil passes a bill to pave a highway through Amazon, overriding existing environmental regulations. The bill, awaiting Senate approval, is particularly contentious as it proposes reallocating conservation funds, including the $1.3 billion Amazon Fund backed by the United States and European allies, towards the highway project.
The roadway, initially constructed during the military regime of the 1970s as part of an effort to colonize the Amazon, was soon abandoned and has since deteriorated. Stretching 900 kilometres from Porto Velho in Rondonia state to Manaus in Amazonas state, the route is mainly impassable during the rainy season and presents a hazardous journey during drier months. This context underscores the significance of the recent decision where Brazil passes a bill to pave a highway through the Amazon. This move has sparked intense debate and concern among environmentalists and scientists.
The repaving and expansion of this highway, known as BR-319, have raised alarms among environmental scientists and Amazon academics. As reported by Mongabay and Reuters, experts warn that the project could lead to a drastic increase in deforestation in Amazonas state, which currently holds a significant portion of Brazil’s most well-preserved rainforest. Historically, major highway projects in the Amazon have triggered a spike in land grabbing and illegal deforestation, and there are fears that BR-319 could open new avenues for logging, potentially pushing the rainforest beyond a point of no return.
Supporters of the project argue that the highway is essential for reducing the isolation of Amazonas and Rondonia states. Manaus is often only reachable by river or air for much of the year, disconnected from the rest of Brazil. The bill describes the highway as “critical infrastructure, indispensable to national security,” emphasizing the need to ensure trafficability.
This proposal to use conservation funds for the highway, including those intended for Amazon preservation, represents a significant shift in Brazil’s environmental policy. If passed, it could set a precedent for the use of international donations for projects that may counteract the very purpose for which these funds were intended. The future of this bill in the Senate and its implications for one of the world’s most vital ecosystems remains a focal point of global environmental and political discourse.