Last week, Eduardo Beam, president of the environmental agency IBAMA, authorized the Brazilian federal government to begin repairs to the BR-319 highway between the cities of Manaus in the state of Amazonas and Porto Velho in neighboring Rondonia, a route that passes through the most unspoiled territory. tropical forests of the Amazon country.
The decision was immediately criticized by environmental groups, who said repairs to the route would lead to deforestation.
Initially, the highway project was a key part of the country’s military dictatorship’s plan to develop the wilderness and integrate it with the rest of the country. Officially, it was opened in 1976, but due to poor maintenance, it was abandoned by 1988. Since then, the road has only been partially used.
The group also pointed to links between some well-maintained sections of the road and higher levels of traffic, “occupation” and deforestation in the Amazon.
“Monitoring and inspection activities carried out by environmental authorities in the region have shown that in recent months a disorderly occupation process has intensified, associated with high rates of deforestation,” they write.
“This is especially noticeable at each end of the BR-319, where the asphalt is in good condition, traffic is heavy, and the development of the road has contributed to its occupation,” the document says.
This document, published in 2008, also recommended ten “preconditions” for road repairs, including the creation of protected areas along more than 400 km of the road to be built and the establishment of ecotourism programs with the participation of local communities.
“It’s impossible not to list (these) additional recommendations for consideration by the federal government as preconditions” before work begins, he adds.
Observatorio do Clima reported that IBAMA experts made similar recommendations in July this year, but the agency’s management also ignored them.
Critics of the decision were quick to point to the timing of the decision, noting that Brazil will hold new elections this fall in which President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to take on former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Beam is Bolsonaro’s appointee, who made road repairs an election pledge ahead of the 2018 elections. Previous presidents have also pledged to repair and fully reopen highways, including Da Silva.
“The decision is clearly politically motivated” and the project is of “great concern,” said Fernanda Meirelles, executive secretary of the BR-319 Observatory, an NGO set up to promote the highway’s sustainable development.
CNN contacted IBAMA for comment but received no response.
Brazil’s Infrastructure Minister Marcelo Sampaio called the decision “the result of courage and technical work” in a Twitter post.
“We are going to bring the Amazonas society out of lockdown,” he wrote, referring to the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
While the new license gives the green light to the renovation project from an environmental perspective, it does not include provisions for the 10 environmental measures recommended by officials in 2008.
Under the terms of the license, the inspections will be the only measure to limit the environmental impact of the road, which passes through a vast remote area in northwest Brazil.
“Inspection operations are not enough to deter land grabs, incursions, deforestation and land speculation, pressures that have increased exponentially in recent years (in the zone),” Meirelles also said.
According to Suly Araujo, public policy expert at the NGO Climate Observatory, civil society organizations plan to seek an overturning of the IBAMA decision in the courts.
“The license does not even require the installation of inspection posts (along the road). There is no guarantee that deforestation in the region will be controlled after the road is built,” Araujo said in a statement.
“Because deforestation is the main negative impact associated with paving, the viability claim, which is common to all previous licenses, is not adequately substantiated. This is a license that must be revoked by the court,” she added.
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was cleared by a record amount in the first half of 2022, according to the country’s Institute for Space Studies (INPE).
Data from INPE satellites show that 3,750 square kilometers (1,448 square miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was lost in Brazil between January 1 and June 24, the largest area since 2016, when the institute began this type of monitoring.