Brazil’s environmental authority approved a first permission on Thursday for the construction of a large highway through the heart of the Amazon rainforest, according to the minister of infrastructure, in a move that threatens to boost deforestation.
On the campaign trail, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro promised to resurface the BR-319 road, which would link the main Amazon city of Manaus to the rest of Brazil year-round.
The road was built in the 1970s by Brazil’s military dictatorship but quickly fell into disrepair due to the severe environment of the jungle. During the approximately 6-month rainy season, most of the path is impenetrable mud.
Paving the road would make it easier for illegal loggers and land grabbers to reach isolated and largely undisturbed portions of the forest, according to environmental experts. According to one research, the project will result in a fivefold increase in deforestation by 2030, the equivalent of an area greater than the state of Florida in the United States.
Bolsonaro’s undermining of environmental safeguards has already resulted in record deforestation, with clearing of the Brazilian Amazon reaching a 15-year high in 2021.
Infrastructure Minister Marcelo Sampaio announced the permission on Twitter, presenting a photograph of the Ibama license. The agency did not reply quickly to a request for comment.
“In an alignment of engineering and respect for the environment, we are going to take the society of Amazonas state out of isolation,” he wrote.
Sampaio did not reply promptly to inquiries regarding environmental issues.
The first license will enable the government to hire contractors to resurface the majority of the road’s middle portion, which is in poor condition. Contractors will create blueprints, but they will need another permission to begin building.
In his weekly live online speech, Bolsonaro praised the license.
“I hope soon there’s one more license on the way and our (Transportation Department) can start bidding and work for paving BR-319,” the president remarked.