The Problems of the Amazon

The main current problems in the Amazon are listed below:

  • The large public or private projectsthat developed after the creation of Sudam (Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon), such as, for example, the large Carajás project, the Manaus Free Trade Zone and hydroelectric plants, mainly the Tucuruí project, in addition to the projects agriculture, among others.
  • Land ownership conflicts. Sudam was created in 1966 to attract capital for regional projects. Before being created, there were some projects in the Amazon that did not work and were abandoned. The social and environmental cost has always been great with the destruction of fauna, flora, the impoverishment of soils, the exploitation of indigenous tribes and workers.

The main projects developed before the implementation of Sudam were:

  • Madeira-Mamoré Railway,built from 1903 to 1912, in Rondônia. When it was completed, demand for natural rubber from the Amazon declined due to competition with Southeast Asia. Of the 364 km initially projected, there are only the initial 8 km of the railway, used for sightseeing.
  • Fordlândia, aproject by the American businessman Henry Ford, from 1928 to 1946, started with a rubber plantation, in areas close to the Tapajós river, in Pará. The project failed because the rubber trees were attacked by a plague and died.
  • Serra do Navio mining,in Amapá, with manganese exploration (basic ore for steel production). The company Icomi, formed by national and foreign companies, was installed in the area, from 1954 to 1957, building a railway that connects the Serra do Navio to the port of Santana, in Macapá. Currently, reserves are almost depleted. Icomi and its owners have been successful in exploiting manganese, but this has not favored ecology or workers in the region. The extraction of manganese was halted in 1998.

According to prozipcodes, Getúlio Vargas, in 1953, created the Superintendence of the Amazon Economic Valorization Plan (SPVEA). It was the first regional planning initiative in the Amazon.

To replace SPVEA, Sudam was created, because in 1964, with the beginning of the military regime in Brazil, the military governments imposed the ideology of “security with development”. The legal Amazon emerged. The Amazon should be linked to the south-central part of the country and occupied by economic projects and migratory currents.

Sudam, with the support of Banco da Amazônia and the federal government, started to coordinate the policy of granting incentives for private business projects in the Amazon, with exemption from taxes and low interest loans (below market rates).

Main projects favored by Sudam:

  • Manaus Free Trade Zone: itshould become a modern industrial center, with the installation of electronic industries (radios, computers, televisions, stereos, etc.). These factories are only assemblers, because they receive the parts already ready from abroad, with very reduced costs. There is also, in Manaus, the commercial part in the city center, where foreign products are sold (appliances, perfumes, pens, watches, jeans, etc.).

In a short time, Manaus became an industrial and commercial hub, causing great population growth. Consequently, the supply of jobs was small, resulting in an increase in urban poverty with the unemployed, the underemployed and the slums on the outskirts of the city.

  • Grande Carajás Project,developed by the mining company Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD), implemented between 1980 and 1986. This project is aimed at the export of ores in the Serra dos Carajás, east of Pará. Carajás has the largest known world reserves of iron ore. It is an area rich in manganese, bauxite, copper, nickel, gold and cassiterite.

The Carajás Railway is part of the Carajás project, which connects Carajás to the port of Itaqui, in São Luís do Maranhão, to facilitate the flow of mineral wealth. This area exports around 30 million tons of iron ore per year, mainly to Japan, Brazil’s partner in the Greater Carajás.

Environmental consequences of this project: deforestation, extinction of plant and animal species, pollution of rivers, etc. In addition, its high cost contributed to increase Brazil’s external debt (about 62 billion dollars).

Serra dos Carajás, in Pará. The largest mineralogical reserve in Brazil has good infrastructure for mineral exploration.

  • Hydroelectric plants

The Grande Carajás Project (PGC) includes the Tucuruí hydroelectric plant , on the Tocantins River, in the east of the state of Pará. and Maranhão. Part of the electricity generated by the plant is diverted to the Northeast transmission lines.

The discovery of bauxite (aluminum ore) in the valley of the Trombetas River, a tributary of the left bank of the Amazon River, boosted industrial projects for the manufacture of alumina and aluminum (Albrás – Alunorte – Alumar).

Balbina hydroelectric plant , on the Uatumã river, intended to supply energy to Manaus, which was supplied by a thermoelectric plant, which burned oil. The Uatumã River is a tributary of the left bank of the Amazon River and has no significant gap, so its energy potential is small

Balbina has become an economic tragedy, because the cost of the energy it produces is extremely high, an ecological tragedy, because it has destroyed a huge area of ​​the forest, and a social tragedy, because it has harmed the inhabitants of the region.

Samuel hydroelectric plant , on the Jamari River, a tributary of the Madeira River, in Rondônia. With 14 years to complete, the work was responsible for creating large pockets of misery on the outskirts of Porto Velho, according to MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams).

The main problems caused by hydroelectric dams in the Amazon are: environmental problems caused by the flooding of large stretches of the forest, causing the destruction of fauna and flora; social problems, as the inhabitants of the flooded areas lose their land and traditional livelihoods (riverine and indigenous people).

In the 1970s, “Brasil Grande”, military governments borrowed heavily from international banks and invested a good part of that money in opening roads. The military considered the Amazon the “breadbasket of the world” and wanted to take the Northeasterners there.

The initial plan was to draw two parallel highways: one to the north (Perimetral Norte) and another to the south (Transamazônica) of the Amazon River. Then, these parallel highways would be connected by crossings that would cross the Amazon at the most extreme points, forming a square of forest, surrounded by highways.

In 1970, the National Integration Plan (PIN) was approved, which included the construction of the Transamazônica, linking the cities of Santarém and Marabá and crossing Altamira, on the Xingu River. The Transamazônica was a very ambitious road project, because it intended to connect the city of João Pessoa, in the Atlantic, to Boqueirão da Esperança, on the border with Peru, covering an extension of 5,619 kilometers.

In 1973, construction began on the Perimetral Norte, which would go from Macapá to the border of Colombia, with a length of 2,465 kilometers, passing through São Gabriel da Cachoeira, on the Negro river. It is the most unexplored area of ​​the legal Amazon.

The new roads affected indigenous groups, generating, in some regions, genocide and ethnocide.

The Problems of the Amazon