Unlikely allies in the fight against railways in the Amazon
With feathers on his head and ink on his body, the Indian chief Beppronti Mekragnotire does not appear to have anything in common with Sergio Sorresino, but they have a common feature: none of them wants a railway line that crosses the Amazon rainforest.
In addition, on August 17, they were on opposite sides in a roadblock on the outskirts of Novo Progresso, in northern Brazil, caused by the Kayapo Indians, causing thousands of trucks, including Sorresino’s, to be stuck on the highway. BR-163, which connects the agricultural lands of the western center with the rivers and ports of the Amazon.
The blockade follows the government’s plans to build a 2,043 square km railway line that crosses the Amazon – Ferrograo -, in Mato Grosso.
Sorresino, despite being prevented from working by the situation, now suspended by court decision, does not appear to be upset by the situation. It even seems to support the cause. “It is their right. Ferrograo will also harm us, ”said the 48-year-old truck driver, who has been transporting corn and soy throughout the country.
With a railway line to be built, several truck drivers will lose their jobs, given that their usefulness loses value when it comes to transporting products across the Amazon.
The Kayapo’s reasons for this construction are more than obvious. The deforestation of the largest forest in the world is constant and seems to have no end. The Indians witness first hand the destruction of the Amazon by mines, farmers, cattle producers, among others, access to areas of the forest that were previously isolated and with little human influence.
Mekragnotire points to the blocking motorway, built in 1970 by the military government at the time as an example.
“Look at the deforestation that has been happening since they built this highway, imagine when the railroad is built,” he told AFP.
“Do you see that smoke?” he asked, pointing to a thick cloud of smoke in the forest, which was set on fire by farmers and livestock keepers, who seek to clear the land for their own use.
The practice is common in Brazil, the largest producer of soybeans and the second largest beef producer in the world. But the devastation that occurs from these productions makes it impossible to preserve an extremely important green zone to fight global warming.
Positive for the environment?
Almost a thousand kilometers long, the railways will mostly follow the path occupied by the existing highway. The planners defend that it will not cross indigenous lands and that it will only deviate through the Jamanxim National Park, which has already been approved in Congress.
The 1.5 billion project is supported by multinationals like Cargill and Bunge, who say that exporting their product by road is too slow and too expensive, removing the competitiveness that Brazil wants to have on the world market.
The government wants to start construction as early as 2021 and aims at 2030 for completion.
“It is very feasible. It will reduce transport costs by 30/35% and its duration will be halved, ”said Edeon Vaz Ferreira, executive director of the Movement Pro Logistics of Mato Grosso and lobbyist for the project.
He further argues that, far from damaging the environment, it would even help to protect it, given that the “environmental gain would be enormous”, he says. “The train would transport 12,000 tons … instead of the 300 semi-trucks we need at the moment,” he explains to AFP.
Environmental activists do not seem convinced given the initial impact on the environment, which is hand in hand with this initiative.