Brazil and the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, IIRSA

January 21 2014

The more economies depend on trade, the more roads are built and threathen natural habitats. The Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA), in which Brazil is major player, is no exemption.

The Amazon forest, which represents more than half of the planet's remaining rainforests, has long been seen as a frontier within Latin American countries whose economies are based on trade and the export of natural resources.

Brazil, a promoter of the inter-oceanic connection (Atlantic / Pacific coasts), started with its opening of roads through intact parts of the forest during the early 70’s (Trans-Amazonian highway). Regional integration accelerated in 2000 with the launch of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). This vast plan includes 510 infrastructure projects taking place in twelve South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela. The scheme receives its main financial resources from public-private partnerships (PPP), and is supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), regional banks and even national banks such as the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). The European Union via the European Investment Bank is also part of IIRSA funding scheme.

However, the planned US$130-billion infrastructures has so far failed to respect indigenous peoples and environmental laws, and lack of compliance is broadly reported within activists and communities living across the nine Amazon countries. Remarkably, a study funded by the Brazilian government acknowledges that local communities are unlikely to benefit from IIRSA infrastructure projects, the economic effects of which do not even compensate for environmental damage. Conservation International has warned that current plans could lead to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and will have profound far-reaching consequences.