Bolsonaro-backed highway targets heart of Amazon
Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to repave an old military highway through the heart of the Amazon.
Some scientists say the project could determine the future of the world's largest tropical rainforest.
Yahaira Jacquez has more.
This highway in Brazil runs through the heart of the Amazon.
Built by the country's military dictatorship in the 70s, the highway crumbled by the late 80s after the dictatorship fell.
Much of the road has now turned to sand.
But Brazil's hard-right President has vowed to pave the road no matter what... ... even as environmentalists and scientists sound the alarm, warning its construction will accelerate a surge in deforestation.
Reuters correspondent Jake Spring is in Amazonas state.
(SOUNDBITE) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT JAKE SPRING SAYING: "This dusty potholed road could hold the key to the future of this jungle ecosystem known as the lungs of the earth, for the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that it absorbs this note road is called BR-319 and it's the only road that connects the state capital of Amazonas the largest and best preserved Amazon state with the rest of Brazil." The government has made BR-319 a top priority for the region with officials telling Reuters of ambitious plans to begin paving by 2021.
But the government's push comes after a surge in deforestation and fires this year sparked global outcry that not enough is being done to protect the world's largest rainforest.
(SOUNDBITE) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT JAKE SPRING SAYING: "This has set up a battle between the interests of the people in this region of the Amazon and environmentalists engaged in a global fight against climate change.
Local residents near the southern end of the road are overwhelmingly in favor of it being paved and connecting them with the state capital of Manaus Some say that this could become a new agricultural frontier supplying the state capital of Manaus of over 2 million people with food and other supplies and ushering in an economic boom." Many academics argue, however, that economic benefits are overstated and that most of the region's major farm exports like corn would still be shipped by river rather than using the highway.
Predictions on how much damage the road would bring vary widely, but all agree the devastation would be vast.
One study projects that paving the road without stepped up enforcement would bring nearly 175,000 square kilometers of deforestation, an area larger than Florida.