- Mongabay has begun publishing a new edition of the book, “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon,” in short installments and in three languages: Spanish, English and Portuguese.
- Author Timothy J. Killeen is an academic and expert who, since the 1980s, has studied the rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia, where he lived for more than 35 years.
- Chronicling the efforts of nine Amazonian countries to curb deforestation, this edition provides an overview of the topics most relevant to the conservation of the region’s biodiversity, ecosystem services and Indigenous cultures, as well as a description of the conventional and sustainable development models that are vying for space within the regional economy.
- Click the “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon” link atop this page to see chapters 1-13 as they are published during 2023.
Roads are scarce in the Northern Amazon, and surprisingly, the few that exist have not triggered widespread deforestation. This apparent anomaly is largely the consequence of a development dynamic that has kept these countries from seriously pursuing agricultural development in their Amazonian provinces. Venezuela chose to build an economy based on mineral extraction, mainly oil, and its leaders have viewed its landscapes of the Guiana highlands as a giant national protected area.
The colonial history of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana has caused their residents to look to Europe or North America for economic opportunity, which has suppressed the demand for terrestrial connections to Venezuela and Brazil.
The first truly modern highway in the entire region, the Ruta a la Gran Sabana serves as a transitway for commerce between the Venezuelan Coast and Brazil as well as an entry point for tourists visiting the Gran Sabana and tepuis. Most of Venezuela’s tropical timber is extracted using this road, and it is a key infrastructural asset for the mining industry. This highway connects with BR-174 in Roraima and is now almost forty years old; its renovation and maintenance are included within the IIRSA portfolio of investments.
The other major highway corridor is the route between Boa Vista (Roraima) and Georgetown (Guyana). The section in Brazil is paved, but the Guyana component is a gravel road between the mining center of Linden and the border town of Letham. Although it lacks the attributes of a modern highway, it does include several heavy-load bridges that make industrial transport between Roraima and the Atlantic Coast a viable option. Its completion in 2009 opened up remote landscapes to logging and motivated a limited number of farmers to cultivate rice on the flooded savannas near the Brazilian border. The landscapes surrounding the highway have not yet experienced significant deforestation.
This road is considered to be a high priority ‘anchor project’ in the 2017 IIRSA investment portfolio and will be paved in the near future. The economic logic for the modernization of the highway rests, in part, on the assumption that Roraima will become an agricultural exporting region similar to Mato Grosso. Truck transport from the farm landscapes around Boa Vista to the Atlantic Coast (700 kilometers terrestrial) would be more cost-effective than the truck and fluvial transport options via Manaus (850 kilometers terrestrial plus 1,540 kilometers waterway).
Most of the population of Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana live near the coast, where they communicate via a road that has existed for decades. Two IIRSA-sponsored highway initiatives seek to improve this terrestrial connection. The Ciudad Guyana – Georgetown – Paramaribo Corridor would create a new highway from Venezuela through the gold-mining landscapes of northeastern Guyana. It is not a priority project, however, because Venezuela does not recognize Guyana’s sovereignty over the disputed area.
The second initiative is to upgrade the road between Georgetown and Macapá, which would include bridges across the Corentyne River between Guyana and Suriname and the Marwijne River between Suriname and French Guiana; it would connect with BR-156 in Amapá, Brazil. Currently, there are very few settlements along BR-156, although it is used by miners exploiting gold in the greenstone belt near the border with French Guiana. In the near future, settlement could be spurred by the development of offshore oil and gas fields, which presumably will require logistical facilities on the coast.
Brazil is in the process of upgrading BR-156 as part of an IIRSA-sponsored corridor on the coasts of the Guianas. Construction began in 2010 and is expected to conclude by 2020 at a cost of approximately R$ 1 billion. Once a modern highway exists between Macapá and French Guiana, land speculation and agriculture will likely follow.
“A Perfect Storm in the Amazon” is a book by Timothy Killeen and contains the author’s viewpoints and analysis. The second edition was published by The White Horse in 2021, under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0 license).
Read the other excerpted portions of chapter 2 here: