Chinese premier Li Keqiang is to push controversial plans for a railway through the Amazon rainforest during a visit to South America next week, despite concerns about the possible impact on the environment and on indigenous tribes.
Currently just a line on a map, the proposed 5,300km route in Brazil and Peru would reduce the transport costs for oil, iron ore, soya beans and other commodities, but cut through some of the world’s most biodiverse forest.
The six-year plan is the latest in a series of ambitious Chinese infrastructure projects in Latin America, which also include a canal through Nicaragua and a railway across Colombia. The trans-Amazonian railway has high-level backing. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with his counterparts in Brazil and Peru. Next week, during his four-nation tour of the region starting on Sunday, Li will, according to state-run Chinese media, suggest a feasibility study.
The criticisms are similar to those that met the Interoceanic Highway project along the same general route a decade ago. When I traveled that road in 2011, when it was mostly paved but still missing a couple final links, I found that the most of the predictions of doom had failed to come true, while there were some clear benefits from the road construction. However, the bad news may have been bubbling away, and I haven’t been back to see if things stayed so positive once the road was fully open.
Time to go back!