- Mongabay has started 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 has lived for more than 35 years.
- Documenting the efforts of nine countries in the Amazon to prevent deforestation, this edition provides an overview of topics most relevant to the conservation of biodiversity in the region, ecosystem services and Indigenous cultures, as well as a description of competing conventional and sustainable development models. for space within the regional economy.
- Click on the “A Perfect Storm on Amazon” link at the top of this page to view chapters 1-13 as they are published in 2023.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines infrastructure as the ‘underlying structure’ of a country – specifically, the physical installations needed to ensure that its economy functions for the benefit of society. Modern infrastructure is made of steel and concrete and is ubiquitous in advanced economies; usually, it is only accepted by people who depend on it for their livelihood. People living in developing economies and developing countries do not suffer from this underestimation of the value of infrastructure and, generally, are strong advocates of investing in it.
Obvious infrastructure assets include roads, bridges, railways, airports, ports, dams, power plants, energy grids, information networks, and water and sewer systems. Equally important are the physical assets that support essential social services, such as schools, clinics, hospitals and recreational facilities. Most are built by the state, although some may be run by private companies granted concessions by governments; several are privately owned. Infrastructure assets are a perfect example of a long-term investment: they require a large initial investment of financial capital and pay dividends in the form of profits and increased economic activity for decades or even centuries.
Most of Pan Amazon’s infrastructure assets are the product of long-term investment strategies created by governments in five to ten year intervals. Regardless of the periodic shifts that reflect social consensus and electoral cycles that have occurred in the past few decades, two themes appear prominent in all plans, programs and projects: economic development and regional integration.
In Brazil, the modern era of infrastructure investment began in the 1970s with the Programa de Integração Nacional (PIN) which began the construction of the highway network that transformed the Southern Amazon. This was followed in the 1990s by the federal government diversifying its investment portfolio to include hydropower, waterways and railways within priority geographies known as Eixos Nacionais de Integração e Desenvolvimento (ENID). In the 2000s, infrastructure investments were at the core of the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program; PAC), which focused on the energy sector and included several mega-scale hydropower projects in the Amazon (see below).
All the Andean republics have organized similar programs that make highway systems a national priority, but some of their most important investments are in the pipelines necessary for the exploitation of the hydrocarbon reserves discovered in their Amazon provinces.
The aspirations of history and a shared cultural heritage motivated the governments of these countries to create the Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN), a trade block that includes within the principles of this construction investment in trans-frontier infrastructure assets. One of the ambitious first proposals was the Carretera Marginal de la Selva, a highway similar to the Pan Amazonian highway that would unite their Amazon provinces.
This concept was activated and expanded in the early 2000s when all the countries of South America came together to create the Iniciativa para la Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Suramericana (IIRSA). Multilateral financial institutions, such as the World Bank, IDB and CAF play an important role in financing the infrastructure that transforms the human-altered landscapes of the Amazon.
Although the resources they deploy are limited to their pool of available capital, their participation has encouraged governments to allocate greater capital to infrastructure and, above all, established a framework to leverage public resources with private capital. In addition, multilateral agencies finance – and influence the content of – strategy documents that guide long-term infrastructure investment; therefore, they share the responsibility for the positive and negative consequences associated with the infrastructure systems that transform the Pan Amazon.
Starting around 2005, financial institutions from China began to play an important role in infrastructure development, mostly by subsidizing Chinese companies in the construction sector and, more recently, as underwriters for the acquisition of assets auctioned by governments and corporations after corruption scandals in the mid-2010s. The financial support is now organized under the banner of China’s global policy initiative known as the Road and Belt Initiative.
Other major players in the field of infrastructure finance are national development banks, semi-autonomous entities that leverage state resources with private capital to promote the participation of corporate actors and facilitate investment in sub-national jurisdictions. The most famous of these is the Banco Nacional de Desarrollo de Brazil (BNDES), which has a long history of financing domestic infrastructure investments but has expanded its activities to subsidize the operations of Brazilian construction companies competing for contracts awarded to the Andean republics. Investment in infrastructure reached a historic peak during the commodity export boom between 2005 and 2015, a period that provided the Pan Amazonian countries with unprecedented financial resources.
Pan Amazon infrastructure has a bad reputation. The largest projects have led to massive deforestation and hydrological degradation; many – if not most – have been hurt by accusations of corruption. However, the investment in infrastructure has benefited millions of citizens in the Amazon, especially in the urban areas that now account for more than fifty percent of the region’s population. The region is set to begin another cycle of investment and development, in part because governments are once again seeking to expand the reach of conventional economic activities in the region but also because of external events, especially the COVID pandemic, creating momentum within financial agencies to stimulate infrastructure investments as a means of restoring economic growth after the 2020 recession.
“A Perfect Storm in the Amazon” is a book by Timothy Killeen and contains the views and analysis of the author. The second edition was published by The White Horse in 2021, under the terms of the Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0 license). See this excerpt in Spanish here and in Portuguese here.
Read other excerpts from chapter 2 here: