National Geographic Brazil publishes Historias Sin Fronteras environmental investigation

Photos by Lalo de Almeida/Folhapress

National Geographic Brazil publishes Historias Sin Fronteras environmental investigation

National Geographic Brazil has published our cross-border environmental investigation on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s plans to build an international highway that will cut through the most biodiverse region in the Amazon and divide the territories of 10 indigenous communities in Peru and become a bridge for illegal activities of loggers and drug traffickers.

The investigation was conducted by Fabiano Maisonnave, Amazon correspondent for Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo, and by Alexa Vélez, editor of Mongabay Latam, and Mongabay reporter Vanessa Romo in Peru as part of our Historias Sin Fronteras initiative.  With the support of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Department of Science Education, InquireFirst launched the Historias Sin Fronteras cross-border science journalism grants program in Latin America last year.

To tell the visual story, photojournalist Lalo de Almeida traveled with Maisonnave to the Amazon to capture the breathtaking beauty of the untouched region and record the lives of indigenous people who live on the banks of the Moa River.  In 2021, de Almeida was named Ibero-American photographer of the year by Picture of the Year (POY) LatAm.

In Peru, photojournalist Sebastián Castañeda took readers to four indigenous communities in the Amazon that are terrorized by drug traffickers who have taken control of the territory.

Maisonnave and de Almeida sailed for more than 16 hours along the Moa River to reach Brazil’s Serra do Divisor National Park and meet with indigenous communities living in and around the park.

On the Peruvian side, Romo and Castañeda traveled along the Abujao River to visit four indigenous communities that live in fear of drug traffickers.

The journalists reported that the highway project is being proposed under the pretext of economic development.

But the project inevitably evokes the ghost of the Interoceanic Highway, a costly road built by the Brazilian company Odebrecht, which was supposed to stimulate commerce between Brazil and Peru and which ended up being investigated for mismanagement and which resulted in the loss of almost 500,000 acres of forests.

Why build a highway in the middle of the Amazon if everything indicates it will result in deforestation, drug trafficking, loss of biodiversity and illegal mining?

Despite all the questions, the project continues. On May 6, two weeks after Historias Sin Fronteras published the cross-border project, the Bolsonaro government renewed its promise to build the international highway.

During the inauguration of a bridge over the Madeira River, where Bolsonaro was greeted by a few thousand supporters, Minister of Infrastructure Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas told the crowd that the Brazil-Peru highway project is one of the government’s infrastructure priorities.

But money, for the time being, does not exist. Senator Márcio Bittar included $8 million in this year’s federal budget for “studies and projects” to expand the highway, but Bolsonaro vetoed the expense amid cuts to balance the budget during the pandemic.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation and provide you with updates.

Our thanks to National Geographic Brasil for publishing our Amazon project and to HHMI’s Department of Science Education for supporting our cross-border journalism on the health and environmental challenges facing Latin America.

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