World Rainforest Movement

Amazon Basin: IIRSA opens the way for rainforest invasion

As the neo-extractivist and development policies of the region’s governments continue to move forward, they come hand in hand with the destruction of the natural environment and the genocidal ethnocide of the indigenous peoples who inhabit it. The crossroads we are facing is more critical than ever: if the capitalist invasion is not stopped, the indigenous peoples and the rainforests will disappear. If the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA) – so zealously promoted by the governments of Brazil and other countries in the region, the multilateral financial institutions and transnational corporations – is not stopped, then the rainforest and the indigenous peoples will be nothing more than pictures and artefacts in the museum of horror chronicling the violent conquest of the last internal continental frontier to open the way for the plunder of its natural resources, the irreversible alteration of its ecosystems, and the extinction of its cultures.

Brazil has become one of the world’s ten largest economies, and accounts for more than one half of South American economic activity. Brazil’s GDP represents 55% of the GDP of South America as a whole. The new capitalist monster has fixed its sights on a specific goal: to open up the Amazon basin to the large-scale exploitation of natural resources, thus completing its territorial domination and inexorable westward march.

A complementary requirement for fulfilling this goal was to break down the geographic barrier that the vast rainforests and wide rivers have historically represented, serving to hold off the penetration of transportation, machinery, markets and big corporations. As a result, opening up the Amazon region and physically linking it with export ports on the world’s two most important oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, and through them with the rest of the globalized world, is the main objective of the IIRSA initiative, launched in August 2000 in Brasilia. And now, just ten years and a few months later, IIRSA is on the verge of achieving its objective.

When construction is finished on the Billinghurst Bridge over the Madre de Dios River, which will connect the city of Puerto Maldonado with the village of El Triunfo, both in the department (state) of Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, it will mark the completion of the so-called Peru-Brazil Inter-Oceanic Highway Corridor, and South American history will change forever.

Until now, river navigation was the most effective way of penetrating the rainforest. During the rubber boom between the years of 1870 and 1914, which marked the first forcible incorporation of the Amazon basin into the world market, the rivers became the means of entry of thousands and thousands of outsiders into the rainforest, leading to a genocide of indigenous peoples that continues to be hidden and silenced today.

The current borders between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia in the territories now crossed by the Inter-Oceanic Highway Corridor and its area of influence were established during this violent invasion, in which entire peoples were enslaved and forced to work as rubber tappers, leading to the death of a great many. Some took refuge deep in the rainforest, around the headwaters of the rivers where they were no longer navigable, and were thus able to avoid total extermination. These are the peoples currently known as “uncontacted indigenous tribes” or “indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation”.

A century after this ethnic slaughter, many of these peoples who chose freedom over annihilation have since been forced by Christian missionaries to leave their isolation and currently live in a state known as “initial contact” with the hegemonic society of the countries in which they live. This is a situation in which the survival of their way of life and culture is extremely vulnerable and in danger of slowly disappearing, a tragedy known as ethnocide.

Today, an interconnection like the one to be created by this bridge, no matter how remote or isolated the regions affected are considered from a national point of view, is possible for the new world order based on the development of productive forces on a global scale, and in which, for this very reason, the aggression and threats have reached a planetary scale. The bridge, we must stress, is the perfect symbol for IIRSA, which is just another name for globalization in South America.

Its inauguration will merely speed up the historical processes of genocide and ethnocide against indigenous peoples, leading to the permanent extinction of the last uncontacted indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, once their lands are invaded as a result of the aggressive new dynamics ushered in by the highway corridor.

Indigenous communities today are already caught up in ongoing conflicts over the defence of their territories. What will happen when there are no longer any obstacles to stop the corporations from entering anywhere they want, wherever there is a natural resource to be exploited?

If the capitalist invasion is not stopped, the indigenous peoples will disappear, their communities will disappear, along with their ways of life, their customs, their traditions. And once the peoples who defended the rainforest – because it was essential to their survival and their culture – have disappeared, then the rainforest itself will disappear, burned down, deforested and wiped off the face of the earth to make way for permanent occupation by agribusiness and large-scale cattle farming.

Extracted from: “IIRSA y los pueblos indígenas aislados y vulnerables. El Puente Billinghurst y la Interoceánica: punto de no retorno para el genocidio y la devastación de la Amazonía”, by Pablo Cingolani, 21/11/10, which was sent to us by the author. The full text is available – in Spanish- at: