The presidents of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil inaugurated a US$ 810 million highway project to connect Brazil’s Atlantic coast to Peru’s Pacific port before the end of the decade.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bolivia’s Eduardo Rodriguez and Peru’s Alejandro Toledo traveled to the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s southeast Amazon for groundbreaking ceremony.
“Today we are starting the physical integration of our nations,” Lula da Silva said in a speech carried live on Peru’s government-run Channel 7.
“The physical integration of South America is an urgent demand so that our region comes together to compete in the globalized economy.”
Toledo said the Transoceanic 2,500-mile highway would increase commerce and boost Peru’s economy by $1 billion a year.
A paved highway extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the jungle town of Assis, on the Brazilian side of the Rio Acre, which marks the border between Peru and Brazil.
But on the other side of the river, the path turns to dirt and mud as it winds from the Peruvian border town of Inapari into the lush Peruvian jungle and on toward the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast beyond.
Lula da Silva and Toledo met in Assis in August 2004, and signed a deal for Brazil to help fund construction of a highway over the 680 miles between Inapari and Peru’s ports of Matarani, Ilo and Marcona.
The highway is expected to take four years to complete and will allow Brazil to transport products to Peruvian ports for transfer to its markets in Asia.
It will also allow landlocked Bolivia access to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
“As a Bolivian, in the name of all my countrymen, I say thank you very much,” Rodriguez told his Peruvian and Brazilian counterparts.
But not everyone is pleased with the prospect of a coast-to-coast thoroughfare.
Environmentalists fear a paved highway cutting through Peru’s virgin rain forest will expose the Amazon to farmers and loggers who, with better access, could deforest the jungle with greater speed.
This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.