Plans to Integrate Brazil to South America Don’t Take Indigenous Peoples Into Account

Twelve governments in South America, including Brazil, are planning to carry out a series of civil construction projects to ensure a better physical interconnection in the region.

Thirty-one projects were selected to be the first ones to be financed from an initial list of over 300 projects for building waterways, railroads, highways, and power plants for the purpose of increasing the production of electricity and expanding the telecommunications and transportation framework to facilitate the production outflow – particularly for agro-industrial products.

The projects will be financed by the Brazilian National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other international institutions.

"We challenge the logic of this integration project: once again, it is an export-oriented trade integration. The projects affect sensitive social areas, which are seen as spaces for increasing the agricultural production for export purposes, which has a low commercial value and a high social and environmental impact," said Carlos Tautz from the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase).

The infrastructure to be created is aimed at facilitating, among other things, the export of natural gas and oil, fruits and grains, livestock, paper and cellulose.

According to Guido Mantega, the president of BNDES, the projects to improve the Latin American physical integration will enhance the trade in the regional block and the competitiveness of domestic corporations, besides attracting domestic and foreign investments.

"The integration projects will be implemented in spaces where natural resources abound and will affect sensitive agro-ecological systems with a clear geopolitical importance," said Carlos Tautz.

At the end of last year, he attended the first meeting that was held to discuss this project, which was also attended by representatives of groups that are neither governmental nor linked to the private corporate sector.

According to the representatives of those groups, the project sees South America as a platform for the export of natural resources or as a producer of materials, which rich states transferred to poor countries because of their high environmental costs, such as electricity and cellulose.

This first meeting was held five years after this set of projects, which are called IIRSA (Initiative for Integrating the South American Regional Infrastructure), began to be planned.

And the presence of non-governmental organizations and networks at the meeting was only allowed after months of pressure and over two years searching for information. So far, neither IDB nor BNDES have overtly confirmed their participation in IIRSA.

The lack of transparency of this process and difficulties to access public information were some of the aspects criticized by the groups which attended the meeting. The participation of social groups only now prevents, in a project allegedly aimed at promoting the integration of South America, sectors that do not have a merely economic interest in the topic from expressing their expectations.

"We are not against integration among countries. But the infrastructure is not neutral. It has a modeling power, it defines what will be produced. And in this project paths will be built which are not connected to regional and domestic markets. It is the enhancement of the model we have today," said Luiz Fernando Novoa from the Brazilian Network for the Integration of the Peoples (Rebrip).

Who will benefit from this integration model?

The need to anticipate the impact of these projects on the populations of all Latin America, including indigenous peoples, was also mentioned by the non-governmental participants in the meeting.

Up till now, no information is available on which or how many projects will be implemented in indigenous lands in Brazil and abroad or close to them. However, despite the discourse of those in favor of implementing IIRSA regarding social and environmental aspects, not much thought is being given to its impact on local populations.

Despite the promises of development for the regions to be physically integrated, it is not known whether the alleged benefits of this territorial development will be enjoyed by the populations affected by it or if they will only meet the needs of domestic and transnational corporations.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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