Photos: Brazil’s Amazon at a crossroads of preservation or development

A highway known as BR-163 stretches from soybean fields to a riverside export terminal. And loggers are just south of the road’s juncture with BR-230, known as the Trans-Amazon. Together the highways cover more than 5,000 miles, crossing the world’s fifth-biggest country in the state of Para. Carved through jungle during Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, the roads were built to bend nature to man’s will in the vast hinterland. Four decades later, there’s development taking shape, but also worsening deforestation — and locals harbor concerns that progress may pass them by.

Updated On Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST 14 Photos
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A logging truck without license plates carries the trunk of a giant tree on a dirt road away from Trairao National Forest in Trairao, Para state, Brazil. Night after night, truckers chug along the darkened road to their turn-off into the woods, where they deliver their cargo. By morning, the logs are laid out for hewing at the remote sawmill, its corrugated metal roof hardly visible from the highway. (Leo Correa / AP)

A logging truck without license plates carries the trunk of a giant tree on a dirt road away from Trairao National Forest in Trairao, Para state, Brazil. Night after night, truckers chug along the darkened road to their turn-off into the woods, where they deliver their cargo. By morning, the logs are laid out for hewing at the remote sawmill, its corrugated metal roof hardly visible from the highway. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Cargo trucks turn off the Trans-Amazon highway, top, onto route BR-163 in Campo Verde, near Itaituba, Para state. Carved through jungle during Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s, the roads were built to bend nature to man's will in the vast hinterland. Four decades later, there's development taking shape, but also worsening deforestation --and locals harbour concerns that progress may pass them by. (Leo Correa / AP)

Cargo trucks turn off the Trans-Amazon highway, top, onto route BR-163 in Campo Verde, near Itaituba, Para state. Carved through jungle during Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s, the roads were built to bend nature to man's will in the vast hinterland. Four decades later, there's development taking shape, but also worsening deforestation --and locals harbour concerns that progress may pass them by. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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A truck drives on the road in Ruropolis where the highways first meet, and the military government promised land to lure people to the planned agricultural village. One 53-year-old man, Hilquias Soares, remembers a state agent in his hometown yelling, “Who wants to go to Para?” His family took the chance, arriving just after President Emílio Médici, a general, inaugurated the town. (Leo Correa / AP)

A truck drives on the road in Ruropolis where the highways first meet, and the military government promised land to lure people to the planned agricultural village. One 53-year-old man, Hilquias Soares, remembers a state agent in his hometown yelling, “Who wants to go to Para?” His family took the chance, arriving just after President Emílio Médici, a general, inaugurated the town. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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“There was a dream of colonization, of getting land and seeing if here we could have better financial conditions,” Dedé Diniz, 69, said in his home. Diniz examined a photograph in his album, a shot of a truck trapped in mud. It’s nothing like the bucolic painting on his wall that shows farm furrows and wild forest beside the highway. He jokes that he’ll update the painting with asphalt soon — that stretch should be paved by 2021. (Leo Correa / AP)

“There was a dream of colonization, of getting land and seeing if here we could have better financial conditions,” Dedé Diniz, 69, said in his home. Diniz examined a photograph in his album, a shot of a truck trapped in mud. It’s nothing like the bucolic painting on his wall that shows farm furrows and wild forest beside the highway. He jokes that he’ll update the painting with asphalt soon — that stretch should be paved by 2021. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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A fragment of Amazon rainforest stands next to soy fields in Belterra, Para state. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro won last year’s election with support from farmers, truckers and miners by resurrecting the dictatorship-era desire to develop the tropical rainforest. But he did so at a different stage of human history, one where scientists recognize the Amazon must remain to suck carbon from the air and help arrest climate change. (Leo Correa / AP)

A fragment of Amazon rainforest stands next to soy fields in Belterra, Para state. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro won last year’s election with support from farmers, truckers and miners by resurrecting the dictatorship-era desire to develop the tropical rainforest. But he did so at a different stage of human history, one where scientists recognize the Amazon must remain to suck carbon from the air and help arrest climate change. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Boats at dusk in a port at Santarem, Para state. From Ruropolis, the Trans-Amazon and BR-163 run jointly westward over a bumpy 70 miles. During corn and soy harvests, 2,600 trucks pass through each day to and from the nearby Tapajos River. There, trucks pull into transshipment ports. Grain is loaded onto barges. After a downriver trip that takes days, it is poured into ships’ holds and dispatched across the world, largely to China. (Leo Correa / AP)

Boats at dusk in a port at Santarem, Para state. From Ruropolis, the Trans-Amazon and BR-163 run jointly westward over a bumpy 70 miles. During corn and soy harvests, 2,600 trucks pass through each day to and from the nearby Tapajos River. There, trucks pull into transshipment ports. Grain is loaded onto barges. After a downriver trip that takes days, it is poured into ships’ holds and dispatched across the world, largely to China. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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BR-163 stretches between the Tapajos National Forest (L), and a soy field in Belterra. At the start of Bolsonaro’s administration, only 32 miles of BR-163 remained to be paved. His government last month finished paving the soy corridor. The decades-delayed achievement is the first of major public works to come, Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio de Freitas said. They include a $3 billion grain railway alongside BR-163. (Leo Correa / AP)

BR-163 stretches between the Tapajos National Forest (L), and a soy field in Belterra. At the start of Bolsonaro’s administration, only 32 miles of BR-163 remained to be paved. His government last month finished paving the soy corridor. The decades-delayed achievement is the first of major public works to come, Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio de Freitas said. They include a $3 billion grain railway alongside BR-163. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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The highways opened up the rainforest. Roads themselves aren’t the problem today, according to Paulo Barreto, a forest engineer and researcher at environmental group Imazon. The issue, he said, is that improved access has been accompanied by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric emboldening illegal loggers while his administration undermines its own environmental regulator. “If those things continue, deforestation will explode in the area,” he said. (Leo COrrrea / AP)

The highways opened up the rainforest. Roads themselves aren’t the problem today, according to Paulo Barreto, a forest engineer and researcher at environmental group Imazon. The issue, he said, is that improved access has been accompanied by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric emboldening illegal loggers while his administration undermines its own environmental regulator. “If those things continue, deforestation will explode in the area,” he said. (Leo COrrrea / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Official data show Amazon deforestation rose almost 30% in the 12 months through July, to its worst level in 11 years. Paulo Bezerra, a leader of the Munduruku indigenous people that live around the highways, said in an interview that farmers from Mato Grosso and other states are using tractors to rip down trees near his village, and try to intimidate tribesmen into silence. They say they’re afraid of being killed. (Leo Correa / AP)

Official data show Amazon deforestation rose almost 30% in the 12 months through July, to its worst level in 11 years. Paulo Bezerra, a leader of the Munduruku indigenous people that live around the highways, said in an interview that farmers from Mato Grosso and other states are using tractors to rip down trees near his village, and try to intimidate tribesmen into silence. They say they’re afraid of being killed. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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After the spotlight turned to Brazil in August as the Amazon burned, Bolsonaro dismissed the fires as normal practice for clearing pasture and farmland. What kind of development should Brazil encourage, and how much, were questions asked at the UN climate conference in Madrid. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said in an interview there that people in the Amazon will be drawn into illegal activities if there isn’t economic development. (Leo Correa / AP)

After the spotlight turned to Brazil in August as the Amazon burned, Bolsonaro dismissed the fires as normal practice for clearing pasture and farmland. What kind of development should Brazil encourage, and how much, were questions asked at the UN climate conference in Madrid. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said in an interview there that people in the Amazon will be drawn into illegal activities if there isn’t economic development. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Paving BR-163 ensures soy and corn can flow uninterrupted, making viable more farming and new riverside terminals, where the government says exports can reach 25 million tons in 2024, from 10 million tons this year. More soy means more transport. Workers recently spread concrete at one gas station being built near the crossroads, with parking for 760 trucks. (Leo Correa / AP)

Paving BR-163 ensures soy and corn can flow uninterrupted, making viable more farming and new riverside terminals, where the government says exports can reach 25 million tons in 2024, from 10 million tons this year. More soy means more transport. Workers recently spread concrete at one gas station being built near the crossroads, with parking for 760 trucks. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Valmir Lima de Souza on his manioc plantation at the Curua-Una region. The 60-year-old small farmer says people have tried to buy his property, telling him that he has already raised his family and deserves to take a rest. "Man, I am already resting, because I didn't have water and light here, and now I have water and light and I am resting in my piece of land where I'm gonna stay. Making abundance, growing what I want to plant," he said. (Leo Correa / AP)

Valmir Lima de Souza on his manioc plantation at the Curua-Una region. The 60-year-old small farmer says people have tried to buy his property, telling him that he has already raised his family and deserves to take a rest. "Man, I am already resting, because I didn't have water and light here, and now I have water and light and I am resting in my piece of land where I'm gonna stay. Making abundance, growing what I want to plant," he said. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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Over the past two decades, soy was increasingly planted along the northern part of BR-163. On one side of the highway is the Tapajos national forest, and farmland on the other. Fires burn here and there. Manoel de Souza, 59, who coordinates the Tapajos forest’s federation of traditional communities said, “Soy is also important, but it should be ordered so that they aren’t on top of one another, impacting each other.” (Leo Correa / AP)

Over the past two decades, soy was increasingly planted along the northern part of BR-163. On one side of the highway is the Tapajos national forest, and farmland on the other. Fires burn here and there. Manoel de Souza, 59, who coordinates the Tapajos forest’s federation of traditional communities said, “Soy is also important, but it should be ordered so that they aren’t on top of one another, impacting each other.” (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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The forest stands next to a soy field behind Joao Batista Ferreira’s home in Belterra. He’s known as Joao of Honey, though none of his 1,000 beehives remain. The bees died off since agribusiness moved in 20 years ago. In an act of protest, he painted versions of the Brazilian flag and hung them over his yard. They feature question marks rather than the national motto “Order and Progress,” because he’s not sure Brazil has them any longer. (Leo Correa / AP)

The forest stands next to a soy field behind Joao Batista Ferreira’s home in Belterra. He’s known as Joao of Honey, though none of his 1,000 beehives remain. The bees died off since agribusiness moved in 20 years ago. In an act of protest, he painted versions of the Brazilian flag and hung them over his yard. They feature question marks rather than the national motto “Order and Progress,” because he’s not sure Brazil has them any longer. (Leo Correa / AP)

Updated on Dec 22, 2019 04:27 PM IST
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