Shit That Disturbs Me – The Interoceanic Highway

Welcome to the first installment in a new series of short articles entitled “Shit That Disturbs Me.” Every week I plan to highlight various issues around the world that are not discussed and dissected nearly as much as they should be by American mainstream media outlets. I will specifically focus on issues that occur within the neo-liberal project that we, as ordinary people, can do almost nothing to stop due to the large amounts of money and high degree of corporate and government entanglement.

Why should young people care about such things? Well, because much of what is happening is typically not talked about, and ultimately affects all of us due to our highly interconnected existence. Weaned on the teat of corporate media, the millennial generation has been largely stripped of the faculty or desire to critically question how the world operates. Commercial marketing and glorification of consumption doesn’t promote intelligent discussion and understanding. The tragedies of resource extraction and heavy industry are effectively quarantined and camouflaged, unnoticed by most Western eyes. Economic development in developing nations is happening so rapidly that it blinds us to its true cost. To stare into the periphery of the capitalist machine is to stare into the void, and let me tell you, the void stares back. So, in the Orwellian spirit, let us face some unpleasant facts.

I dedicate this first article of Shit That Disturbs Me to the latest neo-liberal infrastructure project in South America called The Interoceanic Highway, also known as The Amazon Road. It is an expansive superhighway that laterally bisects South America, cutting through the Andes and the Peruvian Amazon. Once construction of the behemoth is completed, it will link the Pacific ports of Peru to the Atlantic ports of Brazil, namely the bustling megatropolises of Rio de Janiero and Santos. Thanks to Brazil’s heroic establishment their own superhighway system during the 1970s, almost all of the construction is occurring in Peru. Eventually, the highway will simply connect to an existing Brazilian route that exists at their shared border. The IOH will finally provide a more direct connection between Brazil, the largest market in South America, and resource hungry China, which has recently surpassed the US to become Brazil’s biggest trade partner. This would allow Brazil to simultaneously import cheap Chinese products for its blossoming middle class, and export timber and oil, crucial to the pubescent Chinese economy. The Peruvians agreed to the IOC because they also desire access to the Brazilian market, and most of the funding for the project is coming from the Brazilian government.

Here is a map of the route.

The Interoceanic Highway

Overseeing the construction of the Peruvian segment of the IOC is, surprise, a Brazilian mega-corporation by the name of Odebrecht (how sinisterly German.) Information about Odebrecht is scarce, although from what I can gather it is the Brazilian equivalent of Halliburton. Odebrecht works hand in hand with the Brazilian government and recieves most of its infrastructure contracts. Its corporate structure is divided into six subsidiaries, each of which is involved with different heavy industries including chemicals, petrochemicals, engineering, and heavy construction. To cover their ass, they also have a philanthropic subsidiary called The Odebrecht Foundation. The Foundation pretends to focus on environmental sustainability and gives charity money to the poorer regions of Brazil, which makes them feel a little bit better about their perpetual, necessary poverty.

Let me take the opportunity to point out how very SURPRISING it is that a CORPORATION that is heavily invested in the PETROCHEMICAL industry and CONSTRUCTION industry is building a HIGHWAY for CARS and TRUCKS instead of a RAILROAD for TRAINS across South America. Even though a RAILROAD would be CHEAPER and CLEANER and FASTER and TRAINS wouldn’t require PETROCHEMICALS to OPERATE. It really makes me wonder if there were some ULTERIOR MOTIVES at play instead of the purported “economic prosperity” the Brazilian government and Odebrecht claim is coming! Because yes! Finally, Peru will be able to export its delicious sardines to Brazil! In cars that run on ethanol gas produced by a subsidiary of Odebrecht on a road that Odebrecht was paid billions of dollars to make!

Anyways.

This really isn’t even scratching the surface of why the Interoceanic Highway is classified as Shit That Disturbs Me. Let’s talk about the degradation of the most important environmental resource on planet Earth: the Amazon jungle. In case you didn’t know, the Amazon is the largest rainforest biome, and is also the largest carbon sink, meaning that it’s trees filter out tons and tons of carbon every year from our air. Without this carbon sink, global warming will only accelerate faster than it already is. The Amazon has the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth as well. Biodiversity, while not only an aesthetically beautiful concept, is important to the continuation of life should there be some sort of cataclysmic event. A large library of genetic material is crucial to new adaptations to a changing environment.

The Interoceanic Highway is decimating the Amazon’s capacities for both carbon capturing and biodiversity. Slash and burn agricultural techniques, illegal logging and gold mining are destroying large tracts of forest and releasing more carbon into the air at the same time. Peruvians from the impoverished highland regions of the Andes are slowly but surely migrating down the IOH to try to make a living on the more fertile land closer to sea level. Some are simply clearing out land tracts close to the road and using it for grazing or farming. Peruvian law encourages this practice by allowing farmers who have cleared their own land to apply for titles for said land. A new gold rush has also accompanied the construction of the IOH, which opened up previously inaccessible land. The miners are using a method called alluvial mining, where instead of boring holes into the sides of mountains, they simply sift through silt and mud close to rivers for gold. Thirty tons of earth must be processed to produce enough gold to make a single wedding ring band. Mercury, which is used to process the gold, has already slipped into the waterways, poisoning fish, animals and humans downstream. And just to reiterate, when farmers or miners burn trees in order to use the land, they release the carbon that was stored in those trees into the atmosphere. These practices devastate the local ecosystems.

The road also blocks the migration patterns of animals in the Amazon. The physical presence of the road is the most obvious feature one notices, but this specific problem is probably one of the least discussed. Physical separation of species obscures mating patterns and diminishes biodiversity within the ecosystem. This is especially harmful for the native jaguar population, which could face the same debilitating genetic homogeneity that the African cheetah suffers from. To compound the problem, the aforementioned farmers are killing jaguars because they threaten their precious livestock.

In addition, the construction of five hydroelectric dams is included in Odebrecht’s contract with Peru and Brazil. Luckily, one of Odebrecht’s subsidiaries specializes in dam construction! These dams will be used exclusively to provide electricity to Brazil, however all of them are to be constructed along rivers in Peru. Just one of these dams is expected to displace thirty-two small towns and permanently drown 142 square miles of jungle with water. While not only destroying the flora and fauna within those 142 square miles, it also disrupts the normal water cycles that animals have learned to survive around.

Even if you think that the environment is for fags and global warming is an invention of the UN, but still have a big Christian heart for human suffering, here’s the bit you should read. The large work camps and new mining towns have opened up a whole new industry of human sex trafficking. This is not surprising, since it happens anywhere there’s a large influx of male labor, but local communities are paying for it. There are reports of young girls being brought to these towns under the impression that they will work at a restaurant or hotel, but instead are forced to work as prostitutes. Also, venereal diseases are spreading, well, like venereal diseases.

I think I have covered most of the disturbing aspects of the Interoceanic Highway. Long story short, Brazil is one step closer to completing its perverse dream of manifest destiny, Peru can finally export its delicious sardines and pretend they are somehow important, the Odebrecht Corporation made one more gigantic, permanent revenue engine, impoverished Peruvians gained some new ways to squeeze out a few more pesos from their land, the Amazon will rot from the inside out, and we, the tax payer, will undoubtedly end up coverings the hidden environmental costs twenty years from now. Thanks, transnational corporations for passing that buck once again! Stay tuned next week for more Shit That Disturbs Me. I’m going to go walk around the block, or something.

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