The Environmental impact of China’s Twin Oceanic Railway on the Amazon & Indigenous People

Map showing China's railroad system

The above map shows proposed routes of the 10 billion dollar Chinese Railway and its impact on the biodiversity and indigenous communities of the affected countries from Peru to Brazil. Map courtesy of Boston

While many are quite understandably distracted by the wars unfolding in Syria and other Machiavellian pantomimes being played out across the globe, the Amazon rain forest that stretches from Peru to Brazil, is quietly being destroyed, not only by ongoing oil exploitation, there is now a new threat of an epic scale development of a 10 billion dollar ‘Twin Ocean railway’, which has been proposed by the Chinese government. This would facilitate the rapid decline of biodiversity, decimate isolated uncontacted tribes and drive ecocide in the Amazon rain forest.

The 5,000 km railroad will allow the Chinese government to extract raw materials such as petroleum, hardwood, minerals, beef, soya and grains out of the Amazon to the main Coastal ports  onto ships bound for China.

China has been an important driver in the expansion of Latin American export of agriculture and extraction and is now the second country next to the USA to drive development in these areas in Latin America, (see the Boston University report below for more details) .

One of the proposed routes for the railway, known as the southern route (shown in the  above map), is of concern to environmental scientists, as it would pass though the Isconahua Reserve, Peru, the Cerrado biome and the Vale do Rio Juruá of Brazil, where some of the most important biodiversity hotspots on earth, can be found.

China has become a familiar Trade dealer with Latin American countries. In January 2015 China signed trade deals worth over 70 million with Peru, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visted Peru and pledged to invest $250 billion in Latin America over the next 10 years. China has been Ecuador, Peru’s and Brazil’s main foreign trading relation since 2008, China now has a firm hold over much of the  oil, mining and energy extraction projects that are ongoing in these Latin American countries. Though very little has been done internationally to criticize the level of environmental and social impact that these large scale developments are having in the Amazon rain forest or on indigenous people.

There are several uncontacted tribes in the Peruvian Amazon that are extremely vulnerable to disease upon contact and traumatic displacement upon invasion of their territories by development proposals such as this Chinese 10 billion dollar development of a 5,000 km railway from Peru to Brazil. The development will affect 600 indigenous tribal communities including 15 that are living in complete voluntary isolation deep in the Amazon, they choose not to have contact with the outside world. Nobody has consulted these people regarding this large scale development

The planned railway will connect Brazil’s Atlantic coast with Peru’s Pacific coast and would reduce the cost of shipping hardwood, petroleum, gas, grain and minerals to Asia.” As of now, most of South America’s import to China has to pass through the Panama Canal, which has become very costly as prices have tripled over the last five years. But like the $50 billion canal a Chinese billionaire wants to build across Nicaragua or the 3 hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest that Ecuador sold to China, all the promise for commerce comes at a price.

The other proposed routes  through Peru, Ecuador and Brazil also carry a large threat to biodiversity and indigenous people’s rights in Peru and Ecuador. The final decision of the railway  route will be critical in evaluating its environmental and social impact, though whatever decision is made, a heavy price will be paid in sacrificing biodiversity and indigenous people’s rights. Laws in  Ecuador and Peru specify that  indigenous groups need to be consulted in advance in order for industrial projects to gain social or environmental permits.

Similar environmental and social impact have had heavy consequences on communities in Ecuador as a result of PetroChina’s oil exploits with Andes Petroleum which has threatened and destroyed indigenous villages on ancestral land in the Ecuadorian Amazon as part of President Correa’s ”sustainable development projects” that are not at all sustainable in the opinion of international environmental scientific community.

Indigenous groups in Peru and Ecuador have been recognized under the United Nations to which there exists a non-binding agreement giving indigenous groups in these countries the chance to defend their lives, land, and culture. Guaranteed throughout the Declaration is the right to a process of “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” for indigenous peoples when faced with decisions, projects, or legislation that may affect their people and/or territory within a reasonable period; however, this does not require consent (and is not binding).  In Ecuadorian law, Article 82 refers explicitly to environmental consultation, in the case of a state decision which might affect the environment, and specifies broad and timely information for those affected. However, even if there is a majority opposing the project in question, it may still be carried out on the condition that the impact on those affected and the ecosystem is minimized (art. 83. see this link for further details on the Ecuadorian Constitution).

It is not clear if there will be future plans to connect the Chinese Railway through to the Ecuadorian side of the Amazon or if Ecuador will be bypassed at this stage. However, it is clear that China’s rising demand for raw material extraction from the Amazon rain forest is affecting every country that the Amazon covers including Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru. This large scale railway project will speed up the ecocidal destruction of the Amazon because the most important cause of deforestation are the ongoing construction roads, canals and railroads to get those products to ports.

According to research by Philip Fearnside (the author of China’s impact on Brazil case study project)- the report show’s that access roads are the most important cause of Amazon deforestation, as they open the forest to human settlements and interrupt animal migration patterns, causing forest fragmentation and faster species extinction.

Thus according to the studies, in order to adequately account for the impact of the “China boom” in Latin America, it is critical to  include not just exports to China but also Chinese-financed roads, canals, and railroads designed to get those products to ports, as well as dams to provide power to mines and oil fields that are being constructed in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Brazil to suit China’s exponential industrial growth at the expense of one of the worlds most uniquely biodiverse, major key ecosystems, the Amazon rain forest and its people.

Article by Carlita Shaw

Author and Ecologist

Other Sources

Boston University study on the impact of China on Latin America

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