09 February 2009

In Country: Santarem

After taking the overnight boat down the Amazon River we have arrived in Santarem, a small city (population about 300,000) which sits at the juncture between the Rio Amazonas and the Rio Tapajos. Indeed the waters from the two rivers, although they flow side by side, do not mix. The water from the Rio Amazonas is a muddy brownish color and comes from high up in the Andes. The water from the Rio Tapajos is blue-ish in color and warmer. The locals call this the "meeting of the waters."

When we initially arrived in Santarem, our boat pulled up adjacent to a huge port and industrial shipping operation. It did not look like anything we had seen closer to the city, or at any of the stops on the way down the river. The sign near the port read "Cargill." After doing some research I have discovered that Cargill is a U.S. based corporation which set up this soybean shipping port on the west side of the city. Although initially the locals were receptive to the construction of the port because they thought it would bring good jobs to the region, recently the port and Cargill have fallen out of favor. Apparently there has been an ongoing court case at the federal level against Cargill for not getting the necessary environmental impact clearances. The following links offer more information about the conflict. http://www.cargill.com/news/issues/issues_greenpeacereport.pdf and http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/soya-blazes-through-the-amazon

In the States we often hear about how the Amazon rainforest is being burned to make way for cattle and other crops. As I am realizing, that is no longer an abstraction. It is real and it is happening right here in this community.

Because of the legal action against Cargill, a moratorium against further deforestation has been imposed. However that does not prohibit the cultivation of lands that have already been deforested, nor does it stop the building of roads into the forest. The following is an interesting article with a visual about the environmental deterioration in the region. http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/forests/impacts-amazon-soya-are-shown-map-20090119

Other sources: http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/249/


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