Brazil Plans to Deforest the Amazon to Repave 540 Miles of Abandoned Highway

The country's environmental protection agency approved the project to fulfill a 2018 campaign promise, that involved the repaving of BR-319.

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Photo: Raphael Alves for The Washington Post (Getty Images)

The most controversial aspects of most highways are usually the traffic, number of lanes they have or the speed limit, but very few roadways are like BR-319. BR-319 is (or was) a federal highway in Brazil. The 540-mile road connects the city of Manaus with the city of Porto Velho. Manaus is the capital of Brazil’s largest state, Amazonas, and this federal highway stretches through the Amazon rainforest for its entire length. BR-319 was effectively abandoned and left for ruin in the 1980s. However, the Brazilian government’s environmental protection agency IBAMA has approved the efforts to repave the highway.

According to CNN, IBAMA President Eduardo Bim authorized the project against the recommendations of various environmental groups and officials within IBAMA itself. Restoring BR-319 was a promise made by Jair Bolsonaro during his election campaign in 2018. Coincidentally, the next presidential election in Brazil is in two months. There was definitely no need to energize a zealous voter base in the hopes of being elected to a second term in office.

If it wasn’t clear by the highway’s location, BR-319’s repaving would be heavily destructive to the environment through its construction and subsequent use. The Brazilian climate non-governmental organization, Observatorio do Clima, stated, “Monitoring and inspection activities carried out by environmental agencies in the region have shown that the disorderly occupation process, associated with high rates of deforestation, has intensified over the last few months.” Satellite imagery has shown that 1,448 square miles of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed so far this year, the largest since tracking began in 2016. The highway’s restoration would only make it easier to access untouched sections of rainforest.


Manaus is the only city in the Amazon and is effectively disconnected from the rest of Brazil by road. It is possible to drive to another city in Brazil from Manaus, but only via Venezuela. BR-319 was completed in 1972 under the direction of Brazil’s military dictatorship as part of a project to integrate the country’s territory, similar to the Interstate Highway System in the United States.