Dhe mood was apparently relaxed. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and his Peruvian counterpart Pedro Castillo even joked for the official photo shoot at the end of the Peruvian’s visit. For a moment, Bolsonaro was allowed to put on Castillo’s hat, which has become the Peruvian President’s trademark. Bolsonaro and Casillo seemed like best friends.
Bolsonaro confirmed the impression that the differences between them had been overcome. The two political worlds separate: Bolsonaro is a right-wing hardliner with an army background, Castillo is a teacher unionist from a Marxist party. But what both have in common: They are nationalists.
Brazil’s Pacific Dream
Not only the personal distance between the different presidents decreased during a meeting in the Amazon city of Porto Velho near the common border on Thursday. The two countries also want to move closer together physically and logistically. At least that’s what Bolsonaro is hoping for. He wants to persuade his Peruvian counterpart to build a road through the Amazon rainforest to Peru, which would connect Brazil to the Pacific. The project, which would connect the Brazilian city of Cruzeiro do Sul in the western Brazilian state of Acre with the Peruvian city of Pucallpa, creates “great potential for increasing economic integration,” according to a joint statement by the two presidents, in which the two countries also agreed on trade facilitation, less customs bureaucracy and more security at their common border.
Brazil has long dreamed of a back exit to the Pacific. The importance has continued to increase with the progress of the agricultural economy in western Brazil. China, in particular, which buys around 80 percent of Brazil’s soybean harvest, is likely to be interested in the project. Currently, Brazilian agricultural products are transported by truck and waterways to the Atlantic and from there to Asia via the Panama Canal. A connection to the Pacific would shorten the distances considerably and make Brazilian soy cheaper. For the same reason, the Chinese have been considering building a railway line from the Atlantic to the Pacific for some time.
“We are interested in an exit to the Pacific,” Bolsonaro said at the meeting. Such a project depends solely on Brazil and Peru and on no other country. Up until now, Peru had shown little interest in such a project. The Brazilian government, on the other hand, has already launched a tender to find companies to build the road.
But the cross-border road, estimated to cost nearly $100 million on the Brazilian side alone, has met with significant resistance from environmental activists and the judiciary in Brazil. The reason: the road cuts through the Serra do Divisor National Park for more than 100 kilometers and thus one of the most untouched rainforest areas in the world. Experience shows that where there is a road, the forest is soon gone.