Peru has announced that it will allow building roads in the biodiverse Amazon region, home to several isolated Indigenous communities in the region.
According to the new legislation, announced in a Peruvian daily, El Peruano, the construction of roads in the Ucayali region of the Amazon has been declared a “priority and national interest."
The move follows Pope Francis' visit to the Latin American country during which he raised concern over the environment, urging Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, to "protect the Amazon from big business and greed."
"We must break with the historical paradigm that sees the Amazon as an inexhaustible larder for other countries without taking into account its inhabitants," the pontiff said.
Indigenous people in the region had hoped the government would meet their demand of granting them formal titles to 200,000 square kilometers of land, clean up rivers poisoned with mercury from illegal gold mining and help with their other preservation efforts.
"The government clearly hasn’t reflected on the pope’s words," Lizardo Cauper, head of Peru’s federation of native Amazon peoples, Aidesep, told the Guardian.
"These projects don’t benefit Indigenous people. This is an area with isolated people who are extremely vulnerable," he said. "Roads bring outsiders who traffic our land, our timber, as well as drug traffickers and illegal miners."
According to a satellite mapping project by Monitoring of the Amazon Andes Project, the network of roads, which also includes the main 172-mile highway connecting Puerto Esperanza and Iñapari on the Brazilian border, could result in the deforestation of 2,750 sqare kilometers.
"This law makes a mockery of Peru’s climate change commitments and the recent visit by the pope," Laura Furones of Global Witness said, according to the Guardian.
Julia Urrunaga, Peru's director for Environmental Investigation Agency, told the Guardian that nearly 95 percent of deforestation takes place less than 6 kilometers from a road. Urrunaga also added that the new law passed is in contradiction with an earlier court ruling which declared the forest's protection as being in the country's interest.
James Gordon, a regional manager for the WWF, raised concern that the new construction may lead to colonization of the isolated Indigenous reserves and parks.
"What typically happens in the Amazon once a new road goes in is that you get colonization on it. It might be for timber, it might be people opening up land for farming and you get contact between some isolated Indigenous communities and you are very likely to see social disruption," he told The Independent.
"The key concern is not so much the forest the road displaces by putting a load of tarmac down, it’s the fact that you are opening up forest - it’s a kind of catalyst to further development."