Rail project through Brazilian Amazon questioned over impact on indigenous community

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian federal prosecutors and civil rights groups are opposing a project to build a grains railway in the Amazon rainforest because of its potential impact on indigenous communities and the environment, potentially stalling the project.

This week, the prosecutors and the civil rights groups questioned the project before a Brazilian federal audit court, claiming indigenous communities have not to been consulted on the construction of the railway.

“Everyone (the indigenous people) is against it because we have not been consulted about the plan,” said Beptuk Metuktire, a Kayapó native and grandson of the internationally known Chief Raoni. “We have not seen the environmental studies.”

Ferrogrão, as the project is known, would cut through the Amazon and cost several billion dollars, and could attract investments from global grain traders operating in Brazil.

The Brazilian audit court could side with developers, removing a key hurdle that would allow the government to set a timeline for the project. Or it could side with the prosecutors and civil rights groups, giving indigenous groups a chance to advocate their position.

At more than 900 kilometers (560 miles), the so-called Ferrogrão railway would connect Brazil’s Center-West farm belt to northern ports.

Ferrogrão is expected reduce the volume of grain cargo moved by trucks on the BR-163 highway, where traffic is frequently disrupted because of poor maintenance, particularly during the rainy season.

In August, members of the Kayapó indigenous tribe blocked the BR-163 in the Novo Progresso region, in Pará state, to protest against the Ferrogrão project and a lack of government protection from the coronavirus pandemic, which killed several of their elders.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Roberto Samora; Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Steve Orlofsky