On 22 January, Peru approved Law 30723 that gives the green light to the construction of a road system along the Peruvian-Brazilian border in the Ucayali region. This would open up access to parts of the Amazon forest hitherto relatively untouched.

The law was approved by Congress in December. It declares it to be “in the national interest” to build these roads. Its publication in Peru’s official gazette came just hours after the end of the Pope’s visit to Peru and after the period allowed for the executive to raise any objections (which it did not).

According to the plans, “the main proposed road in the border area would cover 172 miles and connect the towns of Puerto Esperanza and Iñapari, in the Ucayali and Madre de Dios regions, respectively”. There are strong concerns that these roads will put indigenous communities still living in isolation at great risk.

Lizardo Cauper, head of Peru’s federation of native Amazon peoples, Aidesep, told the Guardian that “these projects don’t benefit indigenous people. This is an area with isolated people who are extremely vulnerable”. He went on “roads bring outsiders who traffic our land, log our timber, as well as drug traffickers and illegal miners.” Aidesep demands that the government repeal the law for contravening the rights of indigenous peoples.

Julia Urrunaga, Peruvian director for Environmental Investigation Agency, said 95% of deforestation happens less than 6km from a road, adding that the new law contradicted a court ruling that declared the protection of the forest to be in the national interest.

Studies by the Amazon Andes Project (MAAP) back this assertion. It recently published a report that shows some 275,000 hectares of primary forest to be at risk. “Much of this area is within protected areas and [provides] a reserve for isolated indigenous groups” it says.

The Amazon has already experienced substantial deforestation along the whole length of the Inter-oceanic Highway that links Peru with Brazil. According to MAAP, “about 80% of forest loss has occurred in a 5km radius on both sides of the Inter-oceanic highway”.

Approval of law was previously questioned by the former minister of culture, Salvador del Solar. On 4 December, the minister sent two detailed reports to the president of Congress, Luis Galarreta, warning him of the risks to indigenous peoples if the legislation was approved. See La Republica.