Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SOCIETY - In the midst of the forest grow supermarkets

Rio Branco (Brazil) The advance of civilization in the Amazon rainforest has so far followed a predictable pattern. The loggers are clearing the land for cattle, which, in turn, pave the way for crops ... And the next step is the introduction of shopping malls. A few years ago, many scientists thought that the Amazon was not habitable.

Today, at least five cities in the Brazilian has more than 300 000 inhabitants, a population sufficient to attract retail chains. By late 2011, four of the largest cities will be equipped with large American style shopping malls and developers have three others in their boxes. A modern consumer economy is taking place in a region which, in the minds of many, amounts to an impenetrable jungle and rivers infested with piranhas.

The increased purchasing power of consumers Amazon certifies the extent of Brazil's economic boom. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva [post from 2003 to 2010] has injected massive money in the region to try to raise the living standards of poor and working classes. Poor families receive allowances and subsidized business loans from the federal bank Banco da Amazônia.

Construction sites of hydropower dams create jobs and investment. The urban population increases with the arrival of rural attracted by the prospect of finding work and access to public services. The development of the Amazon also alters the landscape for environmentalists. The population in the region now have more clout to demand roads, power plants and other infrastructure.

This is one reason why the environmentalist Marina Silva, Minister of Environment from 2003 to 2008, was replaced by Carlos Minc, more favorable to urban development. As malls are built on land that had been deforested decades ago, environmentalists do not oppose. "The arrival of malls is part of a general trend," admits Jorf Viana, a former governor and is ecology, from Rio Branco [in the State of Acre, west].

It is certain that the vast Amazon remains largely covered by jungle and does not soon become an uninterrupted series of stores. Since 1991, the population in the biome [or ecoregion] forest of Brazil has jumped 48% to 19.7 million people and has reconcentrated mainly in cities. But as it occupies a territory as large as Western Europe, it is still extremely sparse.

In Porto Velho, the new shopping center has disrupted local life, transforming the landscape, economy and social habits of this frontier city. This capital of a state [Rondônia] massively deforested, miserable pole livestock and soybeans, has seen its population explode after the construction of roads that have brought hundreds of thousands of settlers in the 1950s .

Today it is booming. Construction workers and engineers flocked to build in about two hydroelectric dams worth several billion dollars. Square building beige, Porto Velho Shopping slice strikingly with the rest of the city, clusters of chaotic small shabby buildings and potholed roads. The complex is by far the largest structure well conditioned for hundreds of miles away - an oasis amidst the muggy heat that prevails in the region.

It's enough to make the first tourist destination in the state. "The only distraction in the whole state is what shopping you can do there," says Queiroz Aira, a student of 18 who has walked 200 miles from Ariquemees, a city dedicated to breeding, where she lives. "It's absolutely dead on the side of my house." Around her scenes take place we would see in any suburban mall in the United States.

Some signs remind us that even when we are in the Amazon. The "McDonald's" local does not serve fries that day. The delivery truck is stuck somewhere on the long road of 4,000 miles that connects us in São Paulo. The "Employee of the Month" fast food has won the title for assuming more responsibility after half of his team had contracted dengue.

Build a mall in a city of Amazonia poses unique challenges. Torrential rains fall almost half of the year. During the dry season, workers rush to assemble the frame and the roof in order to continue to work indoors in wet weather. We must at all costs deadlines to avoid losing an entire year.

Everything costs more, from cement to steel bars through the windows and accessories, for we must bring them by truck to locations hundreds, even thousands of miles away. We must also contend with the unexpected. The civil engineers were one day surprised to come across a family of Indians out of the forest who were camping on a site that could accommodate a park rider.

Federal authorities charged on Indian Affairs had to intervene to rehouse them. But to find volunteers willing to invest in shops, there is no problem. In Rio Branco, almost all the commercial space was leased even before being given the first sod.

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