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Manaus: Amazon Capital

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With the memory of the Olympics still fresh in our minds, coupled with renewed passion for the great games, thoughts, quivering with anticipation, turn to the successor nation and 2014 World Cup hosts: Brazil.

Manaus: Brazil’s industrial hub and capital of the Amazonas, home to a near 3,000,000 inhabitants and one of the host cities for both events, is a place of huge international interest - economically, environmentally and socially.

When I was offered the opportunity to take up a two month placement with the trade union of Amazonas Journalists in Manaus, I quite literally jumped at the chance. The idea of being in the middle of the Amazon in Brazil was an offer I could simply never refuse. Despite being completely unsure of what I was expected to do there, and called ‘crazy’ by everyone from the till guy at Tesco’s to my ninety-year-old grandmother, I eagerly packed up my things, did some internet research on the world’s deadliest animals - felt comforted at the thought that most of them decided to make their homes in the Amazon - and went on my merry way.

Disappointment and frustration can never exist without expectation. The expectations I had of Manaus were, I soon came to realize, numbered and unrealistic.  When you hear the description “capital of the Amazonas, Brazil” with care to not be exaggerated, you imagine some sort of city which reflects being in the middle of the world’s largest rainforest. The constant and insistent international interest in preserving the Amazon contributes further to this image of the ‘capital’ of the Amazonas being a place where city meets nature, industry meets sustainability, man meets restraint and acknowledges the limits of his environment.

I was completely taken aback when I quicklyrealised Manaus was not this, is not this - if anything it appears to be the opposite. I have been in Manaus for almost three weeks, and have been chartered with the task of creating a project which will socially and culturally benefit the community. There is no shortage of choice for such a project. The city is impoverished, highly polluted, ravaged with crime and despondency, and an infrastructure which is crying out forrenovation.

Thanks to the Zona Franca (SUFRAMA) - an economic project started in 1967 which provides large tax breaks, among other incentives for foreign investors, and has this year been granted an extension of 50 years by Brazil’s president Dilmas – Manaus has become the industrial heart of Brazil. A far cry from the promises, and continued propaganda, that the economic plan brings sustainable and environmentally friendly growth to the city, the reality of this isolated, gigantic city, with over 600 industries and growing, is that in fact it is suffering.

The divide between the wealthy and poor, unfortunately like almost every city, region and country, is painfully evident. Coupled with ever increasing taxes on basic goods, particularly fruit and vegetables which, in spite of being cultivated here must be sent thousands of miles away for processing, it is quite difficult to buy local produce, the market for this doesn’t seem to exist – which pushes up prices further and drives a larger wedge in the wealth divide.

It seems, to me, that regardless of the huge amount of investment Manaus is receiving internationally, regardless of the countless number of industries in the city and the wealth they generate, regardless of Brazil’s economic growth figures soaring the past years, the people of this city do not seem to receive many of the benefits: trickle down just isn’t trickling.

I do not argue that the benefits are not there at all, for I am sure that there are programmes in place to improve the city, however it is happening at a pace which does not reflective the same ferocity of wealth growth in the city. If there is disparity between the improvement of the city and its people, and the industrial sector and its directors, it creates a dangerous vacuum of power, and inequality which if let unaddressed, will remain for decades to come, allowing the rich to get richer, exploit the land and environment, whilst the poor remain oblivious and poorer, believing that this is merely the way it is.

The most shocking of all though, is the disregard for the environment, which is distressingly ironic. The city is incredibly dirty; there don’t seem to be many environmental projects to tackle these problems. The water in the river, the Amazonian River, is so highly polluted you are advised by the locals to avoid getting into it, and not to mention the decreased levels of humidity in the air caused by deforestation, increased population, more air pollution which alters the environment for flora and fauna alike, as well as creating an atmosphere which encourages the spread of forest fires, of which the surrounding areas of Manaus have experienced many.

If Brazil wants to avoid international outrage and criticism, it must try to alleviate the issues in Manaus and other regions in Brazil - which by my count is no small task. 

 




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