Bolivia will gain access to Atlantic ports in Uruguay in exchange for a pledge of natural gas exports to Montevideo in an agreement signed in La Paz March 14 by presidents Evo Morales and José Mujica. A new road will follow the Paraguay-Paraná river system, while the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) will begin construction of a new pipeline between the countries. The regional grouping URPABOL (Uruguay–Paraguay–Bolivia) has approved the project, and Brazil is also expected to cooperate, with its Puerto Cáceres serving as one hub on the river route. (NNN-Prensa Latina, March 14)
The CAF has long been studying ambitious plans for a “Hidrovía” to convert the Paraguay and Paraná rivers into an industrial shipping channel. Under the original plan developed in 1997 by the Hidrovía Inter–Governmental Commission (CIH), with support from the Inter-American Development Bank and the UN Development Program, massive dredging and structural channeling would have taken place at hundreds of sites along the 2,100-mile river system. Grave concerns were expressed by ecologists for the fate of southern Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands, which was expected to shrink as a result of the water diversions, with associated losses in biodiversity.
The original studies for this project were rejected as a result of independent technical critiques, organized by Brazil’s Rios Vivos coalition. The CAF has provided the CIH with $940,000 for new studies, to “complement” the original studies. The project still calls for intensive dredging to guarantee passage of barge convoys through 23 “critical” river passes, including those in Bolivia’s Tamengo Channel and between Corumbá and the Rio Apa in the Pantanal. (International Rivers)