Drainage Plan Will Devastate S. American Rivers, Groups Say

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Piecemealing the Hidrovia

Now the Hidrovia project has resurfaced in a new guise. "The reality is that much of the river's territories are owned privately," Rivas says. "The new concern is whether powerful commercial enterprises will join forces and begin piecemealing the project together."

Argentina and Bolivia are selectively dredging the Rio Paraguay. The Paraguayan government continues to express interest in the project. In Brazil, rumors circulate about closed-door meetings between large-scale soybean farms and cattle ranch owners looking to dredge and straighten river sections.

For Hidrovia to move forward, the project must convince that the economic gains outweigh the environmental concerns.

The people of the Pantanal have mixed emotions.

"The whole thing will only benefit big business," says Antonio Piaz, a fishing boat captain in Conception, Paraguay. "It'll ruin the fishing business by changing the river conditions and adding pollution from freighters."

Some 150,000 indigenous peoples live in the river regions. "We don't have any jobs or money to buy medicine. Maybe the new waterway will create more jobs in the region," says Celso Zavala, a chief of the Enxet tribe in Pt. Colon, Paraguay.

Zavala, while sensitive to the environmental concerns, wants more opportunity for his tribe and realizes that money often equals better health.

Until Brazil signs on, a full-scale Hidrovia project will not become a reality. But the economic realities of the region make some environmentalists fear that round two in the campaign against Hidrovia is just around the next bend.

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