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Santarém, Brazil

Santarém is a city in the state of Pará in Brazil. The Tapajós joins the Amazon River there, and it is a popular location for tourism. It was once home to the Tapajós Indians, a tribe of Native Americans after which the river was named, and the leaders of a large, agricultural chiefdom that flourished before the arrival of Europeans. Santarém is also the name of the original city in Portugal, that gave the name Santarém to this Brazilian city. The city is the home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santarém.

Santarém is an important regional market center in Lower Amazonia located midway between the larger cities of Belém and Manaus. The economy is based on agriculture, cattle and mining. The city has seen many 'cycles' of development dominated by one or a few economic activities, including (in the last century) rubber tapping, coffee production and gold mining. Most recently, there has been a huge growth in the area of soy plantations.

Many 'Mocorongos' seek to create a new Brazilian state by dividing the enormous state of Pará into western and eastern regions. The new state (the western part) would be called Tapajós, with Santarém serving as the capital.

Santarém is bordered by the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers. Both run along many kilometers in the front of the city, side by side, without mixing. The Amazon's milky colored water carries sediment from the Andes in the East, while the Tapajós's water is somewhat warmer and has a deep-blue tone. This phenomenon is called "The meeting of the waters" by the locals.

Another popular place for tourism is the village of Alter do Chão, which is located by the Tapajós river, about 30 km from Santarém. It can be reached by car (about half an hour) or by boat (one or more hours, depending on the boat).

Controversy around Cargill soybean port

In 2003, the US-based corporation Cargill completed a port facility for processing soybean in Santarém. The port has dramatically increased soybean production in the area due to the proximity of ease of transport. Although the company complied with state legislation, it failed to comply with a federal law requiring an Environmental Impact Statement. Instead, Cargill contested in court its need to comply. In late 2003 Greenpeace launched a campaign claiming the new port has increased deforestation of local rain forest as farmers have cleared land to make way for crops.

In February 2006, the federal courts in Brazil gave Cargill six months to complete the environmental assessment. This ruling came as part of a broader popular backlash against the port; while it was initially supported by locals who hoped for jobs, opinion has turned against it as the jobs have not appeared. In July 2006, federal prosecutor Felícia Pontes Jr. suggested that the government was close to shutting down the port.

Cargill responds to criticisms of the port by focusing on the need for economic development in the local province, one of the poorest in Brazil. It makes the claim that "extreme measures," such as closing the port, are not necessary because "Soybean occupies less than 0.6 percent of the land in the Amazon biome today." Cargill also points to its partnership with The Nature Conservancy to encourage farmers around Santarém to comply with Brazilian law that requires 80% of forest cover to be left intact in Amazon forest areas.

Further reading

  • Allen, J. A. List of Birds Collected by Mr. Charles Linden, Near Santarem, Brazil. 1876.
  • Bernard, E., and M. B. Fenton. 2007. "Bats in a Fragmented Landscape: Species Composition, Diversity and Habitat Interactions in Savannas of Santarem, Central Amazonia, Brazil". Biological Conservation. 134, no. 3: 332-343.
  • Easby, Elizabeth K. The Pre-Conquest Art of Santarem, Brazil. 1952.
  • Fearnside, Philip M. 2007. "Brazil's Cuiaba- Santarem (BR-163) Highway: The Environmental Cost of Paving a Soybean Corridor Through the Amazon". Environmental Management. 39, no. 5: 601.
  • Winklerprins, Antoinette M G A. 2006. "Jute Cultivation in the Lower Amazon, 1940-1990: an Ethnographic Account from Santarem, Para, Brazil". Journal of Historical Geography. 32, no. 4: 818.

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