Tres Fronteiras: One Square Mile of Brazil
- 21 September 2012
- From the section World Radio and TV
We are in a city deep in the Amazon rainforest, at the point where Brazil meets Colombia and Peru.
The Brazilian town of Tabatinga vies for size and importance with Colombia's Leticia. While on the Peruvian side - across the mighty Amazon River - is the tiny hamlet of Santa Rosa. Together they form a unique 'triple town' known as Tres Fronteiras.
Though far from the glamour cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro - the engines of Brazil's economic miracle - Tabatinga is experiencing a period of extraordinary growth. This is a city with three universities, a deep-water port, and an international airport - all built within the last five years to serve a population that has doubled in size since 2000.
Tabatinga is now more than a match for its neighbour Leticia, though the capital of Colombia's Amazonas state has also changed beyond recognition in recent years.
Three decades ago, this was a key staging post in Pablo Escobar's narco-trafficking network. The man who engineered this network for Escobar - Evaristo Porras - built his personal mansion here, painstakingly reproducing the Carrington Family home from the TV series Dynasty.
The mansion is now a ruin, though others have been turned into boutique hotels. Tourism is booming in Leticia, and helping to fill the void left by the collapse of the cartels with honest dollars.
The Peruvian side of the trio is very much the junior partner. With a population of only around 600, Santa Rosa is not much more than a single street. There's a handful of cevicherias, or fish restaurants, where tourists staying in Tabatinga or Leticia come to sample Peru's famous cuisine.
But no running water, electricity or other basic services. This may soon change as the Brazilian economic miracle sucks in more and more cheap imports from Peru.
Among these imports is illegal timber. Deforestation rates on the Brazilian side of the border have fallen dramatically in recent years, according to government figures. But rates in Peru have increased - leading some to accuse Brazil of merely outsourcing the problem to its neighbours.
Meanwhile the cocaine trade hasn't gone away, and there are rumours of a new strain of the drug - allegedly genetically modified - that's able to grow in lowland areas like the Amazon basin as well as in its native highland environment.
Together with illegal distilleries, drug smuggling and deforestation threaten the survival of indigenous communities living in the forest surrounding our square mile. With hardwoods fetching up to $3,000 (£1,850) (per tree, and a kilo of cocaine worth about the same, the temptations are immense.
To protect themselves and their forest, the Huitoto people have taken policing into their own hands with the formation of the Indigenous Guard. Armed with sticks, they patrol the forest and report any wrongdoing to the police.
But the nature of the territory does not make things easy for them - with its thousands of small rivers and streams, our square mile is a smuggler's paradise, and Tabatinga is still thought to be the main point of entry of cocaine into Brazil. Behind the development success story, the old sources of wealth are still going strong.