Wilson Pinheiro

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Wilson Pinheiro (died in 1980) was the president of the Brasiléia Rural Workers Union in the State of Acre in Brazil. He helped lead the fight against ranchers who were destroying the Amazon Rainforest. Pinheiro was committed to defense of the Amazon and was assassinated on July 21, 1980. He was a colleague of Chico Mendes, the President of the Xapuri Rural Workers Union, who similarly lost his life defending the Amazon.


Pinheiro grew up in Acre, Brazil, a rubber-producing region in the Amazon River Basin. During the 1960s, rubber prices had collapsed to the point that many landowners were beginning to sell their land to cattle ranchers. Traditional rubber tappers were being removed from homes and evicted from their lands.

In the 1970s together with Chico Mendes, he joined the rubber tappers of the forest. The rubber tappers would stage mass demonstrations blocking logging road. In addition, they would take over logging sites by disarming guards and convincing the loggers not to continue. Frequently, they were very successful at stopping logging projects, despite resistance from the ranchers.

Individual activism[edit]

Wilson Pinheiro was a mentor of Chico Mendes and together they worked in the Brasiléia Rural Workers Union. In the early 1970s, Pinheiro became a member of the Confederation of Agricultural Workers, supported by the Catholic Church, through which he and Chico Mendes began to set up human blockades. They innovated the use chaining individuals to trees in order to prevent them from being cut down. These protests were nonviolent but had limited success. They did, however, attract international attention to the plight of the rubber tappers. Unfortunately, the ranchers responded very violently. They even used the local police to threaten, torture and kill many of union members.


On the night of July 21, 1980, Wilson Pinheiro was murdered inside of the offices of the Rural Workers Union of Brasiléia. He was watching a television program when he was shot to death by murderers hired by the ranchers who opposed his Union. The death of Wilson Pinheiro did not make international headlines. It was, however, used very effectively by Chico Mendes as an example during his campaign to end the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest.

In the Cinema[edit]

Wilson Pinheiro was featured in the movie The Burning Season (in Portuguese, Amazônia em Chamas), directed by the filmmaker John Frankenheimer and based on the book of the same name by Andrew Revkin. Edward James Olmos was cast as Wilson Pinheiro in the movie. In total, the film won two Emmys and three Golden Globe Awards.

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