Chico Mendes and his wife, Ilsamar Mendes, at their home in Xapuri
December 15, 1944|
|Died||December 22, 1988
|Cause of death||Murdered by "Darci Alves Da Silva"|
Francisco Alves Mendes Filho, better known as Chico Mendes (December 15, 1944 – December 22, 1988), was a Brazilian rubber tapper, trade union leader and environmentalist. He fought to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and advocated for the human rights of Brazilian peasants and indigenous peoples. He was assassinated by a rancher on December 22, 1988. The Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade), a body under the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, is named in his honor.
Francisco "Chico" Alves Mendes Filho was born on December 15, 1944, in a rubber reserve called Seringal Bom Futuro, outside of Xapuri, a small town in the state of Acre. He was the son of a second-generation rubber tapper, Francisco Mendes, and his wife, Irâce. Chico was one of 17 siblings—only six of whom survived childhood.
At age 9, Chico began work as a rubber tapper. Schools were generally prohibited on the rubber plantations. The owners did not want the workers being able to read and do arithmetic, because they would then be likely to discover they were being exploited. Mendes did not learn to read until he was 18 years old.
At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.— Chico Mendes
To save the rainforest, Chico Mendes and the rubber workers union asked the government to set up reserves as they wanted people to use the forest without damaging it. They also used a very effective technique they called the 'empate' where rubber tappers blocked the way into rubber reserves, preventing their destruction. 
Mendes also played a central role in the creation of the National Council of Rubber Tappers in the mid-1980s. Mendes' group also had strong ties with the National Campaign for the Defense and Development of the Amazon, and helped locally organize Workers' Party support.
When the first meeting of this new union was held in 1985, in the capital Brasilia, rubber tappers from all over the country came. The discussion expanded from the threats to their own livelihoods to the larger issues of deforestation, road paving, and cattle ranching. The meeting also had the effect of catching the attention of the international environmentalist movement, and highlighting their plight to a larger audience. The group embraced a larger alliance with environmentalism, rather than strict Marxism, in spite of the bourgeois associations of the former. Another result of these discussions was the coining of the concept and the term "extractive reserves". In November of that year, Adrian Cowell, an English filmmaker, filmed much of the proceedings of this meeting as part of a documentary he was making about Mendes, which aired in 1990.
Mendes believed that relying on rubber tapping alone was not sustainable, and that the seringueiros needed to develop more holistic, cooperative systems that used a variety of forest products, such as nuts, fruit, oil, and fibers; and that they needed to focus on building strong communities with quality education for their children.
In March 1987, the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation flew Mendes to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to convince the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, and U.S. Congress to support the creation of extractive reserves.
Mendes won several awards for his work, including the United Nations Environmental Program Global 500 Roll of Honor Award in 1987, and the National Wildlife Federation's National Conservation Achievement Award in 1988.
In 1988 a man called Darly Alves Da Silva bought part of a rubber reserve called Cachoeira, where relatives of Mendes lived, and which was affiliated to the local Rural Workers Union in Xapuri. While the sale of the section was disputed by the family of the vendor, who claimed he had no legal right to sell it, Da Silva tried to drive them off their land and increase his ranch holdings. The rubber tappers of Cachoeira stood firm and set up road blocks to keep Da Silva out.
In 1988, Mendes launched a campaign to stop rancher Darly Alves da Silva from logging the area that its inhabitants wanted demarcated as an extractive reserve. Mendes not only managed to stop the planned deforestation and create the reserve, but also gained a warrant for Darly's arrest, for a murder committed in another state, Parana. He delivered the warrant to the federal police, but it was never acted upon.
On the evening of Thursday, December 22, 1988, Mendes was assassinated in his Xapuri home by Darci, son of rancher Darly Alves da Silva. The shooting took place exactly one week after Mendes' 44th birthday, when he had predicted he would "not live until Christmas". Mendes was the 19th rural activist to be murdered that year in Brazil. Many felt that although the trial was proceeding against the actual killers, the roles of the ranchers' union, the Rural Democratic Union, and the Brazilian Federal Police in his death was ignored.
In December 1990, Darly Alves da Silva, his son Darci, and their ranch hand, Jerdeir Pereira, were sentenced to 19 years in prison for their part in Mendes' assassination. In February 1992, they won a retrial, claiming that the prosecution's primary witness (Chico's wife) was biased. The conviction was upheld, and they remained in prison. In 1993, they escaped from jail, along with seven other prisoners, by sawing through the bars of their prison window. All were recaptured, including Darly Jr., who served the remainder of his sentence with the other killers before returning to Xapuri.
Mendes' murder made international headlines, and led to an outpouring of support for the rubber tappers' and environmental movements. In March 1989, a third meeting was held for the National Council of Rubber Tappers, and the Alliance of Forest Peoples was created to protect rubber tappers, rural workers, and indigenous peoples from encroachment on traditional lands.
Thanks in part to the international media attention surrounding the murder, the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve was created in the area where he lived. More than 20 such reserves, along the same lines as Mendes had proposed, now cover more than 8 million acres (32,000 km²).
The musical group Maná made a song about the death of Mendes. The song was titled "Cuando los Ángeles Lloran", referring to Mendes as an angel that has died. Paul McCartney dedicated the song "How Many People" from his 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt to the memory of Mendes. Moreover, composer Clare Fischer, who had himself supplied orchestral arrangements for McCartney's album ("Distractions" and the unreleased "The Lovers That Never Were"), dedicated a composition from his own 1989 album to Mendes, namely "Xapurí" (after the so-called 'City of Chico Mendes'), from Lembranças (Remembrances). The Brazilian Heavy Metal band Sepultura also dedicated a song titled "Ambush" to Chico Mendes assassination on their album Roots.
- Dorothy Stang
- Environment of Brazil
- List of peace activists
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- "Filho" is the equivalent to "Junior"; "Chico" is an abbreviative nickname for "Francisco" in Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking countries
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- Website and documentary about Chico Mendes
- Voice of the Amazon —Award-winning documentary about Chico's life and death
- Children of the Amazon—Official website of the documentary film
- Living With Chico Mendes—Documentary from the BBC World Service
- Extractive Reserve Baixo Rio Branco - Rio Jauaperi