Chico Mendes

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Chico Mendes
Chico & Ilsamar Mendes 1988.png
Chico Mendes and his wife, Ilsamar Mendes, at their home in Xapuri in 1988
Born(1944-12-15)15 December 1944
Died22 December 1988(1988-12-22) (aged 44)
Xapuri, Brazil
Cause of deathMurdered by "Darci Alves Da Silva"
OccupationSocial activist
Spouse(s)Ilsamar Mendes
ChildrenAngela Mendes
Elenira Mendes
Sandino Mendes

Francisco Alves Mendes Filho,[1] 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.

Early life[edit]

Francisco "Chico" Alves Mendes Filho was born on December 15, 1944, in a rubber reserve called Seringal Bom Futuro,[2] 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, Iracê.[3] Chico was one of 17 siblings—only six of whom survived childhood.[4]

At age 9, Chico began work as a rubber tapper.[5] 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.[6]


At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize 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.[7] [8]

The Rubber Tappers' Union was created in 1975 in the nearby town of Brasileia, with Wilson Pinheiro elected as president and Mendes as its secretary.[7][9]

Mendes also played a central role in the creation of the National Council of Rubber Tappers in the mid-1980s.[10] Mendes' group also had strong ties with the National Campaign for the Defence and Development of the Amazon, and helped locally organize Workers' Party support.[11]

Chico Mendes with his son, Sandino

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.[12] Another result of these discussions was the coining of the concept and the term "extractive reserves".[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[7]

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,[citation needed] but also gained a warrant for Darly's arrest, for a murder committed in another state, Paraná. He delivered the warrant to the federal police, but it was never acted upon.[12]


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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20][21]

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.[22]

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 33.6 million acres (136,000 km²).[23]

In 2013 a species of bird, Chico's tyrannulet (Zimmerius chicomendesi), was named after him.[24]

In popular culture[edit]


Songs inspired directly or in part by Mendes include:


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Filho" is the equivalent to "Junior"; "Chico" is an abbreviative nickname for "Francisco" in Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking countries
  2. ^ Into the Amazon:Chico Mendes and the Struggle for the Rain Forest, Augusta Dwyer, Key-Porter Books, Toronto, 1990
  3. ^ Revkin (2004), pp. 63; 67
  4. ^ Smallman, Shawn C. & Brown, Kimberley (2011). Introduction to International and Global Studies. UNC Press Books. p. 378. ISBN 978-0-8078-7175-1.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ Place, Susan E. (2001). Tropical rainforests: Latin American nature and society in transition. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-8420-2908-7.
  6. ^ Palmer, Joy et al., eds. (2001). "Chico Mendes". Fifty key thinkers on the environment. Psychology Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-415-14699-9.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b c Into Amazon, Dwyer
  8. ^ "United Nations Environment: Programme Environment for Development". Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  9. ^ Palmer, Joy A. (2002). "Mendes, Chico". In Barry, John & Frankland, E. Gene. International encyclopedia of environmental politics. Taylor & Francis. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-415-20285-5.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  10. ^ Barbosa, Luiz C. (2000). The Brazilian Amazon rainforest: global ecopolitics, development, and democracy. University Press of America. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-7618-1522-8.
  11. ^ Hochstetler, Kathryn & Keck, Margaret E. (2007). Greening Brazil: environmental activism in state and society. Duke University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-8223-4048-5.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  12. ^ a b Andrew Revkin (30 September 2004). The burning season: the murder of Chico Mendes and the fight for the Amazon rain forest. Island Press. pp. 201–205. ISBN 978-1-55963-089-4. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  13. ^ Jorge I. Domínguez (2001). Mexico, Central, and South America: Social movements. Taylor & Francis. pp. 68–. ISBN 978-0-8153-3695-2. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  14. ^ John Friedmann; Haripriya Rangan (1993). In defense of livelihood: comparative studies on environmental action. Kumarian Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-56549-020-8. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  15. ^ Smouts, Marie-Claude (2003). Tropical forests, international jungle: the underside of global ecopolitics. Palgrave-Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-4039-6203-4.
  16. ^ Keck, Margaret E. (2001). "Social Equity and Environmental Politics in Brazil: Lessons from the Rubber Tappers of Acre". In Domínguez, Jorge I. Mexico, Central, and South America: Social movements. Taylor & Francis. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8153-3695-2.
  17. ^ Devine, Carol (1999). "Mendes, Chico". In Devine, Carol & Poole, Hilary. Human rights: the essential reference. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-57356-205-8.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  18. ^ Hall, Anthony L. (1997). Sustaining Amazonia: grassroots action for productive conservation. Manchester University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7190-4698-8.
  19. ^ Ramlogan, Rajendra (2004). The developing world and the environment: making the case for effective protection of the global environment. University Press of America. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-7618-2879-2.
  20. ^ "'Quem matou Chico Mendes foi ele mesmo', diz Darly ('Who killed Chico Mendes was himself', says Darly)" (in Portuguese). G1 December 12, 2008.
  21. ^ Switzer, Jaqueline Vaughn (2003). "Chico Mendes (1944–1988)". Environmental activism: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-57607-901-0.
  22. ^ Melone, Michelle A. (1993). "The Struggle of the Seringueiros: Environmental Action in the Amazon". In Friedmann, John & Rangan, Haripriya. In defense of livelihood: comparative studies on environmental action. Kumarian Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-56549-020-8.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  23. ^ "Brazil salutes Chico Mendes 25 years after his murder". the guardian. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  24. ^ "15 New Species of birds discovered in Amazonia". The Internet Bird Collection. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  25. ^ Linda Lara, Ramírez (May 10, 2009). "Cuando Los Ángeles Lloran" (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  26. ^ MEL GUSSOW. "Raul Julia, Broadway and Hollywood Actor, Is Dead at 54". The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2017.


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