Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes
Chico Mendes
Born December 15, 1944(1944-12-15)
Xapuri, Brazil
Died December 22, 1988(1988-12-22) (aged 44)
Xapuri, Brazil
Cause of death Assassination
Occupation Social activist
Children Angela 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.


Early life

Francisco "Chico" Alves Mendes Filho was born on December 15 , 1944 in the town of Seringal Santa Fé, outside of Xapuri. He was the son of a second generation rubber tapper, Francisco Mendes, and his wife Irâce.[2] Chico was one of seventeen siblings -- only six of whom survived childhood.[3]

At age 9, Chico began work as a rubber tapper.[4] Schools were generally prohibited on the rubber plantations. The owners didn't want the workers being able to read and do arithmetic, because they would then be likely to discover that they were being exploited. Mendes did not learn to read until he was approximately 20 years old.[5]


Chico Mendes with his children
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[6]

The Xapuri Rubber Tappers' Union was created in 1970, and Chico was elected as its president.[7]

Mendes played a central role in the creation of the National Council of Rubber Tappers in the mid-1980s.[8] Mendes' group also had strong ties with the CNDDA ("National Campaign for the Defense and Development of the Amazon"), and helped locally organize Workers' Party support.[9]

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, 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. [10]Another result of these discussions was the coining of the concept and the term "extractive reserves." [11]In November of that year, Adrian Cowell, an English filmmaker, filmed much of the proceeds of this meeting as part of a documentary he was making about Mendes, which aired in 1990.[12]

Mendes believed that relying on rubber tapping alone was not sustainable and that the seringueiros needed to develop more holistic, cooperative systems that utilized 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.[13]

In March of 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.[14]

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.[15]

In 1988, Mendes launched a campaign to stop rancher Darly Alves da Silva from logging an area that was planned as a 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. He delivered the warrant to the federal police, but it was never acted upon. [10]


On the evening of Thursday, December 22, 1988, Chico Mendes was assassinated in his Xapuri home by the son of a local rancher, Darly Alves da Silva. The shooting took place exactly one week after Mendes' 44th birthday, where he had predicted that he would "not live until Christmas". Mendes was the 19th rural activist to be murdered that year in Brazil.[16] Many felt that although the trial was proceeding against the actual killers, that the role of the ranchers' union, the Rural Democratic Union, and the Brazilian Federal Police was ignored.[17]

In December, 1990, rancher Darly Alves da Silva, his son Darly Alves da Silva Jr., and their ranch hand, Jerdeir Pereia 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 7 other prisoners, by sawing through the bars of their prison window. All were recaptured, except for Darly Jr., who was as of 2004 still at large.[18]

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.[19]

Thanks in part to the international media attention surrounding the murder, the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve was created in the area where he lived. There are more than 20 such reserves now, along the same lines as Mendes had proposed, covering more than 8 million acres (32,000 km²).[citation needed]

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. Sir Paul McCartney dedicated the song "How Many People" from his 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt to the memory of Mendes.

See also



  1. ^ "Filho" is the equivalent to "Junior"; "Chico" is an abbreviative nickname for "Francisco" in Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking countries
  2. ^ Revkin (2004), pp. 63; 67
  3. ^ Smallman, Shawn C. & Brown, Kimberley (2011). Introduction to International and Global Studies. UNC Press Books. p. 378. ISBN 9780807871751. 
  4. ^ Place, Susan E. (2001). Tropical rainforests: Latin American nature and society in transition. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 176. ISBN 9780842029087. 
  5. ^ Palmer, Joy et al., ed (2001). "Chico Mendes". Fifty key thinkers on the environment. Psychology Press. p. 303. ISBN 9780415146999. 
  6. ^ "United Nations Environment: Programme Environment for Development". Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  7. ^ Palmer, Joy A. (2002). "Mendes, Chico". In Barry, John & Frankland, E. Gene. International encyclopedia of environmental politics. Taylor & Francis. p. 320. ISBN 9780415202855. 
  8. ^ Barbosa, Luiz C. (2000). The Brazilian Amazon rainforest: global ecopolitics, development, and democracy. University Press of America. p. 115. ISBN 9780761815228. 
  9. ^ Hochstetler, Kathryn & Keck, Margaret E. (2007). Greening Brazil: environmental activism in state and society. Duke University Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780822340485. 
  10. ^ 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 9781559630894. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Jorge I. Domínguez (2001). Mexico, Central, and South America: Social movements. Taylor & Francis. pp. 68–. ISBN 9780815336952. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  12. ^ John Friedmann; Haripriya Rangan (1993). In defense of livelihood: comparative studies on environmental action. Kumarian Press. p. 119. ISBN 9781565490208. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  13. ^ Smouts, Marie-Claude (2003). Tropical forests, international jungle: the underside of global ecopolitics. Palgrave-Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 9781403962034. 
  14. ^ 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 9780815336952. 
  15. ^ Devine, Carol (1999). "Mendes, Chico". In Devine, Carol & Poole, Hilary. Human rights: the essential reference. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 202. ISBN 9781573562058. 
  16. ^ Hall, Anthony L. (1997). Sustaining Amazonia: grassroots action for productive conservation. Manchester University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780719046988. 
  17. ^ 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 9780761828792. 
  18. ^ Switzer, Jaqueline Vaughn (2003). "Chico Mendes (1944-1988)". Environmental activism: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 166. ISBN 9781576079010. 
  19. ^ 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 9781565490208. 


Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.