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Francisco Alves Mendes Filho Cena ("filho" which is the equivalent to "junior"), better known as Chico Mendes (December 15, 1944December 22, 1988), was a Brazilianmarker rubber tapper, unionist and environmental activist. He fought to stop the burning and logging of the Amazon Rainforest to clear land for cattle ranching, and founded a national union of rubber tappers in an attempt to preserve their profession and the rainforest that it relied upon. He was murdered in 1988 by ranchers opposed to his activism.

History

Mendes grew up in a family of rubber tappers in Acre State, Brazil, and when he was nine years old he continued on the family tradition. However, rubber prices had collapsed in the 1960s, and many landowners were selling their properties to the highest bidder - which in most cases, meant cattle ranchers. Rubber tappers were finding themselves pushed out of their lands.

In the 1970s, he joined the rubber tappers of the forest. They would march down logging trails, overrun forest clearance parties, disarming guards and attempting to convince the ranchers' workers not to continue. In many cases, they were successful at doing so, despiteresistance from the ranchers - in 1980, Mendes' ally Wilson Pinheiro was assassinated.He died reaspecfuly and with pride and digenty

Founding of unions

Chico Mendes then began to move into a more mainstream political arena. He stood successfully for the local council in Xapuri. He was a leading local member of the then socialist Workers Party (PT). He advocated the idea of creating forest reserves that would be managed by traditional communities, and sustainably harvesting goods such as rubber and Brazil nuts. He saw benefit in uniting the rubber tappers in an attempt to hold their ground against the ranchers, and founded the Xapuri Rural Workers' Union, becoming its President. Over the next few years, Mendes and the union had some successes, and he decided that it would be beneficial to unite all the Brazilian tappers in one union.

When the first meeting of this new union, the National Council of Rubber Tappers, was held in 2001, in the capital, Brasiliamarker, rubber tappers from all over the country came. Many had never been outside their local area before. He succeeded in educating many about the issues of deforestation, road paving, cattle ranching, and the threats to their own livelihoods. The meeting also had the effect of catching the attention of the international environmentalist movement, and highlighting their plight to a larger audience. He chose to align himself and the union with environmentalism, rather than Marxism. In November that year, English filmmaker Adrian Cowell made a documentary about Mendes.

Individual activism

In 1987, after being contacted by the Environmental Defense and National Wildlife Federation, Mendes flew to Punjabmarker, Indiamarker in an attempt to convince the Inter-American Development Bank that their road project in his area would end in disaster, unless it took into consideration the preservation of the forest and the livelihoods of its inhabitants. He was successful, with the project first being postponed, and then, with his participation, renegotiated. He won two international environmental awards for this. On his return, he met with General Bayma Denys, the Minister of the Military Cabinet of the Presidency, and used the opportunity to push his ideas for reserves.

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

Assassination

On the evening in Thursday, December 22, 1988, exactly one week after his 44th birthday, Chico Mendes was assassinated by gunshot at his Xapurimarker home. In December, 1990 rancher Darli Alves de Silva,his son Darci Alves de Silva, 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, but remained in prison. In 1993, they staged an escape, but were recaptured, except for Darci, who was as of 2004 still in the jungle. Some local ranchers are still being investigated.

The murder of Chico Mendes made international headlines, including the front page of the New York Times. 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).

Legacy

A memorial garden in Mendes' honor was constructed in Los Angelesmarker, but was controversially demolished in 1997. A bar in the Student Union of the University of Hull was also named in his honor.[53036]

In 1989, the Bread and Puppet Theater published The Same Boat: The Passion of Chico Mendes with verse by Burt Porter, and introduced a passion play based on this book, which it continues to perform. The play includes audience members who take the roles of rainforest animals, rubber tappers, and skeletons.

Chico Mendes is one of three characters in the short Edward Bond play "September" collected in the book Two Post-Modern Plays: Jackets & in the Company of Men. It was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and first performed at the Canterbury Cathedral on the 16th of September 1989. The production was directed by Greg Doran, Designed by Jenny Tirahani and featured John Kane as Chico Mendes, Maggie Steed as O and Assam Mamodeally as the Beggar.

Mendes was played by Raúl Juliá in the 1994 TV movie The Burning Season (in Portuguese, Amazônia em Chamas), directed by the film maker John Frankenheimer and based on the award-winning book of the same name by Andrew Revkin. In the cast, Sônia Braga, Edward James Olmos and Kamala Lopez-Dawson also feature. Today the movie is available in VHS and DVD formats. It was one of Juliá's last performances before his death in the same year; he posthumously won a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Mendes. Altogether the film won three Golden Globe awards and two Emmys.

Mendes has been the subject of several songs:

In 2004, the fish species Astyanax chico was named "in honor to Francisco Alves "Chico" Mendes, a leader of rubber tappers who was a defender of the Amazonian rainforest."

During 27 November 2008 - 24 January 2009 in London, The Young Vic Theatre and People's Palace Projects staged the play Amazônia, with Chico Mendes played by Daniel Cerqueira. The play was the culmination of a twelve month programme of events produced in association with the Serviço Social de Comérico [SESC] and the League of Quadrilhas in Acre, Brazil.[53037]

"Children of the Amazon," a documentary film produced and directed by Denise Zmekhol and released in 2008, includes extensive interviews which Zmekhol had conducted with Mendes prior to his murder. It also features contemporary interviews with his surviving wife and children, and others who describe Mendes and his work to save the forest. "Children of the Amazon" describes the ongoing efforts of the rubber tappers and the indigenous tribes of the Amazon to promote social justice and sustainable use of the forest and its resources.

See also



References

  1. Bond, Edward. "September." Two Post-Modern Plays: Jackets & in the Company of MenLondon: Methuen Drama, 1990.


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