Francisco Alves Mendes Filho
Cena ("filho" which is the equivalent to "junior"), better
known as Chico Mendes (December 15, 1944 – December 22, 1988), was a
Brazilian rubber tapper,
unionist and environmental activist.
He fought to
stop the burning and logging
of the Amazon Rainforest
to clear land for
, and founded a national union
of rubber tappers in an attempt to preserve their profession and
that it relied upon. He
was murdered in 1988 by ranchers opposed to his activism.
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
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'
, 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.
first meeting of this new union, the National Council of Rubber
Tappers, was held in 2001, in the capital, Brasilia, 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
November that year, English filmmaker Adrian Cowell
made a documentary about
after being contacted by the Environmental Defense and National Wildlife Federation,
Mendes flew to Punjab, India 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.
evening in Thursday, December 22,
1988, exactly one week after his 44th birthday,
Chico Mendes was assassinated by
gunshot at his Xapuri 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
. 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).
garden in Mendes' honor was constructed in Los Angeles, but was controversially demolished in 1997.
A bar in the Student Union
University of Hull
was also named
in his honor.
In 1989, the Bread and Puppet
published The Same Boat: The Passion of Chico
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
is one of three characters in the short
play "September" collected
in the book Two Post-Modern Plays: Jackets & in the Company
. 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
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
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
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
was named "in honor to Francisco Alves "Chico"
Mendes, a leader of rubber tappers who was a defender of the
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.
"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.
- Bond, Edward. "September." Two Post-Modern Plays: Jackets
& in the Company of MenLondon: Methuen Drama, 1990.