Chico Mendes (1944 - 1988)

Brazilian trade unionist killed for his work on behalf of Amazonian Indians

“It would be worth it if an envoy from heaven came down and ensured that my death will be useful to strengthen our struggle. However, experience teaches us otherwise. Therefore, I want to live. Public ceremonies and funerals will not save Amazonia”, Chico Mendes.

A Brazilian rubber picker, activist and environmentalist, he is a “Righteous of the Forest” for his commitment to defending trees and Indians of the Amazon forest. He is the Secretary General of the Brasiléia Rural Workers’ Union and fosters the creation of a union in Xapuri. He has turned Xapuri Câmara Municipal into a permanent assembly involving all political, social and religious components of the city, without receiving the support of official political groups, including his own party, Movimento Democrático Brasileiro. When violent repressions started of empates, labourers carrying out peaceful resistance, Mendes was also arrested and tortured.

He took part in meetings leading to the birth of Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party) in 1980. In the same year, he was arrested again for the murder of a trade union leader of an opposing organisation, but the trial revealed the fabrication of prosecution, for which 40 Xapuri landowners were convicted.

In 1985, he led the first national congress of seringueros - workers who extract latex to manufacture natural rubber from Hevea brasiliensis trees in the Amazon Rainforest - which was to become the political and trade union reference for the claims of indigenous peoples of the Amazon forest.

In 1988, he successfully worked to create a rubber “mining reserve” in Cachoeira seringal, which had been expropriated by the government from the Alves da Silva landowner family, who had in turn illegally acquired it from small landowners. In December of the same year, he was shot dead before his front door by the Alves da Silva brothers, despite the fact that he had reported their names as potential assassins. His murder triggered the first major worldwide controversy about the lack of justice for persecuted and murdered defenders of the environment. A central theme in many countries around the world today. The trial of those responsible for his death - considered, at least initially, as too powerful to be touched - will indeed take place following some international pressure.

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Righteous Encyclopedia - Environment and climate change

Individuals who, through pacific actions, are at the forefront in defense of the ecosystem. Natives who want to protect the lands of their ancestors, rangers who fight poaching, or activists who denounce abuses and illegal actions.

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