Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Talk: Amanda Wilson

Amanda Wilson: Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes was born in 1944 in Acre State in Brazil, in a rubber tapping region. His family were rubber tappers, and he started working when he was nine. The tappers at that time used the forest sustainably, tapping trees in the forest without destroying them. In the 1970s Mendes became radicalized by the destruction of rainforest by ranchers and miners. In 1975 Mendes became the general secretary of a tapper's union, and he became a city councilman soon after. In 1980 local ranchers attempted to frame him for murder, but the charges didn't stick. The same year he was accused of inciting landowners to violence, but again avoided prosecution. In 1985 he help a national rubber tappers convention in Brasilia, the first such convention ever held. In 1988 he started a campaign to stop the logging of an area that was slated to become a reserve; that year he received a great many death threats. Two bodyguards were assigned to him, but later that year we was murdered at the front door of his own home.
After his death the Chico Mendes Committee was formed by any local organizations to investigate his murder. The investigation of a prominent rancher led to further murders and intrigues, and charges against Chico Mendes's brother were fabricated. The rancher responsible for Mendes's murder (supposedly) was finally caught, prosecuted, and imprisoned in the 1990s, although some believe that other individuals were actually responsible.
Mendes's life and murder has been the subject of a great many songs, movies, and other cultural works. A memorial garden was dedicated in Los Angles in 1993, but was controversially demolished a few years later. A quote from Mendes: "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."

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