Chico Mendes (1944-1988)
My dream is to see this entire forest conserved because we know it can guarantee the future of all the people who live in it… If a messenger from heaven came down and guaranteed that my death would help to strengthen the struggle, it could even be worth it. But experience teaches us the opposite... I want to live.
Francisco “Chico” Alves Mendes Filho, a self-educated, third generation rubber tapper (seringuero) began his unlikely career in activism and conservation as a union organizer in the rainforest of Acre, Brazil. As eviction by cattle ranchers and subsequent deforestation began threatening the livelihoods of the seringueiros and others who harvested forest products, Mendes saw that their future, and ultimately the future of the Amazon rainforest, was dependent upon responsible, sustainable development of the forest. He organized peaceful grassroots protests called “empates” to prevent forest cutting and was a tireless advocate for sustainable agricultural systems. By shepherding a nontraditional partnership between his union allies, Amazonian Indians, and international environmental organizations, he drew international attention to deforestation in the Amazon. This put him in the crosshairs of those seeking to log the forest or clear it for cattle ranching. But Mendes was a man of incorruptible character, relentlessly dedicated to his cause. Despite threats to his life, Mendes persevered in his quest. Tragically, he was assassinated by ranchers at the young age of 44. However, his work and the international outcry following his death contributed to the creation of millions of acres of working reserves in the rainforest of Brazil. Through self-education and sheer dogged determination, Chico Mendes organized peaceful resistance and forged partnerships to benefit the people, their livelihoods, and the rainforests of the Amazon.