Francisco Alves Mendes Filho, better known as Chico Mendes (December 15, 1944 – December 22, 1988), was a Brazilian rubber tapper, trade union leader and environmentalist. He fought to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and advocated for the human rights of Brazilian peasants and indigenous peoples. He was assassinated by a rancher on December 22, 1988.
The Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade), a body under the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, is named in his honor.
To save the rainforest, Chico Mendes and the rubber workers union asked the government to set up reserves as they wanted people to use the forest without damaging it. They also used a very effective technique they called the 'empate' where rubber tappers blocked the way into rubber reserves, preventing their destruction. Mendes also played a central role in the creation of the National Council of Rubber Tappers in the mid-1980s. Mendes' group also had strong ties with the National Campaign for the Defense and Development of the Amazon, and helped locally organize Workers' Party support.
WHO WAS CHICO MENDES ?
When the first meeting of this new union was held in 1985, in the capital Brasilia, rubber tappers from all over the country came. The discussion expanded from the threats to their own livelihoods to the larger issues of deforestation, road paving, and cattle ranching. The meeting also had the effect of catching the attention of the international environmentalist movement, and highlighting their plight to a larger audience.
Mendes believed that relying on rubber tapping alone was not sustainable, and that the seringueiros (Rubber Tappers) needed to develop more holistic, cooperative systems that used a variety of forest products, such as nuts, fruit, oil, and fibers; and that they needed to focus on building strong communities with quality education for their children.
In March 1987, the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation flew Mendes to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to convince the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, and U.S. Congress to support the creation of extractive reserves.
Mendes won several awards for his work, including the United Nations Environmental Program Global 500 Roll of Honor Award in 1987, and the National Wildlife Federation's National Conservation Achievement Award in 1988.
In December 1988, he was brutally murdered at his home and ended up dying in his family arms. His murder got attention from the whole media, even internationally.
In 2013 a species of bird, Chico's tyrannulet (Zimmerius chicomendesi), was named after him.
What turned out to be the lives of the rubber tappers
years after his death?
"At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity."