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Remembering Chico Mendes

Brazilian activist Francisco Alves Mendes Filho, better known as Chico Mendes, was killed 25 years ago today. He was 44 years old.

Reuters reports, “In the 1970s and 80s, Brazil was in the grip of a military dictatorship that encouraged the clearing of the Amazon for cattle ranching. As part of this policy of expanding the agricultural frontier, rubber tappers were expelled from the rubber plantations by ranchers that wanted to clear the forest. The government offered to relocate these families to colonization projects elsewhere in the state – where many struggled with poverty, disease, and social dislocation. Chico Mendes and his supporters fought back. Families peacefully occupied forest areas targeted by ranchers – a tactic known as empate. They stood in front of chainsaws and blocked bulldozers.”

Chico MendesThe Globe and Mail adds, “Mr. Mendes, a rubber tapper’s son, rallied tens of thousands of his people to confront illegal ranchers at the height of rain forest destruction. …It took 15 more years for Mr. Mendes’ vision to be realized. In 2003, the newly-elected government of Luis Inacio da Silva set aside 485,000 square km of acres of forest as national parks, conservation areas and ‘extractive reserves.’ …Logging, agricultural and mining are banned in these areas, and consequently the pace of deforestation has slowed from the ferocious rate of the 1980 and 90s.”

“But the Amazon basin – home to 10 per cent of the world’s plant, animal and insect species – remains the site of some of the fastest forest degradation in the world… From August, 2012, to March, 2013, 49 of 660 protected areas in the Amazon experienced new logging or farming activity – that’s seven per cent of the total – and 208 square km of forest were destroyed, according to Imazon, a non-profit research institute that tracks deforestation and forest degradation. That is a 41-per-cent increase over the same period between 2011 and 2012, a hike largely driven by work on infrastructure megaprojects such as the Belo Monte dam, here in Altamira. Six of the 10 areas in Brazil experiencing the most intense deforestation are in this state, Para, which is also the mining capital of the country…”

The Guardian notes, “Mendes was neither the first nor the last to lose his life for standing up to landowners. Since 2002, Brazil has accounted for half the killings worldwide of conservation activists, according to a survey last year by Global Witness. Some victims, such as American nun Dorothy Stang who was murdered in 2005, have become martyrs. Others like José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo – who were shot as they got out of a car near a landless workers camp in 2011 – or Mouth Organ John – who was killed in Para in 2012 after he reported on the illegal logging – make the headlines for a few days. Many other killings, particularly of indigenous land rights activists, go largely unreported in the international media. Dozens more activists are thought to have fled or gone into hiding.”

“According to a Brazilian NGO, nearly 1000 people have been murdered in rural land disputes across Brazil’s Amazon since 1985.”

In early June, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be in Brazil. Her book Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever is also set to be published there. In it, Barlow highlights Brazil’s support for the UN resolution on the right to water and sanitation (page 31) and its non-participation in bilateral investment treaties (page 230), but also notes its fast-tracking of approvals for water use for mining and other unsustainable water-intensive practices (page 260), the use of water for the production of biofuels in Brazil (page 177-79), the impact of virtual water exports in Brazil (page 168), and the growing threat of desertification there (page 16).

Further reading
Barlow and RLA Laureates mourn the killing of Cicero Guedes
Brazil sends troops to Belo Monte dam construction site
The right to water and sanitation in Brazil
Harper in Latin America to promote ‘free trade’