Chico Mendes was a Brazilian environmental activist and union leader. He worked to keep tropical rain forests intact; he also worked for sustainable harvests that would protect these forests and the environment as a whole.Mendes was born Francisco Alvo Mendes Filho in the Acre Province of Brazil in 1944. He followed the path set by generations of his family and became a rubber trapper, sustainably harvesting sap from rubber trees weekly and drying the sap to form rubber. Mendes also supported himself and his family by gathering and selling nuts and
fruits from the rain forest land which he had inherited from his father. These practices are common sources of income for Brazilians of the region; not only are they sustainable, but they allow much more money to be made per acre than would be possible through cattle farming on the same land.
Many Brazilians, however, attempted to make large short-term profits by
chopping down trees and converting forest lands to cattle pastures. In fact, in 1988, 30 million acres of forest were destroyed for such purposes. The Brazilian government encourages this through tax benefits and direct subsidies for cattle ranchers, as well as by building cattle roads through forests.
Mendes sought to defend the forest by political means which involved reaching both the Interior Ministry and the citizens. Mendes also helped establish forest
reserves. This automatically made him an enemy of cattle ranchers, especially one Darli Alves da Silva. In 1988, Mendes was assassinated. Massive protests followed, forcing the government to investigate and eventually to arrest Darli da Silva, his son Darci Pereia, and their ranch hand, Jerdeir Pereia. Other local ranchers are still being investigated for possible involvement in Mendes' premature death.
A streaming video on Mendes
Chico Mendes' description of his work