Chico Mendes

The Rainforest Man & the
Hands That Dealt His Fate

At 6:45pm, 25 years ago this Sunday, Chico Mendes headed to his backyard to take a shower, in Xapuri, at the heart of Brazil’s Amazon state Acre. As he opened the door, he was shot point blank and met the fate that he’d already been telling everyone it’d be his.
He’d turned 44 a week before, and still envisioned a bright future for the mythical land where he was born, became a community leader, and ultimately fell as the most recognizable face of the forest and its native peoples’ struggle. He also knew who was coming to kill him.
“I always survive,” said a 78-year old man after being run over by a car in nearby Rio Branco just this past Dec. 5. No one would have paid much attention to him, though, if he wasn’t Darly Alves da Silva, found guilty of having ordered the hit on Chico, executed by his son. And that, yes, he’s been free for years now.
He could be referring to the fact that he made it to such an advanced age in a region where life expectancy is officially set at 72 years old. Or for surviving the accident itself. But he could as well be bragging about the botched criminal process that failed to keep him and son in jail for more than half of their 19 years sentence.

DISMANTLING A LEGACY
Chico is gone, although many say his cause continues to thrive. It’s hard to say: according to even the most conservatives stats, deforestation of the Amazon, although diminishing at a steady rate, is still hovering just below 15 thousand square kilometers in annual average, since the time he, unlike Darly, still walked among us.
As with most dead leaders, the growth of his global stature increases as more time passes since his demise, and much of the essence of his struggle tends to be glossed over in favor of a more benign, heroic but virtually impossible to attain, public image. That’s how the system works to undermine those who challenge it.
By sanitizing his accomplishments as a combative labor activist, who dedicated his life not so much to preserve the forest per se but to defend the people who live in it, and who he represented politically, the coverage about the 25 years of his death will be probably dominated by rousing but empty speeches by those who failed him.
For one of the saddest things about Chico’s tragedy was that in Dec. 9, 1988, he named his assassins in an interview to Jornal do Brasil, and even give the reasons Darly and his brother, who was never convicted, would invoke to have a contract on his life. Sad also because the interview wasn’t published until the ill deed was done.

STARING DOWN BULLDOZERS
Despite his serious accusations against them, for being responsible for some 30 killings of rural workers, no action was taken until a global outcry ignited by his death practically forced the Brazilian justice Continue reading

Damned Project

Judge Sets Back Push to Halt
Newest Power Plant in Brazil

Brazil’s energy needs have pit the administration of President Dilma Rousseff against environmentalists and indigenous populations. Smack in the middle of this struggle sits the estimated $13 billion Monte Belo project, which is to become the world’s third largest dam.
The dispute has had its share of victories for each side, and the latest ruling, by a Supreme Court judge, has gone the government’s way, as it allowed the controversial project to resume construction. That may be far from settling the matter, however, as even Hollywood celebrities have joined in the fray.
The vision of Brazil as a self-reliant energy powerhouse has been a national theme even before it restored its democratic rule in the 1980s. To take advantage of an abundance of river basins to meet growing consumption needs has been an integral component of every president’s agenda ever since.
But most of this vision implies the construction of mega dams in areas surrounding the Amazon, and the impact on the environment and indigenous communities could be damaging and irreversible. Instead, critics say, Brazil should build a series of smaller and less costly projects, that wouldn’t be so disruptive.
Behind the apparent clash of two different views about how Brazil should tackle its energy needs, there’s also the charge, commonly leveled against the Rousseff administration, of playing favors with Brazil’s cultural and geographic differences. While the wealthier south usually sees its energy demands met, vast extensions of the north remain underserved and lawless.
This time around, what particularly distinguishes the dispute over Belo Monte is the reenergized activism of native Brazilians, the Continue reading