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Chico Mendes (1944-1988)

Chico Mendes smiling with a woman


#BIPOC Voices #Figures in Sustainability #Historical Icons #Labor Rights #Rubber Tapping #Strong Communities


Alidia Vane

Chico Mendes was a Brazilian environmentalist and trade union leader who fought to protect the Amazon rainforest in his home country. Mendes worked as a rubber tapper, which is a process through which latex is collected from rubber trees. Rubber tapping is not damaging to the forest; in fact, it depends on having large, healthy forests so that the latex can be harvested. Therefore, the rubber tapping industry was in danger due to the trend towards deforestation for cattle ranching and logging interests.

Beginning in 1975, Mendes and his fellow members of the Xapuri Rubber Tappers Union advocated for the creation of reserves to protect rubber trees from logging and burning. They also utilized the “empate” technique, where they blocked loggers from entering areas where rubber trees grew. In the mid-1980s, Mendes supported the founding of the National Council of Rubber Tappers, which brought together rubber tappers from all over the country to discuss environmental issues. Though his work focused on rubber tappers, Mendes consistently advocated for holistic, cooperative systems and strong communities.

Mendes won several awards for his activism, including the 1987 United Nations Environmental Program Global 500 Roll of Honor Award and the 1988 National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Achievement Award. In 1988, Mendes was assassinated by a cattle rancher for his work. After Mendes’ death, the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve (CMER), the largest extractive reserve within the Amazon, was created in his honor.

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