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Rubber tappers against cattle ranchers and the murder of Chico Mendes, Brazil

Chico Mendes, a Brazilian environmental defender campaigned against ranchers to stop the deforestation of the rainforest. In 1988 he was shot down. He and his fight are symbols for the Global Environmental Justice Movement.


The 1970s marked a shift in the dynamics of the extraction of resources from the Amazon. During 1970 and late 1980s the government of Brazil, in an effort to fortify the economy offered incentives to cattle ranchers in the Amazon rainforest.  Rapidly, the deforestation became visible affecting rubber tappers or seringueiros, who are traditional communities who lived in the forest.  Faced with eviction and loss of livelihood, in 1976 the rubber-tappers organized themselves to save the forest and their livelihoods. One of the forms of mobilization by the protesters was the "empate" – a peaceful demonstration in which they protect the trees with their own bodies.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict: Rubber tappers against cattle ranchers and the murder of Chico Mendes, Brazil
State or province:Acre
Location of conflict:Xapuri
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

A list of RESEX can be found here:

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Project area:980,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1976
Company names or state enterprises:Frigorífico Bordon from Brazil - owner
Relevant government actors:National System of Conservation Unities (SNUC),Confederação da Agricultura e Pecuária (CNA), Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio), Comissão Nacional de Desenvolvimento Sustentável dos Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais – CNPCT
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:União dos Povos da Floresta (UPF), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), National Wildlife Federation (NWF),National Council of Rubber Tappers (CNS)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Trade unions
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Popular education schools committed to the seringueiros demands; "empate" – a peaceful demonstration in which they protect the trees with their own bodies.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Land demarcation
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:The proposal of creation protected extractive reserves (RESEX) that would hand over the management of public land to local communities.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The labour of Chico Mendes influence a generation of conservationists and policymakers. He is now a symbol of the global environment movement.
His idea of creating legal instrument to establish extractive reserves (RESEX) is now a reality. Yet the relentless destruction of virgin Amazon forest has continued (ranchers and soya) and the treats and murders of the environmental defenders in Brazil is one of the highest in the world.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

BRASIL 2000. Lei Federal Nº 9.985 de 18/07/2000. Regulamenta o artigo 225 da Constituição Federal e institui o Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação e da outras providências.
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Burch, Joann J., Chico Mendes, Defender of the Rainforest, The Millbrook Press, 1994

DeStefano, Susan, Chico Mendes: Fight for the Forest, Twenty-First Century, 1991.

[1] O Globo - Reservas extrativistas permitem exploração sustentável da natureza
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The life and legacy of Chico Mendes
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Chico Mendes: 25 years of a brutal killing
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Reserva Extrativista
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Brazilian Rubber Tappers campaign to protest the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest region, 1977-1988
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La Amazonía, explotación Vs ecologismo. Caso: Chico Mendes
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Brazil Marks 25 Years Since Murder of Environmentalist Chico Mendes
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Eu quero Viver. (Adrián Cowell and Vicente Rios) - Part I
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Eu quero viver (Adrián Cowell and Vicente Rios) Parte II
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Chico Mendes talks in USP , 1988
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Eu quero viver (Adrián Cowell and Vicente Rios) Parte III
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A história de Chico Mendes Documentário
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Voice Of The Amazon
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Eu quero viver (Adrián Cowell and Vicente Rios) Parte IV
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Other comments:“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” Chico Mendes
Meta information
Contributor:EJAtlas team
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2402
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