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.
Early 80´s, ranchers from Southern Brazil began to buy up huge tracts of Amazon land in order to clear them for cattle grazing land. Frigorifico Bordon SA - a company engaged with beef- was one of the enterprises detected in this conflict. In all this process, Chico Mendes, a traditional rubber tapper in Xapuri (Acre State) became involved in the struggle. Initially, Mendes sent letters to the president of Brazil describing the inhuman conditions imposed upon the rubber tappers. But their letters were ignored. At the same time, there was another treat coming into their territory. Starting from Rôndonia state, a highway (BR 364) was being built (with World Bank-IDB financing, causing deforestation and loss of livelihoods of thousands of seringueiros in the near State. Chico Mendes also opposed the construction of this highway in Acre. The Environmental Defense Fund invited Chico Mendes to to attend the Inter-American development bank (IDB) annual meeting in Washington and to meet US Congress members; he explained that cattle ranchers systematically destroyed the rainforest and created hardship for the natives and rubber tappers. Senators respond the following: "We can´t repeat the devastation occurred in Rôndonia" and insisted that later works of extension of the BR 364 should be interrupted until the Bank can certify that they have complied with the environmental and social components required for the loan".
The year 1985 marks the founding of the National Council of Rubber Tappers (CNS) by Mendes and other key union leaders aiming to defend rubber tappers demands. In 1986 the Xapuri Rural Workers’ Union allied with the indigenous people of Brazil, who had also been historically discriminated against and overlooked. The alliance between these two groups showed to government officials the seriousness of the campaigns demands. In June of 1986 Mendes organized over 200 tappers for a march on the federal forestry office of Xapuri. They were evicted by the police. Since then, the seringueiros received threats of death, including Chico Mendes.
As a form of territory resistance, trade unionist proposed the creation of the "Extractive Reserves (RESEX)", which would be protected areas where the traditional populations continue its extractive activities, with no risk of being expropriated.
The following years, the focus of the movement was recruitment of rubber tappers for empates and rallying international support for the cause. International recognition of Mendes with international prizes (United Nation’s Global 500 Environmental Prize and World Society Prize in 1987) spread awareness of the campaign.
On December 22nd 1988, Chico Mendes was murder by two ranchers (Darcy Alves and his father). They both were in jail for 19 years. As an example of environmental justice success, after the murder of Chico Mendes, the policy in the Amazon changed radically and the model proposed (extractive reserves) was legalize. The first Resex is named Chico Mendes with 980, 000 hectares and serves as a home and refuge to 3,000 families. Today there are Resex along the whole Brazilian territory. (See less)