A Life of Peaceful Commitment to
the Environment Remembered
By Marina Silva
es, Francisco “Chico” Mendes is an
important global symbol. But I can’t
separate that from how I knew him: as a
simple man, a loyal friend to all. He was a
rubber tapper, a man of the forest, who since
childhood had a strong sense of justice and
was committed to his family and community.
For Chico, founding a workers union and fighting
against exploitation were as natural as planting a
garden or tapping a rubber tree. Struggle was part
of life. Chico did everything with simplicity, and
he was a person of peace. He was a storyteller, not a
speechmaker, who cared about young people and
knew how to listen.
Chico’s roots in the Amazonian region made him
a different leader, one who sought new ways to
move forward, keeping his ties with the Left while
remaining close to environmentalists, scientists,
anthropologists, and educators to help improve life in
the forest. Initially, his movement resisted expulsion
and fought for land tenure. What he sought was
not a plot of land to farm, but a broader collective
commitment to the land that included the forest,
rivers, streams, and animals.
Chico began the practice of the human chain
in the Amazon, known as an “empate,” as a means
of protecting against deforestation. In an alliance
with the Indigenous peoples, he supported the
establishment of extractive reserves.
Marina Silva served as Brazil’s minister of the
environment between 2003 and 2008 and was the
first rubber tapper elected to the Federal Senate.
“For Chico, founding a workers union and fighting
against exploitation were as natural as planting
a garden or tapping a rubber tree.”
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012