Violencia cero en Pará

International Campaign Against Rural Violence

With Elenira Mendes, of the Chico Mendes Foundation

No more blood shed over land!


Elenira is the daughter of Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper leader murdered in 1988. Chico founded the Union of Rural Workers of Xapurí, he was also a founding member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party), promoter of the “Union of Forest Peoples,” and president-elect of the National Council of Seringueiros (rubber tappers), a position which his death prevented him from occupying. Elenira is the current coordinator of the Chico Mendes Foundation, and she has participated actively in the launching of the international campaign jointly organized by CONTAG and IUF.


 Elenira Mendes


-Where is the Chico Mendes Foundation located?

-We are located in Xapurí do Acre, in the state of Acre, the place where we used to live, where he was murdered, and the center of his struggle.


-How did your father’s death occur?

-During the 1980’s, state violence in Acre was very strong, it was an everyday thing. Several social and union leaders had been murdered in clashes with gunmen hired by the “fazendeiros” (large landowners). In 1987, concerned that the construction of the federal highway BR 364, financed by the IDB, was causing a huge devastation in our state, my father, Chico Mendes, traveled to the United States to address that country’s Senate, where he denounced what was happening in Acre. The immediate result was the suspension of financing for the highway.


-How did the powerful react to this?

-This triggered a series of public accusations against him, claiming that he was trying to prevent the state’s development. From then on, the threats, which were already common, became constant, continuous. That same year, the UN awarded him the “Global 500” prize in recognition of his struggle in defense of the forest. The following year, 1988, was a very difficult one for him, because he already felt that his death was nearing. On December 15, 1988 he turned 44. That night he gathered our family –my mother, my brother and me–, and told us that he feared that that would be the last birthday we’d share with him. He was certain that the day of his death wasn’t far away. We were all very sad.


-Did he have any protection, bodyguards?

-They were local policemen, with little preparation for that task, without proper weapons. They were always at our house. We lived under a horribly tense atmosphere. On December 22, he took my brother and I out, and at about 7 p.m. my mother served dinner. He was playing domino with the two police custodians and asked for a towel because he wanted to shower before dinner. The bathroom was outside the house, in the back, and he went out alone, with the towel over his shoulder. When he opened the door he was shot on the chest. The policemen ran and jumped out the window. My father managed to walk from the kitchen to the bedroom. “I’ve been hit,” he said, and fell to the floor, fighting against his approaching death. Mi mother and I tried to help him, he was trying to speak, but no words came out. I know he tried to say my name but couldn’t. He died there, in our bedroom.


-What happened later?

-After Chico Mendes’ death the whole world woke up and saw the violence in that region, they learnt that many people had died already for the same reasons: defending the forest, its inhabitants, and the rubber tappers.


-What happened to the murderers?

-They were the two landowner brothers Darly and Darcy Alves, who have completed their sentence and are now free. But the repercussions of his assassination drew the eyes of the entire world to Xapurí. There was much struggle, many questionings, but all that, together with international solidarity, led to Chico Mendes’ being the last social leader to be murdered in the region. He was brave, he denounced everything that was happening, right up to his death.


-What do you think of the international campaign against rural violence?

-This international campaign of IUF and CONTAG is very important, because, how many mothers have lost their children? how many widows and orphans are being left by this violence committed with impunity? In Acre violence has ended, and I hope that no more blood is shed, but that only happened when many people around the world became aware of the violence suffered there. Right now that violence still exists in rural Brazil, and in some states like Pará it is escalating. It’s important for all of us to unite, commit ourselves, realize that directly or indirectly we are suffering the consequences of that violence. The whole world must be alert, and we must all join our voices and say: Stop rural violence! No more fatherless children, no more widows! No more blood shed on the land and over the land! Let’s fight for the land that is hoarded by a few people, to distribute it among the thousands of landless peasants.



Carlos Amorín and Álvaro Santos

© Rel-UITA

May 5, 2006



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