The legacy of Chico Mendes for the Pan-Amazonian Synod

Chico Mendes is a genuine son of the jungle, identified with it. Soon, he realized that current development ignores nature and is against it, because it considers it more like a nuisance than an ally. He was one of the few who understood sustainability as dynamic and self-regulating equilibrium of Earth, thanks to the chain of interdependencies among all beings, especially living beings, that live out of permanently recycled resources and, therefore, sustainable indefinitely. The Amazonia is the greatest example of this natural sustainability.

Those who knew him and enjoyed his friendship know of his profound identification with the Amazonian jungle, with its immense biodiversity, with the seringals[1] (rubber tree plantations), with animals, with the smallest sign of life in the forest. He had the spirit of a modern saint Francisco.

He divided his time between the city and the jungle. When he was in the city, he strongly heard the call of the jungle in his body and soul. He felt part of it and not on it. For that reason, every so often he returned to his seringal and communion with nature. There he felt in his habitat, his true home.

But his socio-ecological conscience made him leave the jungle for some time to organize the rubber tappers (seringueros: rubber workers), establish labor-union cells, and participate in the struggles of resistance: the famous “draws,” strategy by which the rubber tappers alongside with their children, their elders, and other allies were stationed peacefully in front of the feller-buncher machines, preventing them from cutting down the trees.

Against the burnings, such as those currently happening in the Amazonia, which had 74,155 outbreaks in 2019, reaching 18,627 km2, Chico Mendes, on behalf of the movement of peoples of the jungle, suggested the creation of extractive reserves, accepted by the Federal Government in 1987. He well said, “We, the seringueros (rubber tappers), understand that the Amazonia cannot become an untouchable sanctuary. On the other hand, we also understand that there is an urgent need for development, but without cutting trees, as that threatens the lives of the peoples of the planet.”

He said: “At first, I defended the rubber tappers, then I realized I had to defend nature, and finally I realized I had to defend humanity. Therefore, we propose an alternative preservation of the forest that can be economic at the same time. Thus, we think about creating the extractive reserve”(cf. Grzybowski, C., (org). El testamento del Hombre de la Selva: Chico Mendes por él mismo (The will of the jungle man: Chico Mendes by himself, FASE, Rio de Janeiro 1989 p.24).

He explained how it would work: “In extractive reserves we will commercialize and industrialize the products that the forest gives us generously. The university must accompany the extractive reserve. That is the only way out so that the Amazonia does not disappear. That reserve will not have owners. It will be a common good of the community. We will have the usufruct, not the ownership” (cf. Jornal do Brasil 24/12/1988). “Thus, we would find an alternative to wild extractivism, which only brings benefits to speculators. A mahogany tree cut in Acre costs $ 1 to $ 5; sold in the European market costs 3 to 5 thousand dollars.”

On 1988 Christmas Eve, he fell victim to the fury of the enemies of nature and enemies of humanity. He was killed by five bullets. He left Amazonian life to enter the world history and collective unconscious of the people who love our planet and its biodiversity.

Chico Mendes has become an archetype that encourages the struggle for the preservation of the Amazonian rainforest and jungle villages, assumed now by millions of people. We understand the indignation of many members of the G7, led by E. Macron, president of France, against the irrational devastation promoted by President Bolsonaro. He commits a crime against humanity and deserves to be judged for such crime. The Amazonia is a common good for humanity.

Amazonian mega-projects (Brazilian and foreign) show the predatory development of capitalism. It only produces growth, appropriated by some at the expense of the forest and the misery of their peoples. It is contrary to life and enemy of the Earth. It is the result of an insane rationality.

On such pharaonic projects decisions are made without adequate information in freezing offices, away from the charming landscape, blind to the supplicants faces of the sertanejos[2], and indifferent to the naive eyes of the Indians, without any empathy bond or sense of respect for the jungle, or human solidarity.

Different is the work instrument for the Pan-Amazonian Synod, in which the most present and heard voice comes from the peoples of the jungle. They know how to protect it. They offer the best suggestions, linking forest protection with extraction and production of its natural assets.

This “development,” made with the people and for the people, delegitimize the dominant idea especially that of agribusiness, that forests must be eradicated because otherwise we will not come into modernity.

Studies have shown that it is not necessary to destroy the Amazonian rainforest to obtain wealth. Extracting palm fruits (acai, buriti or moriche bacaba or milpesillo, chontaduro, etc.), Brazilian nuts, rubber, vegetable oils and dyes, alkaloid substances for pharmacy, substances that work as herbicide and fungicide yield more than all the deforestation, which under the government of Bolsonaro has grown by more than 230%.

Only 10% of roxas terras (Indian lands), already identified as with excellent fertility, can become the world’s largest areas of agricultural production. The exploitation of minerals and timber can go hand in hand with permanent reforestation that ensures the green spot of the affected areas (cf. Moran, E., La economía humana de las poblaciones amazónicas (The human economy of Amazonian populations), Vozes, Petrópolis 1990, 293 and 404-405; Schubart, H. Ecología y utilización de las selvas , en Salati, E., Amazonía, desarrollo, integración, ecología, (Ecology and utilization of forests , in Salati, E., Amazonia, development, integration, ecology) , op cit 101-143)…

The Amazonia is the rehearsal of a possible alternative, in line with the pace of its exuberant nature, respecting and valuing the wisdom of native peoples.

Chico Mendes is for the Pan-Amazonian Synod, to be held in October 2019 in Rome, a paradigmatic example and a source of inspiration.

[1] . N.T. Association among rubber plants present in the Amazonian basin

[2] . N.T. “Sertanejo” is derived from sertão, a general term for rural backlands away from coastal metropolitan regions, although sertão itself is also often used in a narrow sense referring to the interior away from the Brazilian Northeast. Música sertaneja or sertanejo is a music style that had its origins in the countryside of Brazil in the 1920s, most strongly in the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goiás, Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul.

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