Ciaran Molloy, Militant, November 1989

Chico Mendes - in his own words

A review of Fight for the Forest - Chico Mendes in his own words, LAB Books, 1989

In this era of the development of 'green' politics internationally, a new publication from LAB books details the life and death of Chico Mendes, trade union leader, rubber tapper and ecologist. It is a timely reminder that the struggle against environmental destruction is inseparably linked to the transformation of society on a global scale.

Chico Mendes started work at nine years of age. He was illiterate until his 20th birthday. Up to 1970 schools were forbidden on any rubber estate in the Amazon.

He became an active trade unionists in 1975 after many previous attempts to organise on his own. He quickly learned the need to link up with others and the need for political action. After a period in the small PcdoB (A small pro-Albanian Communist Party) he joined the Workers' Party (PT) in 1979. The PT developed out of the metal worker's strikes in 1978-80. By 1981 the PT had over 500,000 members, becoming Brazil's fourth largest party.

His remarkable organisational talents were to the fore in the vicious day-to-day struggles of the rubber tappers and their families. Their opposition to the wholesale destruction and clearances of the forest brought them up against the landowners and their hired assassins, the state police and the corrupt officialdom who turn a blind eye when the big ranchers illegally destroy thousands of hectares of forest.

While this life and death struggle goes on to save the forest and the livelihoods of the people it is worth referring to the 'greenhouse' effect. Many governments in the developed capitalist world crow hypocritically about the destruction of the Amazon. They lecture the governments of the Third World on the damage they are doing while at the same time the Western banks impose terms on these countries which encourages deforestation. Yet it must be remembered that most of the damage done to the ozone layer comes from the developed capitalist world. Around 75% of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide comes from developed countries (including Eastern Europe). Western Europe is responsible for 15% of the total.

The rubber tappers have pout forward policies to both preserve and develop the forest's enormous potential. This is based on 'extractive reserves' or public ownership of the land but with the right of the rubber tappers and other workers to live there.

The potential of the rain forests under a rational plan is enormous. A quarter of ALL pharmaceutical products are derived from tropical forest products. Yet only 1% of all Amazon plants have been intensively examined. An indictment of capitalism if ever there was one! Chico Mendes realised that only socialist policies could save the forest which was why he demanded wholesale land expropriation - no illusions in 'market forces'!

On December 22nd 1988 Chico Mendes, at 44 years of age, was murdered by a hired assassination. Read Fight for the Forest - Chico Mendes in his own words.





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