Chico Mendes 30 years on: Against the false solutions of green capitalism
By Chris Lang
At 5.45 pm on 22 December 1988, Chico Mendes, Brazilian rubber tapper and trade union leader was assassinated in the doorway of his home in Xapuri, Acre. Two meetings in Xapuri this month show that Mendes legacy is disputed.
To mark the anniversary of his death, the National Council of Extractivist Populations (CNS) organised an event in Xapuri under the title, “Encontro Chico Mendes 30 anos: uma memória a honrar. Um legado a defender” (Chico Mendes 30 years Meeting: A memory to honour. A legacy to defend).
About 600 people took part, including several proponents of REDD. For example, a session titled, “Beyond the Forest: Memory and importance of Chico Mendes for trade union and socio-environmental movements in Brazil and abroad”, included presentations from Earth Innovation’s Dan Nepstad, and from Stephen Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Meanwhile, another meeting took place in Xapuri, organised by Friends of the Earth Brasil, the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), and World Rainforest Movement. On its website, World Rainforest Movement explains that intention of the meeting is to pay homage to Chico Mendes:
He was one of the great leaders in the struggle of the forest peoples against the capitalist plunder of the Amazon. We also want to denounce the abuses of Chico Mendes’ image by the government of Acre, certain NGOs, development agencies and banks that present him as if he were the “patron of the Green Economy” and, with this, try to legitimise new forms of capitalist exploitation. Another objective, with the meeting in Xapuri, is to inform society about the danger that the financialisation of nature and projects such as REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and PES (Payment for Environmental Services) represent specifically for the forest peoples.
The meeting put out a statement, also available in Portuguese and Spanish on a website set up for the meeting. More information and photographs will be available on that website over the next few days.
UPDATE – 21 December 2018: The declaration is open for sign-on in solidarity until 31 January 2019. If you wish to sign the declaration please add your name and / or the name of your organisation here (here in Portuguese, and here in Spanish). An updated list with signatures will be published at https://www.chicomendes30.wordpress.com
Chico Mendes in the standoff against the false solutions of green capitalism
From here in Xapuri, we remind the world that Chico Mendes did not die. He was assassinated. This was the price he paid for dedicating his life to the cause of agrarian land reform and the protection of forests. The fact is that those in power never accepted that the peoples of the forest have a right to land, bread and dreams. They thought that murdering him would bury his struggle. But for that it was too late. Chico Mendes had become a force that surpasses his physical existence.
Since his assassination, his legacy has grown in importance. Conscious of the importance of this legacy and fearful of its liberating power, those in power threw themselves at the task of appropriating his legacy through a continuous and systematic process of distortion. This is what the government of the so-called “Popular Front of Acre” (FPA) has done over the course of the last 20 years. Serving the interests of international capital, they imposed, using and abusing the image of Chico Mendes, a set of policies which resulted in an increase in privatisation and the destruction of forests.
From the extraction of timber, to the exploration of petrol and gas in the Vale do Juruá region of Acre and extensive cattle raising, they opened the door for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation – REDD projects and other Payment for Environmental Services – PES initiatives. These policies represent, in all aspects, a full negation of what the rubber tapper leader defended, considering that they privatize the forest, violate the rights of the peoples of the forest and treat them like criminals. In this process, Chico Mendes was disfigured and, in a certain sense, killed several times over as he was turned into a defender of the very capitalism that killed him, turning him into the opposite of what he was.
Lamentably, what we see today in Acre is the attempt to transform into goods the land and territories which are sacred for the original peoples and which furthermore, are the source of subsistence for all inhabitants of the forest. Against this backdrop, we have seen criminalization grow in our midst over the past years, criminalization of ancestral practises of communities as well as any form of resistance to the capitalist appropriation of nature.
True to Chico Mendes’ legacy of struggles, we denounce these murderous projects and those who defend them. Based on our painful experiences, we affirm to the world that proposals like “sustainable development” and “green economy” are a mere farce ad tragedy. They are a farce because they do not protect nature as they claim. They are a tragedy because they do exactly the opposite. And we know the reason. There is no way out in capitalism, in any of its forms and colors. One cannot take care of life with a system that kills.
We denounce this farce and demand: the immediate suspension of all commercial logging projects and all environmental and climate compensation policies that have been grown out of the false solutions of green capitalism; the demarcation of all territories of indigenous peoples and an agrarian reform rooted in popular sovereignty.
For the Amazon, for agrarian reform, for the demarcation of indigenous peoples’ territories; against green capitalism and capitalism in any other color, whether it’s pushed forward by so-called leftist or admittedly fascist governments!
Chico Mendes lives. The struggle continues.