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Chico Mendes

Written in World Issues: 07/23/07, 17:48:49 by admin  | Print article  | View all categories.
Chico Mendes|admin|1185238129|Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes by Neasa Haughton

Tropical deforestation is a tragic
event with significant repercussions, both locally and globally. One of the effects of deforestation is the loss of natives’ livelihoods, both homes and jobs, in the rainforest. There is great loss and suffering caused to the people of the rainforest. Chico Mendes, a
Brazilian rubber tapper in the Amazon rainforest, rose to the selfless
challenge of fighting for the future of the people from his hometown of Xapuri, Brazil.He is a
     sympathetic, common man, not a saint nor a king, but unquestionably worthy
     of the crowning of modern day’s tragic hero. A hero whose actions have rippled through his “kingdom.”He is a “prophet without honour” (Murphy 1) who is confronted with
     the dilemma of continuing a seemingly hopeless fight at the risk of losing
     his own life. He knows there is
     a greater purpose. He has a
     strong moral standing and struggles against the odds for his own and his
     neighbours’ “rightful” place in society. “He
     became the symbol of the little man standing up to the big interests that
     were fuelling global warming.” (Cohen 1)

The Amazon rainforest, “the lungs of
     the planet,” (Murphy 2) is the largest of the three great rainforests in the
     world. It is a valuable genetic
     storehouse, a supply of food products, and a crucial factor in maintaining
     the earth’s climate and balance of gases, and a home to millions. In the past decade, an area almost the size of Ohio has been
     “disappearing” annually. The
     Amazon deforestation accounts for over half of all tropical deforestation
     and is an environmental crisis of global significance. The Amazon, 15 percent of the total mass of plant life, is still
     little known, and Mendes stood up, almost alone, to preserve its treasures.”
     (Cohen 2) But Mendes did this to
     protect the workers and their land and not out of hubris or a lure for world
     attention: “The rubber tapper was no starry-eyed environmentalist.” (Cohen
     2) He was a common man destined
     for this role. Mendes was a common man with a greater
     purpose. As Arthur Miller
     writes, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in
     its highest sense as kings were.” (3) Fate brings Mendes to this role: “Mr.
     Mendes emerges as a tragic figure, swept up in larger forces that ultimately
     destroy him.” (Cohen 2)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>He was
     born into the rainforest culture and took up his father’s work as a rubber
     tapper, extracting syrupy latex from the trees that will become rubber.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>“Through a series of chance encounters, he is thrust from this role
     into the defence of his livelihood against ranchers.” (Cohen 2)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>He is dignified like Bernard in Miller’s <u>Death of a Salesman</u>;
     he succeeds out of sheer determination and doesn’t try “politics.”<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>He is brave and “fights” using primitive methods of resistance,
     “Chico and his tapper union members stood in the way of the sawyers in
     silent protest.” (Murphy 1)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Like
     Miller’s character, Willy Loman, Mendes is a working-class hero with a fear
     of being displaced.</span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB">Just as Loman struggles for his
     “rightful” place in the changing world, so too does Mendes.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>“From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is
     that of the individual attempting to gain his “rightful” position in his
     society.” (Miller 4)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Mendes
     wants to make sure that for generations to come his people will have
     somewhere to work and live.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>“I’m
     not protecting the forest because I’m worried that in 20 years the world
     will be affected,” he said.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>“I’m
     worried about it because there are thousands of people living here who
     depend on the forest, and their lives are in danger every day.” (Cohen 2)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Mendes knows who he is and what he is about and will not be bullied
     into leaving his post.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>He was
     regarded by the “lumpen bourgeoisie in the frontier towns” as being “an
     agitator, a radical leftist troublemaker who didn’t know his place,” (Murphy
     1) but this fear of being displaced that Arthur Miller talks about in
     “Tragedy and the Common Man” is what energises Mendes to win his battle.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Mendes also fights for his neighbours’ “rightful” standing in
     society.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>The Brazilian
     government ignored their existence until Mendes’ “movement” stepped in.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Chico is proud of his people and one of his brightest moments was in
     1985 when he led 150 seringueiros in a march on Brasilia.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>The Brazilian government was beginning to know their place.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>“Many had never been in a city before.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>For the first time in their history, the seringueiros were organising
     to save their forest.” (Parel 2)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>
     Ironically, after saving a larger family, he loses his own family through
     his forewarned, but no less climatic death.</span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB">Death became the ultimate sacrifice for
     this tragic hero.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Ranchers
     murdered Mendes three days before Christmas in 1988.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Mendes knew the price for freedom and change, “I know I’m </span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB">Hanging by a thread, but I’ll keep
     going to the end.” (Muello 3)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>He
     died with the hope of preserving the livelihoods of a million and a half
     rubber tappers.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Tragedy has a
     redemptive element and it is alive in the aftermath of Mendes’ death.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>“His enduring legacies are the rubber tappers’ union, the extractive
     reserves and the hope he gave us for the rain forest.” (Parel 2)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>As Miller writes, “The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy
     which exalts.” (5) Mendes gains in size after his death and is considered to
     be “a martyr to the environment and a posthumously fashionable figure.”
     (Miller 1)<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Just as Loman
     realises about himself, Mendes ends up “worth more dead than alive.”<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>He had beaten the enemy.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>
     Since Mendes’ death, large extractive reserves have been created, killings
     in the Amazonia have fallen, and the nation has committed itself to
     environmental defence of its national treasure.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Mendes is a recognised national hero.</span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB">Tragedy in the modern world is common,
     but we need to become better “detectors.”<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>We rely too heavily on the media to uncover our tragic heroes.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>We need to realise that they exist all around us in our everyday
     lives.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>While researching this
     paper, I came across an article on 9/11 about Victim No. 00001, Father
     Mychal Judge.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>We have a vivid
     image of him being carried out from the rubble on a stretcher.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>We remember the reports coming in that he died while administering
     the last rights to a fireman, when in fact, as an eyewitness documentary
     film on 9/11 showed, this was not the case.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
     </span>Why do we need our tragic heroes “Hollywoodised” before they become
     credible?<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>Mendes was a hero
     “ordained” by his people long before his death brought him global media
     coverage.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  </span>He is the true modern
     day hero: a little man who stood up and won the fight with “big” interests.</span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style3"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB">Sources:</span></p>
     <p class="style2"><span lang="EN-GB"><o:p> </o:p></span></p>
     <p class="style4"><span lang="EN-GB">Cohen, Roger. “A Man’s Fight for the
     Rain Forest.” From <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The New York Times</i>,
     August 14, 1990, Sec. C, pp. 15.</span></p>
     <p class="style4"><span lang="EN-GB">Miller, Arthur. “Tragedy and the Common
     Man.” From <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The New York Times</i>,
     February 27, 1949, Sec. 2, pp. I, 3.</span></p>
     <p class="style4"><span lang="EN-GB">Muello, Peter. “Slaying Of Brazilian
     Ecologist Dramatizes Battle To Preserve Amazon.” From
     <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The Associated Press</i>, January 10,
     1989, Sec. International News.</span></p>
     <p class="style4"><span lang="EN-GB">Murphy, Ray. “The man who died for the
     forest.” From <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The Boston Globe</i>,
     August 23, 1990, Sec. Living, pp.81.</span></p>
     <p class="style4"><span lang="EN-GB">Parel, Miriam. “The Death of Chico
     Mendes.” From <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The Washington Post</i>,
     January 19, 1989, Sec. Editorial, pp. A27. </span></p>
     <p> </p>