Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22 - Chico Mendes, Rubber Tapper, Environmentalist, Murdered

Chico wasn't a minister or a Church leader. He attended religious services and was described as having much faith but he wasn't acting on behalf of the Church when he resisted the developers who were invading and pillaging the Amazon rain forest. Instead, he was acting out to hear the "cry of the Earth" and respond to the needs of the people near to him--his neighbors. He began by unionizing and organizing rubber tappers who worked in the Amazon rain forest in Northwestern Brazil. The workers were being manipulated and the powerful were taking advantage of them to render wealth from the natural resources of the rain forest. The powerful and wealthy profited mightily from this arrangement but the poor and the working were slowly and singularly trampled and abused. Chico wanted to stop this as best he knew how so he joined the workers together and stood resolutely defiant in the face of the manipulations of those who stood to gain from the destruction of the rain forest. They negotiated for better working conditions and this might have been acceptable. Yet, when they pushed for sustainable and environmentally sound harvesting practices, they were rebuffed because they got in between the powerful and Mammon. The ranchers could only continue to profit so obscenely if they cleared the rain forest away to make room for grazing land.

Chico once said, "At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rain forest." His unionizing efforts were quickly and steadily being changed into environmental efforts on behalf of the rubber tappers who needed the rain forest to continue working but, also, on behalf of those who fought to protect the treasure of the Amazon rain forest. He flew to Washington, D.C. to represent the environmental concerns to a group hoping to pave roads through the rain forest. Thanks to Chico, it was postponed and then renegotiated. His constant refrain was the need for sustainable practices that protected and took care of the treasure of the rain forest for the future. Soon, the "cry of the Earth" was becoming the "cry of the poor," though as he led groups of the poor and the working class in nonviolent resistance against the ranchers who hoped to profit in the now and forget about the future. Chico's groups understood the power and scope of nonviolent resistance as Jesus had taught when they marched into the camps of the loggers and put themselves in the way of the loggers and the trees. Further, they pleaded with the workers to reconsider what they were doing to the rain forest, to Brazil, and to the world as a whole. Many of the workers could not bear to continue in their job and so the ranchers plans were often thwarted by unarmed and insignificant people even though they had paid and sent armed individuals to remove the treasure that stood in the way of their financial gain.

Chico gained many enemies and opponents--like his Lord Jesus--by refusing to turn away from his nonviolent resistance when it got in the way of the aims and goals of those worshiping themselves and their own interests.Eventually, Chico--the man of faith--was assassinated at the command of the ranchers.Like the early Christian martyrs, his death was expected to be the end of his cause yet this is not what financed death brought into the region. In response to his death, money came pouring into the cause andrain forest reserves were founded in his name never to be transgressed by the men who bought his death. What had started as a call to protect his friends had become a call to protect a national treasure. It had ended up being a call for a man of faith to hear the cry of the poor and disenfranchised and to defend them by the only means available to him: nonviolent resistance.

No comments: