Xapuri Rural Workers' Union

The Xapuri Rural Workers’ Union, a union of rubber tappers, was established in 1977 during the dictatorship of the Brazilian military government (1964–1985). Large sectors of the local population depended on rubber and Brazil nuts for their livelihoods. The union coordinated the protests of rubber tappers in the far western Brazilian Amazon River basin against the exploitation of the rain forest by cattle ranchers and land speculators. The union’s leader, Chico Mendes (1944–1988) was gunned down by frustrated cattle ranchers in 1988. The reinforcement of the institutional framework for rubber extraction reserves ensued and the Reserva Extrativista Chico Mendes was established in 1990. Today, in accordance with suggestions first made by Mendes, there are twenty such reserves with a combined surface area of 32,000 square kilometers. Mendes has become a symbol for peaceful resistance to social injustice and environmental destruction.

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