Environmentalists Press Brazil President On Amazon Murder

April 20, 1995
(April 20, 1995—Washington, DC) The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) will deliver tomorrow to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso 4,500 letters from members expressing concern about the escape from prison of the assassins of Chico Mendes. Chico Mendes, Amazon union leader and environmentalist was assassinated in Brazil in December 1988. A rancher and his son were convicted of the murder in the widely publicized case in 1990, and escaped from prison in Acre state in 1993. President Cardoso has scheduled a Friday afternoon meeting with ten U.S. environmental and human rights organizations, including EDF, during his state visit to Washington DC

“We are deeply concerned that the pattern of impunity for the perpetrators of violence, of which the escape of Chico Mendes’ killers is only one of the more notorious examples, will undermine President Cardoso’s crucial efforts at social and environmental reforms in Brazil,” said Bruce Rich, EDF international program director.

Environmental and human rights leaders will also call on President Cardoso to protect Indian lands, and reconsider plans for road building in the Amazon. Some 27 Indian areas have awaited the President’s signature to gain full legal protection since he took office in January. The groups expressed particular concern over the Raposa Serra do Sol area, of the Macuxi Indians in Roraima state. The Raposa Serra do Sol area, along with 22 other areas that await the decision of the Minister of Justice in order to be demarcated, is divided by conflict between the Indians and invading ranchers and miners. The Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR) in a letter to President Cardoso denounced abuses and intimidation by the army occupation force in the Indian area. The army was called in to replace the military police who violently repressed Indian protests of a planned hydroelectric dam in the area earlier this year.

President Cardoso’s government program calls for extensive road construction in the Amazon, including links to Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia, and the reconstruction of the notorious Transamazon Highway, one of the environmental debacles of the military dictatorship. Environmentalists fear that, without economic alternatives, and real enforcement of environmental legislation (including an end to impunity for powerful criminals), the road program could unleash an environmental catastrophe.