International Environmentalists Denounce Escape of Chico Mendes Assassins

February 16, 1993

(February 16, 1993—Washington, DC) Major US environmental and human rights groups today denounced the escape of convicted murderers Darly and Darci Alves, who killed Brazilian rubber tapper union leader and environmental activist Chico Mendes in 1988, from prison in Rio Branco, in the Brazilian Amazon yesterday.

A dozen of the largest environmental organizations in the US, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), today sent a letter to Brazilian President Itamar Franco, calling for a full investigation into the circumstances of the escape, apprehension of the criminals, and noting that leads to the involvement of other individuals in the 1988 assassination of Chico Mendes should be followed.

“This is an ugly stain on the squeaky-clean environmental image that Brazil made for itself at the Earth Summit conference,” said EDF anthropologist Stephan Schwartzman. “The risk for activists all over Brazil is greater today than ever. If Chico Mendes’ assassins cannot be kept in prison, no criminal in Brazil need fear the law unless his victim is rich or famous,” said Schwartzman, who hadworked in the Amazon with Mendes.

The organizations fear that the escape of the convicted murders in the high-profile Chico Mendes assassination will increase the risk of violence to activists in the Amazon. Since 1964, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Brazilian Bishops’ Council has documented over 1,600 killings in land conflicts in rural Brazil, most of them in the sparsely populated Amazon region. The conviction of Darly Alves as intellectual author of the Mendes assassination in December of 1990 was the first time a landowner had been convicted of ordering one of these crimes.

The National Council of Rubber Tappers, a non-governmental group, of which Chico Mendes was a founder, had repeatedly denounced “the total lack of security in the Rio Branco prison, indicated by various riots and mass escapes, including two last November.” The Alves in fact escaped during a riot early yesterday morning.