In the 1980s the fate of the Amazon rainforest turned on an unlikely environmental hero: a poor rubber tapper and union organizer in Brazil named Chico Mendes (1944 – 1988). As cattle ranching and logging threatened the rainforest with deforestation, Mendes formed a workers union that aligned itself with environmentalism to preserve the forest their livelihood depended on.
With the support of powerful allies such as the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation, Mendes and the rubber tapper workers succeeded in creating the first extractive reserve in the world. Mendes received international recognition and awards by environmental groups, but he paid for his achievements with his life. A local Brazilian cattle rancher angered by Mendes’ activism murdered Mendes at his home on December 22, 1988.
This is a film excerpt from A Fierce Green Fire. American Masters presents A Fierce Green Fire, the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement, premiering nationally Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 9-10 p.m. on PBS in honor of Earth Day.