Magazine article New Internationalist

A Force to Reckon With: Five Years on from the Death of the Rubber Tappers' Leader, Chico Mendes, Trade Unionists and Rural Workers in Amazonia Are Still Being Assassinated (and) Women Are Now in the Forefront of the Struggle against Violence

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Force to Reckon With: Five Years on from the Death of the Rubber Tappers' Leader, Chico Mendes, Trade Unionists and Rural Workers in Amazonia Are Still Being Assassinated (and) Women Are Now in the Forefront of the Struggle against Violence

Article excerpt

I FIRST met Jaide Barreiros when I went to Brazil to make a film about women in Amazonia. We talked in her kitchen, which also doubled as the office for the teachers' union of which she was president. More than a kitchen or an office, the room was a nerve centre. From here groups of peasants and trade unionists went out to support forest occupations that were under threat from cattle ranchers and their hired gunmen.

One night we were in the middle of a party to mark an international award for work on the environment - Jaide's partner, Gatao, is the successor to Chico Mendes as the President of the National Council of Rubber Tappers, which received the award. The dancing, an essential part of all political events, was interrupted when a group of women entered, very distressed and exhausted after walking all day. They had been violently evicted from their forest community in Jandaia. Husbands, sons and friends had been brutally arrested and one man had been shot.

Jaide, as ever, replaced anxiety with organization and strategy. By early the next morning she had typed statements, contacted lawyers from the Society for the Defence of Human Rights, found transport to a meeting at their office and arranged delegations to the prison where their friends were being held. The women stayed with Jaide for months, sleeping in hammocks in an outbuilding, so they could campaign for the men's release, cook food and take it to the jail. They had no money. Jaide and Gatao had little enough for their own needs, but somehow the pot was stretched. The women, with Jaide's help, organized a campaign to raise funds.

We went with them back to their broken community, a few days after the police and the gunmen had been driven out by the rural worker's union.

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The place has been nicknamed 'The Jaguar's Throat' because of the jaguars that inhabit the forest - and because of the violence endured by those who live there. On one side of the track was the impenetrable forest, towering castanha brazil - nut trees. Howler monkeys screeched and parrots took flight. This was the side where the rural workers were defending their homes, gardens and a few animals - and where they lived in harmony with the forest. On the other side was a scorched graveyard of burnt and sawn tree - stumps, hijacked by the cattle ranchers: a wasteland stretching as far as the eye could see, dusty scrub with the odd solitary cow.

The women's homes had been smashed. …

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