Xapuri Letter launches thirty-year commitment to fight for the forest
“We will not quit standing up for the peoples of the forest and we will not give up the legacy of Chico Mendes.” This quote echoed again and again like a clamor in the main tent hosting the “Chico Mendes 30th Anniversary Meeting: A Memory to Honor. A Legacy to Stand Up For” toward the end of the event, which was held last weekend in the municipality of Xapuri (AC). Holding hands and with tears in their eyes, 30 young extractivists and 30 community leaders symbolically walked into the main hall side by side and pledged to keep up with the legacy of Chico Mendes and protect the forest for the next 30 years.
The commitment was described in the Xapuri Letter, a manifesto drafted collectively to reaffirm the commitment to stand up for the Amazon and the populations who live in it and to push forward the generational pact between the leaders of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The letter was read out loud at the closing ceremony by actress Lucélia Santos, and it summed up how people felt during the Meeting and reaffirmed Chico's main vision. See below two excerpts from the letter:
“You are the one to make it happen, Chico, in these times of scarce flights and frequent rains in the Amazon, this profound dialogue of ours, which, out of your inspiration, drives us to continue fighting for a sustainable development approach that will free us from the woes of environmental degradation and contamination of the water, soil and the air we breathe. You are the one to keep us fighting for a fairer, more supportive and more egalitarian society, for this alternative world that we believe is still possible!
We are here to celebrate your legacy with great joy. The struggle of your fellow activists has transformed the Extractive Reserves! That proposal for shared and collective use of the forest areas by the extractive populations that you put forward during the First National Meeting of Rubber Tappers, held in 1985 in Brasilia, grew into a public policy covering not only in the Amazon, but also other Brazilian biomes.” – click on the link on the right-hand side for the full letter.
“The letter ushers in a new era of struggle and hope for the next generations. I hope it can be our supporting pillar in this relentless struggle to protect the forest,” said Joaquim Belo, president of the National Council of Rubber Tappers (CNS).
Angela Mendes, daughter of Joaquim Belo, thanked everyone for attending the Meeting and for their commitment. “Those were three exhilarating days! The Meeting to discuss the legacy left by the rubber tapper leader, which brought together people from all over the world, came to a close beautifully as the Xapuri Letter was read out loud. We are here for him and for the fight of our fellows. Chico Mendes lives on! ,” he said.
Quilvelene Vieira, 24, a resident of the Med Juruá Extractive Reserve (AM), said that it is an honor to take part in this historic moment. “Thanks to Chico we are entitled to use the resources of our land sustainably. It is an assurance for our survival and therefore we, the young generation, need to continue with this struggle and secure the future of our forests and our communities,“ he said.
Watch the video produced for the event:
“We missed you a lot and had very fond memories of you, Chico! Here were your fellow rubber tappers and your partners of struggle; from afar came representatives from extractive communities from all Brazilian biomes,” read the Xapuri Letter about the sentiment at the close of the Meeting. All in all, there were more than 500 people, including leaders from all Brazilian states in the Amazon, traditional populations from Acre, guests from Brazil and abroad, as well as representatives from organizations and the government.
As part of the Meeting there were performing and cultural activities, workshops, lectures, lectures, panel discussions, book launches, an exhibition, prizes, and events. Highlights included the keynote participation of Lívia Mamede Mendes, 9, great-granddaughter of Chico Mendes, who read out aloud a letter she wrote to her grandfather (click on the link on the right-hand side for the contents); the Chico Mendes Awards, hosted by the government of Acre; a pilgrimage to the grave of Chico Mendes; an afternoon session to discuss the leading role of women and testimonials of women who participated in the human barricades known as empates; and the opening of the "Chico Mendes Hero of Brazil" Exhibition.
According to Ricardo Melo, coordinator of WWF-Brazil's Amazon Program, the event helped stress the message that, even three decades on, the Extractive Reserve Model (Resex) created by Chico is a success and a source of inspiration elsewhere in the world. “This shows how a forest-dwelling rubber tapper managed to engage the planet to defend the forest. The Xapuri Letter unites generations and prompts us to reflect on the need to consider the future of this model. Resex are beneficial not only for those who live in the forest, but also for all of us who wish to have a future that reconciles development and conservation,” he says.
The Resex model is one of the great legacies left by Chico. They were categorized by the National Protected Areas System (SNUC) as sustainable use PAs. According to the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), there are a total of 87 sustainable use Protected Areas (PAs) in Brazil with traditional extractive populations in them, including the following: 66 Extractive Reserves (Resex), 19 National Forests (Flona) and 2 Sustainable Development Reserves (RDS). Resex cover more than 23 million hectares and are home to 70 thousand families or 350 thousand people.
According to the Director for Socio-Environmental Issues and Territorial Consolidation for Protected Areas at ICMBio, Claudio Maretti, Resex are innovative because they protect traditional populations while preserving nature. “This class of PAs recognizes the right to development of traditional populations, provides legal security and secures access to land. In order to ensure continued maintenance of Resex, communities cannot fail to become involved and join civil organizations. In addition, the Resex need to produce sustainably to ensure quality of life; and crimes and attacks against Resex, such as deforestation and natural resource theft, need to be increasingly curtailed and mitigated,” he says.