Rancher, son found guilty in environmentalist murder


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- A cattle rancher and his son were convicted and sentenced to prison in the 1988 murder of labor leader and Amazon rain forest environmentalist Francisco 'Chico' Mendes.

A jury of seven Sunday found Darly Alves da Silva, 56, and his son Darci Alves Pereira, 26, guilty in the shooting death of Mendes, who led efforts by rubber tappers to preserve the Brazilian jungle.


Both men were sentenced to 19 years in prison, Judge Adair Jose Longuini said at the end of a four-day trial in Xapuri, a small town 1, 910 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Only sentences longer than 20 years can be appealed under the Brazilian Criminal Code.

Defense attorney Joao Lucena Legal, however, announced he will appeal the trial itself to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the highest court in Brazil, asking that the trial be nullified.

Judicial sources said it was believed it was the first time a landowner was convicted for killing a labor leader in Brazil. Mendes headed the rural workers' union in Xapuri at the time of his Dec. 22, 1988, death.

Street celebrations broke out in Xapuri, a town of 4,000, as the sentence was announced at 2 a.m. and thousands of people who flocked to attend the trial paraded outside the court building.


'We are getting a little of justice,' said Osmarino Amancio, president of the rural workers' union in the area and considered as Mendes's sucessor.

The Alveses' conviction 'sets a precedent and must be considered a paradigm for restoring justice in this country,' said prosecutor Eliseu Buchemeir, visibly moved.

Mendes, a prominent defender of the Amazon environment and winner of the 1987 U.N. Global 500 award, was hit by some 40 gunshots at his house in Xapuri. He was 44. The verdict came on what would have been Mendes's 46th birthday.

His killing sparked protests around the world and human rights and environmental groups demanded the Brazilian government investigate the crime and prosecute.

Despite the conviction, union leader Jair Meneghelli cautioned that other environment defenders and labor activists still face attacks and killings across Brazil.

'They made a mistake in killing Chico Mendes, but we have been witnessing the murder of union activists for a long time now,' Meneghelli said. 'I think they (the cattle ranchers) will go on killing, but maybe now they will think twice before doing it.'

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