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After 3 years on run, rancher connected with Mendes' murder behind bars

Environmentalist slain in 1988

July 16, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT (2400 GMT)

From Rio de Janeiro Bureau Chief Marina Mirabella

BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) -- Environmentalists in Brazil are breathing a little easier after police captured the rancher who ordered the 1988 slaying of Chico Mendes, a renowned rain forest activist.


Darli Alves da Silva eluded police for more than three years. Convicted of ordering the 1988 murder of Mendes, Alves da Silva was sentenced to 19 years in prison. But he escaped in February 1993 -- leading to a 3-year-long, exhaustive manhunt.

Alves da Silva is now behind bars in a high-security prison in Brasilia, to the relief of environmentalists.

"Violence against those trying to protect the forest is widespread," said Vilmar Berna of Defenders of the Earth. "We hope this arrest marks an end to the impunity that is common in these cases."

The Mendes saga has yet to end. Alves da Silva's son, Darcy Alves Pereira, who carried out the murder and also escaped during the jailbreak, is still at large.

Darci da Silva

Fighting for rain forest

Mendes was a leading environmentalist who fought to save the Amazon rain forest. His death in 1988 sparked worldwide attention on the clearing of the jungle.

But in the eight years since his murder, ranchers and others have continued to clear the area in large proportions. In 1995, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, which tracks the burning of the rain forest, detected four times as many fires as it did in 1994.

Alfredo Sirkis, who heads the Brazilian Green Party, says politics fuel the destruction of the rain forest.

"The problem is the local balance of forces," he says. "The fact that the politicians in the Amazon are linked to the interests that lead to destruction. They favor the interests of the ranchers, the mining companies, the timber companies."

Mendes was known to fight those interests. As a union leader, he mobilized hundreds of rubber tappers -- people who make their living from the forest.

Since Mendes' death, dozens of rubber tappers and rain-forest activists allegedly have been abused, threatened and killed for speaking out against the special interests. Few arrests have been made in connection with those allegations.


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