Brazilian Rubber and Environment (RUBBER)

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     CASE NUMBER:        312
     CASE NAME:          Brazilian Rubber and Environment


1.  The Issue

     The history of rubber tappers in the Amazonian region of
Brazil has not been a particularly pleasant one.  When the rubber
boom started at the beginning of the 1900s, the region was mostly
untouched by modern development.  The rubber tappers were mostly
poor Brazilians from the northeast (1).  Francisco (Chico) Alves
Mendes Filho has become the most well known part of a struggle to
protect the Brazilian rain forest and to preserve the livelihoods
of the rubber tappers of which Chico Mendes was a part.  This case
is a fascinating example of how many different interests were able
to find a common goal through an ugly conflict.  Brazilian
grassroots organizations worked with Northern environmental groups,
multilateral funding agencies, and the local government to work out
a solution that allows a sustainable system of developing the
Amazon region of Brazil.  The tangible evidence of the solution was
a system of "extractive reserves" that allow traditional petty
extraction of rain forest products such as palm hearts, brazil
nuts, or natural rubber.  The intangible evidence is the
relationship the agencies involved created to make a link between
the environment of the rain forest, the social well-being of the
inhabitants, and the long-term sustainability of trade in products
of the forest.  

2.  Description

as not much better than that of the indian slaves.  They were being
controlled in turn by the rubber barons intent on extracting as
much rubber as possible.  This situation did not change much during
the next half-century.  During the Second World War the demand for
rubber increased to meet the demand of the United States military. 
The rubber plantations of Malaysia had been taken control of by the
Japanese and concern in the U. S. was for a stable supply of rubber
necessary for a war machine at this time in history (2).  
     By World War II, the Brazilian rubber tappers were no longer
the slave masters of the indigenous population.  They were instead
workers alongside them, tapping the trees for their own existence. 
The system used in this region was not one of using plantation
farming of the rubber trees.  Instead the trees are left in their
natural environment, the rain forest, and paths are cut into the
forest to connect them.  One rubber tapper can then tend between 60
and 100 trees (3).  Slashes are cut into the tree and the sap is
allowed to drain into a receptacle.  The process is very labor
intensive because of cutting the paths between the trees and the
need to constantly tend the trees (4).  
     There are two major systems of rubber production that are used
in the Brazilian amazon today.  The first system is more
traditional and has its roots in the beginning of the rubber boom. 
The rubber tappers are tied to patrons by a debt peonage system. 
In exchange for use of a stand of rubber trees, the tappers buy the
industrialized goods necessary for the process and then at the end
of the season must sell any rubber produced to the patron.  The
amount earned by the rubber tapper is usually less than the debt
owed the patron and so the result is a permanent indebtedness.
     In the second system, production does not involve
subordination to a patron.  This "autonomous" mode of production
means that rubber tappers freely extract and sell their product. 
Today the autonomous method is phasing out the traditional
production system.  This transformation from traditional to
autonomous occurred intensively during the 1970s and was associated
with the consolidation of a more diversified local economy, based
on a combination of rubber extraction with other forest-based
activities such as hunting, fishing, and harvesting of various
forest products (5).
     The life of Chico Mendes is put into context by this history
of the rubber tappers.  He was the leader and political organizer
of The National Council of Rubber Tappers, the union of the rubber
tappers.  In this position, Mendes had tried to look out for the
interests of the members.  The interest of a rubber tapper is his
trees.  Without the rain forest there is no livelihood for them. 
At first, the struggle was against the patrons in order to escape
from the debt peonage.  Later, the value of rubber declined with
the increased use of synthetic substitutes and markets elsewhere
(6).  Large land owners then turned to other more profitable
ventures while the rubber tappers continued to try and make a
subsistence income through tapping the trees and other forms of
rain forest harvest.  These other more profitable forms of using
the Amazon mostly entailed clear cutting the forest to make pasture
lands for cattle.
     At the same time, the government of Brazil was undertaking a
policy to encourage settlement and development of these outlying
regions of the country through land concessions, loans and tax
breaks (7).  The take over of the traditional rubber tapping
grounds was aided by land redistribution laws that left in question
who actually had rights to the land.  Chico Mendes saw his means of
living going up in smoke.  
     The response of the National Council of Rubber Tappers was a
form of non-violent resistance.  When a crew of workers came to
clear cut an area of the Amazon, a group of rubber tappers would
surround them and not allow them to move until they turned over
their chainsaws and other tools.  These same chainsaws were then
used to tear down the camps that had been set up.  This form of
confrontation became known as an "embate" or standoff (8).
     The acts of the rubber tappers provided at least part of the
stimulus for action on the part of the government.  In 1985, the
National Plan of Agrarian Reform was passed.  This attempted to
change the regressive patterns of landholding in which one per cent
of the population owns about half of the arable land (9).  More
importantly to this case,  the National Plan of Agrarian Reform
allowed for a system of land use called an "extractive reserve". 
In trying to come up with a solution to sustainable use of the rain
forest, the system of extractive reserves set aside land for common
use by rubber tappers to take out products without destroying the
forest.  The extractive reserves, in some instances, caused a
heightening of the tensions between the cattle ranchers, settlers
and loggers and the rubber tappers.  This is a battle that is still
being waged today.
     There have also been outside groups interested in what was
being played out in the Amazon region of Brazil.  Most notably,
environmentalists from the United States saw a compatibility in the
aims of the rubber tappers and that of people trying to save the
rain forest from destruction.  In the midst of all this publicity,
Chico Mendes was shot on December 22, 1988, presumably by a cattle
rancher who wanted to protect his right to clear the rain forest
(10).  The effect was that of making a martyr.  International
attention was increased enormously.  Even Hollywood got in on the
scene to make a movie about his life.  Books were published also
telling his story.
     The attention that Chico Mendes drew also had the effect of
making the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank more
concerned with the environmental impact of development.  The bank
suspended funding for the paving of the only major road going into
the Amazon region (11).  
     The events surrounding the life of Chico Mendes is seen as an
environmental success story.  Through extractive reserves a
solution is reached were trade and development of a region can
continue without compromising the ability to do so in the future. 
The success for Mendes was another one.  He fought for the social
justice of the rural worker in Brazil.  In this case there was a
convergence of desire by the rural worker and the environmentalist. 
It is an important lesson on what direction the environmental
movement should be taking.  Preserving the environment affects
peoples lives in ways that are not always positive.  When
development and environmental preservation is worked together more
people can benefit.  The international attention given to Chico
Mendes and Brazil has subsided but the struggle still goes on to
preserve both the rain forest and the dignity of man.

3.  Related Cases:  

          Brazil Case
          Nicaragua-Taiwan Log Deal
          Malaysian Raw Wood Export Ban

4.  Draft Author:  Eric Witte (May, 1996)

B.  Legal Cluster

5.  Discourse and Status:     DISagreement and INPROGress

6.  Forum and Scope:     MULTIlateral

     The bulk of the case involves only groups within Brazil,
including Labor Unions, Individuals, and the state and federal

7.  Decision Breadth:    1 (Brazil)

     The case is local but the impact is global because of the all
encompassing affect the Brazilian rain forest has on the
environment of the world.

8.  Legal Standing: Law

C.  Geographic Filters

9. Geography

     a.  South America

     b.  Amazon Jungle

     c.  Brazil

10.  Sub-National Factors:  Yes

11.  Type of Habitat:    TROPical

     The Amazon Basin: covers some 7.5 million square kilometers-an
area almost as big as Australia; is the wettest region on earth,
with an average rainfall of 2.54 meters per year; contains the
largest flood-plain forest in the world, covering two per cent of
the forest area; has very poor soil-90 per cent suffers from
phosphorous deficiency, 50 per cent from low potassium reserves,
and 24 per cent from low drainage or flood hazards.

D.  Trade Filters

12.  Type of Measure:    Not Applicable [NAPP]

13.  Direct vs. Indirect Impact:   INDirect

14.  Relation of Measure to Impact

     a.  Directly Related:    YES  Rubber Tapping

     b.  Indirectly Related:  NO

     c.  Not Related:         NO

     d.  Related to Process:  YES  Deforestation

15.  Trade Product Identification: Rubber, Raw

16.  Economic Data
17.  Degree of Competitive Impact: Low

18.  Industry Sector:    Rubber

19.  Exporter and Importer:   Brazil and Many

     The major of importer of latex and other products harvested
from the rain forest is the United States and Europe.

E.  Environment Cluster

20.  Environmental Problem Type:  DEFOR; BIODIV; SPLL; OZONE

21.  Species Information
     Name of Species:         Many (very biodiverse region)
     Types:              Animal, Insect
     IUCN Status:

     In the Amazon there are:
          one fifth of the world's bird species in scarcely one
fiftieth of its land surface.
          several million animal species, mostly insects.
          3,000 known species of land vertebrates.

28.  References:

(1)  Barbara Weinstein,  The Amazon Rubber Boom, (Stanford: 
Stanford University Press, 1983), 10.

(2)  Warren Dean,  Brazil and the Struggle for Rubber, (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1987), 92-96.

(3)  Barbara Weinstein, 16.

(4)  Warren Dean, 36.

(5)  Mary Helena Allegretti, "Extractive Reserves:  An Alternative
for Reconciling Development and Environmental Conservation in
Amazonia," in Alternatives to Deforestation: Steps towards
sustainable use of the Amazon rain forest, ed. Anthony B. Anderson
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 252.

(6)  Alexander Cockburn, "The Man Who Loved Trees," New Statesman
and Society , v.2 n. 31 (January 6, 1989):  19.

(7)  Alexander Shanklan, "Brazil's BR-364 Highway: A road to
nowhere?," The Ecologist, v.23 n.4 (July 1993): 142.

(8)  Margaret E. Keck, "Social Equity and Environmental Politics in
Brazil," Comparative Politics, v.27 n.4 (July 1995):  412.

(9)  Ibid.

(10) Geri Smith, "Amazon Parable,"  U.S. News and World Report,
v.109 n.25 (December 24, 1990):  18.

(11) Alexander Shankland, 141.

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