15-Year-Old Farmhand is Key Witness in Mendes Murder Trial With PM-Slain Ecologist-Souvenirs,
Dec. 14, 1990
15-Year-Old Farmhand is Key Witness in Mendes Murder Trial With PM-Slain Ecologist-Souvenirs, Bjt
XAPURI, Brazil (AP) _ A teen-ager who hid from killers for more than a year testified today that a rancher on trial for slaying rain forest defender Chico Mendes made plans to celebrate the murder with a barbecue.
Genezio Barbosa da Silva, 15, a farmhand, was considered the star witness in the trial of Darly Alves da Silva, accused of plotting Mendes' 1988 killing. The boy is a distant relative of the accused.
Alves da Silva's son, Darci Alves Pereira, stunned the court on the first day of the trial Wednesday by confessing to the slaying, but prosecutors contend he made the statement to keep his father from being implicated.
Today was the first day of testimony in the trial. Genezio said he was lying in bed the night Mendes was shot.
''It was about 9 o'clock,'' he said. ''I heard Darci coming, running.
''Darly was waiting for him on the front porch. Darci said, 'Mendes is dead.'''
''I was frightened and stayed in my bed,'' Genezio said.
He said that Darly replied to his son, ''The cow is caught. Tomorrow we'll cook another for the barbecue.''
There were gasps in the courtroom as the boy testified.
The judge, Adair Longhini, asked Genezio if he knew that Alves da Silva wanted to kill Chico Mendes.
''Yes,'' the boy said. ''I knew for awhile that he wanted to kill him.''
The first witness was stenographer Raimundo Dias Figueiredo, who repeated a sworn statement that he heard rancher Alves da Silva rage against Mendes for jeopardizing the family's business.
Mendes, 44, had gained international recognition for organizing opposition to ranchers who have cleared vast swaths of the Amazon forest for pasture, threatening a vital ecosystem as well as the livelihood of rubber tappers.
A rubber tapper himself, Mendes also was an Amazon union leader and he became a symbol of Brazil's poor and landless.
His killing galvanized international efforts to save the rain forest, and the trial in this town near the Bolivian border has gripped the nation.
Prior to testimony, the jury heard more than 200 pages of prosecution depositions detailing several grisly murders allegedly committed on Alves da Silva's 7,500-acre Parana ranch.
During his testimony, Genezio presented a list of murders he said were committed by Alves da Silva and his sons, Oloci and Darci.
The boy arrived in this sweltering jungle town Tuesday under escort by state troopers carrying machine guns. He has been kept isolated in a back room of the tiny wooden courthouse guarded by a half-dozen heavily armed police.
Prosecution lawyers said they have received anonymous threats saying Genezio would be killed. He has remained in hiding for more than a year in several southern Brazilian states.
Genezio, a shy youth with brown curly hair, is the only member of the close-knit clan to testify against the patriarch. A relative of Alves da Silva by marriage, he told lawyers previously he was being groomed to be a ''pistoleiro,'' or gunman.
On Thursday, the second day of the trial, assailants shot and killed a rural union leader who had defied powerful sugar barons in northeastern Brazil, police said. Police said today that Jose Helio da Silva was shot down in a sugar cane field near the Farm Workers Union in Palmares, a sugar- producing town in Pernambuco state, 1,600 miles northeast of Sao Paulo.
Jose Helio da Silva recently received an anonymous letter warning that he would ''end up like Chico Mendes,'' according to the president of the Farm Workers Union, Joao Luca da Silva. He is not related to the victim.
The movement Mendes led promotes the establishment of reserves in the Amazon to collect rubber and Brazil nuts and promote small-scale agriculture projects. Tappers say the rain forest can be profitably developed without being destroyed.
Rural conflicts between poor peasants and large landowners have resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in the past decade, according to Amnesty Intenational, the human rights group. Nearly all the victims have been union activists and advisers.
Uncontrolled slash-and-burn clearing already has destroyed more than 250,000 square miles of rain forest.
Scientists say the loss of the dense vegetation and the carbon dioxide released by the burning add significantly to the ''greenhouse effect,'' the buildup of gases in the upper atmosphere that traps heat and could cause global warming.