What It’s Going to Take

by Mark Chmiel

Mev:  Did you suffer any threats?

Ilza Mendes:  Yes, they would harass me on the streets or encircle our house.  Sometimes I’d come home and find 30 men standing outside my house, all with revolvers in their belts. They’d lift up their shirts to show the revolvers, trying to provoke us.  This police station near our house was their hideout.  We could see the gunmen go straight from our house to visit their friends at the police.  They followed every move Chico made and studied when would be the best time to grab him.  The police who were supposed to be protecting Chico shared their information with the gunmen; even the civil police helped.

During this time I was dying of fear.  Sometimes I’d go to Chico and say, “Chico, they’re going to kill you!  Why don’t you take care of yourself and go away?  You have support in Rio and São Paulo, why don’t you go there for a while?”  He said he couldn’t — if he did this, he’d be false, he’d be a coward.  He was never going to run away from the people’s struggle.  Either he would do away with their wrongdoings or they would do away with him.

Mev:  Was this hard for you to understand or accept?

Ilza:  I understood because this was Chico’s option.  He wasn’t afraid of death.  He even told me that he would never stop defending the Amazon forest — never, never, never.  They could threaten or do what they wanted, but he wouldn’t abandon the struggle.  Chico hoped that if they killed him, others would take up the struggle of protecting the forest and its peoples.

— The Book of Mev

 

Ilza Mendez
Ilza, photo by Mev, 1989

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