SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
THE Acre state criminal court in the Amazon city of Rio Branco last week recommended a retrial for one of the men now serving a 19-year sentence for the 1988 murder of Brazilian environmentalist Chico Mendes.
The decision was based on the defendant's argument that the evidence against him was insufficient, and that jury members had leaked their decision to the media.
Environmentalists loudly condemned the decision, which they say could lead nongovernmental agencies to boycott the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development taking place this June in Rio de Janeiro.
"This just reinforces in Brazil and abroad the accusations of impunity in the Amazon," rubber tapper union leader Osmarino Amancio Rodrigues told the O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper. Mr. Rodrigues himself survived a shooting last year.
For a retrial to be held, the decision must be upheld by the full state court in Acre. Prosecutors said they would appeal to the federal supreme court, if necessary, to block a retrial of Darly Alves, who was found guilty in 1990 together with his son Darci. The criminal court decided to uphold the son's conviction.
Commenting on the initial decision, Foreign Minister Francisco Rezek said he expects foreign observers to understand that the Brazilian judiciary is an independent entity, and that it is common for jury findings to be annulled because of technicalities, without necessarily freeing the defendant in question.
Until the issue is fully resolved, officials say, Mr. Alves will remain in prison.
Mendes stirred up passions in the Amazon region by defending the rain forest against businesses that were cutting down trees for wood. He organized rubber tappers to fight to preserve their way of life, which draws on the forest without destroying it.