Present-day Acre was originally part of Bolivia, but by the end of the 19th century it was mostly populated by Brazilian seringueiros (rubber-tappers), spreading south from the Amazonas. In August 1902, Bolivia sent its army to assert control and was met by fierce resistance from the seringueiros in what is known here, a bit melodramatically, as the ‘Acrean Revolution.’ Bolivia eventually ceded the territory to Brazil in exchange for two million British pounds and a promise to build a railroad from the border to Porto Velho to facilitate Bolivian exports. (The railroad was never completed and some in Bolivia say the money was never paid.) The Brazilian government, however, had never really supported the upstart Acreans and refused to name Acre a state, designating it the nation’s first ‘federal territory’ instead. Thus the ‘autonomist’ movement was born, a sometimes-armed conflict that culminated, 60 years later, in Acre winning full statehood.
Acre is the home state of martyred union and environmental leader Chico Mendes, and was a key battleground for the conflict over deforestation. Hundreds of union leaders, activists and ordinary workers died in the conflicts, including Mendes, who was assassinated in 1988. But thanks to those struggles, today a full third of the state is under environmental protection or designated as indigenous lands.