Sister Dorothy Stang 6/7/19312/12/2005


Stang once said: "I don't want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment."

June 14, 2005 - By Melissa Mathis, Greenspan

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."

-Baba Dioum

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On Ferbuary 12th, 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang was assassinated in Anapu - a town on the verge of the Amazon rainforest in Para state Brazil. She has joined the ranks of the martyred alongside those such as Chico Mendes and Dian Fossey. Her killing has attracted worldwide attention to the conditions the poor live in - a hegemonic stranglehold little better than slavery. Stang was 73 years old, born in Dayton Ohio. She became a Brazilian citizen, and lived in Brazil since arriving as a missionary in 1966.

Six men have been arrested to date for Stang's murder. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, known as Bida, is the rancher accused of ordering Stang's assassination. The other suspects in the case implicated Moura, and led the police to his farm where the pistol used to kill Stang was discovered. Moura surrendered to the authorities after his lawyer negotiated with the police to guarantee his safety. Moura's lawyer states that his client is innocent. Three FBI agents assisted the local investigators in the hunt for Moura; the Congregation of the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and the Roman Catholic order to which Stang belonged, requested their presence.

The alleged gunmen are Clodaldo Carlos Batista and Rayfran das Neves Sales - known as "Fogoio". Amair Freijoli da Cunha - known as "Tato", was accused of acting as the intermediary between Moura and the gunmen. Cunha surrendered to the authorities. Cleone Santos and Magnaldo Santos, known as "Negao", were arrested for allegedly providing the gunmen with food and clothing while they hid in the jungle waiting to ambush Stang. They will be charged with facilitation. Both have denied the accusations.

Stang was shot six times at point-blank range in the head and chest by the two gunmen while visiting a remote rural encampment near the Trans-Amazon highway in Para State. At the time of her death, Stang was on her way to a meeting about a project of small-scale sistainable agriculture in Boa Esperanca - an area that was granted to landless peasants by the federal government. Two rural workers accompanied her when she was shot and killed. They escaped unharmed, but later received death threats.

Two weeks after her death, Stang met with Nilmario Miranda. He is the Brazilian government's Human Rights secretary. She reported that she and four local farmers had received death threats from loggers and landowners. Stang was killed because she was fighting to stop logging by Vitalmiro Moura in an area of the jungle that was nearly untouched. Stang claimed that Moura had no right to the land; many ranchers and timber companies commandeer land in Para state using forged deeds. Often they skip the pretense of falsified documents, and use fences and pistols to wield their will, and if there are people already living on the area of the jungle they covet, ther huts are burned, and they are driven away at gunpoint.

Para state is a wild and lawless region, mostly jungle, where it is intensely difficult to maintain order. Officials view Stang's murder as a challenge to the authority of the state. Loggers and ranchers backed by their hired gunmen enmesh their peasant labor force in a repetitive cycle of debt that has been compared to slavery. Less than 3% of the Brazilian population own two-thirds of the land, and 60% of Brazil farmland lies idle while 25 million peasants struggle to survive. Greenpeace estimates that 90 of the timber in Para is illegally logged. Para also has Brazil's highest death rate related to land disputes.

1,379 people have been killed in the last 20 years, over a third of them in Para state. While facing the gunmen, Stang opened her Bible and at gunpoint read to them a line from the book of Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." She was shot point-blank in the face and killed, then shot five more times. Her American-bom status and the fact that she was a nun have garnered outrage from all reaches of the globe. The Brazilian Federal Police deployed 2,000 heavily armed troops to hunt the killers; the first four warrants were issued the day after the murder.

A crude cross of tree branches marks the spot where Stang died. In Sao Paulo, about 1,000 people attended a mass in Stang's honor. The Brazilian government made the inevitable comparison with Stang's murder to the 1988 killing ofChico Mendes, the renowned rubber-tapper leader who drew the world's attention to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. "It's the type of crime that shows a profound disrespect for a democratic society, like the crime against Chico Mendes," stated Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos. In addition to Stang, two other environmentalists were shot dead this year in the Amazon: Dionisio Ribiero, who had received multitudes of death threats for his efforts to stop the area's illegal poaching and logging, and Daniel Scares de Costa, an advocate of landless peasants.

Sister Dorothy was bom in Dayton, Ohio on June 7th, 1931. She joined the order of the Sisters ofNotre Dame de Namur in 1948 and took her vows in 1956. The order, founded in France at the end of the eighteenth century, was dedicated to "taking our stand with poor people, especially women and children in the most abandoned places." In 2004 she gave evidence before a congressional committee of inquiry into deforestation, even though she knew it would increase the risk to her life. Stang was a watchdog, alerting government agencies to abuses in the area and loggers operating under fraudulent land titles. She received frequent death threats, and colleagues say she was part of a long list of union organizers and activists who were wanted dead. "Before she came here, she was in southern Para, where loggers cut down everything, and she saw that model brought only disgrace for any and improvements for only a few. She vowed not to let that happen here," stated Felicio Pontes Jr., a federal prosecutor who worked with Stang on land issues.

Since 1982 Stang had worked for the Roman Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission. She helped create Sustainable Development Projects (SDP's), where settlers are granted land if they agree to preserve the forest. She taught local residents how to protect the environment and develop farming cooperatives in order to sell the fruits harvested from the forest.

Stang once said: "I don't want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment." Her perseverance cost her her life, but her work and mission will live on; the Pastoral Land Commission will celebrate its 30th anniversary with the theme "Faithful to the God of the Poor, In Service to the People of the Land." The churches of Brazil recently launched the 2005 "Fraternal Campaign for Peace, Based Upon Justice." The President of the Pastoral Land Commission stated, "This vile assassination has had an unusual international repercussion, and should be solved quickly with the judgment and punishment of those responsible.

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