I wrote the post which follows last May. Today David Stang, Dorothy Stang’s brother, posted an update on the trials and sentencings of Dorothy’s murderers in a comment to another thread about Dorothy Stang.
Raifrans, the murderer, was tried ln October. Unanimously, the jurors, male and female voted for sentencing Raifrans to 27 years. The male judge clearly was angry that Raifrans was allowed another trial because it was so clear that he was guilty, already had a two day trial in 2005, and was clearly sentenced then. That Raifrans was allowed to appeal again is how justice is served in Brazil. If you are rich you can appeal forever. Regivaldo who was jailed for being involved in Dorothy Stang’s murder won his Habeas Corpus last year in the Supreme Appeals Court in Brazilia and is now still free and still no sign of having a trial. I am Dorothy Stang’s brother and I am appaled at this lack of justice for my sister, for the 850 farmers, men and women, in the Amazon who have never had a trial and to all those who have a price on their head, men and women, in the Amazon for speaking the truth. There is no doubt that Dorothy stood up for protecting the Amazon. She even wore a tee shirt that said, “The Death of the Forest is the Death of our Lives.” There is no doubt that Dorothy stood up for the Rights of the Poor and for the Rights of Women.
This is a photo of Dorothy Stang, a naturalized citizen of Brazil, originally from Dayton, Ohio. In 2005, at the age of 73, she was shot at point-blank range by a gunman hired to silence her voice forever. She was a nun. Her murder followed a dispute with wealthy, powerful ranchers over land they intended to clear for pasture and which she had sought to protect. The night before she was killed she had brought food and clothing to a family whose home had been burned down. The gunman shot her once as she was standing, and five more times while she was on the ground and probably already dead.
Stang had spent 30 years in Brazil, most of them in Anapu, Para, at the edge of the Trans-Amazon Highway. There she walked and worked alongside peasant people, landless and indigenous people who lived in the shadow of rich, powerful loggers and ranchers. There, she stood alongside peasants, landless and indigenous people, and small farmers in working for land reform, the rights of rural workers, and in defending the land of small farmers. There she made many enemies in high places and was hated by powerful men. Her life was repeatedly threatened, over years.
Yesterday, a guilty verdict was delivered against a wealthy rancher, Vitalmiro Moura. for ordering Stang’s murder. The verdict — the first of its kind in the state of Para — is being hailed by human rights activists as a historic victory for the rights of the poor and the landless in Brazil. Moura was sentenced to 29 years in jail, a significant number because under Brazilian law, any sentence of more than 30 years automatically warrants a retrial. More than 700 small farmers and peasants have been killed over the past 30 years in Para, but none of the “mandantes” — wealthy ranchers who order the murders — until now, has served jail time. They have ordered the murders of all who oppose them with impunity. Rayfran das Neves Sales actually shot Stang. Sales and an accomplice were convicted and sentenced to prison a few months ago. In the course of their cases, Das Neves said Moura and another rancher, wealthier still, whose trial date has not yet been set, paid them 50,000 reais (about $22, 500) to kill Stang.(1)
During the past 40 years, at least 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down by loggers, then stolen by ranchers, more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization. Destruction of many more trees will mean, ultimately, the death of the remaining rainforest, severe droughts, wildfires.
The way it happens is, loggers build illegal, unauthorized roads into the Amazon — thousands of miles of illegal roads; almost all of the roads now existing in the Amazon are illegal — extract trees, and move on. Land sharks move in then, following the roads into once-impenetrable forest land, and they destroy tracts of land to make it appear as though they own it. Corrupt “grileiros” are then paid off to create phony land titles. Hired gunmen protect the stolen land as it is then sold off to ranchers, who use it to raise beef and soybeans for export (implicating, of course, all of us who buy these goods.)
Brazil has one of the world’s widest gaps between rich and poor, with 3.5 percent of landowners holding 56 percent of arable land, and the poorest 40 percent owning just one percent. Local police and judges have, in general, done the bidding of the rich and powerful, and so the poor, peasants, small farmers, and especially indigenous people, have suffered for decades now.
World War 4 Report blogs about an instance in which 100-200 Brazilian federal police agents, backed by a helicopter and armed with tear gas and rifles, forcibly evicted more than 500 Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous people from their homes. The community did not resist. After police and human rights observers left the scene, the ranchers who claimed the land arrived and set fire to the community’s homes.
One of the evicted Guarani men described the scene: “Helicopters flew very low over the area. Children were screaming and crying. Three people fainted and were taken to the hospital. … We have nothing to eat. … The ranchers … burned all our food, our clothes and documents. They burned 15 houses. The only things we have left are the clothes on our bodies. “
The photo above is of a Panará mother and her children. The Panará were forced off of their land, but finally won some of it back in a precedent-setting lawsuit in 1996. The Trans-Amazon Highway now threatens the Panará again, and now only 300 Panará remain.
Male Power, Male Liars, One Woman, Standing
Dorothy Stang wrote in a letter to family and friends:
I have … learned that three things are difficult: As a woman, to be taken seriously in the struggle for land reform; to stay faithful to believing that these small groups of poor farmers will prevail in organizing and carrying their own agenda forward; and to have the courage to give your life in the struggle for change.
As a feminist I understand only too well what Stang means when she speaks of being taken seriously, as a woman. What is striking, though — something I also well understand — are the ways she was simultaneously not taken seriously and taken so seriously she was murdered. Whatever she would have done, it was wrong. Confronting male power, for women, is always wrong and can, and does, get women killed.
The man who killed Dorothy Stang said at trial that he acted out of “rage” when he shot Stang and continued to pump bullets into her 73-year-old body, lying on the ground: “She spoke in a loud voice and at that moment I felt threatened,” he said. Yeah, that makes sense. He’s got the loaded gun, she’s unarmed and 73, but gee, she spoke in a “loud voice.” Therefore, he is enraged. Who the hell did she think she was, anyway? Which is really what this is all about, for Stang, for all women, who the hell did she — do we — think we are?
The attorney for the rancher who ordered her death is no different, or better, or more logical. He accused Stang of “inciting poor Brazilians to invade private property” and of “distributing firearms to settlers,” allegations all who knew her say are absurd, and we know are absurd, just as the other allegations which preceded her murder were absurd– that she was a “gunrunner,” that she was a “witch.” Dorothy Stang was nonviolent. She opposed war and taught peace. Nevertheless, at trial, with a straight face, her murderer’s attorney devoted closing arguments to the fact of her being American, and said, “The cancer of George Bush is spreading to the world– don’t let it spread to the Amazon,” and “She was conceived in the violence of the United States, so violence was in her DNA.”
After 30 years of life as a Brazilian citizen, after Dorothy Stang’s blood has flowed into the earth of the land she loved and protected, and of which she was a naturalized citizen, by a stunning feat of patriarchal male reversal, lies, and, yes, misogynist violence, she becomes the violent one, dead though she may be, and her murderers — who have likely killed scores of people, or ordered them killed, who have destroyed whole communities –somehow become her victims. Because she spoke with a “loud voice.” Because she opposed them. Because she got in their way. That somehow makes her the rough equivalent of George Bush, a leader she certainly opposed in her quiet way of a nation that never belonged to her and doesn’t yet belong to any woman.
Lest anyone think Stang had anyone’s support — aside from the support of human and civil rights organizations and the poor people among whom she worked and lived — she did not, not really. She was no “godbag.” She did not, in the ways which matter most, enjoy the support of her church, although she served her church for all of her life as a nun. She was a woman, relegated to second-class citizenship in the Roman Catholic Church, forbidden the priesthood, subordinated, her body subjected to many externally imposed, sexist, regulations. Then, she labored among those for whom Christian faith equals liberation theology– people committed to the poor and to merging faith with social action, union organizers, people who labor among the laborers, people who sing hymns with words like this:
In the land of mankind, conceived of as a pyramid, there are few at the top, and many at the bottom/In the land of mankind, those at the top crush those at the bottom/Oh, people of the poor, people subjected to domination, what are you doing just standing there?/The world of mankind has to be changed, so arise, people, don’t stand still.
The Vatican has, in fact, imposed sanctions on the great liberation theologians Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, Leonorado Boff of Brazil, and Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, and the current pope once called liberation theology a “fundamental threat to the faith of the church.” The Roman Catholic church which Dorothy Stang served tolerates liberation theology– barely. And punishes and silences its outspoken leaders.
None of this mattered to Dorothy Stang, though. She continued to confront male power. She stood against corrupt judges and police. She was outspoken, and she spoke the truth. She challenged wealthy, powerful, violent land owners and ranchers who had burned whole communities to the ground and who were responsible for the murder of hundreds of people who opposed them. She stood for defense of the earth, the Amazon, indigenous people, and the poor– the marginalized, oppressed and disenfranchised of the earth. She stood against the church, as well, in her own way, from the inside. In the end, face to face with a man holding a gun, a man afraid of, and enraged by, her “loud voice”, she fell and she died. Time will tell tell whether or not her murder and these subsequent convictions mark a real turn in the road for the poor and indigenous people of the Amazon.
In the meantime she left us beautiful words, women’s words, worthy of devoting our lives to, all of us who care about this world, its people and creatures:
I work with people who are living on the margins… All of us are part of a great Oneness. We are only here on the land for a few decades. Use every day to bring joy and not greed to our tired land so full of anguish. We must help the people recapture a relationship with Mother Earth that is tender and kind. We must make efforts to save our planet. Earth is not able to provide anymore. Her water and air are poisoned and her soil is dying of exaggerated use of chemicals.
In the midst of all this violence, there are many small communities that have learned the secret of life– sharing, solidarity, confidence, equality, pardon, working together. It doesn’t matter what religious belief they have as long as human values guide them.
If we keep working, helping our people to grow through education, they will have the ability to speak up, organize, and create within themselves a spirit guided by The Spirit and a new people. I might not see this day, but with the help of all of you, our people will grow in their understanding and caring for others.
When her life was repeatedly threatened she 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.
Rest in peace, my sister. You broadened a path which others might follow.
(1) The hired killers recanted their testimony against Moura at trial.