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Pre-2008 Posts

Dorothy Stang UPDATE

Dorothy Stang

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.
David Stang

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.

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15 thoughts on “Dorothy Stang UPDATE

  1. Heart,

    Thank you for this. A very chilling story.

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 17, 2007, 7:53 pm
  2. Hi there,
    I’m a NYC based visual artist and need you to do me a quick favor that’ll take only 2 mins tops.
    Please go to the link below, see the art work I’ve entered into the Saatchi competition, titled
    “The Woman Men Tried to Create.”

    Once there, please please click on the 10th star only to give me a high rating. I’m trying to get a high score so I could possibly at least a runner up.


    Cheers, peace. Jd

    Posted by JD | May 17, 2007, 9:08 pm
  3. Great post. And the guilty verdict really is a landmark – it’s fantastic -. And – that lawyer’s ‘logic’ – wow!

    Posted by profacero | May 18, 2007, 1:00 am
  4. Thanks, profacero and Mary Sunshine! Yeah, profacero, that lawyer seemed pretty desperate. The jury definitely didn’t buy the bullshit– they deliberated VERY briefly, 20 minutes, or something like that!


    Posted by womensspace | May 18, 2007, 2:42 am
  5. Yes, this is a great post. So many courageous women killed and jailed lately!! Anna Politkovskaya is another one. And our brave Iranian sisters. It’s so important to learn about their brave resistance and to honor them. When we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for all women and however isolated we may feel, we do not stand alone.

    Posted by roamaround | May 18, 2007, 4:00 am
  6. Great stuff, as usual, Heart. Always lots of reading material on your blog.

    Posted by therealUK | May 18, 2007, 11:51 am
  7. Thanks, therealUK and roamaround, and so, so true about all the women being killed and jailed. I thought I blogged about Anna Politkovskaya, but maybe I didn’t since I can’t find a post about her, but what a woman she was and how creepy and horrible what happened to her.
    You know, we have a chance, as feminist bloggers and internet citizens, to dig around, and find the women’s stories underneath what passes for news in the mainstream and then to publish it right away, make our voices heard. To me, this is so energizing, to publish the stories we would tell, as women, if we had the power to publish our stories freely.
    Anyway, this is an unexpected thrill, for me, of blogging, to get the lives and issues of women out there where they can be read in a way this isn’t usually done. I enjoy it so much.

    Posted by womensspace | May 18, 2007, 5:18 pm
  8. I love coming to your blog because each entry demonstrates how much effort, concern and care you contribute to the liberation of women. You include links, commentary, and an attitude that places the best interest of women first. I appreciate that. I notice the commenting here lately is slow and may convey a lack of readership, or maybe it is because you cover all the bases that there is not much to add to an entry other than a big head nod. I just want to express how much I appreciate this site, each entry, and the comments. Other than words I can add nothing else to illustrate my appreciation, perhaps one day I can press the donate button, a day when I am actually earning some cashola, or at least more cashola than what it takes to live. I just want to say something because I know how it feels to put together an entry, from the initial thought process, to the writing, to the editing to the final product and then see it there and not know if it has been read or not or when it becomes evident it has been read it is only shown by criticizing what was left out or how it could have been approached differently or whatever. As women we beat ourselves up enough. Big hugs to you {{{{Heart}}}

    I hate those ranchers. They are thinking of nothing but this lifetime and their desires now.

    Posted by E. K.(Kitty) Glendower | May 18, 2007, 11:53 pm
  9. Hey, Kitty, thanks for those hugs, I am enjoying them. 🙂
    Re comments. (Interesting subject, and I’m glad you commented because I’ve been thinking about some of what you’ve said there and enjoy the opportunity to process.)
    The most “hits” I’ve had on a single day on my blog is 30,000. =:-O Most days I get 3-4,000 hits, with spikes of up to 10-15,000 when something hits, for example, Facebook, i.e., when the college guy wrote the editorial that said rape is good for women. It goes up and down, but it stays within those numbers pretty much, whether there are lots of comments or only a few.

    Some reasons I think commenting is down right now:

    (1) the Carnival of Radfems was GYNORMOUS (and for some, intimidating) and it takes forever to read let alone comment to :);

    (2) it’s wierd to comment to Carnivals because they cover so much ground;

    (3) I don’t intentionally provoke or allow trainwrecks on my blogs;

    (4) I routinely spam the comments of misogynists, anti-feminists, trolls and haters of all kinds (really hideous stuff) as well as threatening posts;

    (5) I routinely spam the comments of people who are not woman-centered, even if they aren’t anti-feminists.

    (6) I moderate comments heavily, and that’s frustrating to commenters, not only because they have to wait (sometimes a long time) for me to approve their posts, but because sometimes they wonder if I’ve singled them out for moderation because I don’t like them or don’t trust them or something like that (even when I’ve reassured them that that isn’t the case; I don’t blame them for thinking that, because the internet is wierd and sometimes it’s hard to know what to think about things.). And sometimes good comments go into the spam queue or get lost completely. Several people e-mailed me or commented over the last week or so that comments they had posted never appeared– Branjor, Akkari, and Divine Purpose come to mind, maybe there were others. I really appreciate these women and would not have spammed their comments. I did look through the spam queue, at least the first 10 pages of spams, but I couldn’t find any of their comments in there. I have 3-4,000 spam in my spam queue at any given moment, so I can’t go back through all of it and maybe I didn’t go back far enough, but I did do my best.

    (7) I don’t let men or people with axes to grind or chips on their shoulders or baggage from internet wars from way back when come in here and jerk us all around or pick fights or behave like assholes. If lengthy comments threads were important to me, all I’d have to do is let a few of these people’s comments through, and we’d be off and running for a hundreds of comments. But why? Been there, done that, way too much on the internet, over too long a time. Wherever there are lengthy comments threads on feminist blogs, in general — not always, but in general — you will find (1) antifeminists, jerking feminists around; (2) trolls; (3) feminist infighting. None of that is consistent with what I want for my blog.

    (8) There are some other things, too, and I’m proud of those things. You notice that not too many people comment to some of the best blogs (“best” for different reasons) — Feminist Law Professors, Profacero’s blog, Feminist Peace Network, Feral Scholar, Feh-Muh-Nust, Hijabi Madness, Laban for the Lolas, Sazz’s blog, Gorgon Poisons and other radfem blogs. I’m betting all of these blogs get lots of hits– because however much any of us loves to write, well, let’s face it, the thrill would be gone if no one were reading! I think one reason there are few comments to these blogs is, what these bloggers blog about is, in general, important. Sometimes what is written in these and similar blogs is thick, difficult, challenging, complicated, or requires background knowledge or knowledge of history/politics/feminist or political theory that most people don’t have, or even if they do have it, they don’t really feel confident in what they know. I think that some blogs are resources maintained by serious writers, in other words, or serious journalists, or serious theorists, and some blogs are maintained for other reasons that are less about any of the above and more about, oh, liking to fight and argue or watch other people fight and argue or liking to cause problems between people who would otherwise be allies or, in some cases, being personality disordered and finding the internet a really good place in which to act out. I think my blog is in the first group and not the second group, by intention, and I’m proud of that.

    (9) I really am committed to women and I really am woman-centered. This is obvious to anyone who reads my blog over time. That’s not appreciated by most people in general– you know? Most people, including feminists, are not woman-centered, are not committed to women. Lots of people, including feminists, even some lesbian feminists, don’t really even like most women! That is my observation and conclusion after all of these years, reading what feminist women and just women, period, write. Some feminist women seem to much PREFER to engage men, even if the men are antifeminists and assholes! Or having men around validates them or something, again, even if the men are assholes. And of course, most men dislike women, to some degree or another, or they like women but patronize us or are sexist in some way. When people come here and realize I really do care about women, women really are central to me, and to most of us here, honestly, I think they don’t, a lot of the time, know what to make of that. It feels irritating to them, or suspect somehow, or annoying. Like CAM says, so long as women are stigmatized, feminism will be stigmatized. The more we do put women first, the more stigmatized we can expect to be.

    (10) I don’t flirt with the menz in here and nobody else does either. I don’t post provocative photos of myself or other women. I don’t write about sex gratuitously. I don’t talk about how hawt anybody is in here and nobody else does either, it wouldn’t feel right That means none of the men who read women going on and on about how hawt some man is will get hopeful that if they can present themselves as similarly hawt, they might get laid by somebody in here. It eliminates predatory male behaviors, also, of course, eliminating lots of comments! I have seen a LOT of that over the years, men hanging around internet feminists in the hopes of being viewed as a good guy so as to ultimately score. Some of those men have caused some real heartache in internet feminist circles. There have been pregnancies, there have been abortions, there has been predation, exploitation, and there have been broken hearts because some pro-feminist man, so-called, hooked up with a trusting feminist woman, and after that, all sorts of drama ensued which was really hard for the women involved, and embarrassing when it got posted about on the ‘net, but which was no big deal at all for the men involved, who just carved another notch in their bedposts and wink-wink-nudge-nudged all the other male hopefuls.

    (11) I’m a radical feminist, not the fun kind. 🙂 I have lots of fun, and I really, really enjoy my life and laugh a lot and need to, because it’s healing to me and therapeutic, but I am serious as a heart attack about my feminist work. I think that shows and is respected. I think the women who do comment here are among the smartest women on the internet, and I love that. I think the kind of blogging I and other radical feminist bloggers do raises the bar, in general, for feminist bloggers (and yeah, that sounds kind of hubris-y but oh well, I’m among friends here. :)) But yeah, that means it’s going to get quiet at times because in a certain way, it’s confrontational. I’m not spending my time blogging about nonsense, internet intrigues, etc., I’m blogging about stuff that is really important. Then again, imo quiet is a LOT better than most kinds of blogosphere noise.

    So thanks for getting me processing here, Kitty, I’ve enjoyed it. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | May 19, 2007, 4:32 am
  10. I did want to say that I think there are times when feminists online need to work things through, argue, vent, whatever, and that sometimes what appears to be “in-fighting” is necessary and serves a legitimate purpose. Sometimes we do have to go there, for various reasons. I don’t mean to say that is never a useful thing.


    Posted by womensspace | May 19, 2007, 6:20 am
  11. Kitty and Heart, this is exactly why I don’t comment sometimes: uh, what you said! The posts and comments always give me food for thought, but I don’t always feel that I have anything to add .

    Since we’re processing though, I am sometimes dismayed that posts related to “international” issues don’t seem to get as much attention as U.S. domestic ones. There is no nationality here (why I put “international” in quotes), but we are blogging in English and many bloggers here are North American.

    As an American who came back to the U.S. after years abroad, I’m frustrated at American ethnocentrism on a daily basis IRL. Not that I’m a snob; it’s not lack of sophistication about the issues that bothers me, rather the apparent lack of interest. We are wreaking havoc worldwide and the people of Iraq are getting slaughtered, but the talk I hear is of shopping, sports and celebrities. Bah.

    I guess I hope that radical feminists would have broader worldviews. But maybe that’s too much to ask when the educational system and the media here actively discourage making connections across borders and many of us haven’t had the opportunity to travel.

    But it’s so important! What would happen to capitalism if workers everywhere really communicated? What would happen to patriarchy if women connected the dots across cultures? The real threat to the status quo comes from international solidarity.

    Which is why the Internet is (or can be) so revolutionary. Thanks as always, Heart, for making such good use of it.

    Posted by roamaround | May 19, 2007, 1:54 pm
  12. Thank you for your comments and concern for my sister, Dorothy Stang. I miss her joy and love very much. Dorothy fought for many women and men deep in the Amazon forest to protect their land, their children and their right to exist. The new Governor of the State of Para where Dorothy worked is a great woman. She was the Federal Senator for the State and did the Federal Senator’s Commission Report ordered by the President of Brazil investigating my sister’s murder. She was a close friend of my sister. One of the lead lawyers defending my sister is a woman. There are women whom my sister worked with over the years that are now leaders of Womens’ Labor Movements. The Minister of Human Rights in Brazil is a woman. I have been to Brazil 8 times since my sister’s murder and to all three trials. I have grieved and cried at her grave deep in the Amazon. I have met many, great Brazilian women and men. Yes, I continue to grieve that my sister is dead. I also grieve that the Spiritual and Physical institutions in the world are dominated by so many men. Surely the Spirit enters all of us equally and I pray that equality comes to our world.
    Much love,
    David Stang

    Posted by David Stang | June 5, 2007, 3:47 am
  13. Heart’s moderation of comments is one of the main things that makes this blog a true womens’ space. It feels safe and right here, and Heart’s reporting and writing are A-1. I notice that the serious, self-contained entries on a lot of blogs don’t generate great numbers of comments. But the same blogs can get a couple of hundred comments by having questions of the day (what is the worst restaurant, what is your favorite movie) that allow ad hominem answers. When serious writing doesn’t elicit a long thread, it doesn’t mean it’s not being read. Sometimes less can really mean more!

    Posted by Level Best | December 19, 2007, 3:57 pm
  14. Thanks, Level Best, for those encouraging words!

    I get discouraged sometimes; this person thinks I shouldn’t approve that person’s posts, that person thinks I should ban this other person, another says if I don’t ban Woman A or spam the posts of Women B, then I’m just as wrong and bad as the critic thinks Women A and B are. There are those who are more than willing to be armchair quarterbacks, critical of all sorts of things while making sure they do not place themselves in a position to be similarly criticized. The problem, of course, with banning and spamming conscientious women who are serious about their feminism, is, you risk painting yourself into a purist, but very solitary and lonely corner. Instead of shutting women out, you shut yourself in. Demands for purity are bad wherever they occur. Nobody’s ever going to get it as right as we think we get it, and beyond that, when we burn our bridges to women, if they should change their minds, or we should, there’s a whole lot of rebuilding that will have to happen if we are ever to make amends.

    Well, anyway, thanks again. 🙂

    Posted by womensspace | December 19, 2007, 6:22 pm


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