Brazil: rancher guilty in slaying of Amazon activst

On May 15, wealthy landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was given the maximum sentence, 30 years, for being one of the masterminds of the February 2005 murder of US-born nun Dorothy Stang, a 73-year-old defender of the Amazon rainforest and landless people. It is the first conviction of a member of Pará state’s landed elite in a wave of killings of peasant leaders and forest defenders in recent years.

French priest Henri Burin des Roziers said the verdict “is very important.” But “it would be overly hasty to come up with an optimistic analysis” said the priest and lawyer, who has worked for over 15 years with the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) in Xinguara, in the southern part of Pará state, helping peasants gain legal title to their land and fighting slave labor. “We have to wait to see if Sister Dorothy’s case means a real change or was only an exception brought about by the enormous international repercussions that it had because she was from the United States,” said Roziers. Stang was a naturalized Brazilian citizen and had lived in the country for 23 years. Forty percent of the 1,237 murders linked to land disputes in Brazil between 1985 and 2001 took place in Pará. (IPS, May 16)

See our last posts on Brazil, the struggle for the Amazon and the Dorothy Stang case.

  1. More details…
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas:

    On May 15 a jury in the Brazilian state of Para convicted a wealthy rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, of ordering the Feb. 12, 2005, murder of Dorothy Stang, a US-born nun and land rights activist. He was given the maximum sentence, 30 years in prison.

    Hundreds of Stang’s supporters camped in the plaza outside the court while jurors heard the case. The 73-year-old nun, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, worked for 23 years in the jungle town of Anapu organizing poor settlers. Three men were convicted previously in the killing, and all recanted their earlier testimony against Moura during the trial. But prosecutors and Stang supporters said that was expected. “I believe they made a deal with the defendant, but I don’t think the jury will buy it, because it’s obviously a setup,” said Jose Batista Afonso, a lawyer for a Catholic Church land rights organization.

    There have been nearly 800 killings in land disputes over the past 30 years, and only a few have resulted in convictions. “Maybe this is the beginning of justice,” said Romeiro Batista Medeiros, a councillor for Anapu. Stang’s family said they were disappointed Pope Benedict didn’t mention the case during a visit to Brazil which ended on May 13. (Independent Catholic News, May 15 from Los Angeles Times, BBC; Associated Press, May 15)