June 7 would have marked the 74th birthday of Sister Dorothy Stang, a longtime advocate for the disempowered in the Brazilian Amazon. On February 12, the American-born nun was
assassinated in the rainforest for her convictions. This week, Greenpeace honored her memory by participating in a memorial protest along with other environmental, religious, workers' rights and human rights organizations.
74-year-old American-born missionary Sister Dorothy Stang was assassinated on February 12, 2005 for defending the Amazon and rural workers.
The protest took place in front of the presidential palace in
the Brazilian capital. More than 200 people commemorated Sister
Dorothy's life by holding photos of her and wearing t-shirts that
said, "The death of the forest is the end of our lives." Sister
Dorothy herself wore just such a shirt. The groups organizing the
protest also delivered a letter to Brazilian president Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva, demanding more federal involvement in the Amazon,
better federal protection for the rainforest and its people, and
increased home-based agriculture that is more compatible with
conservation than industrial resource extraction.
Sister Dorothy's assassination occurred 16 years after the
murder of Chico Mendes, an environmentalist whose death drew
worldwide attention to the dangers faced by activists in the
Amazon. "Like Chico Mendes, Sister Dorothy refused to be
intimidated, and she paid the ultimate price for it," said Paulo
Adario, Greenpeace Amazon coordinator who had worked with her. "She
worked selflessly for many years supporting the rights of rural
workers and defending the Amazon from deforestation."
Unfortunately, the killings of Chico Mendes and Sister Dorothy
are just two of many that have occurred in the Amazon region.
Between 1985 and 2004, more than 500 people have been killed over
land disputes in Para state. Very few of these cases have been
solved and even fewer have resulted in convictions by state
Intimidation by loggers and landgrabbers, corrupt local
authorities and a lack of law enforcement resources mean that many
of these cases go uninvestigated and unsolved.
Meanwhile, the decimation of the Amazon continues. Just last
month, the Brazilian government made a startling revelation: the
second highest rate of deforestation in Amazon history occurred
from August 2003 to August 2004.
"The government must implement real policies to put an end to
land grabbing, illegal logging and other causes of destruction and
violence in the Amazon," said Carlos Rittl, Greenpeace Amazon
campaigner. "To guarantee a sustainable future for the Amazon
forest and its inhabitants, the federal government must strengthen
public agencies such as the Land Reform Institute by giving them
sufficient resources and the necessary infrastructure and authority
for enforcing the law."
Some arrests have been made in the death of Sister Dorothy, but
interference from a corrupt state government threatens to derail
the investigation. Greenpeace and other organizations, including
her religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, are
demanding that Sister Dorothy's murder be made a federal human
rights case, which will help to make sure that all those
responsible for her death will be brought to justice.
After the protests, demonstrators went to the Superior Court of
Justice in Brasilia, where they met with court president Edson
Vidigal to discuss federalizing Sister Dorothy's case, which he
supports. A final decision is expected by June 10.
Don't let Sister Dorothy's death be in vain. Please help us
continue her important work. The first step is to hold her
murderers accountable. Tell the Brazilian government to make Sister
Dorothy's case a federal one and let them know that the United
States is watching.