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Murder of Dorothy Stang Places Brazil
and Lula at a Crossroads

by Brian McAfee
March 3, 2005

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An American nun Dorothy Stang who had lived in Brazil for 30 years and a naturalized Brazilian citizen was gunned down on a remote dirt road in the Amazon Jungle in the region where she lived and worked for 23 years, on February 12.

Brazil's State of Para in the north of the country is a rugged and lawless region where loggers and ranchers are in an ongoing battle with the region's poor and environmentalists who seek a livelihood and to sustain the rain forests. She was killed by two gunmen hired by rancher Vitalmiro Moura while trying to halt illegal logging in an area that Moura coveted. The Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, has been reduced by 20% so far and the trend continues.

The assassination of Stang may have backfired on its perpetrators as Brazil's president Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva has proclaimed the 22,239 acre area that Stang was trying to protect for the poor be reserved for them. She was working with the Amazon poor in sustainable development. Simply put, sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The two gunmen hired by Moura were allegedly given $19,300 for her murder. One news report said that a consortium of loggers and ranchers had paid for her murder. Ironically the attempt to silence her has made Dorothy Stang a national hero and she will join the ranks of exemplars of decency like Chico Mendes, the martyred Brazilian rubber tapper and Paulo Freire, renowned educator of the poor and social activist.

An additional problem persists in Brazil that receives little media attention. Sex slavery is a major issue as thousands of women and girls are forced into it. Brazil ranks second, behind Thailand, in the numbers of children exploited into sex slavery according to the U.N.

Brazil faces an ongoing struggle with poverty, the rights of women and children, and the environment. Lula, many fear, is moving to the right, making concessions to the moneyed interests and splitting his Workers Party. If he continues moving to the right, many feel it will be a betrayal to those who put him in power and to the memory and struggle of Dorothy Stang.

Brian McAfee lives in Michigan and can be reached at: