Conviction of nun's killer hailed as victory for Brazil's landless

By staff writers
21 May 2007

A wealthy rancher has been convicted by a jury in the Brazilian state of Para of ordering the killing of advocate and high-profile supporter of landless people, Catholic sister Sr Dorothy Stang.

Grassroots Christian communities and land activists have expressed disappointment that Pope Benedict chose not to highlight the case, which they say shows the church working with the poor ather than lecturing them, during his recent visit.

The 73-year old American-born nun lived in the country for more than 20 years. in the region and had become legendary as a defender of the poor and landless. In February 2005, she was shot six times at point-blank range on a muddy track five hours' drive from her home in Anapu, a sprawling settlement of 30,000 at the edge of the rain forest.

According to the official investigation, the last five bullets hit her when she was already on the ground - showing that the crime was premeditated with malice, declared the prosecutor.

There have been hundreds on killings in Brazil over land disputes in recent years as ranchers have seized land and evicted thousands of peasants to make way for cattle rearing. However this has lead to only a few convictions from around 800 murders.

Last week civil rights, labour and eco-campaigners welcomed the conviction. They point out that it is the first time a large landowner in the region has been found guilty of a serious crime of this kind, even though many others are alleged to have taken place.

Hundreds of people camped in the plaza outside the court while jurors heard the case against Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura. There was jubilation when it was announced that Moura had been sentenced to the maximum prison term of 30 years.

"Maybe all these people will finally have some peace," said Sr Jane Dwyer, who lived with Sr Dorothy in Anapu for almost a decade.

Sr Dorothy's brother David Stang, aged 69, a former Maryknoll missionary, declared: "I just hope this opens up the door to justice in so many other cases of violence against the poor farmers of the Amazon."

The Strang family said that they were also disappointed that Pope Benedict XVI had not mentioned Sr Dorothy during his much-publicised visit to Brazil.

"It would have shown the world the plight of some of the most vulnerable people in this land", a spokeswoman said.

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