Five years on, the murdered 'Angel' is avenged

Rancher behind assassination of nun who fought to save Brazilian rainforest is convicted – for a second time

Sister Dorothy Stang could barely have done more to help others. For more than 30 years, she lived deep in the Brazilian jungle fighting for the rights of small farmers and battling to protect the rainforest she had chosen to make her home.

In the dusty town of Anapu, a 30-hour drive from the regional capital, Belém, the energetic Catholic nun from Dayton, Ohio, promoted sustainable development and spoke out against the rapacious ranchers and mining companies destroying the forest. She endured mosquitoes, isolation and death threats, or at least she did until she angered one powerful person too many. Five years ago the 73-year-old, known as the "Angel of the Rainforest" to those who loved her, was assassinated.

Her body was discovered face down on a dirt track 30 miles from Anapu, deep in a jungle humming with insects. She had been shot at least six times at close range and her Bible lay at her side. It would later emerge she had read to her killers from the Beatitudes, telling them: "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

This week, a court in Belém convicted Vitalmiro Moura, a wealthy landowner, of ordering her killing because she had blocked the efforts of him and another rancher from taking over land that the Brazilian government had set aside for small farmers. Moura was sentenced to 30 years in jail. He had previously been convicted only to have the verdict overturned at a subsequent appeal on a technicality. He has already indicated his intention to appeal this result.

Speaking last night from Belém, Sister Dorothy's brother, David Stang, said: "[Moura] has already appealed this trial. However, he is in jail, he will not be freed for the appeal and he has now twice been convicted. These are real things. The other important thing is that this story continues to grow."

Rebeca Spires, a nun who has worked in Brazil for 40 years and who knew Sister Dorothy for 35 of them, told reporters: "We've waited so long for this verdict. This conviction sends a strong message to the other masterminds that the impunity is ending."

Sister Dorothy, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an order that has championed liberation theology, deliberately placed herself on the front line of one of the planet's deadliest environmental battles. The Amazon rainforest, so rich in flora that an average acre contains 179 different species of plant, has never been more under threat. Despite efforts from environmentalists and promises by the Brazilian government to halt the rainforest's demise, at least 20 per cent of the jungle has been destroyed since 1970. Up to 13,000 acres a day are being lost, mainly to large-scale farmers, ranchers and mining interests.

The white-haired nun, whose struggle has since become the subject of an opera and a documentary narrated by the actor Martin Sheen, knew of the dangers. At least 1,400 people have been murdered in land disputes over the jungle since the mid-1980s, more than half of them in the lawless north-eastern state of Para in which Anapu is located. Just 10 days ago, a land reform activist in the town of Redencao, also in Para, was shot five times by two men who approached him on motorbikes.

Over the years, Sister Dorothy had received a number of threats but she believed her work was too important to stop. She wore a T-shirt printed with words in Portuguese that read: "The death of the forest is the end of our life."

Her assassination in 2005 not only highlighted the dilemma faced by the government of President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva as it sought to develop the economy of Brazil – heavily dependent on agricultural exports such as soy – while protecting its environment. As with the murder of the rubber-tapper and activist Chico Mendes in 1988, her killing suggested that the environment was not winning that struggle.

This week Edson Souza, who successfully prosecuted the man who ordered Sister Dorothy's killing, drew a direct link between her murder in Anapu and a broader struggle to preserve the jungle. He said: "If we cannot convict those who kill these leaders, then we cannot maintain the fight to preserve the forest."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas