US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Waiting for justice in Brazil

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Sister Dorothy Stang's brother updates us on the lack of justice five years after his sister's murder.

By Guest Blogger David Stang

Corruption, impunity, and oppression in Para, Brazil did not begin with Sister Dorothy Stang's murder on February 12, 2005. Dorothy was very aware of murder and crime all around her. The murder of hundreds of farmers, judicial impunity, the enormous stealing of land, the illegal destruction of the forest, poverty, and oppression were everywhere, the result of criminals working together.

Dorothy's letters to the government of Brazil, to the Stang family, to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, to friends are full of disclosures of these crimes. She made the Brazilian government aware on a daily basis of what was happening in Anapu. As one of the founders of the Catholic Pastoral Land Commission and a defender of the rights of native peoples, Dorothy was enormously important in the Amazon. She even had a price on her head.

Yet five year after her murder, my family and I, the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, and the Anapu farmers are still waiting for justice, as Vitalmiro ("Bida") Bastos de Moura avoids prosecution.

Immediately after Dorothy's murder, the federal government started an "External Commission to Monitor Investigations into the Murder of Sister Dorothy Stang," headed by the now-governor of the State of Para, Ana Julia Carepa. According to this report, Bida is accused of attempting to impede the implementation of the Sustainable Development Project (PDS) started by Dorothy.

The report says that four months before Dorothy Stang's murder, a judge sent an official letter to the Police of Para requesting protection for Dorothy Stang. The report found the absence of security agents where they are most necessary. The state public security authorities forbid the police from fulfilling their duties.

Also, Raifran and Clodoaldo, the accused gunmen, have stated as explicitly as possible that they had been assured by Bida and Amair Feijoli da Cunha, known as Tato, that immediately after the murder, a lawyer would be hired at the cost of up to 100,000 Reais ($50,000) to defend them. It proved almost beyond all doubt the existence of a network to support the man who ordered the killing.

The report continues that in August and September 2003, the Social Movements in Anapu had denounced in detail perpetrators, invasion, violence, and crimes that had taken place on each individual plot of land assigned PDS settlers. The documents included Sister Dorothy's letters and was signed by Dorothy and the vice mayor of Anapu. It lists the names of the culprits, including a man who fell the trees in plot 55, where Dorothy was murdered. Can one not ask, what are the results of all this official documentation and condemnation?

Let us now proceed to March 31, 2010. I arrive in Belem, Brazil on March 29 for the trial of Bida in order to support the Dorothy Stang Committee, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our family, and the people of Anapu.

At the same time, Rayfran the killer, Clodoaldo the accomplice, and Tato the go-between are all home from prison for Easter week as part of their rehabilitation. They were getting excellent coverage in the press. Rayfran even said on TV, he would like to be a lawyer to help others. He continues to say that he alone killed Dorothy Stang in an emotional event and not for money, contradicting his last court appearance where he said he killed for money.

As we entered the court room on March 31, there was much whispering. The press was there in full force. We had a full team of prosecutors, lawyer, witnesses, and the presence of sisters, family and friends. The jury was in the front row ready to be chosen. The time arrived for the trial but there were no defense lawyers on that side of the courtroom, no witnesses, no family present. Bida, the prisoner, was brought in and sat down. We waited.

Suddenly a man appeared with a letter which he gave to the judge saying that the defense lawyers will not be present. They said that the Habeas Corpus appeal with the Supreme Court Justice in Brasilia was still pending, and therefore they were using the principle of Ample Defense so stated in the Brazilian constitution. The Judge again called for the defense. There was no response. The Judge angrily stated that this behavior is not acceptable. He declared that there will be a trial April 12 and that there will be a public defender if they do not show up to defend Bida. Our legal team quickly claimed that there was no legal standing for the defense not to show up.

We had wondered how these criminals working together would handle this case and now we know. These criminals working together showed their power, their defiance, and their ability to insult the judicial process, the people of Brazil.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Dorothy Stang Committee, Anapu farmers, I representing the Stang Family, and  now Brazilian government officials from other agencies, all of us, will be present to give strong witness and encourage the process on April 12. The letters of Dorothy Stang will be presented at this trial.

The press asked me what the Stang Family felt about this lack of a trial-this lack of justice-on March 31. "I, representing the Stang Family, representing Dorothy, came from a long distance," I responded. "I wanted justice. Where were they? What are they afraid of?"


David Stang travels to Brazil for all the trials related to the murder of his sister, Sister Dorothy Stang, S.N.D. de N.


Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.