The trial for Victor Moura, the rancher accused of ordering the murder of the 73 year old American nun, Dorothy Stang, is set to start today. Sister Stang was gunned down in Brazil in 2005, over her involvement in the ever-contentious issue of Brazilian land use.
Dorothy Stang arrived in Brazil in the 1960s, and became immediately involved with peasant land reform in the resource-rich Amazonian state of Para in Northern Brazil. For over thirty years she worked to protect the Amazon and its indigenous peoples from illegal logging and ranching in the region. At the time of her death, Stang was walking to a remote encampment some 30 miles from the Amazonian town of Anapu, where she was to meet with peasant leaders to discuss the building of a federally-approved settlement, despite objections form the logging community.
For Brazil, the tenth largest global economy, agriculture plays a central role in the country’s wealth. Brazil is the largest exporter or producer of sugar, soy, coffee, orange juice, beef and chicken. Much of its industrial production, particularly that associated with livestock production – both the soy based feed and animals themselves – is produced in deforested Amazon land or in the Cerrado grasslands that border it.
Such production affects Brazilian society on a number of levels. Small-scale farmers, unable to compete with corporate industry, lose jobs and often land, as the large producers move into the region. Indigenous tribes, of which there are over 400 in the Amazon alone, are increasingly unable to depend on their traditional lifestyles. In the case of the Kamayura, who have historically subsisted on fishing, fish stocks have declined significantly in recent years, attributed in part to water pollution from the region’s agribusiness. Ranching and soy production are also considered to be the leading cause of deforestation in Brazil, which accounts for two thirds of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. (Brazil is the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases). Despite pledges to cut the nation’s rate of deforestation by 72 percent by 2018, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government also plans to double the country’s cattle herd by this time. As more land is slated to be cleared of its people and trees, the issues for which Dorothy Stang campaigned tirelessly remain relevant and pressing.