Four men suspect of having murdered Dorothy Stang, a 74-year-old American Catholic nun working in Brazil, have been identified today by the Brazilian police, who did not divulge any name.
The crime happened on Saturday, February 12, at a settlement of 60 landless peasant families, 30 miles from the town of Anapu in the state of Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon. Stang was known to defend peasant farmers who were having disputes with loggers and ranchers.
While ranchers who opposed her called the nun a terrorist, friends and admirers use to call her “the angel of the Trans-Amazon.” The settlement where Stang was killed is part of sustainable development project run by the state government. She had been in the area since 1972 and had become a Brazilian citizen..
Loggers and ranchers have been encroaching on the area reserved for the peasants. Stang was known for telling small farmer not to sell or abandon, but to stay in their land and defend their rights,
The murder occurred in front of the land claimed by two property owners, Luis Angaretti and Regivaldo Galvão, known as “Taradão” (the big sex pervert).
Just hours after the nun’s killing there was another similar murder. In the more recent case, a worker from a neighboring settlement was shot and killed by eight armed men, According to the police, the man was murdered in front of his wife and five children.
According to Brazilian police, two of the suspects were pistoleiros (hired guns) and the two other were the ones who paid for the murder. Pará’s police also revealed that the American nun was killed with eight or nine bullets in the head and the thorax and died before she could be helped. Earlier information indicated that there were three shots.
Brazil’s Human Rights Secretary, Nilmário Miranda, told reporters that the police wanted to wait before naming suspects, but added: “Everything indicates that a local rancher ordered the killing: the gunmen’s links, the history of killing contracts in the area.”
Saturday, Miranda had indicated that the presumed assassins were two killers known in the region as Eduardo and Fogoio.
Stang’s death occurred nine days after she told Miranda that she had received death threats. “They did nothing to protect Dorothy,” said Antonio Canuto, a leader of the Pastoral Land Commission, who worked with the American nun. “This government protects only big farmers,” he added.
Dorothy Stang’s body was transported by plane, this Sunday, from Anapu to Belém, the capital of Pará state, a trip of 700 km, in order to undergo an autopsy. She should be buried in Anapu, on Monday.
The identification of suspects was possible thanks to the testimony of two people who were with sister Dorothy when she was shot. Both witnesses have been placed under police protection, according to Brazilian authorities.
In July 2004, Stang, who was a member of the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic church organization, had received the prize Pará’s Citizen in recognition of her work. She had commented to friends that threats of death had intensified since she got the prize.
Environmental group Greenpeace noted in a communiqué that Sister Dorothy had dedicated half of her life to the cause of the Brazilian landless. Anapu ranchers accused her of supplying guns to peasant farmers, something her friends dismissed as an absurd lie.
According to Greenpeace, there were 1237 murders in Brazil linked to land disputes, between 1985 and 2001. More than 40% of these killings occurred in the state of Pará.