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Brazil: Death Threats and Intimidation Still Common Where Sister Dorothy Was Murdered

“The victims have become the accused.” This quote from Friar Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, pastor of Santa Luzia and coordinator of the CPT (the Catholic Church’s Land Commission) in Xingu, Pará state, describes the situation of thousands of rural families living in Anapu, also in Pará.

Friar José worked for 14 years in communities of the region of TransAmazonia, alongside the American missionary Sister Dorothy Stang who was assassinated of February 12 of this year. He accompanies sustainable development projects and helps families living in encampments. The newspaper of the CPT conducted the following interview with him:


What is the current reality in Anapu?


The situation there is very tense. When the Transamazonica [a highway that passes through the Amazon] opened in 1972 by the Medici government, people were simply thrown out there and abandoned.


Government lands were entrusted to farmers from the south of the country. The non-producing lands were supposed to be returned, but people ended up keeping them in their possession.


These areas were the subject of the Alienation of Public Lands contract between the government and individuals. The contracts had a five year duration. During this period, the farmers had to make the land productive.


If this did not happen, the land would be returned to the government and be destined for others. The problem was that the farmers began to falsify documents sell the lands to others during this five year period.


In Anapu, the settlements and encampments do not have the support of the government. They say that the land belongs to the State, but the large landowners are there, and lots of folks are dying.


For 14 years I was with Sister Dorothy, who was just assassinated on February 12. Eight years I have been a priest, but it is very difficult, lots of threats. We also suffer discrimination from city, state and police authorities.


We do not trust them, especially the city police who are there. These are the ones who denied security for Dorothy. And today these are the same ones who said they have punished the guilty ones. Whom to trust? Only God.


Describe further the work of the police.


They pick up innocent workers, just like they have done now in the case of Sister Dorothy, and they intimidate them. The police are at the service of the State, the large landowners, and do not give support to the workers.


So you can’t really run to the police.


We do run to the police. We go through all of the bureaucracy, we denounce, we fill out police reports, but no results. Except that the victim become the accused.


Even with the presence of the Federal Police and the Military, nothing has changed?


Since the death of Sister Dorothy, the Federal Police and a small military contingent have been present. The murders on the streets have diminished somewhat. But to say that there is now peace in the rural areas….They are in the city. They should be in the rural zones.


Have you received threats?


The situation is very difficult. We had two community radio stations, but we had to close them. After the death of Sister Dorothy, the stations spoke out against the Government, the Military and the Federal Police. The Military recorded the messages and sent them to the Public Ministry, who then closed both stations.


At the city council, councilmen said that they were going to write letters to the new pope to have me removed because I was not preaching the word of God but only political issues. I also receive messages to not go to certain places, and if I do, I will die. This type of threat is constant.


Where do you find strength to keep going?


I find it in the word of God, the Eucharist and with my comrades. When I arrive in the jungle, to the straw huts, to those people who are encamped. There we celebrate, have festas, and you have that feeling that you are not alone.


What do you think of the Federal Supreme Court’s denial of the request to hold Sr. Dorothy’s case in a federal court?


I think it was unjust. The government said the state of Pará was competent because they arrested the assassins. They did not get anyone. The assassins turned themselves in.


The decision is a way of giving support to the state government, a state famous for impunity. But we are not going to give up. We will keep fighting. And with faith in God, we will get a thousand signatures requesting that the case be federalized.


What is the future of rural workers in this region?


The future depends on the government, on the regularization of the land. They need land to work and to have a hopeful future. The land is certainly blessed.


Source: Pastoral da Terra – www.cpt.org.br

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