The brutal assassination of Sister Dorothy, on Saturday, February 12, shocked and triggered outrage in everyone. For Brazil and the world, her death denounces the absurd rural structures of concentration of land in large properties, alongside millions of families who persevere and persist in having a small piece of land to house their family and provide for their sustenance.
(Editor’s note: Less than 3% of the population owns two-thirds of Brazil’s arable land and 60% of Brazil’s farmland lies idle while 25 million peasants struggle to survive.)
Large land-owners (latifundium), masked as modern agribusiness, want to maintain the untouchable land structure because it guarantees them hegemonic power and privileges over all of the aspects of the Brazilian state.
These land owners want to open up tracts of the forest to support “economic growth and profit.” Land-owners, loggers, soy planters use the discourse of productivity to take over public lands and territories occupied by traditional peoples – indigenous, river-side populations, small farmers, and many others.
They promote the illegal occupancy of properties, the devastation of the forests and pastures, the pollution of waters. At the same time, they do this with the support of the politicians and the state police using many forms of violence, including intimidation, slave work and even assassination.
With the communities of Anapu, Sister Dorothy was developing a new type of agrarian society, respecting the land as a source of life and helping people live together in society by preserving the values of solidarity, respect for the environment, and in producing self-sustainable food.
However, this form of life-style challenges the economic model adapted by Brasil and is seen as an impediment to those who seek, above everything, immediate profits.
In Anapu, with 90% of the land considered uninhabited, social movements succeeded in creating some Sustainable Development Projects (SDP), where 600 families were settled.
In these areas, the communities shared equally in the family production and the forest harvest, with complete respect for the environment.
Large land-owners used all forms of terror and violence to expel these families, culminating with the prison of peasants and small farmers and ultimately with the death of Sister Dorothy.
This vile assassination has had an unusual international repercussion and should be resolved quickly with the judgment and punishment of those responsible. The government has already sent more than 2,000 military soldiers to the area.
However, the warning of Sr. Dorothy continues: her appeal to the government, which fell on deaf ears, to deal with the organized crime in the region, the involvement of the state authorities and the police in the race and dispute for the domination of the land, at any price. She warned that all of this was a clear challenge and confrontation to constitutional authority.
Along with this, in the Brazilian state, we have a Judicial System, whose practices regarding land questions have been lamentable. A majority of judges have not implemented the constitutional right regarding the social function of property.
This judicial power has shown itself extremely partial to expedite initial actions against ownership by peasants and small farmers, and against traditional communities who have occupied the land for many years.
In 2003, 35,292 families were evicted from the land in this area. Statistics from 2004 indicate the expulsion of another 34,850 families of small farmers.
This same judicial power that is quick to expel peasants and small farmers is extremely slow to judge crimes committed against them. Of 1,379 deaths in rural areas registered by the Pastoral Land Commission from 1985-2004, only 75 were judged with the condemnation of 15 instigators of the crimes and 64 executors.
The massacre of Eldorado de Carajás is emblematic of the way in which crimes against rural workers are treated within the justice system. Of the 154 accused of the crime, only 2 commanders of the troops were condemned.
The witness of the life of Sister Dorothy demands that Agrarian Reform truly becomes a priority of the Federal Government, without fear of the latifundium, and with the same financial weight that is currently given to agribusiness.
The public lands that have been invaded by land-grabbers should be returned to the legal settlement groups. Government resources to combat slave labor should be increased and the agreements with loggers should be suspended along with all of the irregular plans of forest management.
It is urgent that Congress implement Article 51 of the Congressional Transitional Order that regulates the examination of donations, sales and concessions of public lands in the country.
It is pressing that Congress put on its agenda for immediate approval the proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to confiscate lands in which there is exploitation of slave labor.
In an ecumenical spirit, the churches of Brazil recently launched the “2005 Fraternal Campaign for Peace, Based Upon Justice.” This year, the Pastoral Land Commission commemorates its 30th anniversary and will celebrate with the theme “Faithful to the God of the Poor, In Service to the People of the Land.”
Our sister was assassinated for her faithfulness to this God who took the side of the poor. It was for God that she placed herself radically at the service of the poor people of Anapu.
May our martyr, Sister Dorothy, today associated with so many of our other martyrs, Dema, Brasília, Adelaide, Jósimo, Margarida, Gringo and others, whose lives speak so clearly of faithfulness to the Spirit of God, breathe forth strongly this wind of Justice and Peace, the same wind that ignited the small candle of Anapu in the heart of the people of the land, the waters, and the Brazilian people.
The above text contains excerpts from a press conference with Bishop Tomás Balduíno, the President of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). The interview was given on February 16, 2005 at the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference in Brasília, capital of Brazil.
SEJUP – Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace
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