Hope Emerges from Amazon Tragedy

Photo: Rachel Kramer/NWF

This week’s long-awaited sentencing of a Brazilian rancher who ordered the 2005 murder of American-born Amazon activist Sister Dorothy Stang, delivers hope in the wake of tragedy. The ruling is a marker of progress made in the Amazon in recent years, as rule of law becomes increasingly respected and the federal protection of forests is prioritized.

Stang is one of hundreds of activists, landless farmers and human rights defenders who have been killed in past decades in land conflicts in Brazil—many in the Amazon region.

Rancher Vitalmiro Moura was sentenced 30 years for commissioning the killing of 74-year old Stang. An Ohio-born activist and Roman Catholic Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who worked for three decades to protect rainforests in the Amazon state of Para, Stang also advocated for land rights of poor settlers. She was targeted for challenging Moura and other ranchers taking over land the Brazilian government had legally given to small farmers.

The tragedy of Stang’s loss has left behind a powerful legacy. “Dorothy Stang was an inspiration; a passionate advocate for Amazon conservation. She is a reminder to us all of the power of the individual to achieve change in the interests of many”, comments Barbara Bramble, Senior Program Advisor for International Affairs and Brazil conservation expert at the Natio­nal Wildlife Federation. Just five days following Stang’s death in 2005, Brazil’s President Lula pledged to protect over 12 million acres of forest in the Amazon.

This ruling is a testament to the progress that has been made in Brazil towards respecting and enforcing rule of law in remote Amazon states that were until recently lawless. The conservation legacy of Dorothy Stang, and all who have sacrificed their lives in defense of Amazon rainforests and communities, will be remembered and cherished by generations to come.

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