Published on Friday, February 18, 2005 by the Associated Press
Brazil Orders Amazon Reserve After Killing
by Michael Astor
ANAPU, BRAZIL - Brazil's president ordered the creation of a huge Amazon environmental protection area in a lawless region coveted by soy farmers and ranchers less than a week after an American nun was gunned down trying to protect the jungle from deforestation.
Decrees signed Thursday by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will form a reserve of 8.2 million acres and a national park spanning 1.1 million acres in the state of Para, where 73-year-old Dorothy Stang was shot to death in a dispute with a powerful rancher.
"We can't give in to people committing acts of violence," said Environment Minister Marina Silva, who announced the decrees in the capital, Brasilia. "The government is putting the brakes on in front of the predators."
Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, was attacked Saturday in a settlement 30 miles from Anapu, which is located in Para. A witness said she read from a Bible after being confronted by two gunmen and was then shot six times at close range.
The decrees were announced after more than 60 groups signed a letter to the president demanding strong moves to curb "violence and impunity associated with the illegal occupation of lands and deforestation" in the Amazon — and especially in Para, which is nearly twice the size of Texas.
Unless the killing stops, Silva "will risk making history as the champion of rural violence, illegal occupation of public lands and illegal logging," said the letter, signed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other groups.
Though environmentalists praised the decrees, they said they had lobbied Silva's administration for similar moves for two years and were dismayed they came only after Stang's death.
"It is sad to see that things had been in the pipeline for months and years needed a tragic development in order to receive priority," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Brazil.
Logging companies and wealthy landowners intent on profiting from cattle and soy have steadily pushed deeper into the world's largest rain forest, which sprawls over 1.6 million square miles and covers more than half the country. Development, logging and farming have destroyed as much as 20 percent of the rain forest.
Police were searching for the two gunmen and for rancher Vitamiro Goncalves Moura, known as Bida, who authorities say ordered the killing.
Walame Fiado Machado, who is heading the federal police investigation, said he believed the two gunmen were likely hiding in a dense, hard-to-reach stretch of forest near Bida's ranch and that the rancher and an associate may have fled the region in a small plane soon after the murder.
Many find the lack of concrete results frustrating.
"It's been five days since she was killed, and so far nothing," the Rev. Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, a local priest. "The army's here, but that doesn't mean they'll be able to get around in the jungle. If they catch someone, I'll only believe it when I see it."
As police searched for the suspects, residents continued to vent their anger over Stang's death. Farmers from the Boa Esperanca settlement, where Stang was killed, staged protests Thursday in Altamira, where most federal and state authorities have their regional headquarters.
The president also ordered a six-month moratorium on logging licenses on 20.3 million acres of land in Para near a jungle road scheduled to be paved in an area that environmentalists say is already rife with deforestation and land conflicts.
Lawlessness has long been common in Para, where ranchers, backed by hired gunmen, ensnare poor workers in an endless cycle of debt akin to slavery. Tensions rose further when the government recently ordered ranchers to evacuate land they occupied but couldn't prove they owned.
Ranchers and loggers blocked roads and rivers, and the government relented.
Associated Press Writers Alan Clendenning and Vivian Sequera contributed to this story from Sao Paulo and Brasilia.
© 2005 The Associated Press.