Thousands Gather for Funeral of American Nun as Battle over Amazon Intensifies
ANAPU, Brazil — An elderly American nun killed in the struggle to protect the Amazon rain forest from loggers and ranchers was buried in her adopted homeland after a funeral attended by thousands who remembered her courage and dedication.
Mourners held up saplings to symbolize the jungle Dorothy Stang died defending as they followed the coffin containing her bullet-ridden body down a dirt road to a graveyard.
"I feel like a river without water, a forest without trees. It's like losing a mother," said Fernando Anjos da Silva, who said Stang helped him get medical care after a logging accident that left him in a wheelchair.
Stang, 73, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, helped develop projects to sustain the poor in the area of Anapu, a town of 7,000 on the Amazon's southern edge.
On Saturday she was working at a settlement 30 miles from Anapu when two gunmen approached her. A witness said she pulled out a Bible and began to read. Her killers listened for a moment, took a few steps back and fired, he said.
Coroners said she was shot six times at close range. Police were looking for four suspects: two hired gunmen, an intermediary and a man they say ordered the nun's death.
Mary Alice McCabe, a nun from Connecticut who has lived in Brazil for 34 years, said Stang was dedicated to "the whole of the Amazon and what the Amazon is -- nature, people looking for the right to sustain themselves on the last frontier."
Stang spoke out against the destruction of the forest, which has lost as much as 20 percent of its 1.6 million square miles to development, logging and farming. Although she received death threats, she got little response or protection from the government.
"Gunmen loose! Loggers cutting! ... The federal police is nowhere to be seen in Anapu," Stang wrote last year in a letter to the federal government and Congress. The letter was reproduced Tuesday by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Julia Depweq, a nun from Cincinnati who works in the same region, said Stang's killers wanted to "shut her up."
"I don't think they realized the repercussions her death was going to have. They thought they'd get rid of her like any other worker."
Nearly 1,000 miles to the southeast in the capital of Brasilia, the government announced a crackdown on illegal logging as Cabinet ministers compared Stang to Chico Mendes, the celebrated defender of the rain forest who was gunned down in 1988.
"Chico died for the same reason, killed by people with no respect for life or the law," said Environment Minister Marina Silva.
Violence claimed another victim Tuesday in the state of Para, which includes Anapu. Two assailants gunned down Daniel Soares da Costa, the former president of the Rural Workers Union in the city of Paraupebas. Police said they did not know if the deaths of Stang and Costa were connected.
Brazilians have tried for centuries to conquer the Amazon, which covers more than half the country. But the jungle frustrated ventures even by Henry Ford and German billionaire Daniel Ludwig, and some Brazilians call it "the green hell."
Brazil's 1964-85 military government built the Trans-Amazon Highway and gave people free land to populate the region. The plan drew settlers from the arid northeast as well as land speculators who took control of much of the rich stands of timber -- mahogony, massaranduba and ipe.
Loggers and ranchers grew strong by backing local politicians, and by hiring gunmen to eliminate opponents.
"I think the large landholders have become bolder," said the Rev. Henri des Roziers, a French priest and lawyer. "They want to send a sharp message to the government to stay away. I think they figure -- and they're probably right -- that even if they catch and try the killers, no one will ever be punished."
Source: Associated Press