Brazil's president ordered the creation of two massive new rain forest reserves Thursday amid increasing pressure to protect a lawless Amazon region from violent loggers and ranchers after the killing last weekend of an American nun who fought to protect the jungle.
ANAPU, Brazil — Brazil's president ordered the creation of two massive new rain forest reserves Thursday amid increasing pressure to protect a lawless Amazon region from violent loggers and ranchers after the killing last weekend of an American nun who fought to protect the jungle.
Decrees signed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will form a reserve of 8.15 million acres and a national park of 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. "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 the gunman 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, 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 were pleased with the decrees, they said they have 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 receive priority," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Brazil.
Logging companies and wealthy landowners 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, vying for its abundant natural resources. Development, logging and farming have destroyed as much as 20 percent of the rain forest.
In this eastern Amazon town, helicopters flew in 110 soldiers from the 51st Jungle Infantry Division to join a police manhunt for four men accused of killing Stang. They set up camp near the graveyard where Stang was buried this week.
For the town's 7,000 residents, the arrival of the troops was both a relief and another reminder of how much the situation had deteriorated in Para, 900 miles northwest of Brasilia, the capital.
"Sadly, it's necessary. Calling in the army should only be the last resort," said Rev. Andoni Ledesma, a Spanish priest.
The troops were part of a larger operation involving 2,000 soldiers sent in to keep the peace around Para. At least three other people have been killed in the region since Stang's murder.
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.
Police were checking flight records to see if a plane came and left the region Saturday or Sunday, Machado said. He also said Bida's lawyers could try to negotiate his surrender to police in Altamira, a city about 100 miles from Anapu.
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 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.
During the moratorium, environmental authorities will define which areas should be protected. Paving the road, known as BR163, would give farmers in the top soy producing state of Mato Grosso access to an Amazon River port in Para for cheaper shipment abroad. The road is currently impassable to heavy trucks for much of the year because of constant rain.
Lawlessness has long been common in huge Para state, 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, allowing ranchers with dubious claims to the land to continue logging.
Environmentalists have complained bitterly about the government's decision. In their letter Thursday, the 60 groups demanded that Silva set a deadline for the occupiers of public land to prove ownership "without flexibility for any sector."
Source: Associated Press