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Deforestation in Pará and the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, Brazil


This case is one example in Parà of how resistance to deforestation and land grabbing is repressed on the ground, to the extent of killing a nun of USA origin, Dorothy Stang, who had become Brazilian. As explained by one another nun, "Dorothy moved into the Amazon area when the government had been giving land to peasant farmers in order to populate the Amazon area somewhat (after openning the TransAmazon road).

She felt that the presence of the church should be there, and she wanted to support them spiritually and materially. She realized in the 1980s that the loggers and the ranchers were beginning to come into the area and take over the land that had been given to the peasant farmers. The peasants had not been given the deeds to the land, so they have no proof that the land belongs to them. And Sister Dorothy has been trying to get the federal government and the state government to act to protect the peasant farmers."[4]. This happened around Anapu, a town to the east of Altamira, at the center of Pará rural violence. Its population in 2015 was 25,000 inhabitants. It has a large territory, its forets are subject to massive clearcutting. It is a frontier town on the Transmazon Highway. Dorothy Stang, in 2004, although she knew she was putting her life at risk, went to Brasilia to give evidence before a congressional committee of inquiry into deforestation. She named logging companies who were invading state areas. Environmental organisations reckoned that 90% of the timber from Pará state is being illegally logged. Loggers reacted by calling her a terrorist and accused her of supplying peasant farmers with guns. She and other local leaders began to suffer direct death threats, but she refused to be leave and continued her work with the small farmers and the landless. The goal of such calculated murders is to eliminate opposition to the clear-cutting and burning of the forest so that fields of soy beans can be planted, trees can be logged, and cattle can graze. She worked with a small group of nuns for the CPT, the Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission since 1982 in Anapu [1]. The CPT had been created by the Brazilian bishops in 1975 in response to the mounting violence in the Amazon region, as landowners used gunmen to clear peasant farmers from disputed land, as they still do.  Born in Dayton, Ohio, into a large  family, Dorothy Stang had joined as a 17 years old the order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948. In 1966 she was sent as a missionary to Brazil at a time when Liberation Theology was sweeping through the Catholic church in Latin America. Priests and nuns left the cloisters to work in shanty towns and poor rural communities alongside the poor and dispossessed. Sister Dorothy was one of them.

Like all CPT workers in the Amazon, she knew her life was threatened, although she believed that being a nun would protect her. CPT records showed in 2006 that nearly 1,400 people had been killed in land conflicts in the last 20 years, over a third of them in Pará. Her brutal killing on 14 February 2006 shocked Brazil . The impact of her death was compared with that of Chico Mendes' in Acre as the Amazon rubbertappers' leader and environmentalist shot dead in 1988.  Activists had hoped that the flood of national and international attention Stang’s murder brought would be a catalyst for the end of endemic impunity. However, ten years after her killing [2], the Pastoral Land Commission documented 118 deaths in the Brazilian state of Pará since 2005. For every instance of killing, there are numerous instances of harassment, forced evictions of settlers, threats and physical violence. Many of these cases have gone unpunished.  In Stang's case, there were  convictions not just for the gunmen but also for the "mandantes", who were convicted of planning the killing. Stang’s case was exceptional "for the simple fact that the killers were identified and brought to trial. Of the 1,270 cases of homicide of rural workers documented by the Pastoral Land Commission between 1985 and 2013, less then 10 percent were ever prosecuted. Stang’s case was one of the first times a mandante (someone who orders a hit) was convicted in Pará" [2].   

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Deforestation in Pará and the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, Brazil
State or province:Pará
Location of conflict:Amapu
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Here the issue was resistance to deforestation and land grabbing, exercised by means such as appeals to the land reform authorities and support for sustainably productive projects (like the settlement at Boa Esperança). Dorothy Stang was gunned walking to the Boa Esperanca settlement where she worked to organize some 400 poor families, in a so-called agricultural sustainable development project. She was inspired by Liberation Theology, fighting peacefully but intensely for poor people and for the environment.

She opposed the deforestation "project" which was a byproduct of the TransAmazonian road, and that was carried out by local land grabbers (grileiros) and loggers. Not by very big firms.

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1982
Relevant government actors:INCRA (land reform institute)
Courts of Justice
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CPT, Pastoral Land Commission (Commissao Pastoral da Terra)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Romaria da Floresta (Pilgrimage of the Forest), after her death


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
"Pilgrimage of the Forest"
Proposal and development of alternatives:Sister Dorothy Stang and the people's embodied hope: Romaria da Floresta, by Kristin Matthes, 11 Febr. 2016. [3] "Eleven years ago on February 12, 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang, my sister in the congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was murdered. She was gunned down by assassins hired by local ranchers. Dorothy's tireless work for the rights of the dispossessed and the protection of the Amazon rainforest stood in the way of the profits of logging and cattle ranching. Since her murder, people gather each year in late July to remember Dorothy and to recommit to the work of justice and land reform by walking the Romaria da Floresta (Pilgrimage of the Forest), a 34-mile journey from Anapu, Pará, Brasil, where Dorothy is buried to the middle of a dirt road in the Boa Esperança Sustainable Development Project where she was murdered. Last July I had the opportunity to go to Brazil and walk the same roads Sister Dorothy walked in her last days, to walk with the people for whom she lived and died. Over 200 people took part in this 10th pilgrimage: families and friends who knew Dorothy, youth groups, university students and professors, priests and sisters from many dioceses and religious congregations, journalists, environmentalists, young and old. As each day began, we gathered to sing and pray, to listen to Scripture, and to ponder questions that connected the ongoing struggle for justice to our lives of faith. We walked together, up and down the hills that led us through mile after mile of land that only two decades ago was lush rain forest. I saw the remnants of trees in hastily cleared acres, burned down to make way for cattle ...".
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The killing of Dorothy Stang is part of a pattern of extreme violence in Pará against those who resist deforestation, land grabbing and logging. In this case, the "mandante", nicknamed Bida, was finally sentenced to jail. But the pattern continues.

Sources & Materials

[1] Sister Dorothy Stang (obituary in The Guardian)

[2] Little Change 10 Years After Sister Dorothy Stang Died Fighting For Brazil’s Landless, 15 Febr. 2015

[3]Sr. Dorothy Stang and the people's embodied hope: Romaria da Floresta, by Kristin Matthes

[4] Amy Goodman interviews Sister Joan Krimm, 22 February 2005.

The life and brutal death of Sister Dorothy, by Andrew Buncombe. (The Independent)

Nun's murder mobilizes Amazon activists. Associated Press. 15 Febr. 2005.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Daniel Junge, "Mataram irmã Dorothy". Em fevereiro de 2005, a irmã Dorothy Stang, de 73 anos, foi brutalmente assassinada. Ativista na defesa do meio ambiente e das comunidades carentes exploradas por madeireiros e donos de terra na Amazônia, a freira americana foi executada com seis tiros no interior do Pará.

Short video on Anapu, 2015

"They killed sister Dorothy" documentary, by Daniel Junge

Remembering Sister Dorothy Stang. A new documentary brings Laudato Si' alive by recounting the life and execution of Sister Stang

Feb 23, 2016. We hear from people in Anapu who knew her and also from Bishop Emeritus Erwin Kräutler, who tells of how a young Sister Stang came to him and asked to work with the poorest of the poor.

Meta information

Last update09/10/2017
Conflict ID:2591