WikiLeaks / Cablegate : Murder of Dorothy Stang

EnviroLeaks will be running a series of relevant leaks from the WikiLeaks Cablegate series as they become available. It is not easy to extract specific topics of interest from the vast number of cables, so we will attempt to make things easier by posting what we consider some of the most pertinent ones here.

This cable from the US Brazilian Embassy concerns the commercially-motivated murder of human and environmental rights activist Sister Dorothy Stang in the Para region of Brazil. What is particularly interesting is the unwillingness of the Brazilian Government to “federalize” the investigation, despite their superficial support. This leads one to suspect internal involvement in the killing itself.


Reference ID: 05BRASILIA532
Created: 2005-03-01 16:04
Released: 2010-12-15 07:07
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Origin: Embassy Brasilia




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/28/2015
¶B. B. BRASILIA 00437
¶C. C. BRASILIA 00464

¶1. (C) Summary. On February 23, Poloff met with Perly Cipriano, Under Secretary for Human Rights Promotion at the Brazilian Secretariat for Human Rights, to discuss the Dorothy Stang murder case (reftels A, B, and C). During the meeting, Poloff and Cipriano discussed Stang's refusal to accept police protection, the involvement of the logging industry in Stang's murder, violence in the region, and "federalizing" Stang's murder case. Poloff also discussed Stang's murder with the Ministry of Foreign Relations' Human Rights Division. End summary.

Police protection -----------------

¶2. (C) Refs reported the murder of Dorothy Mae Stang, a US citizen and Catholic nun, who was shot to death by three hired gunmen on February 12 near Anapu, Para. Stang lived in Brazil for thirty years and was a well known agrarian reform activist. One week before her murder, Stang, Cipriano, and others from the Secretariat for Human Rights met to discuss the ongoing conflict and Stang's security. Cipriano spoke with Poloff at length about this meeting and how those who participated expressed their "deep concern" for Stang's safety. Since Stang had received a number of death threats, the meeting's participants offered police protection or entry into the Brazilian witness protection program. Stang refused both offers because she strongly believed that her age, profession, and faith would protect her, according to Cipriano.

The Logging Industry --------------------

¶3. (C) Cipriano stated that elements within the logging industry were responsible for Stang's murder and refused to believe that other sectors could have been involved. Since "few could afford to pay R$50,000 (approximately USD 20,000) to each hired gunman," Cipriano and the GOB believed that Stang's murder was financed by a group of farm owners and loggers rather than one. (Note: There is no confirmation of Cipriano's interpretation that the R$ 50,000 was offered to each gunman rather than a lump sum. End note.) This was based upon police and press reports in Anapu that provided him information about a "group of financiers." He thought that those responsible would be "captured in a few days." (Note: Press reports published days after our meeting supported this view. The police chief in charge of the Federal Police investigation stated publicly that a number of loggers and land title falsifiers may have worked together to commit the crime. Federal Police are now investigating names included in documents and letters sent by Stang to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) and to state and federal authorities. End note.)

Local Violence --------------

¶4. (C) Immediately after Stang's murder, senior GOB officials spoke strongly against her murder and President Lula ordered the Justice Minister to send federal police to assist in the investigation. The violence in the days after her murder killed at least three, including a local leader of the landless community, and led to the deployment of Army troops to support state police. According to Cipriano, this violence was due to the "criminal element's" reaction to the GOB's "tough" stance against the murder. In addition, he thought the violence was an attempt to force the GOB against taking action which, he quickly responded, "we would never accept." (Note: Our sources told us that the violence and killings that occurred days after Stang's murder are endemic to the region and do not appear to be directly related to Stang's death. End note.) While he was quick to blame local criminals for Stang's murder and local violence, Cipriano also blamed poor Para state government regulation and the weak state judicial system.

Federalization ---------------

¶5. (C) When asked about the status of federalizing Stang's case, Cipriano stated that this decision rests with the Brazilian Supreme Court. Since the law that allows case federalization is two months old, the GOB "will tread carefully" on this issue since the outcome will influence other cases and set future precedence. Cipriano strongly believed that the Supreme Court would federalize the case due to widespread international interest and evidence of local corruption that would hinder local judicial proceedings. (Note: On February 24, Justice Minister Bastos publicly stated that he saw little need to federalize the case, as the state judge involved in the case has the GOB's confidence. End Note).

Ministry of External Relations' Human Rights Division --------------------------------------------- --------

¶6. (C) In a separate meeting on February 22, Cristiano Figueiroa from the Ministry of External Relations' (MRE) Human Rights Division (DDH) also spoke to Poloff about the Stang murder case. Figueiroa called the murder "a tragic and barbaric act" and "hoped that the GOB's actions and the judicial process would lead to an adequate and just solution." According to Figueiroa, federalizing the case would lead to a more transparent judicial process and could ensure that the accused would be "brought to justice." At the end of our meeting, Cristiano stated: "Ironically, one week before Stang's death, the Human Rights Secretariat launched a campaign in Para to promote the same issues that Stang was fighting for."

¶7. (C) Comment: Now that the investigation into Stang's murder has slowed and both federal and state police have closed the investigation, it appears that the key question before the GOB is whether or not the case should be federalized. Cipriano, Figueiroa, and other contacts that we have spoken to have little faith in state police officials and the local judicial process due to evidence of corruption and involvement of influential farmers and politicians in the judicial process. We agree with our contacts and believe that the case should be federalized to ensure a transparent and fair trial, but Justice Minister Bastos' comments (paragraph 5) may foreshadow a GOB decision to let the case run its course in Para's judicial system. Given the GOB's aggressive investigation of the killing and sensitivity to political perceptions of its handling of this high-profile crime, we are perplexed about the thinking behind Bastos' position and will make additional queries on that point. End Comment.



Three years later, following the conviction of both the apparent killers and the landowner who is said to have ordered the execution of Dorothy Stang, the landowner was released on appeal. This, again, suggests influence from beyond the apparatus of state jurisdiction.


Reference ID: 08BRASILIA640
Created: 2008-05-12 15:03
Released: 2010-12-15 07:07
Origin: Embassy Brasilia





E.O. 12958: N/A

¶B. 06 BRASILIA 1321
¶C. 06 BRASILIA 914
¶D. 05 BRASILIA 437 E. 05 BRASILIA 369

Summary -------

¶1. (SBU) Summary: Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, also known as Bida, was acquitted by a jury of the murder of Dorothy Stang, an American nun and naturalized Brazilian citizen, on May 6, almost exactly a year after his initial conviction. On May 15, 2007, Moura, a Brazilian rancher, was sentenced to 30 years as the mastermind behind the shooting. In Brazil, penal legislation guarantees an automatic appeal of any sentence over twenty years for first-time offenders. Stang was an advocate for sustainable development projects by the poor and worked to halt deforestation by loggers and ranchers. Her efforts earned her the hostility of landowners in the Brazilian state of Para, which is notorious for lawlessness and contract killings. Last year's ruling was considered a landmark decision because of its high-profile and its upending of the tradition of impunity for contractors of hired-killers. There is speculation in the media that Moura bought his freedom on appeal by paying off the convicted gunman, Rayfran das Neves Sales, to change his testimony. Sales, who was also on appeal, was a principal witness against Moura in the first trial. Sales, sentence was upheld by the same jury. Although prosecutors plan to seek to annul the second trial and many in the Brazilian federal government, including President Lula, have been critical of it, the decision reinforces Para state's reputation for lawlessness. End summary.

Background ----------

¶2. (U) Dorothy Stang, an American-born 73-year old nun with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had been living in Brazil since the 1970s, helping poor settlers gain land in the Amazon Rain Forest and protecting the environment. She was a naturalized Brazilian citizen, originally from Ohio. She helped build schools and was among the activists who worked to defend the rights of impoverished farmers in the Amazon region. She also attempted to halt the rampant deforestation by loggers and ranchers. Her efforts earned her the enmity of powerful loggers and ranchers in Para, who routinely hire gunmen to harass and even kill settlers who get in their way.

¶3. (U) At the time of her murder (by seven gunshots), on February 12, 2005, she was campaigning for a sustainable development project on land reform backed by the Federal Government in Anapu, Para state, an isolated community located deep inside the Amazon jungle. The project involved family agricultural production and subsistence level activities with low environmental impact. The project was being developed in an area that ranch owner Moura claimed. She was murdered by gunmen Regivaldo Galvao, Amair Feijoli da Cunha (Tato), Rayfran das Neves Sales, and Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, all hired by Moura (reftels A-E).

The Appeal ----------

¶4. (U) During the two-day appeal, Sales recanted his previous testimony and stated that the weapon that he used to kill Stang was not provided by Moura according to press reports. Nonetheless, the jury's decision caused immediate outrage by courtroom observers composed of lawyers and human rights activists, forcing Judge Raimundo Alves Flexa to interrupt final statements twice to call for silence. Without Sales' testimony implicating Moura, Moura's attorney successfully argued that there was not sufficient evidence to convict his client, despite attempts by the prosecution to demonstrate that Moura planned to pay Sales and the others to kill Stang. After making his oral arguments, the prosecutor, Edson Souza, mentioned that he and his family had been repeatedly threatened for over a year while working on the case. The judge simply pointed out that a democratic state works this way and that the jury's decision must be respected. The Public Ministry (prosecution) announced that it would seek to have the second trial annulled.

The Other Killers -----------------

¶5. (U) In December 2005, a jury in Para state convicted Sales to 27 years, and his partner, Batista, to 18 years. Feijoli Da Cunha was also convicted to 27 years in prison for having acted as a middleman in the killing, but his sentence was reduced to 18 years because of a plea bargain in which he provided information about the other offenders. The fourth accused, Galvao, is still awaiting trial.

¶6. (U) The Embassy has followed the case closely. FBI agents participated in the early stages of the investigation, and Sales and Batista were indicted for murder by a Washington, D.C. grand jury on June 21, 2005. Embassy officials have met regularly with Brazilian officials in Belem and Brasilia to express our strong interest in the case, and post's Consular Agent in Belem, Para's capital, has been monitoring the events as they unfold, including attending this trial.

Land Disputes and Impunity --------------------------

¶7. (U) Intimidation and killings of rural labor rights leaders continue to be a problem in Brazil. The Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission's (CPT) lawyer Joao Batista Afonso said that this case reinforces Para's deserved reputation for impunity: in over 800 rural murders committed in the past 35 years in the state, not a single person has been convicted or punished for ordering killings. CPT reported that 25 people were killed in land conflicts last year, and has repeatedly stated that rural violence is increasing due to impunity. Throughout Brazil over the past 20 years approximately 1,100 conflicts were registered with almost 1,500 deaths, of which only 85 were taken to trial. Seventy-one murderers were convicted, but only 19 were found guilty of having ordered killings.

¶8. (U) Local press report strong government reaction against the decision noting that Supreme Court President Celso de Mello said that the decision could stain the image of Brazil's Justice System, Human Rights Secretary Paulo Vannuchi "vehemently" disagreed with the decision, and Brazil's Bar Association (OAB) president said that the acquittal was a "very bad" signal. Vannuchi also reported as saying that it "reinforces the feeling of impunity that is so widespread in our country, opening a road to more crime and violence." Even President Lula is quoted as saying "as a Brazilian and common citizen" he is "indignant with the result," although "as President of the Republic I don't make comments on the decision of a judicial proceeding." "Let's see what is going to happen. I think that this speaks a bit against Brazil's image abroad."

¶9. (U) Stang's brother, David Stang, who arrived for the trial last week, was incredulous when the ruling was delivered. According to press reports he said, "I'm a rational person. How could this happen? It's as if those killed are to continue suffering." He praised that prosecution saying that their arguments were outstanding and even stronger than when Moura was convicted last year. "I'm profoundly shocked," he said. 10. (SBU) Comment: Moura's previous conviction was a bright spot in, and seemed to be a turning point for, the justice system in a state notorious for lawlessness and impunity. It also created hope that Brazil's poor history of prosecutions of land owners who order killings might be coming to an end. In the best case, the decision represents only a temporary setback that may well be reversed on further appeal by the Public Ministry. If allowed to stand, however, the decision could embolden other landowners in rural disputes with indigenous (septel) and other groups to take matters into their own hands. The strong outcry from the highest levels of the GOB is a positive sign. Post will continue to express our interest in the case and monitor the situation. End Comment.


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