The Brazilian rancher who hired assasins to kill Sister Dorothy Stang was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison this week for ordering her murder. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moutura wanted Sr. Dorothy killed because this diminutive nun stood in the way of his plans for destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The conviction was the third for de Moutura — the first two were overturned on technicalities. Sisters of Notre Dame, environmental activists and Dorothy’s friends and family hail this latest verdict and sentence as evidence that some justice might return to the Amazon basin where some estimates indicate that more than 1,200 environmentalists and rights workers have been killed in the last two decades.
Even as the deMoutura trial wound down to its final result, another environmentalist — Pedro Alacantara de Souza — was shot and killed presumably by the same forces opposing the environmental activists.
The fate of the Amazon is one of the great environmental causes of our global village. But even more important than the health of the very air that we breathe — the Amazon rainforest is often called the “lungs of the world” — is the moral commitment of the human community that stewards this precious asset. No rancher or logging company or corporate interest can claim a “right” to the earth’s resources at the expense of human life. The Brazilian government surely could do more to protect the people who live in the Amazon basin and those who are advocates on their behalf. The bloody stains on the rainforest floor will not disappear until such time as those in authority act with conviction and effectiveness to stop the murders.