Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Murder in the Amazon


The murder of Dorothy Stang, a 73 year-old American nun who helped peasants engage in sustainable agriculture in the Amazonian rain forest, comes as oligarchic interests and the parliamentary right are on a political offensive against the government of Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva. This takes place as fissures are opening up within Lula’s governing Workers Party while social organizations are mobilizing to demand the implementation of reforms Lula aligned himself with before he became president.

“This is a low-point of Lula’s presidency,” says Marcos Arruda of PACS, a political and social research institute based in Rio de Janeiro. “There is no excuse for his failure to implement major social reforms, especially land redistribution, as he continues to follow the neo-liberal recipes dictated by the International Monetary Fund and Washington.” The government has maintained budget surpluses of 4% or more each of his two years in office to pay off international debts. The IMF alone has received over $40 billion in interest and principal repayments under Lula on a loan package of $58 billion initiated in 1998.

Sister Dorothy’s assassination by two hired gunman reflects the continued assault by landed and logging interests on those who stand in the way of their plundering of the Amazon. Stang, a naturalized Brazilian citizen, worked in the Amazonian state of Para with 600 families involved in cultivating native fruits and vegetables while tending dairy cattle that feed on local forage. During the past year in Para alone more than 20 people have been murdered in land disputes.

Lula did respond dramatically to Stang’s assassination. He established a cabinet level task force, set aside two huge preservation parks, declared that large “land usurpers” in the Amazon would not be tolerated anymore, and sent over 2000 Federal police to pursue the assassins and their backers.

While this scene was unfolding, an upheaval took place in the elections for the president of the lower house of the Brazilian congress. In the previous two years Lula’s Worker’s Party had secured the post by pasting together a coalition of parties. This year, however, the Worker’s Party itself was deeply divided between those backing Lula, and those who were fed up with the slow pace of social reforms. As a result the right wing along with the centrist parties maneuvered to put their own candidate in the presidency, Severino Cavalcantia. He is known as “the king of the lower clergy” because of his alignment with right wing oligarchic and religious interests. One of his first actions was to increase congressional salaries and extent vacation times.

This takeover comes as a campaign is taking place to roll back even the limited reforms of Lula’s early years. A few paltry taxes were levied on the rich, and a modest, and some would say “very meager” anti-hunger program was launched. Headlines in the right wing dominated press now scream about the high taxes that Brazilians supposedly pay while proclaiming that the Brazilian government, unlike the rest of the world, is not in lockstep with neo-liberalism by cutting back on “wasteful” and “corrupt” federal spending programs.

Within the Workers Party, the dissidents are divided. A limited group is opting to abandon the party and calling for the formation of a new political organization. Most believe a struggle should be waged within the party to reclaim its historic agenda of fighting for the poor, the workers and the dispossessed.

The largest social organization in Brazil, the Landless Workers Movement with strong links to the Workers Party going back to the 1980s, is following the second strategy. It has not broken with Lula but is engaged in a process of mobilization from below. At present over 200,000 landless people are camped out along the major highways in Brazil, demanding access to idle lands. Francisco Meneses, who sits on the National Council on Nutrition and Food Security, proclaims: “If Brazil really wants to deal with hunger, the best solution is to undertake an accelerated agrarian reform program. The landless movement has very effective approaches that draw on past agrarian reform experiences from Latin America and the world in order to carry out sustainable development.”

The Landless Workers Movement is calling for an “April Offensive.” Starting in mid-month landless people and their sympathizers from divergent parts of the country will launch a massive march on the capital of Brazilia.

Marcos Arruda, a friend of Lula’s since the 1970s who numbers among the dissidents fighting within the Workers Party, says: “We can’t give up to the opportunists surrounding Lula who are only interested in power. They are cutting deals just like any other traditional party in Brazil. A really visionary and sustainable agrarian reform program can transform the country in memory of Sister Dorothy and the other martyrs. There is no excuse for our party and country to be aligned with the same power brokers who are traumatizing the world with conflict, repression and economic policies that ravage the earth.”

ROGER BURBACH is director of the Center for the study of the Americans (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He is co- author with Jim Tarbell of “Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire,” He released late last year “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.

ROGER BURBACH is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Pinochet Affair.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017