January 31, 2009 / 1:41 AM / 9 years ago

Brother of slain U.S. nun sees fresh hope in film

BELEM, Brazil (Reuters) - A documentary movie about the killing of U.S. Roman Catholic nun Dorothy Stang in the Amazon four years ago has renewed her brother’s hope that those suspected of ordering her killing will finally be convicted.

Stang, 73, was gunned down in 2005 after years spent helping the poor in Brazil’s Amazon region defend the rain forest and their rights against powerful landowners.

Three people, including two gunmen, are in jail for her killing. But one of the ranchers suspected of ordering the murder had his conviction overturned last year and another, Regivaldo Pereira Galvao, was arrested only last month and now awaits trial.

“The film has been very influential in the rearrest of Regivaldo,” David Stang told Reuters at the World Social Forum in the Amazon city of Belem, where thousands of activists are gathered this week.

He said footage in the film “They Killed Sister Dorothy” showing Galvao denying at the Supreme Court he had an ownership claim on Lot 55, the land where the nun was killed, was helping prosecutors to reopen the case against him.

Galvao, arrested in 2005 but who used appeals to avoid a trial, last year submitted documents to Brazil’s land reform agency showing he owns the disputed land and wants it back, casting doubt on his main defense.

He had argued he had no claim to the land and therefore no motive to kill the nun.

David Stang, 71, a former Catholic missionary in Africa who now lives in Colorado, visits Brazil frequently to push for justice for his sister, who was born in Ohio and became a naturalized Brazilian citizen.

He said the film, shortlisted for an Oscar but not nominated, was a powerful tribute to his sister as well as a scathing critique of the justice system in Brazil, where endless appeals and corruption often protect the powerful.

In the Amazon region, documents of land ownership are often forged and defended by hired gunmen.


“This film is showing the weakness of the whole judicial system, and that is pretty powerful. When it’s over, people are cheering and clapping — they get it, they know that perhaps this judicial system will never protect us, only those with money” Stang said.

“At the beginning, one of the pistoleiros (gunmen) says very clearly if you have money you never go to jail.”

The film, narrated by actor Martin Sheen in the U.S. version released last year, is due for general release in Brazil next month but has had early screenings in the country, including at the social forum.

Stang said the skewed legal system in Brazil explained why the other rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, was declared innocent last year in a retrial, a year after being sentenced to 30 years for ordering the nun’s killing.

The rancher, nicknamed “Bida,” was released because one of the gunmen told the court he had killed her for his own motives.

“Why is Bida not in jail?” said Stang. “He was given 30 years and less than a year later he was freed. That’s an embarrassment.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the decision was a “stain” on Brazil’s image abroad, but the case against Moura has not been reopened.

“President Lula stood up and said this is a travesty,” Stang said. “How can the president stand up and say this is a travesty and we not have a retrial?”

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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