The Economist labelled Dorothy Stang a martyr for the Amazon, following the American nun’s recent murder. She got in the way of a Wild West style land grab across the Amazon forest, an environment she’d dedicated her life to saving. She’d previously won headlines demanding of a group of US state legislators; ‘Do you know what a sobbing monkey sounds like?’. She’d been listening to their screams as their habitat was burnt down. But she was much more than a tree hugger explaining that, ‘farmers who live without any protection in the forest… have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment’.
The thing is, those sorts of rights are all too often meaningless aspirations and she joins many others who have learnt that lesson the hard way. 1,349 lost their lives in Brazilian land disputes between 1985 and 2003 and the Economist reports that such killings are rarely punished. But killing a ex-US citizen – and nun – prompted 2,000 troops to poor into this lawless area. It’s a place where land ownership is so uncertain, you can exploit a patch just so long as you can defend it. In the short term, threats of land reform accelerate the destruction as loggers take what they can. Government attempts to get a grip have lead them to protest in return with threats to poison rivers and block roads. And the poor farmers struggling to make a living are certainly no better off than the screaming monkeys.
Anyway. The World Wildlife Fund has some tips on what you can do.