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Dying for Land Rights

February 2005

In my last post, I was writing about the real barriers — including violent resistance on the part of big landholders and real estate speculators — that make some of Hernando de Soto’s land-tenure legalization theories untenable. Today, the New York Times brings us the sad news (registration required) of the assassination of Sister Dorothy Stang, who was killed for her work with poor and landless workers and her efforts to protect the rain forest from loggers and land speculators.

We live in a world where real estate speculators will hire gunmen to shoot a nun four times in the chest in order to protect their profit margin. The idea that giving poor people a deed and saying, “OK, now you own this land, you can compete fairly in this predatory economic system” seems hopelessly naive.

Sister Stang had been telling of death threats from the loggers and land speculators for years, but she couldn’t turn to the police for protection, Rhoter writes, because they viewed her as a trouble-maker.

In the wake of the assassination, the state and Brazilian governments and the American Embassy are all calling for a full investigation and promising to bring the killers to justice. We can only hope that all of the anonymous Brazilians who face the same violence and intimidation will someday receive the same protection in their own home.

Local groups like the ones Sister Stang worked with, and like Grassroots International partners the Landless Workers Movement, Polo Sindical and ASSEMA are all organizing to make sure that hope becomes a reality and justice for Brazil’s landless becomes more than just a bold dream.

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