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Dominican in Brazil Threatened Over Work on Land Reform

Dominican Sr. Geralda Magela da Fonseca, OP, 47, (Roman) is under death threat because of her work for Land Reform in Brazil.  She has been ministering in the Jequitinhonha Valley for the last 17 years and was inspired by the ministry of Sr. Dorothy Stang ND de Namur. 

Sr. Geraldinha, who vigorously defends the expropriation of a piece of farmland, has been in hiding since October.  She says that last year the number of threats against her increased, and consequently she had to leave the area.  The last phone calls she received… threatened her with death.  “They told me I would pay for everything I had done against them.  The speaker said that if I passed in front of his house, he would spit in my face,” she stated with some fear.

Those close to her say that the threats come from the owners of the Monte Cristo farm, land considered to be unproductive and unconfirmed reports say the land is in the process of being expropriated. The mayor of Salto da Divisa, Ronaldo Cunha, who is a member of the family that owns the farm, was questioned by a journalist but offered no comments.

Since August 2009, another piece of land that is near the Monte Cristo farm has been occupied by several dozen members of the MST movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra).  “It’s land that belongs to the owners of the farm.  It’s a way we found to stay nearby and to maintain our claim,” the sister said. 

Sr. Geraldinha is supported by the national program that protects those who defend human rights, by the civil and military police forces, and by the Public Ministry.  She was very moved when she learned of the assassination of Sr. Dorothy Stang, 73, in February 2005.  That sister, involved in the struggle to defend the rights of farm workers, was assassinated in Anapu (PA).  A worker suspected of the crime was later acquitted.   “Sr. Dorothy is an example to follow.  She did not allow others to intimidate her,” says Sr. Geraldinha.

Eighty-five landless families are living in a camp while they wait for the expropriation of the Monte Cristo farm.   Fr. Gilvander Moreira, of the Pastoral Commission for the Land (CPT), says that Sr. Geraldinha is also helping eleven families who live in the camp, the courts having ceded them a small piece of land.  “The number of threats increased when she began helping these families.”

The Assembly’s Commission for Human Rights intends to create a pilot project for the National Program for the Protection of Human Rights: “its aim will be to maintain threatened persons where they are, but to provide them with security,” said Deputy Darval Angelo (PT).  Sr. Geraldinha told us, “If I must give up my life, I will, but I will never give up my work.”
She says that she has filed a complaint with the courts and demanded that her case be studied.  The threats intensified, but the sister wants to continue her work even though she risks assassination.  “I am looking for justice, and the reason for our struggle for the liberation of land reform is so that the people can acquire their own piece of land and work in happiness.”

In a recently-published article, CPT denounced the death threats against Sr. Geraldinha, and demanded “that the nation of Brazil offer her and the other members of the MST the necessary means to guarantee their fundamental right to life and moral integrity.”  The police assured a CBN radio reporter that they were addressing the problem of conflict in the region.   If there is a confrontation, it would be possible to reinforce the police presence and to locate the perpetrator of the threats against the sister.

translated by Frances Thibodeau, OP (Roman)

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