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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05BRASILIA464 2005-02-22 20:08 2010-12-15 07:07 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Brasilia
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2015 
REF: A. BRASILIA 00369 B. BRASILIA 00437 Classified By: Political Counselor Dennis Hearne. Reason: 1.4 (d). 

1. (C) By February 22, police had arrested three of the four suspects in the February 12 murder of US missionary Dorothy Stang in Para state in northern Brazil. Both alleged gunman plus the middleman who hired them are now in custody. The fourth suspect, the landowner who is the alleged mastermind of the assassination, remains at large and his attorney is negotiating his surrender. To outward appearances, the case is moving along well. However, many remain convinced that the state authorities leading the investigation are seriously compromised by links to large landowners, and that a full investigation and fair trial will not take place unless the case is taken over by federal authorities. To this end, federal officials are reviewing their options and a decision on "federalizing" the case is expected in the coming days. The case continues to command enormous press and government interest in Brazil. (Note: We request strict protection for identities of sources in this report. End Note). END SUMMARY. 

THREE OF FOUR SUSPECTS IN CUSTODY --------------------------------- 

2. (C) On February 21, the third of four suspects in the murder of US missionary Sister Dorothy Stang was taken into custody by police in the northern Brazilian state of Para. Per refs, Stang, 73, was shot to death by two men on February 12 on a dirt road near the town of Anapu, in the state's rural interior, apparently because of her activities on behalf of landless farmers and the rainforest. The attack was witnessed by one of Stang's colleagues who escaped uninjured and is now under police protection. The investigation is focusing on four suspects: the two gunmen (Rayfran "Fogoio" de Sales and Uilquelano "Eduardo" de Souza Pinto), the middleman who hired them (Amair Feijoli "Tato" da Cunha), and the alleged mastermind (landowner Vitalmiro Goncalves "Bida" de Moura). 3. (C) On February 19, alleged middleman Tato da Cunha turned himself in to police, reportedly afraid for his own safety in the tense region. On February 20-21, the two gunmen were captured separately by police acting on tips. Only landowner Bida de Moura remains at large, and authorities told us on February 21 that his attorney is negotiating his surrender. Alleged triggerman Rayfran de Sales has already confessed his involvement to police but thus far has refused to implicate Bida de Moura. 

STATE POLICE MAY BE COMPROMISED ------------------------------- 

4. (C) On February 21, Embassy Poloff, USAID Environmental Officer and US Consular Agent met with authorities in Belem, the capital of Para state at the mouth of the Amazon River. To outward appearances, the investigations are proceeding smoothly, yet there are serious concerns that the state police have been compromised by improper links to large landowners in the area who are involved in illegal land appropriation and deforestation. There is a belief here that a full investigation and fair trial will not be realized unless the case is taken over by federal authorities. 

5. (C) State police have primary jurisdiction over murder cases, and the Para authorities have taken the lead in investigating the Stang murder. However, because of the implications for federal environmental, human rights, and agrarian policies, the Federal Police and federal prosecutors are conducting their own parallel inquiry, and tensions between the two forces are beginning to emerge. 

Manoel Santino, the Special State Secretary for Social Defense, who commands the state's two police forces (the investigative "Policia Civil" and the uniformed "Policia Militar") told us that the inquiry is proceeding quickly and that state investigators (deploying an "Israeli-made wiretap system", he told us) are convinced of the involvement of the four suspects. Santino noted that Dorothy Stang had met with him four times in recent months to discuss tensions in the Anapu area, but that she had not accepted police protection. (N.b., Stang reported receiving numerous credible death threats in the past two years, so the question of why she had no police protection has generated some finger-pointing here. Our discussions with authorities and her friends and colleagues suggest that she did not accept protection because she harbored suspicions about the loyalties of the state police and because she felt that if she were well-protected, potential assassins would then attack those around her who did not have protection.) 

6. (C) In a separate conversation, XXXXXX, pronounced himself "deeply concerned" that the investigation will be intentionally compromised by state authorities. Corrupt state authorities are widely believed to have allowed lucrative large-scale illegal land appropriation and clear-cutting to have continued for years. XXXXXX observed that Dorothy Stang was "widely-known, a walking archive of land theft, persistent, and well-prepared", thus she became a "stone in the shoe of landowners and state police." Based on the federal authorities' parallel investigation, XXXXX is convinced that the two gunmen in custody were involved in the killing, but he is not yet certain about the involvement of alleged mastermind Bida de Moura. XXXXXX minced no words, he told us that the state police in the rural areas are closely connected with large landowners and have been known to hire themselves out as gunmen and to intentionally obstruct investigations. He said he is "very worried about the direction of the investigation, the speed with which state police settled on the four suspects, and the security of those in custody." XXXXX pointed out that higher-ups in the conspiracy could easily "erase" the suspects now in jail, either by arranging for them to be killed or by allowing them to escape --both common scenarios in Para's jails. XXXXXX added that he had learned that as they were arresting gunman Rayfran de Sales, state police officers reportedly threatened him and told him how to structure his confession. 

7. (C) XXXXXX's fears about the involvement of the state police were echoed by State Congressman XXXXXX . XXXXXX is an environmentalist who serves on the State Assembly's Human Rights Committee. Between meetings at the State Assembly, XXXXXX pulled us into a corner and hurriedly whispered that he was convinced that officials in the state police are involved in a cover-up to protect the higher-ups in the Stang murder. Similar concerns were shared with us by Dorothy Stang's colleagues, two nuns with her religious order 'The Sisters of Notre Dame' in Belem (strictly protect this reference). One of the Sisters told us, "The cops in Anapu are all tied in with the landowners. As long as the state police and officials are involved, this case will go nowhere. It's got to go to the federal level." 

8. (C) Further suspicions were raised by odd public comments from the attorney for alleged ringleader Bida de Moura. The attorney, Augusto Septinio, helped to negotiate the surrender of middleman Tato da Cunha and is now negotiating the surrender of his own client. Septinio told the press that, "I could have turned Tato in to the Federal Police but I decided to do the honors with the state police instead". Septinio added that he had been working hard to locate alleged gunman Rayfran de Sales in the days before Sales was arrested. Left unclear was why Bida's attorney chose to "honor" the state police, why he was negotiating Tato's surrender (which leaves an impression of conflict with his own client's interests), and why he was so eager to contact the fleeing triggerman. 

RED HERRING SUSPECT ------------------- 

9. (C) One element of the confession of triggerman Rayfran de Sales is universally disbelieved: his charge that the murder was ordered by Francisco "Chiquinho" de Souza, a local Workers' Party (PT) politician in the town of Anapu. De Souza, a leader of the rural workers' union was a close friend of Dorothy Stang and worked with her in support of small farmers. Senior officials with both the state and federal police with whom we spoke saw the attempt to implicate De Souza as a clumsy try at protecting the real conspirators. 

"FEDERALIZATION" OF THE CASE ---------------------------- 

10. (C) A recently-passed law allows the federal government to take over from the states cases of grave human rights abuses. The law has yet to be invoked, and the Stang murder may represent its trial run. The decision on whether to take over a case is left to the discretion of Federal Prosecutor-General Claudio Fonteles, and must be approved by the Supreme Federal Court. XXXX told us that Fonteles is now considering invoking the "federalization" law in the Stang murder and that a decision should be announced in the coming days. 

HEIGHTENED SECURITY IN THE REGION --------------------------------- 

11. (C) The state and federal police have reinforced their presence in the interior of the state. In addition, the Army has deployed approximately 180 troops to the area around the town of Anapu, and has approximately 1,800 more troops available to deploy if necessary. Everyone we spoke with, from left-of-center politicians to police and government officials, sees the military as providing a positive presence. Given the perceived weaknesses in the state police, the small size of the federal police unit in the state, and the fact that the police are chronically under-equipped, the Army has been able to take a helpful supporting role in maintaining security and supporting police operations. The Army intervention was requested by Para Governor Simao Jatene in meetings with President Lula, and was approved by the State Assembly. There is no fixed end-date for the Army intervention. 

12. (C) David Stang, brother of Dorothy, will be arriving in Brazil February 24 to visit the gravesite of his sister. Though the visit is orchestrated by Dorothy Stang's order, our consular agent in Belem will meet and assist as necessary. The CG in Sao Paulo will greet Stang as he transits on his way to Belem; the Ambassador will meet Stang when he transits Brasilia on his way back to the U.S. The Embassy continues to provide updates on the case to a number of Dorothy Stang's relatives. 

COMMENT - INTENSE PRESS AND GOB ATTENTION ----------------------------------------- 

13. (C) The Stang murder continues to command great attention from the Brazilian government and press. Federal and state task forces have been formed to address various elements of the issue, from protecting human rights activists to clarifying the complex web of land ownership issues at the heart of the disputes. A new land-use plan for Para state is being hurriedly pushed forward, designed to demarcate protected reserves from lands available for commercial use. The Stang case is on the cover of both major weekly newsmagazines (Veja and IstoE) and progress is detailed on the front pages of every newspaper. By all accounts, President Lula is following the case closely. On February 21 he told the press he would not rest until the murders were locked up, adding, "It is abominable that people still think a .38 revolver is the solution to a conflict, no matter how serious." Given longstanding concerns about the performance, corruptibility, and low morale of state police throughout Brazil, coupled with specific concerns about state police performance on the Stang investigation, we will be watching closely to see whether the federal authorities decide to assert their jurisdiction.