"Nuns Face Guns, Impunity in Trying To Save Amazon"

"CARLINDA, Brazil — The gunmen arrived in the Amazon dusk, circling the house where Sister Leonora was hiding, rifles and pistols poking out the windows of three muddy pickup trucks.

A violent death was meant for the diminutive 64-year-old Roman Catholic nun, who has spent decades defending poor, landless workers — and collecting countless threats from ranchers she blocked from stealing Amazon land.

Leonora Brunetto faced the fate of Brazil's renowned rain forest protector Chico Mendes and American nun Dorothy Stang, whose accused killer is scheduled for retrial Wednesday in the jungle city of Belem.

But before the gunmen could put her among the 1,200 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and others killed over preserving the rain forest since Mendes' murder in 1988, a car full of landless workers pulled up to defend Brunetto.

The gunmen left, opting to take their shot at the gray-haired woman another day. One of those who came to her rescue, though, was shot dead the next afternoon. As in many of the cases, his killer still walks free.

Impunity in the Amazon because of a weak judicial system and corruption among local officials is endemic, a problem not only for people like Brunetto, but for the Brazilian government trying to preserve a rain forest the size of the U.S. west of the Mississippi. More than 20 percent of the forest already has been destroyed."

Bradley Brooks reports for the Associated Press March 30, 2010.

Source: AP, 03/30/2010