SAO PAULO, Brazil -- When Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu celebrates Mass each Sunday, he has two altar servers and two police officers at his side.
His house in Brazil’s Amazon region is monitored by cameras and surrounded by an electrical wire fence, and he is no longer able to take morning walks around his neighborhood.
“He is under protection 24/7” because he has received death threats for speaking out against injustices, said an official at the Brazilian Catholic bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council.
“I feel my liberty has, in some sense, been taken away from me,” Kräutler said in a telephone interview. However, he admitted that the presence of the police officers has made his would-be assassins more cautious.
Kräutler has been under police protection for the past two years, after threats against him increased. He said there are several groups unhappy with him. The bishop has spoken against the construction of a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River in Belo Monte. He has also strongly opposed advances made by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and was one of the main figures trying to bring to justice those who killed Sr. Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in 2005.
French Dominican Br. Henri des Roziers has been in the Amazon region for 30 years. His work as a lawyer for the bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission has resulted in death threats. He speculates that among those threatening his life could be people who abuse human rights, including some police officers as well as farmers and loggers who use slave laborers.
Des Roziers said he continues to do his work in the community, but he “is not left alone for a single minute.” He said that although the police protection has led to a reduction in the threats, he sometimes worries about the other activists who are not under government protection.
“The federal government has determined that some of us are to be protected,” he said, “but we are a very small group compared to all of those being threatened currently in the region.” He said most who work to defend the Amazon and its people are left to fend for themselves.
Printed in the National Catholic Reporter, February 20, 2009