President Higgins's visit to Brazil
Sir, – The visit of President Michael D Higgins to Brazil on October 8th to develop and strengthen trade links is good news. Even more welcome is his intention to engage in dialogue with the many Irish nuns, priests and laity, who have for the past 50 years made the option to be with the poor of South America.
However, the focus is currently confined to the favelas near the football grounds of the World Cup. Let no one be misled – Brazil is a big, rich and beautiful country with vast distances and realities between Rio and the Amazon basin. There is a real danger that the issues of the Amazon may go unnoticed or be minimised as they were recently at Rio + 20. Crowds do not yet come to see the murders of indigenous Indians and local rural leaders protesting against illegal logging, or big hydroelectric dams in the same way as they will regularly go to football games.
The Clifton Diocese Justice and Peace Commission has for the past three years been actively supporting the work of one of its priests, Fr Leo Dolan, from Leitrim, in his work with the landless in the Amazons and their struggle to have um pedaco da terra (a little piece of land) and to preserve the forests as guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution.
We have engaged in dialogue with the Brazilian embassy and the British foreign office in London on the specific issue of supporting moves in the Brazilian Congress to gain an amnesty for all those involved in the 1995 massacre at Corumbiara (see www.amnesty.org). The commission continues to ask that justice be given to Adelinho Ramos, a local rural leader who was mercilessly gunned down in May 2011 in front of his wife and children by an assassin acting on behalf of powerful others.
His son Claudemir has also been denied justice in that due process and evidence have been ignored since 1995. We seek exoneration of Claudemir through the organs of the Brazilian judiciary or exoneration and pardon from the president of Brazil. We would urge President Higgins to confer with Maria do Rosário, minister of human rights, on these matters.
The people of Ireland throughout their history know what it means to be deprived of their own land, and their poems and songs are imbued with respect for nature and the pain that follows forced extradition and travel afar. Business is business, but human rights are human rights. The land is for all and not just for the profit of a few.
We would respectfully ask President Higgins to go to the Amazons as well as the football. The world in 50 years may well owe him a debt of gratitude because of what he does or does not find there. – Yours, etc,