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Sister Leonora Brunetto lives and works in Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso. In 1978, rainforest covered the region. Today, cattle pastures stretch to the horizon, their unshaded grass rippling with heatwaves. Ranches of tens of thousands of acres benefit single families who have no title to the land. Nearby, scores of families camp in ramshackle huts, awaiting the land they are entitled to. but may not get until the land is dead.
With Brazil’s federal government all but nonexistent there, the “Law of the .38” rules. Wealthy squatters do not hesitate to use violence to defend their illegal holdings. Slavery is so common that the enslaved accept it as part of life. Distant forest fires turn the sky pink, and local brush fires threaten towns and encampments. Courts are unreliable, and police are often pistoleiros available for hire.
Sr. Leonora has received innumerable death threats, and pistoleiros have hounded her, broken into her home, and murdered people she works with. She does not believe that God will stop the bullets when they come for her. God has given us a perfect world, she says, and that’s all he’s going to do for anybody. It’s up to us to take care of the world he gave us.
This book is based on an article by Glenn Alan Cheney published in Harper’s Magazine. For Brazilian readers, that article appears here in Portuguese translation.