Monday, August 31, 2015
The case of Jesuit Vicente Cañas, killed in 1987 in Brazil, is reopened
The Jesuits have always been present on the "frontiers." In fact, the first Jesuit pope often repeats that we need to be present at the peripheries. One of those Jesuits committed to the causes of the excluded was Vicente Cañas Costa, born in Albacete on October 22, 1939, and killed in Mato Grosso, Brazil, on April 6, 1987.
Father Vicente, who was part of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council, per its acronym in Portuguese), started in 1974 to have first contacts with the Enawenê-Nawê indigenous people who were living in voluntary isolation in the state of Mato Grosso. In 1977, he decided to live among them, along with fellow Jesuit Tomás Aquino Lisboa, learning their language, assuming their customs and way of life, being known as Kiwxi and considered another member of their people by the natives themselves. For ten years he worked on the preservation of their territory and demarcation of indigenous land and issues related to health.
The missionaries were concerned about the abuses of the landowners in the region who were arriving, occupying large tracts of land and killing the natives who were there. We are talking about the period of the military dictatorship, in which the persecution and attempted extermination of the indigenous people was cruel and constant. In this situation, the presence and especially the actions of the Jesuits, made the landowners uncomfortable, and so, ten years later, they ordered him killed.
The order came from the owner of the Londrina Hacienda, Pedro Chiqetti, who had misappropriated a large area within the indigenous land of the Enawenê with the collaboration of the chief of police of the city of Juína, who hired the thugs to carry out the assassination.
Vicente Cañas was in a shack away from the village where he kept "white stuff" -- radio, clothes, utensils, tools -- and where he stayed quarantined when he returned to the village after some time off, in order not to spread diseases from elsewhere to the indigenous. That was the situation that the six sent by the landlord took advantage of to commit the heinous murder. They beat and stabbed him to death, wanting in this way to cast blame on the indigenous, arguing that they might not have been happy with his presence among them.
After a time without any signs of life, his fellow Jesuit went looking and found his mummified body which would be buried by the natives in the land where he had spent the last years of his life.
The murder trial took place 19 years later and no one was convicted for lack of evidence, as many people were afraid to testify and face the same fate of Father Vicente, which is not surprising in many regions of Brazil, where life is worth nothing and ending it is all too easy and cheap.
The news is that the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region of the State of Mato Grosso has decided to hold a new trial, because in the one carried out at the time, the jury did not consider substantial evidence in the process.
In fact, the chief of police of Juína, Ronaldo Antonio Osmar, one of those involved in the murder, was the one who led the later investigations, manipulating the evidence so that the accusation would fall on the indigenous, as the prosecution acknowledges today. Add to that the disappearance of expert evidence, such as the skull itself of the Jesuit missionary which "mysteriously" disappeared from the Instituto Médico Legal in Belo Horizonte where the forensic analysis was taking place, to be found days later in a plaza of the city.
The Federal Public Ministry has just denounced in recent days that "the jury really looked the other way in the face of the body of evidence, ignoring the statements gathered in the instruction stage, only dealing with the interrogation of the accused, who denied involvement in the episode the whole time, which was to be expected."
Hopefully reopening the trial can help public clarification of the truth. Regardless, we can say that Vicente Cañas was a martyr in the cause of the poor, of the always persecuted indigenous peoples. His faith led him to live on the periphery and give his life for a better world for all, for the Kingdom.
There's more information in Portuguese in this article from CIMI: TRF-1 determina a realização de um novo júri para delegado envolvido no assassinato de Vicente Cañas