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Italy Mourns an Immigrant’s Life Cut Short

Jan 03, 2021
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Italy Mourns an Immigrant’s Life Cut Short

The killing of Agitu Ideo Gudeta, a successful business owner from Ethiopia who raised goats and made cheese, has resonated across the country. The police say a farmhand was responsible.

Agitu Ideo Gudeta with her goat herd near Trento, Italy, in 2018.
Credit…Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

  • Jan. 3, 2021, 10:54 a.m. ET

ROME — She was an immigrant who became known as a successful business owner in a remote valley in northern Italy. But most Italians had probably never heard of Agitu Ideo Gudeta until last week, when the Ethiopian-born cheesemaker was found bludgeoned to death in her home.

Her killing made her front-page news in Italian newspapers, however, with the death mourned and condemned across the country.

The police quickly tracked down the killer: a 32-year-old Ghanaian who had helped Ms. Gudeta care for a rare breed of goat. He admitted having fought with Ms. Gudeta on Tuesday over money, and to killing her with a hammer, investigators and his lawyer said.

She was killed just three days short of her 43rd birthday.

As friends grieved at candlelit processions and accolades rolled in, a portrait emerged of a remarkable woman who — like countless other migrants — overcame considerable odds to find happiness in Europe. Newspapers and other media praised her as a model of integration in Italy.

And from many accounts, Ms. Gudeta had been a big success, parlaying her passion for animal husbandry, learned from her maternal grandmother, into a thriving business, La Capra Felice (The Happy Goat), which sold goat cheese, yogurt and beauty products.

Last June, as the pandemic shuttered shops across Italy, she opened a store in Trento, in Italy’s northeastern Trentino Alto Adige region, about 100 miles, or 160 kilometers, from the frontier with Austria. The city is not far from Frassilongo, a town of 350 people where she had moved after coming to Italy in 2010.

In a statement, the United Nations refugee agency said Ms. Gudeta “would be remembered and celebrated as a model of success and integration and inspire the refugees who fight to rebuild their lives.”

Born in Ethiopia, Ms. Gudeta had studied sociology at a university in Italy before returning to her home country, where she participated in protests against efforts by powerful interests to seize land in rural areas. Fearing for her safety after some of her companions were arrested, she fled to Italy and moved to a beautiful but secluded valley where locals still speak a medieval German dialect.

“The valley is closed, it’s really a very difficult situation and she took on the challenge to go there and begin breeding goats,” said Lia Beltrami, who was the provincial council member responsible for immigration when Ms. Gudeta arrived in 2010. “She was very determined. She was a woman who had an objective, and she pursued it head-on.”

Ms. Gudeta started with about 27 acres of abandoned land, where she began breeding the Piebald Mochena goat, a breed at risk of extinction in Trentino. She did much of the work herself, caring for the goats, making cheese and yogurt, working from dawn to dusk year-round. In a short biography on her website, she explained how she would scare off bears by locking herself in her car and setting off firecrackers.

Ms. Gudeta selling her cheese at a street market in Trento in 2018.
Credit…Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

“She was extremely interesting, curious,” said Onofrio Rota, the farming sector chief at one of Italy’s main trade unions, who had invited Ms. Gudeta to an event on depopulation in mountain regions. “She took on an extra challenge of being self-employed; it was an extremely ambitious project” in an area facing depopulation, he said.

In 2015, the Slow Food movement lauded Ms. Gudeta’s efforts on her farm. Last week the group mourned her death.

As Ms. Gudeta’s business grew, she became more rooted in the area.

When a neighbor abused her with racial slurs in 2018, “the community rallied to her side,” Ms. Beltrami said.

“She was very present in town,” said Luca Puecher, the mayor of Frassilongo. “She never thought about tomorrow but about the day after tomorrow. She was always looking forward to projects, ideas, innovations; she was full of ideas for the community.”

On his Facebook feed, Mr. Puecher described her as a “hurricane that would overwhelm you with the desire to do and to see the world as a better place.”

After her death, volunteers immediately stepped up to care for her goats, the mayor said.

Sandro Giovannini, a friend of Ms. Gudeta, said he trudged through the snow on Wednesday to reach the barn where he found some very hungry goats.

Ms. Gudeta had chosen a rough life, he said.

“It’s difficult, you’re out all day, rain or shine,” Mr. Giovannini said. “If you have a passion, it’s not hardship, but you need that passion to get out of bed before dawn in the cold.”

The police have arrested Suleiman Adams, a farmhand who worked with Ms. Gudeta during the summer and returned to assist her two months ago.

Ms. Gudeta often hired migrants to help her during the busier seasons. One local association that assists migrants said she had taken in interns while they waited for their residency papers. Ms. Beltrami said Ms. Gudeta had helped her with a project to encourage “migrants to put down roots and give new lifeblood to farms that had been abandoned.”

Credit…Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

After killing Ms. Gudeta with a hammer, the authorities said, Mr. Adams hid the weapon in the cellar and took refuge in the barn where he had tended to her goats, about three miles from Frassilongo.

Carabinieri officers found him hiding “among the goats,” said Michele Capurso, the commander of the unit investigating the case. Mr. Adams confessed that they had fought over a paycheck, he said.

Mr. Adams’s lawyer, Fulvio Carlin, confirmed the confession. “The quarrel degenerated” and he acted blindly, Mr. Carlin said. “Far be it for him to take this as a justification for the action. The moment the deed was done, there was no going back.”

Ms. Gudeta’s death resonated across Italy this past week.

Senator Valeria Valente, president of a parliamentary commission on feminicide, said the killing was “an act of defacement of the strength of a woman who had affirmed her ability to carve out her autonomy, her independence, from a position of inferiority.”

Caterina Amicucci, a human rights activist and friend, said she had met Ms. Gudeta because of a shared interest in rights issues.

She said Ms. Gudeta had hoped to “return to Ethiopia and continue in her fight for the rights of landholders,” an issue she felt very strongly about.

At the same time, she had invested a lot in her project in Trentino and was looking to expand her business, planning to open a bed-and-breakfast.

To some, Ms. Gudeta’s death was one more sad note to a tragic year for Italy.

“It’s been a terrible year. It began badly and is ending in the worst possible way,” said Senator Emma Bonino, who showcased Ms. Gudeta’s story at a 2017 conference on migrant women in Italy. “Agitu’s murder was a tough blow,” she added in a telephone interview.

“She had given life to this project, recovering abandoned lands, breeding species in extinction, a dairy she wanted to expand anew. And now, all vanished.”




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