ON MARCH 14TH, one of Brazil’s most courageous social leaders was brutally assassinated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Marielle Franco, from the left wing PSOL party, a city councilwoman and human rights defender, was shot four times in the head by unknown assailants in a passing vehicle shortly after leaving a gathering of young black activists. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed.
Long before being elected to Rio’s city
council in 2016, Marielle was widely known as a tireless and fearless advocate for the rights of Afro-Brazilians, LGBT people, women and low-income communities. A gay black woman, born and raised in one of Rio’s poorest neighbourhoods, she campaigned relentlessly against spiralling police violence in the city’s favelas.
This tragic assassination forms part of a worrying and escalating pattern of violence, repression and intimidation against black community, left wing and progressive movements in Brazil since the ‘parliamentary coup’ in 2016, which removed the then President Dilma Rousseff, who had received the votes of over 54 million Brazilians. She was subsequently replaced by Michel Temer’s unelected, hard-right government.
In a country with a resurgent extreme right and parts of big business desperate to protect their power and wealth at any cost, the activism of many progressives including Marielle - is provoking many powerful enemies.
Following this assassination, there were further examples of how far Brazil’s hard right is prepared to go in such violent attacks. Days after the assassination, another leftist councillor, Paulinho Henrique Dourado, was killed in a similar manner. In April, the body of Carlos Alexandre Pereira Maria was found in a car riddled with bullets in Rio. Pereira was due to testify in court for the investigation of the assassination of Marielle Franco and her driver and was a social leader who worked closely with his community, bringing their demands to the Parliament. A witness allegedly said that one of the hitmen shouted: “This dude should have his mouth shut.”
Additionally, former President Lula - ahead in opinion polls for the forthcoming presidential election but now in jail due to politically motivated, trumped-up charges - received death threats, and his campaign caravan was violently attacked and shot at.
Across the country, social movements including movements of the landless and trade unions, have reported concerns about increasing harassment, repression and violent attacks, including from paramilitary-style groups. Where this could end has been starkly shown in open calls from elements of the army for a military coup in the country.
One of the reasons Marielle was attacked is that she had recently vehemently challenged the impunity surrounding extrajudicial killings of black youth by security forces. Indeed, just shortly before her own death, Marielle asked: “How many others will have to die before this war will end?” Marielle was a leading critic of the military intervention in Rio de Janeiro which was justified by the Temer government on security grounds. She was the head of a city commission tasked with monitoring the intervention.
Here in Britain, over 100 leading voices, including Shami Chakrabarti and MPs Diane Abbott, Kate Osamor, Lloyd Russell-Mole and Chris Williamson, signed an international statement saying: “We are deeply concerned and shocked by this commando-style killing of a woman who was a voice for the voiceless and a symbol of resistance to state- perpetrated violence, militarisation and anti-democratic forces,” and calling “for justice for Marielle Franco and the daughter and the partner she leaves behind, and for an end to the killings and criminalisation of activists, government opponents and low-income people in Brazil.”
Given that Marielle’s murder bears all the hallmarks of a targeted assassination, an independent commission of prominent and respected national and international human rights and legal experts is needed, tasked with carrying out an independent investigation of the murder with the full co-operation of state judicial and police authorities. Yet this is highly unlikely to happen without massive international pressure.
Worldwide the left must step up our solidarity with all those in Brazil fighting to restore democracy and challenging the creeping repression and militarisation of Brazilian society.
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Hornsey and Wood Green CLP