Immigrant murder in Rio bursts myth of welcoming city

Sat above the city of Rio de Janeiro at the top of Corcovado hill is the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue. Beyond being the typical postcard image of the Wonderful City, the monument is also a symbol of a place which purports to welcome everyone, regardless of nationality, skin color, or creed. But the brutal murder of Congolese immigrant Moïse Kabagambe has put paid to that belief.

At the end of January, 24-year-old Mr. Kabagambe, from DR Congo, was beaten to death at the beachside kiosk where he worked in the upscale Rio neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. Mr. Kabagambe had been owed back pay from his employer, and went to his workplace to demand his rights — but he was bludgeoned, tied up, and left for dead.

Moïse Kabagambe fled DR Congo with his family when he was just a boy, escaping the Ituri conflict in the country’s northeast. Speaking after his murder, his family lamented that they never expected violence to follow them to Brazil, as they had believed the country would be welcome to all.

But behind Rio de Janeiro’s sandy beaches, violence is deeply established, and the unwitting 24-year-old Congolese immigrant ended up as just another statistic. The brutal death of Moïse Kabagambe can teach Brazilian and Rio a lesson. Luiz Antônio Simas, a professor, musician, and author who knows the city like back of his hand, summed up the episode: 

“Congo civilized Rio de Janeiro. The best that exists in this terrible and beautiful city, daughter of death and the whip, came from Congo: the samba. Rio has a chance if it recognizes itself as a monument of horror. And then, who knows, Congo will redeem us.”

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Brutal murder of Congolese immigrant in Rio sparks nationwide outrage