Brazilians took to the streets after the murder of Rio's city councilor. Photo: AgEFE
marielle franco rio's city councilor murdered

Brazilians took to the streets after the murder of Rio’s city councilor. Photo: AgEFE

Since last year, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) has expressed its concerns about how organized crime could tamper with our elections. From sponsoring corrupt candidates that would turn a blind eye to drug-trafficking gangs to hit jobs against combative politicians, the threat has been palpable.

Similarly, for this year’s election, the writing was on the wall: TSE discussed the potential for politicians to partner up with gang leaders, creating “no-go” zones and threatening candidates that are not part of the “crime consortium,” as the court says.

</p> <p>Still, <a href="https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/acao-do-trafico-de-milicias-na-eleicao-nao-investigada-22388765">no investigation</a> was opened to prevent criminal organizations from influencing the elections. That’s despite gangs being able to control over 1.1 million votes across 19 constituencies in Rio de Janeiro, according to data from TSE itself.</p> <p>The 2016 municipal elections were already the bloodiest campaign in Brazilian history. Between August and September of that year, at least 20 candidates for mayor of city council were murdered across the country. The information was released by a study conducted by <a href="http://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/noticias/ao-menos-20-candidatos-foram-assassinados-no-brasil-desde-agosto/"><em>Congresso Em Foco</em></a>, a Brazilian website specializing in politics.</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1tymPNM7YZ9UVU2LVZT6JTDk6-eo&amp;hl=en" width="640" height="480"></iframe></p> <p>Not all crimes were politically motivated. Many are related to personal vendettas and criminal rivalries, as some candidates were suspected of involvement in drug trafficking or the organization of paramilitary militias. But what these killings all have in common is that police are largely unable to find the perpetrators. Of course, such a situation is certainly not news in Brazil, a country in which just eight percent of all murder cases result in actual prosecutions.</p> <p>The state with the highest number of campaign-related homicides is Rio de Janeiro, with a total of five murders.</p> <h3>Rio’s city councilor Marielle Franco</h3> <p>This year, campaign-related violence began earlier than usual with the murder of Rio’s city councilor Marielle Franco, a member of the extreme-left party PSOL. She was <a href="https://brazilian.report/2018/03/15/rios-city-councilor-shot-dead/">gunned down</a> in a drive-by shooting that also killed her driver and injured her assistant. Franco was returning from an event in the Maré Favela Complex to encourage the empowerment of<a href="https://brazilian.report/2017/11/20/racism-brazil-discrimination/"> black</a> women.</p> <p>The crime features all classic signs of an assassination. According to investigators, the perpetrators knew exactly where Franco was located within the car: the right rear seat. The shots were made from the rear right window, with five bullets hitting the city councilor in the head.</p> <p>Over the past few days, the city councilor had delivered harsh criticism of the federal intervention in Rio’s security system. She published on Twitter: “Yet another young man who could be going to college is killed because of the police. How many more will it take for this war to end?”</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="pt">Vídeo mostra assessora da vereadora Marielle Franco (PSOL) momentos após o crime. <a href="https://t.co/Fibw8tAWyc">pic.twitter.com/Fibw8tAWyc</a></p> <p>— Casos de Polícia (@CasodePolicia) <a href="https://twitter.com/CasodePolicia/status/974146594990886913?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 15, 2018</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>The crime recalls the 2011 murder of former Judge Patricia Aciolly, who was shot 21 times during an ambush. Investigators determined that her name was on a list of 12 people targeted by urban militias. During her career, Aciolly had put 60 people connected to organized crime behind bars.</p> <h3>Human rights and pro-minority agenda</h3> <p>The 38-year-old city councilor was carrying out her first term in office. Issued from the Maré Favela Complex, Marielle Franco was a sociologist with a master’s degree in public administration. Her thesis centered on the impact of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units presence in the city’s favelas. Before moving into politics, Franco worked in several NGOs fighting for human rights.</p> <p>Marielle Franco’s victory was among the biggest surprises of 2018, being the <a href="https://brazilian.report/2018/03/16/marielle-franco-black-woman-favela/">fifth-highest</a> voted city councilor in Rio de Janeiro – she amassed over 46,000 votes in her electoral debut. Her election also bore heavy symbolism. Franco, after all, was a successful black woman from the favela, who rose to power in a city that remains fractured by social tensions.</p> <p>Her death, then, is also symbolic, seen as a troubling omen for a 2018 that promises to bring a divisive – and potentially violent – election.

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.