How Marielle Franco’s death is shaking up Brazilian politics

. Mar 19, 2018
How Marielle Franco death is shaking up Brazilian politics Demonstration to honor Marielle Franco. Photo: Gibran Mendes
How Marielle Franco death is shaking up Brazilian politics

Demonstration to honor Marielle Franco. Photo: Gibran Mendes

Though it would be safe to say that last week’s brutal murder of Rio de Janeiro’s city councilor Marielle Franco will certainly affect the Brazilian political scene, any tangible results will not be immediately felt. That being said, we have noticed three ways in which the incident is currently shaping public and political discourse.

The first concerns a fight over the crime’s narrative; the second is the impact Franco’s death might have over the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro; and the third concerns how the case might affect the upcoming general elections.

The war of narratives

The mainstream media has generally agreed to label the episode as a politically-driven homicide – even if they are not opting to unequivocally state who might gain from Franco’s death. Reporters, news anchors, and pundits are claiming in unison that the primary suspects are members of Rio’s Police Department. However, the media is not asserting that definitively because investigations are still ongoing.

</p> <p>Brazil’s history of police brutality – not just in Rio de Janeiro, but across the country – as well as the fact that Marielle Franco was a human rights defender who consistently denounced abuse by police officers, especially in peripheral communities, contributes to that interpretation.</p> <p><a href=";l=en&amp;mt=2"><img class="wp-image-2961 size-medium aligncenter" src="" alt="explaining brazil apple podcast" width="300" height="81" srcset=" 300w, 768w, 1024w, 1232w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /></a></p> <p>Adding to the confusion over this war on narrative are statements from public officials. Left-leaning leaders have emphatically condemned the crime and celebrated Franco’s legacy as a defender of human rights. The left, including her party (PSOL), consider her murder yet another stage in the “coup” that has supposedly been carried out. Former President Dilma Rousseff has compared the murder to her 2016 impeachment.</p> <p>On the far right, congressmen have tried to downplay the case’s political aspects, attempting to instead position the murder as part of a broader reality of violence. Rep. Albert Fraga, leader of the Public Safety Caucus, went <a href="">as far as to say</a> that the city councilor had relations with criminals and was therefore killed by criminals. Although far-right presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro has remained silent, his sons, who are also elected officials, commented on the issue: one of them supported the police, while the other tweeted in support of Franco’s family (the tweet was later deleted).</p> <p>The battle for narratorial control extends to social media. Left-leaning activists praised the victim’s work as a <a href="">human rights activist</a>. On the right, whether through robots or real profiles, the discourse follows the same lines given by gun lobbyists in Congress: the crime was not politically motivated. A <a href="">wave of falsehoods</a> has also been published online. Some even claimed that Franco was the mistress of an incarcerated drug dealer – and that was subsequently shared by politicians.</p> <p>A military police colonel in Paraná took to social media to defend his force, stating that Franco shouldn’t be made into a martyr because she wasn’t defending “law-abiding citizens.” A study conducted by think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas revealed that seven percent of all tweets on the subject carried the extreme right’s take on the incident, which blames the victim and her activism.</p> <h3>Marielle Franco and the intervention</h3> <p>Some analysts believe that the murder is instrumental to those who are against the federal intervention in Rio’s security system – whether members of the police or organized crime. The crime has darkened the general mood in Rio, which could render the interventor’s job even more difficult.</p> <p>Such an effect is not certain, however.</p> <p>Although unlikely, the crime could also force a process of cleaning house within the state’s police force. Doing so, however, would be a minefield, and the request by Brazil’s top prosecutor to turn the case into a federal investigation would risk making matters worse by destroying any confidence placed by the police in the intervention cabinet.</p> <h3>The 2018 elections</h3> <p>How will Marielle Franco’s murder affect the upcoming general elections, not only in the presidential race, but in the states? Until last Wednesday, the theory promoted by the right – that being tough on crime, arming the population, and a securing a tougher police force would lower crime rates – had won the hearts and minds of many voters.</p> <p>Yet the commotion emerging from the crime has balanced that battlefield, demonstrated by how people interacted with the incident online. It suggests that room exists for a more centrist discourse – not only with respect to curbing crime rates, but also regarding police behavior. The fact that right-wing leaders are going to such lengths to neutralize the murder’s political aspects is ultimately a revelation of their own fear.</p> <p>It is also important to remember, once again, that far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro has not uttered a single word on the case. In an electoral environment that is becoming increasingly hostile towards his image, Bolsonaro was not willing to risk being misinterpreted. However, to win the presidency, Bolsonaro cannot rely on continued silence.

Claudio Couto

Political scientist, head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Master’s program in Public Policy and Administration.

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