Marielle Franco: One Year After Her Assassination
One year ago today, Brazilian councilwoman Marielle Franco and driver Anderson Gomes were murdered in cold blood in the center of Rio de Janeiro. Two days ago, the police arrested two suspects in the crime. While an important piece of this puzzle – who killed Franco and Gomes – may be close to falling into place, there are key questions about the crime that shocked Brazil and the world that remain answered: who ordered Marielle Franco’s death?
It was a rainy night on that March 14th, 2018. After attending an event with black women, Marielle Franco got in Anderson Gomes’ car with her aide Fernanda Chaves. As they drove in downtown Rio, a car ambushed them and 13 shots were fired. Franco was hit four times in the head and Gomes, three times in the back. Chaves survived the attack.
After what seemed like a much stalled investigation that took too long to show relevant, accurate information, this week, on Mar. 12, two days before the one-year anniversary of the crime, the civil police and prosecutors with the state of Rio de Janeiro arrested the suspects in two execution of Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes.
The retired military officer Ronnie Lessa and the ex-military officer Élcio Vieira de Queiroz were arrested in the so-called Operation Lume. The joint police-prosecutor task force was named after a public square in downtown Rio known as Buraco do Lume, where councilwoman Franco promoted accountability to constituents and ran a project called Lume Feminista. The word “lume,” the investigators pointed out, also means “shedding light” or “casting light” on something.
According to the prosecution, Lessa is allegedly the one who fired the shots, while Queiroz drove the silver Cobalt that chased and ambushed the victims. Evidence showed that Lessa had been monitoring the events the councilwoman attended and the crime was meticulously planned for three months.
The police seized documents, mobile phones, computers, and guns from the suspects. Executing another warrant, they also found 117 incomplete M16 rifles and large amounts of cash at the house of a friend of Lessa. According to the news website G1, it was the largest ever seizure of rifles in Rio de Janeiro.
An activist and Marielle Franco’s widow, Monica Benício told Brasil de Fato that this week’s operation is “a very important step” in the investigation, but some questions remain unanswered.
“Let us not forget that the most important question has not been answered: who ordered the murder of Marielle and what’s the motive behind this crime? More important than having these mercenary rats held responsible for what they did, the pressing, necessary issue is to know who ordered them to kill Marielle,” Benício pointed out.
Beyond simple assassinations
With regards to the arrest and imprisonment of two people suspected of assassinating Marielle and Anderson, their arrests do not clarify the motivation behind the assassination. One of the lines of investigation is about the involvement of militias in the crime.
The militias that operate in Rio are an evolution of the death squads that have existed since the civil-military dictatorship in Brazil, explains José Cláudio Souza Alves, a professor of Sociology in the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro.
He explains that the license to kill given to these paramilitary groups for more than 50 years has become a sophisticated and lucrative mechanism of profit for the members of what today are called the militia, made up of, for the most part, corrupt soldiers, police offiers, and law enforcement agents. Beyond carrying out assassinations by order, the militias dominate the commerce and transportation in the Rio de Janeiro favelas and are intimately familiar with the inner workings of the government.
According to Alves, militia groups have penetrated the State structure, which has made it difficult to comprehend their advance. The groups maintain a close relationship with institutional politics, with countless elected militia members in parliament. Last year, an operation arrested criminals who worked in the campaign of Flávio Bolsonaro, the son of president Jair Bolsonaro.
“There are no recordings of the execution of Marielle, access to security cameras, the erasure of clues, all of this combined with the delay to find a solution shows that the groups had access to privileged information,” the professor highlights.
According to the prosecutors, there is still no convincing evidence that links Ronnie Lessa with the militia, but there is suggestion that he had involvement with paramilitary groups. The public prosecutor's office has already investigated the former military policeman for misdemeanor and homicide.
Ronnie Lessa lives in the same gated community where president Jair Bolsonaro has a house, in Barra da Tijuca. The retired Military Police officer also worked with the Civil Police and was part of the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, an elite unit of the police. He was known for executing crimes for hire and pulling the trigger with efficiency and ease.
Élcio Queiroz, already accused of driving the car used in the action that killed Marielle and Anderson, was expelled from the Military Police in 2016 for doing illegal security in a gambling house in Rio.
Who was Marielle Franco?
A black woman, born in the Maré favela in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro, Marielle already had fought for human rights for many years before she became a public figure, recognized as a rising leader in Rio de Janeiro. A candidate for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), she was the fifth most voted councilor in the city in the municipal elections of 2016, receiving more than 46 thousand votes.
Marielle was a sociologist, with a Master’s in Public Administration. Before becoming a city councilor, she had already worked in institutional politics, with more than 10 years of experience as a parliamentary advisor to the state deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSOL).
During her short parliamentary career, in a little more than one year of her mandate, Marielle Franco presented 16 bills in the City Council Chamber in Rio de Janeiro, with eight being individual and eight more signed with other council members. Five of these bills were passed in an extraordinary session, in August of last year, five months after her assassination.
The bills presented by councilwoman Franco dealt with issues like providing care for children while their parents are at work or in school, the training of adolescents that fulfilled socio-educational measures, and specific policies to support women and victims of harassment through the local municipal government. The councilwoman also presented proposals to combat homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, but the voting on these was deferred as they generated controversy amongst the members of council.
An attempt to regulate the humanized treatment in the public health system in cases of legal abortion was not even discussed and is considered out of order since 2017. In Brazil, abortion is a right guaranteed to women in the case of anencephaly, risk of death, and in cases of pregnancy due to rape, but the lack of information, prejudice, and the mistreatment by health professionals many times interferes with women’s access to these public services.
Seeds of resistance
More than just serving as a councilwoman, Franco also carried out several projects. One of them was called “Women in Politics,” to encourage women to run for office.
After her assassination, three black women were elected as state representatives in Rio, continuing Marielle’s legacy: Renata Souza, Mônica Francisco, and Dani Monteiro, who were councilwoman Franco’s aides and fellow Socialism and Liberty Party members.
One of them, Mônica Francisco, says Marielle is an inspiration for everyday as well as symbolic struggles. “She inspires this sentiment of feeling the pain black women feel. The pain, the strength, the ability to resist, the resilience, the power to overcome,” Francisco says. “And it’s not just words, it’s overcoming one’s own limitations, fears, and suffering. Marielle is an inspiration, not because she became a face on a shirt or a flag or because she was executed, but because of what she was in life.”
Renata Souza adds that Franco became a symbol because she fought to stop humanity from becoming dehumanized. “She dared to occupy this homophobic, LGBT-phobic, racist, sexist, classist space [the city council]. She dared to say women could be wherever they wanted and should be,” she says. “The struggle is bigger than her physical presence. Marielle is huge because she is still here.”
Brasil de Fato | March 14th, 2019
With reports by Jaqueline Deister and Mariana Pitasse
Translated by Aline Scátola and Zoe PC
In a bakery near Vermelha Beach in Salvador, Bahia, teary eyes were fixated on the news show on the television. It was March 15th, 2018 and the climate of astonishment was not of just any morning. On the shore of the beach, an improvised banner, on dark paper, asked a question that would be heard incessantly: “Who killed Marielle Franco?”
Almost 12 hours after the assassination, one of the first demonstrations to honor and mourn the loss of the Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and her driver, Anderson Gomes, took place in the city of Salvador. It ended up becoming a a moment to support the activists from different peoples movements and entities from across the country that were in the city to attend the 13th edition of the World Social Forum.
Many of the demonstrators were friends, acquaintances, or people who knew Marielle. The Rio de Janeiro journalist Camila Marins, a lesbian activist and the editor of Brejeiras Magazine, was one of them. She heard about the assassination of the councilwoman from a friend just after it occurred.
Also affiliated to Marielle's Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), she knew her as a political activist. Marins helped to draft a Bill for Lesbian Visibility that the local representative's office presented to City Council, which rejected it by only two votes.
“I couldn't stop crying. I kept texting people, trying to wrap my head around what happened [on the night of the murder] and how that had a huge impact on us,” the journalist said.
A morning of pain
The day after the crime, all activities of the World Social Forum were suspended and the movements organized a march that left from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). An art installation that denounced the femicide gained a cross with the name of Marielle.
“In several moments, I was paralyzed. I was not able to walk. But women came, and we held each other so we could keep walking. It was news that paralyzed all of us, black women,” she remembers.
The black activist Valquíria Rosa, of the Feminist Party and member of the Baobá Foundation, was also attending the forum. She recalls that she first felt disheartened. “What do you mean they killed Marielle?,” she asked when she heard the news. “For me, it was very clear that moment, that day, that context, everything,” Valquíria remembers, a year later.
The group of women shouted “Marielle, Presente” (“Marielle is here”) and “Stop killing us” in the area surrounding the university on the morning of that March 14, and similar protests spread across the country. Capitals like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, Brasília, and other cities held spontaneous and massive demonstrations.
The sentiment of mourning for Marielle grew as so many black women, political activists, and women from marginalized neighborhoods identified with her, the social service student Geslaine Oliveira recalls.
“I, like Marielle, was also an active member of a party at the time, I was one of the leaders of a feminist collective, I am a black woman, from a poor neighborhood, I am bisexual. So to tell you the truth, I began to be scared to be a political activist,” the student told Brasil de Fato. Geslaine had several panic episodes in the two weeks following the crime, and she is still struggling to understand what she felt.
Far away from Brazil, more than 9 thousand kilometers from her home city, the Rio de Janeiro-born journalist Caroline Cavassa heard about the death of the councilwoman on social media one day after it happened. She has lived in Rome, Italy, for the last three years. “I felt very lonely in my grief,” she explains.
“It was very hard because I was all alone. I couldn’t share that pain with other people that would understand what I was feeling, and how that hit me so hard, not only because it was a brutal assassination, but because she was a woman who represented me.”
The news reverberated in the Italian newspapers and in other countries. Brazilian men and women mobilized and continued to mobilize to protest and mourn the loss of Marielle Franco.
For a tomorrow of answers
One year later, the main question about the crime remains unanswered. The journalist Camila Marins says the legacy of Marielle helps her to continue to fight against racism and the extermination of black and poor people from the outskirts.
“We are targets in this racist society. Her murder just made that even clearer. We are the most vulnerable bodies in these spaces. This is why it is so important that we support all black women in politics, so that we can collectively support, help, and care for these black women.”
The black activist Valquíria Rosa says the crime against Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes made activists aware and alert. “We were so worn out by this while having to reestablish our creative energy, to struggle, to live, but this had a huge impact on us. We, Black people, LGBT people, women, and the poor, we do not have access to the right to justice. Brazil is clearly a State of exception.”
Today, Valquíria says it is a duty to remember Marielle everywhere and whenever possible. To not forget, for the life of all black, lesbian, poor women from marginal neighborhoods who, like her, have been waiting 365 days for answers.
By Rute Pina | Brasil de Fato | March 14th, 2019
Edited by Pedro Ribeiro Nogueira | Translated by Zoe PC
Marielle Franco’s death, one year later: Demonstrations in Brazil and the world
Protesters are taking to the streets to demand justice and honor Franco and Anderson Gomes in at least 14 countries
Who ordered the death of Marielle Franco? The question remains unanswered one year after the Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and the driver Anderson Gomes were brutally executed on March 14th, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro. The suspects of pulling the trigger – the retired military police officer Ronnie Lessa – and driving the car that ambushed them – the ex-military police officer Élcio Vieira de Queiroz – were arrested Tuesday, but it is still unclear who ordered the killing.
The assassination happened one year ago today, and demonstrators all over Brazil and the world are taking to the streets this week to demand answers and justice for the thousands of victims of violent crimes that die every year in the country, especially black and poor people.
Marielle Franco was a fierce advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable. She described herself on social media as “a black woman born and raise in Maré [a slum complex in Rio] and a human rights defender.”
Protesters have been helding demonstrations and rallies this week in several capital cities around Brazil.
Today, the events started early in the morning in Rio with a “Dawn for Marielle” demonstration. Political activities will continue throughout the day, wrapping up with the “Justice for Marielle and Anderson” festival in the center of the city tonight.
In the capital of the country, Brasília, activists will put up street name signs with Marielle Franco’s name around the city, launch her posthumously published book about the operations of pacifying police units in Rio’s slums, and hold a ceremony to honor the councilwoman at the Federal District’s legislature.
Protests will take place in ten other capitals in the country, as well as around the world, including in Buenos Aires, Bogota, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Geneva, Bologna, Madrid, Zurich, Melbourne, New York, and other cities in the US.
By: Anelize Moreira | Brasil de Fato | São Paulo | March 14, 2019
Edition: Aline Carrijo | Translated by Aline Scátola