Report. The investigation into the murder of Brazilian civil rights activist Marielle Franco has unveiled the political and business interests of a Rio city councilor who had made contact with an ex-cop who has already arrested.

Marielle Franco: a political execution by paramilitaries

Two months after the assassination of Marielle Franco and her assistant Anderson Gomes, initiatives have been organized by human rights organizations in all the cities of Brazil. The aim, once again, was to honor the memory of Marielle and put out a powerful call for finding who was responsible for this “political and hate crime.”

The Brazilian Minister of Public Security, Raul Jungmann, said in a statement that “the investigations are proceeding with intensity and are arriving at the final stage.” What is emerging is a disturbing reality. The testimony and evidence gathered to date demonstrate the involvement of corrupt politicians, former policemen and paramilitary groups. A Rio city councilor, Marcello Siciliano of the conservative Humanist Party, is among those being investigated. Evidence has been found of contacts between him and a former police officer who has already been arrested.

An important witness, currently under police protection, has unveiled the circle of interests that city councilmember Marcello Siciliano had in the field of civil construction and his possible involvement in the assassination of Marielle. Light is being shed on the role played by militias in the neighborhoods of Rio. These paramilitary groups are comprised mostly of former policemen, operate with Mafia-style methods, and carry out extortion activities against merchants and citizens in exchange for “protection.”

Marielle had denounced on several occasions the role played by these militias and the abuses that the military police is committing in the favelas, and she pointed to the various forms of real-estate speculation practiced by entrepreneurs with the complicity of corrupt politicians. Now comes the confirmation that it was a political murder and a terrorist act to prevent her from continuing her work, and a warning to all those who are fighting for the defense of human rights. The way she was killed, the type of weapon used, the thirteen shots fired, all show the clear murderous intentions of those who wanted to end her activities. The belief that it was a political murder was clearly present among the tens of thousands of people who demonstrated across the country in honor of her memory. However, O Globo, the most important and influential newspaper in Brazil, has in recent weeks been calling the perpetrators “bandits,” claiming that the death of Marielle should not be exploited politically. Or that we should consider her death as merely a consequence of the state of insecurity prevailing in the country, as the Minister of Justice of the Temer government claimed.

But there is no need to “politicize” the death of Marielle, precisely because it was an obvious political act, and those who wanted her dead were not generic “bandits.” Marielle expressed the hope of the 46,000 people who had voted for her to represent them at the Rio City Hall, and she personified the will to fight against corruption and intolerance. The fact that she was a woman, a black person and a human rights activist from the favelas is not something of secondary importance. Her death has the same significance as that of Vladimir Herzog, the journalist tortured and killed during the military dictatorship, and Chico Mendes, the trade unionist and environmentalist killed in 1988. In recent weeks, false information and slander has been spread online about Marielle to discredit her work, originating from sites close to the far-right Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, now a presidential candidate. But Marielle’s legacy has not been diminished.

The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has called her a “well-known militant for human rights and social equality, who leaves behind a legacy of struggle for the working class.” The deputy Janoira Feghali of the Communist Party called her “an emancipated woman who shone with her own light and was full of dreams.” In Brazil, people are hoping that the death of Marielle could help bring awareness to what is happening in the country, and that it could be a turning point in a situation in which corruption and violence have become institutionalized. She has brought a growing awareness, similar to the one that occurred in 1975 after the death of Vladimir Herzog under the military regime. The murder of the journalist shook Brazil, giving strength to those movements that supported the democratization process in the country. Even as it has been over 30 years since Brazil freed itself from dictatorship, a pattern of criminalization of those fighting for human rights, environmentalists, indigenous communities and rural workers still persists.

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