Who Killed Marielle?

Against the Current, No. 196, September/October 2018

MARIELLE FRANCO, A Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman, was shot to death in downtown Rio last March 14 but her assassination remains unsolved. Elected in 2016 after serving 10 years on Rio’s human rights commission, Franco was a black lesbian socialist from one of the city’s favelas. She was on her way home after participating in a meeting at the Black Women’s House on “Black Women Changing Power Structures.”

So far we know that the 13 bullets that were fired into her car, killing her and her driver, Anderson Gomes, came from ammunition issued to the federal police. Rio’s Homicide Division concluded that the shooters “knew what they were doing.” Witnesses identified two cars involved, again indicating a well-planned execution of a fierce critic of governmental repression.

As a member of Brazil’s Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL*), Franco was at the heart of opposing police brutality and militarization. Four days before her murder, Marielle denounced the Military Police for their brutal action against the Acari favela, writing “This week, two young people were killed and thrown into a pit. Today, the police threatened the inhabitants. It has always happened but it got worse with the [military] intervention.”

When Michel Temer, who gained the country’s presidency through a parliamentary coup, ordered the military to assume control over security operations in response to supposed violence during Carnival, Franco spoke out. A little more than two weeks before her murder, she became head of a commission monitoring potential military abuses.

While it is still unclear which rightwing elements ordered her murder or for what action they decided to kill her, the fact is that she was a representative of the neighborhood that elected her. She not only identified the country’s social problems, she was an organizer and spokesperson. She connected the issues of race, class, gender and violence as they were experienced in her neighborhood and her country.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote, “What makes it difficult to determine exactly who killed Franco was precisely her bravery; she was a threat to so many violent, corrupt, and powerful factions that the list of possible suspects, with motives to want her dead, is a long one.”

The rightwing government that overthrew the PT president, Dilma Rousseff, in a parliamentary coup in 2016, is founded on rolling back previously won social gains and increasing represssion. But with demonstrations held in her neighborhood and around the world, those who thought they had silenced her and the struggle for social and democratic rights discovered that she and the struggle live on.

¡Marielle presente!

*PSOL emerged out of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) in 2004. The PT was originally a radical left party which the Fourth International section in Brazil was instrumental in building. With the election of Lula da Silva in 2002, however, the party took a decisive turn to the right and began implementing a neoliberal program. A section of the party’s left-wing exited the PT. In an effort to create an anti-capitalist alternative to the PT, one group eventually founded PSOL. For a discussion of the PT’s political trajectory to power, see João Machado’s article “The Experience of Building the DS and PT, from 1979 to the first Lula government.”

September-October 2018, ATC 196