New information about the murder of a Rio de Janeiro city councilor may finally bring her killers to justice, but this provides little cause for long-term optimism.
The murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver in March has been the focus of media attention in Brazil throughout the year. For months, little progress was made on the case, though early revelations about the bullets used in the attack pointed to police involvement.
A breakthrough finally came in early December when General Richard Nunes, secretary of public security for Rio, attributed Franco’s death to a “local militia” that feared she would block the group's attempt to claim valuable land for development.
Nunes told the daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo that the militia “overestimated” Franco’s capacity to interfere in plans to illegally seize land and speculate on property in the western Rio neighborhood of Jacarepaguá.
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Nunes also dismissed any link between Franco’s killing and her strong objection to the militarization of Rio de Janeiro in February 2018, when President Michel Temer sent thousands of troops to the city to quell rising violence.
Authorities have since arrested several people, including one of Franco’s fellow city councilors, Marcello Moraes Siciliano, who was arrested on suspicion of helping to plan the killing. Two former military police officers were detained as potential triggermen.
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It is difficult to know the veracity of Nunes' revelation. Some information does seem to corroborate his findings so far, but he presented no tangible evidence to support his claims in Franco's slaying.
A gang member arrested back in May first pointed the finger at councilman Moraes Siciliano and gang leader Orlando de Oliveira de Araújo for plotting the murder. One of the two former soldiers arrested last week is a known associate of the gang leader.
But the announcement is certainly politically timely. Nunes’ interview was published the same day that Rio police announced they had foiled a plot to kill a federal representative of the city, Marcelo Freixo, who was close to Franco and also objected to the militarization strategy.
Freixo was allegedly targeted by the same people who murdered his political protégé and was also aghast at the government’s heavy-handed strategy in the city he represented.
The militarization of Rio has now lasted 10 months and has failed to make any substantial improvements to the city’s security, apart from increasing the body count. By August, deaths due to police action in the city were at their highest in 20 years.
The incoming president, Jair Bolsonaro, has not stated outright whether he will maintain the military presence in Rio, but his tough security policies, such as giving police the “license to kill,” certainly make it a possibility.
Perhaps Marielle Franco was killed because she aimed to ruin a shady property deal. But the targeting of two leading politicians, both outspoken against heavy-handed government tactics, raises fears that more political killings could follow.