Marielle Franco’s widow vows to combat Brazil president’s “policies of hate”

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Nov 27 (efe-epa).- The widow and now political successor to Marielle Franco, a popular Brazilian human rights activist who was shot and killed in 2018, said her election this month to Rio de Janeiro’s city council will give her a platform to fight against rightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s “policies of hate.”

“Those policies must be stopped because you can’t talk about Bolsonaro and democracy within the same country and believe that’s something reasonable,” Monica Benicio, an arquitect and urbanist, said in an interview with Efe.

Benicio, who like her slain partner is a lesbian, feminist and native of Rio’s crime-ridden Mare favela, was elected on Nov. 15 to the same body in which Franco served before her death at the age of 38 in an apparent political assassination.

The councilwoman-elect said Bolsonaro is using his position to carry out efforts to eradicate marginalized populations.

“Bolsonaro’s political agenda is aimed at killing the black, peripheral, marginalized population, the LGBT+ population, the indigenous population … whose rights are being stripped away daily by this administration. And that has to be stopped,” Benicio said.

“Opposing Bolsonaro means opposing those policies of hate … those racist, extremely LGBT-phobic and machista policies,” she said from her small apartment in Rio’s middle-class Gloria neighborhood that she shares with her new partner and a golden retriever and whose walls are covered with remembrances of Franco.

A member of Franco’s Socialism and Liberty Party, Benicio said one of her priorities as councilwoman will be to coordinate actions that help defeat Bolsonaro in 2022 if he runs for re-election.

“The losses that Bolsonaro’s agenda suffered in this year’s elections (the vast majority of candidates for municipal office backed by the president were not elected) are key to our being able to defeat him democratically, and with an alternate program, in the next two years,” she said.

The urban planner also said the victories achieved in the municipal balloting by Afro-Brazilians and members of the LGBT+ community “say a lot about the process of change we’re building.”

In that regard, she mentioned Erika Hilton, a black, transgender woman who was elected to the Municipal Chamber of Sao Paulo with the highest vote total of any female councilwoman nationwide.

Benicio stressed the importance of defending the human rights of unrepresented minorities and said she vehemently rejects the notion that as a white woman she cannot assume Franco’s mantle.

She lamented the impunity that continues to surround her partner’s murder almost 1,000 days after it occurred, saying it shows Brazil considers the body of a black woman from a favela (shantytown) to be “disposable.”

“Brazil is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. What the impunity for the (murder) of a councilwoman tells us is that in Rio we allow there to be a group capable of doing politics in this way,” Benicio said.

“And so the outcome of these elections is a response to those Bolsonaro policies and a warning that we’re going to throw those politicians to the gutter,” she added.

Benicio said the expectation that she will follow in Franco’s footsteps is normal since both of them were involved in the same struggle even before they met one another.

“I want to work for the benefit of the LGBT+ population and for an end to the genocide of black youth, but also to put the favelas at the center of the debate,” she said.

Another of her priorities will be the fight against militias, violent para-police groups that since the 1990s have carved out a role for themselves as “security providers” in the poorest Rio favelas.

Some residents saw the militias as needed to counter the drug-trafficking gangs that embedded themselves in the favelas, while others bristled at the depredations of the “protectors,” who typically establish monopolies over the provision of basic services and use that control to jack-up prices and rates.

Militia-linked police officers were arrested last year for the murders of Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, while the president’s son, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, has attracted scrutiny for his connections to those ex-cops.

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