Crime & Justice

Murder of Brazilian rights activist unpunished 1,000 days later

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Dec 8 (efe-epa).- The failure of Brazil’s justice system to convict anyone in the March 14, 2018, assassination of iconic LGBT politician and human rights activist Marielle Franco is a disgrace, her loved ones told Efe.

“To reach 1,000 days without knowing who killed Marielle or having identified the intellectual author of the crime is shameful for Brazil,” Franco’s widow, architect Monica Benicio, said just weeks after being elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council seat held by her spouse.

Though two people are in custody pending trial for firing the shots that killed the 38-year-old Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, “we remain without answers about who ordered her killed,” Anielle Franco, the victim’s sister, pointed out.

“Unhappily, we have had no news in recent months,” Anielle said. “It’s an investigation running under (court) seal. We understand that the silence is important, but we would like to have more information.”

Marielle, an Afro-Brazilian who grew up in poverty in the crime-ridden Rio favela (shantytown) of Mare, was among the country’s few openly gay and lesbian politicians.

She used her position on the city council to advocate for minority rights and to oppose the growing power of the militias that have come to dominate many of Rio’s favelas.

Her slaying drew international condemnation and organizations such as Amnesty International describe the case as emblematic of impunity in Brazil.

The Brazilian chapter of Amnesty collaborated with the Marielle Franco Foundation – led by Anielle – to organize an event Tuesday outside the city council chamber in Rio marking the 1,000th day since the assassination.

At 8.00 am, the participants set off 550 alarm clocks “to waken and attract the attention of the judiciary and the public safety organs, which are in charge of an investigation that cannot continue for another 1,000 days,” Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International, told Efe.

Two suspects were arrested a year ago this week for their alleged involvement in the homicide: retired Military Police officer Ronnie Lessa, the alleged gunman; and 46-year-old Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, a disgraced ex-cop accused of driving the vehicle used in the shooting.

But investigators have yet to identify the intellectual authors of the murder or specify a motive.

Police have speculated that the killing was commissioned by militias, or even by politicians who resented Franco’s popularity.

“We understand that the time of the family’s wishes and the time of the investigation are different, but to get to 1,000 days without knowing who ordered her killed is a disgrace,” Benicio said.

“We have been putting pressure on the public organs of Brazil and of Rio so we can have an answer,” Anielle Franco said. “Not to place Marielle ahead of all the people who die every day, but because it was a very well organized murder of a politician. A very well organized political femicide.”

On the night of March 14, 2018, Brazil crossed the line separating democracy from barbarism, according to Benicio, who said that the demand for justice in Marielle’s death is a defense of the democracy she represented as a symbol of resistance, struggle and hope.

“You can’t talk about democracy in Brazil without the state’s answering who killed Marielle and Anderson,” Benicio said.

Yet while they are increasingly impatient for results, the family don’t want to see federal authorities take over the probe, now in the hands of the Rio de Janeiro state police.

“There are no technical reasons that justify the change of jurisdiction,” Benicio said. “There is a process under way and the perpetrators were arrested and will be tried.”

The government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro raised the idea of having the Federal Police assume jurisdiction around the time that investigators were looking into a since discarded theory about an episode involving the head of state thought to have a bearing on the killing.

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