By Damien Thomson.
“How many more need to die for this war to end?” – Marielle Franco
The day I first heard about Marielle Franco was the day she was murdered. One year later, the case is still unsolved and the plot thickens, as state involvement in her killing becomes more likely. The assassination of Marielle is not just a Brazilian affair, it is a global political crime. In Ireland, we have lessons to draw from Marielle’s life and the movement of struggle inspired by her death.
Precisely this day last year, 14 March 2018, Marielle and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were killed in a calculated, organised shooting ambush in the centre of Rio de Janeiro. These bullets marked the end of the life of an incredibly bright sociologist with a talent for public speaking and passion for social justice.
The 38-year-old was elected to the city council of Rio de Janeiro in 2016, representing the people of the Mare, Rio’s biggest complex of favelas, often referred to as the Gaza Strip. Her political party, PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty), is Brazil’s anti-capitalist radical left.
Marielle was a black, bisexual, socialist, ‘favelada’, radical-feminist, anti-militarist mother. Who she was, what she stood for, and her determination to refuse to be silent made her a threat to the political establishment and corrupt elite – as well as a target.
Her ability to merge sharp intellectual critique with grassroots movements shook the foundations of power. Her voice was projected around the world upon the news of her death; her political views were megaphoned through an act that aimed to silence her, much like for Rosa Luxemburg.
Brazil, and especially Rio, mourned the shortened life of a talented woman who was destined for political leadership. Rio lost an activist for the LGBT+ community and a vocal critic of police violence. Marielle vigorously opposed the military police force entering the favelas, which was a decision taken by liberal president Michel Temer just one month before Marielle’s murder.
The unsolved case, including dubious examination procedures with high public suspicion of state involvement, has Brazilians angry. In August, the Minister of Public Security acknowledged that state agents were likely implicated in the murder of Marielle, including some with family links to President Jair Bolsonaro himself.
In November, a Rio State judge issued a ban that censors public interest reporting for TV Globo in relation to Marielle’s case. This is Brazil’s biggest TV channel, and it wields an enormous amount of influence over the political landscape and discourse. It was ostensibly in the interest of keeping witnesses safe and to allow the investigation to get underway without being influenced by public opinion.
But since then, the case has developed – just two days before her one-year anniversary, two ex-police officers were arrested under suspicion of her murder, retired military police officer Ronnie Lessa and former police officer Élcio Vieira de Queiroz.
Insisting on truth
The lessons to be learned, however, come from Marielle’s life and the movement born from her death insisting on truth. The resistance movement, under the slogan Marielle Presente (Marielle with us) has grown, and, as time goes on, more people are learning about Marielle rather than forgetting her. Bolsonaro’s reactionary regime feeds the fire of the anti-fasisct movement, with Marielle as the iconic image of the resistance.
In this year’s Carnival, Brazil’s biggest annual celebration, one of Rio’s traditional samba schools, Mangueira, won the competition in the Sambadrome. Those marching held massive flags of Marielle’s iconic face, in dashing purple and green, with a Brazilian flag of the same colour scheme, representing new hope for a new, feminist Brazil. This shows us that the personal and the political are inseparable.
Mônica Benício, Marielle’s partner, who led the parade, teaches us a lesson about repoliticising parades, of marching with purpose – of being loud in public space and on insisting on the truth. In an Irish context, there is a lot we have to repoliticise, given how the neoliberal establishment has encouraged the co-option, corporatisation and trivialisation of all celebrations.
Pride needs to dispel its corporate bandwagoning and reclaim its purpose of protest against discrimination and harassment towards the LGBT+ community. The St Patrick’s Day parade need not be just a giant piss-up, but a time when we reflect on the history of our nation and discuss a new republic. Reclaiming space for progressive conversations is key to maintaining momentum for progressive struggles.
The quest for truth in Marielle’s case is one that has similarities with many cases in Ireland of state-sponsored killings with dodgy cover-ups. It is particularly resonant with the ongoing battle for the implementation of legacy inquests and other struggles for truth in the North.
In Dublin, the families of the Stardust disaster are more mobilised than ever in insisting on the truth, with their appeal to the Attorney General for a fresh inquest into the death of 48 young people killed in the 1981 fire.
Struggles for truth do not fizzle out. People get angrier and more determined when the truth is deliberately taken from them. This is why there is a growing discourse in academic communities on recognising a human right to the truth.
The Irish media reported Marielle’s brutal death, now it should ensure that the resistance movement is aired, rather than just regurgitate the obscenity of Bolsonaro’s sensational tweets and soundbites. Marielle embodied hope for many people, and this hope is manifesting itself in a mass movement that needs to be heard. We, too, need to lend solidarity to the movement – to keep pursuing the truth and reclaim our political spaces.
Marielle Presente, hoje e sempre.
Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.