Marielle Franco was a young, vibrant, black, lesbian woman from the favela. She was a Rio City Councillor and a human rights activist involved in a cross-section of issues including poverty and inequality, the privation of the essential means of life for the landless and the homeless, violence against women and femicide, racial discrimination, social and economic exclusion and lethal aggression against black and racialized communities, extermination policies for indigenous peoples, and attacks, often deadly, against the LGBTQ community.
On March 14, 2018, Marielle Franco was gunned down while returning home from a rousing solidarity event with young black women. Her vehicle was hit by 13 shots; her driver, Anderson Gomes, was also assassinated. One more strong voice for justice and natural heir to Lula was silenced. This crime against humanity was not some random murder.
It was ordered from the highest realms of the State to exterminate one strong, promising, powerful and moral leader for the replacement of one of the world’s most corrupt murdering regimes on earth. Bolsonaro’s extermination of a good portion of Brazil’s remaining indigenous peoples, his wiping out of large swaths of the Amazon, his deliberate use of the COVID-19 as a scythe against the masses and his green lighting (and rewarding) of wanton police extrajudicial killings of thousands of the “undeserving of drawing breath” would not have gone on with such impunity had Marielle been around.
On March 12, 2019, two police officers were charged with the murder of Marielle Franco. Prosecutors said that the shooting was meticulously planned over the course of three months. “It is incontestable that Marielle Franco was summarily executed for her political activity in the defence of the causes she defended,” they added.
Unfortunately, the intellectual authors of this atrocity (those who ordered the assassination) are still running free. That said, both of the accused have close links to the Bolsonaro family. One of Bolsonaro’s sons was in a relationship with the daughter of one of the Marielle’s accused assassins, Ronnie Lasso. Moreover, Lasso lived in the same upscale residential complex as did president Bolsonaro at the time and was in constant contact with the president and his sons.
It is beyond any measure of decency and in contravention of internationally-agreed-upon tenants of fundamental justice that the government of Canada and the “Canadian” business community continue to support Bolsonaro’s illegitimate government. The tired refrain that Canada supports the rule of law is patently ludicrous. It is high time that prime minister Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland stop defending the indefensible and demand respect for fundamental rights in Brazil by immediately severing all diplomatic relations with the Bolsonaro government and suspending all financial aid (to the tune of thousands if not hundreds of millions of dollars) and ambassadorial support to Canadian companies doing, or contemplating, business in Brazil.
In life as in death, Marielle Franco has become one of the shining emblems of the Brazilian people’s resistance to the policies and reprehensible acts of president Bolsonaro and his government. The 2019 Rio Carnival elevated her to the status of national symbol of the hope and courage needed to assert oneself in surroundings where any objection to a disgraceful act by police or the government or economic oligarchy can cost you your freedom, or even your life. The City of Paris honoured Marielle Franco and named a public garden after her. Other European cities named streets in her honour.
This celebration of Marielle, sometimes carnivalesque while always eminently political, provoked Bolsonaro’s anger, while giving new impetus to the resistance and a renewed commitment to preserving Brazilians’ socio-economic achievements.
In this bizarre, murderous twist of fate, Marielle Franco will not be the heir to Lula; rather, it is Lula himself who is now the heir to Marielle. On March 8, 2021, the Brazilian Supreme Court overturned all the legal condemnations of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and dismissed all outstanding charges against the former president. Lula is now free to run as president in the next election in 2022 to oust Bolsonaro. That said, in order to measure up to the new standard of principled leadership, it will not suffice for Lula to be the old, sometimes tentative Lula. He will have to be Marielle.