Marinete da Silva, mother of the late Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, stands next to an image of her daughter. [Source:]

“Blindness that affects the other side also affects us.”

— Mano Brown

The saying goes: Um negócio pra boi dormir.” Literally, the Brazilian aphorism means: (To give) something for the bull to sleep. In practical layman’s terms it pre-figures social interactions where somebody, a group of people or an entity, says something—not necessarily a lie—to give a skewed account of or distract from reality.

This was the first thought that charged, unlike a sleeping bull, into my mind upon reading that the director of Brazil’s federal police, Andrei Passos Rodrigues, had announced on March 23 that the investigation into the assassination of Marielle Franco had ended. Speaking at a press conference he told reporters the inquiry had uncovered those who ordered, served as intermediaries and ultimately carried out the hit.

According to Rodrigues, the homicide, which also claimed the life of Marielle’s driver, Anderson Gomes, had to be understood “within the context” of events: “We can’t say that there was a single, exclusive fact. Various situations involved the city councilwoman [Marielle] that made this opposing group commit the crime,” he explained. “I reiterate, we make this analysis looking back six years when the dispute took place which culminated in this barbarous assassination and further projected Rio de Janeiro’s chaotic situation.”

Plastered across national, then international, headlines were the names and faces of three suspects rounded up by authorities. They included Congressman Chiquinho Brazão, and his brother, Domingos Brazão, an official adviser to Rio de Janeiro’s Audit Court (TCE-RJ). Former chief of Rio de Janeiro’s civil police, and ex-director of the “marvelous city’s” Homicide Division, Rivaldo Barbosa, was also taken into custody.

(From left to right) Domingos Brazão, Chiquinho Brazão and Rivaldo Barbosa. [Source:]

While profuse amounts of suspicion swirled for years around the Brazão brother’s involvement in the assassination, Barbosa’s detention came as a shock to Marielle’s mother, Marinete da Silva. Consoled by Barbosa the day after her daughter was fatally gunned down, Marinete, perplexed by his arrest, recalled the encounter where the ex-chief of police assured her and her family that it “was a question of honor for him to solve this case. He told me and my husband that it was a question of honor.”

Marinete da Silva (second to left) is seated next to the then chief of Rio de Janeiro’s civil police, Rivaldo Barbosa (left). [Source:]

In their professional capacities, Marielle and Barbosa also knew each other personally. Acquaintances were made before her city council electoral victory, when she worked as an adviser to former state representative Marcelo Freixo and coordinator of the state legislature’s Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship.

My daughter trusted him and the work he did,” said Marinete.

Repackaging Known Details

The motivation behind the crime—by-and-large an accumulation of circumstantial evidence known for years—was repackaged for public consumption, this time by the federal police. They described how political animosity between Marielle, a Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) member, who defended affordable housing for low-income families in Rio’s west zone, and the Brazão brothers, who backed legalization of plots in the same region for middle-class residences and large enterprises, had reached a boiling point.

Ronnie Lessa, the convicted triggerman, has been in custody since 2019. Élcio Queiroz, the convicted getaway driver, was also detained the same year. Both men are former military police officers, with Lessa climbing the ladder to become an ex-combatant in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Special Operations Police Battalion (BOPE).

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Without ever undergoing the training course, Ronnie Lessa served in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Special Operations Police Battalion (BOPE) from 1993 to 1997. [Source:]

After reaching a plea bargain deal with the federal police, Lessa, once again, spilled the beans about the Brazão brothers’ hatred for Marielle and involvement in her assassination. In his testimony, Lessa stated the two siblings constantly railed about Marielle’s close relationship with community leaders who opposed their projects. He also specified that payment for the hit would come in the form of ownership of plots acquired through illegal occupation of public lands, as well as permission to profit from other activities in areas controlled by militia groups.

For his part, Queiroz testified that Lessa was contracted to kill Marielle by another former military policeman, Edmilson Oliveira da Silva, popularly known as Macalé. “This job, this mission…was brought by Macalé, who approached Ronnie,” he told investigators. Queiroz added that Macalé, serving as an intermediary, participated in surveillance operations to ascertain Marielle’s movements.

In 2021, while walking along Avenida Santa Cruz in Rio de Janeiro’s west zone, Macalé was approached by a white vehicle and fatally shot several times.

According to another witness, a Rio de Janeiro city council aide at the time, “The risk of not passing the PLC (bill) 174/2016 had provoked great dissatisfaction in councilman Chiquinho Brazão towards the PSOL and, consequently, Marielle. She voted against it with the understanding that the proposal did not attend to ‘underprivileged areas,’ rather the middle and upper-class.”

Continuing her testimony, the witness emphasized that Chiquinho’s bill barely passed, which he felt placed political wear and tear on his mandate. Habitually carrying himself “discreetly and calmly,” Chiquinho quickly became openly and uncommonly irritated. In his view, Marielle, without question, if not for other PSOL members, had become his “Achilles heel” and her assassination effectively “paralyzed PSOL in Rio de Janeiro, as it frightened parliamentarians, advisers and other party staff members.”

Attempts at Restoring the Pink Tide Days

“Evidently, Bolsonaro’s four years in office weighed heavily on the country’s international image, which deteriorated worldwide [Brazil’s government must] redeem our image, our credibility. [Brazil’s government must] play a greater international protagonist role.”

— Paulo Velasco
(Professor of International Politics at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)

Apart from lament, sadness, frustration and endless marches, no shock troops absorbed Marielle’s loss. No shock troops are at the ready to push not simply reform policies, or attend to diversity and inclusion needs, but genuinely transformational political culture in Brazil, much less defend, sustain and advance their mandates.

That is not to say that shock troops do not exist. Alternative structures outside the left/right political establishment are in no short order. Embroiled in fractious, petty and overly self-righteous disputes within their ranks, this new left would not recognize, much less accept, an allied shock troop if it struck them in the face.

Phantoms of the progressives they are, laying a mosaic of all the right banners, acronyms, chants and slogans—but no oomph to carry them to the precipice of action. Barely, if at all, do they concede that the overriding system by which the pink tide recipe tried, or still tries, to do right by “the people” is a direct inheritance from military dictatorships and colonial enterprise. Brazil, of all countries to have gone through this regional period and for all its success, is the pre-eminent poster-child of this fault-line.

Initially referring to the previous Bolsonaro government, yet seamlessly transitioning to the current administration, the late Quilombo activist, Antȏnio Bispo, stated: “It…served in doing away with some intermediaries. Some sectors of the left have never been the protagonists of their own lives but wanted to fool around with ours.” Bolsonaro’s ascendancy to the presidency was a period for indigenous and Quilombo communities to “prepare our defenses and reflect. Now, none of us engage with Lula the same as before.”

For Brazil, the South American territorial giant bar none, the abrupt end to the six-plus-year investigation into the assassination of Marielle Franco, where police authorities detain their alumni— a court adviser, a sitting congressman, and even an ex-police chief—confirms, without reservation, that the system stinks.

Days after the Marielle Franco assassination case was closed, former Minister of Defense and former Minister of Public Security Raul Jungmann appraised these interconnections as being “the heart of darkness,” wherein an “organic alliance between the police, militias and politicians coalesce. Included in this alliance is the “so-called crime bureau, which is tasked with eliminating those who run afoul of these criminal associations. They have captured the better part of Rio de Janeiro’s state government and its public security sector.”

Marielle Franco [Source:]

A Not So Good Month

Ultimately, the abrupt end of the Marielle Franco inquiry may very well signify that segments within the “heart of darkness” are somehow at odds with each other or have united to save their own hides. Within this scenario, a handful of select individuals are sacrificed for the “greater good.” At least for now.

Interestingly enough, a roughly four-week sequence of events led up to the closing of the Marielle Franco investigation. It proceeded thusly:

Week 1

Lula is hailed by pro-Palestinian activists for denouncing Israel’s bombardment of Gaza at the 37th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Week 2

Lula’s return to Brazil is frowned upon by the powerful and ever-increasing Evangelical movement and lobby. Standing at 31% of Brazil’s total population in 2020, according to Datafolha, churchgoers, in years’ past, viewed the PT and Lula as being demonic because of the party’s red-colored logo and because he sported a beard.

Week 3

A recent AtlasIntel research poll shows Lula’s approval rating has decreased from 52% to 47%. It is the first time his approval rating fell below 50% during his third term as president.

Week 4

With no smoking gun, just an accumulation of previously known circumstantial evidence, authorities snap the Marielle Franco investigation to a close.

A few days later, Lula bans any public manifestations denouncing or praising the 60th anniversary of the March 31, 1964, military coup. While the left and progressives criticized the injunction, Lula’s own political party, the Workers’ Party (PT), disagreed with his position.

Ruffled by the over-provision, PT congressional leaders release a statement affirming the importance “to remember and vehemently repudiate this sad chapter of Brazilian history, in the name of justice, memory and the truth.” Segments in Brazilian society, including within the state apparatus, remain openly nostalgic about the years of lead, who maintain authoritarian and truculent practices, defend ruptures from democracy and promote revisionist history to negate the authoritarian, dictatorial and violent character of the military regime. The attempted coup, which occurred on January 8, 2023, fits within this context.

Adding to the chorus of complaints was the usual right-wing fan base cheering the military takeover to this day. Retired military officer and former vice president Hamilton Mourão posted on social media that the coup d’état “saved the nation from itself.”

No Easy Road Forward

Brazil is a smorgasbord of increasingly pressured, unresolved problems. One glaring issue and extreme contradiction, is that Cuba, a small island nation blockaded by the U.S. and with just over 11 million people, still provides medical doctors to Brazil, a BRICs co-founder and country of more than 215 million people. Hamstrung by an inadequate public health-care system, this medical buffer is not due to a national disaster requiring emergency assistance.

If only that were the sole problem. A cursory review of Brazil’s internal struggles would take several essays to complete. From a humanitarian crisis in Yanomami nation prompted by an invasion of illegal gold miners, loggers and land prospectors; to legal injunctions upon any future demarcations of indigenous land anywhere in Brazil; to the state of Bahia, which surpassed Rio de Janeiro in 2022 for the number of Black people killed by the police—1,121 to 1,042—these issues constitute the opening chapter.

Having interviewed Vera Lúcia and Rui Schultz, two homeless people, for the public affairs TV talk show Provocations, host Antȏnio Abujamra stated on air that this sector of society specifically, and possibly the vast majority of the population, believe “certain problems exist in Brazil that not even God can solve anymore.” Another popular saying in the South American territorial giant is: “Deus é brasileiro” (“God is Brazilian”). Go figure.

Vera Lúcia on the public affairs TV talk show Provocations. [Source:]

Naturally, more questions lingered as I contemplated the timing of the end of the Marielle Franco homicide investigation. What would compel anyone to believe that its much publicized conclusion was anything more than news to help “lull the bull to sleep”?

More in Part Two of “Marielle’s Charging Bulls: An Abrupt End to Brazil’s Six-Year Homicide Investigation.”

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