*Originally published as na article in O Globo newspaper

Eliana Sousa Silva
Director of Redes da Maré

“I can’t sleep. There is a woman stuck behind my eyelids. If I could, I would tell her to leave, but I have a woman stuck down my throat”. Eduardo Galeano

I too have not been able to sleep for days. I have Marielle Franco stuck behind my eyelids. I have Marielle stuck down my throat. It is hard to form words at this stage. Galeano’s words hit me and translate the profound anguish I am struggling to cope with. It’s an assault from too many directions at once. It’s hard to move forward. It’s hard to keep the light shining, though we know we must keep fighting so it doesn’t go out.

Many narratives and speculations are flying around regarding the execution of city council representative Marielle Franco on the 14th of March this year. It is hard to admit any rationalization of this barbaric crime. We are faced with a savagery that pulls the rug from under our feet, strikes us to the very soul and leaves us stunned. How to decode the true meaning of this hideous crime? What does this tragedy tell us, given the fact that it happened in Rio de Janeiro, in a context of confrontations about civil and human rights that ought to be guaranteed, taking place between civil society and various elements of some political parties at all three levels of government?

In this scenario of setbacks and uncertainties about where we are heading as a society, it becomes crucial that we examine a decisive series of facts. I am speaking, for instance, about the irrefutable situation that we have, in the State of Rio de Janeiro, a governor elected in 2014, but who during the three years of his mandate has not been able to fulfil any aspect of his obligations. The delay in the payment of the salaries of the entire body of the State of Rio’s civil servants is one of the paradigmatic facts that reveal the neglect in which we are living. Then shockingly in 2018 (the fourth and final year of his mandate), a federal intervention under military strategy has removed the State’s responsibility for public security and put it under military command.

Scrutinizing this scenario, one cannot fail to recognize that an exception has been created that sets Rio de Janeiro apart from the rest of the Brazilian states, suspending the statutory roles of institutions such as the Secretariat of Public Security and the Civil and Military Police. We must not forget that these organs have been discarded in the context of the political, financial and ethical crisis of the State. So the question is: why did the federal government not choose a course of investment to strengthen these institutions? – since there is a publicly-acknowledged store of capital (human, professional and intelligence) both in wider society and within the police themselves, that could be mobilized – if the aim was truly to understand how the lethal violence that surrounds us might be reduced?

In this unstable landscape, where we are walking on uncertain terrain, perhaps we can identify the key element that facilitated the act of cowardice that struck down Marielle Franco: impunity. The absence of any process holding anyone to account for a significant number of murders in this country has generated a kind of negligent acceptance of violent confrontation as part of the daily reality of the State. The immutable value of life has long ceased to exercise a sway that can stop the deadly logic driving public security policy actions in Rio de Janeiro.

I met Marielle when she was very young, at the very moment that as residents of the favela of Maré, we were starting to conceive a social development programme for the area. Our fundamental assumption, which stands to this day, is to recognize the potential of the individual residents of Maré as protagonists, to generate the transformation they wish to see unfolding not only in Maré, but in the city, the state, in our country. Over the years we have seen great success; now many of us stand together, forging the fight for rights in the favelas since the ’80s.

Marielle chose a career as a politician so she could raise the profile of the social struggle our parents handed down to us within our favela. She made radical change by raising within City Hall the flags of the identities that were a constituent part of her life and of her presence in the world. We cannot be silent in the face of cowardice committed against her. We will never know, now, where Marielle would have gone on her political journey. But we surely know how far she could have travelled, judging by the strength of the political path she had begun to trace.

We demand justice. Let it be done.