Vigils and demonstrations to remember Marielle Franco, the Rio city councillor brutally murdered a year ago, are planned across Brazil for March 14 − many of them to be led by a new generation of female Afro-Brazilian politicians whose emergence in the past year may be Ms. Franco’s greatest legacy.
On Tuesday, with just two days to go before the anniversary, Rio state prosecutors charged two former police officers with killing Ms. Franco and her driver in a drive-by shooting that stunned Brazilians. But even as they announced the arrests of the two men, investigators conceded they were “no closer” to answering the larger question of who ordered the assassination of Ms. Franco, a rising star of Brazil’s political left.
Ms. Franco was black, openly gay and from a favela − the antithetical profile of a typical politician in a country where a white elite still dominates politics. She and driver Anderson Gomes were killed when a gunman in a car pulled up next to theirs and shot nine times into their vehicle. Although Brazilians have become reluctantly accustomed to living with one of the world’s highest rates of violent death, the brazen attack on a public official provoked a national wave of anger. "It is indisputable that Marielle Francisco da Silva was summarily executed because of the political causes that she championed,” prosecutors wrote in the document listing the charges.
In the intervening year, Ms. Franco has become a symbol of resistance and political change; graffiti images of her face are all over the country, along with the phrase “Marielle Presente” − Marielle is here − the slogan she used in her campaign to tell voters from traditionally marginalized communities that she was listening and would work for them.
The two men charged in her killing, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, are former police officers. The two are allegedly part of the shadowy network of ex-law-enforcement officers, known as militia, that controls large parts of Rio, and have close ties to some in the right-wing political establishment. On city council, Ms. Franco pushed for an investigation into militia activity and their connection with the police force.
The alleged killers also have circumstantial ties to President Jair Bolsonaro, a fact that has fuelled intense speculation in the Brazilian media in the past two days. Investigators said they have no reason to think that either Mr. Bolsonaro or his sons are linked to Ms. Franco’s killing.
Mr. Lessa lives in the same beachside gated complex where the President lived until he moved to Brasilia late last year, but on Wednesday, Mr. Bolsonaro told reporters that he had no memory of every meeting Mr. Lessa. Police also said that one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons − Carlos, a Rio city-council member, according to Brazilian media reports − dated Mr. Lessa’s daughter; the President said his son told him he “dated all the girls in the complex.” A 2011 photograph reportedly taken from a now-deleted Facebook account belonging to Mr. de Queiroz appears to show him arm in arm with Mr. Bolsonaro; the President said he had been photographed with hundreds of police in the course of his political life.
A second Bolsonaro son, Flavio, now a federal senator, is under investigation for money laundering during his time as a Rio state congress member; prosecutors are investigating why family members of the leader of an infamous Rio militia were on the payroll of his office.
Black and mixed-race women make up the single largest demographic in Brazil − 28 per cent of the population − but when Ms. Franco was killed, they held only 2 per cent of seats in Congress. In the federal, state and municipal elections held six months after her death, more than 1,000 black women in all corners of Brazil ran for office, a 60-per-cent increase over the 2014 poll. The movement was branded “The seeds of Marielle.”
“Marielle looked at a society that naturalizes a lot of things − she shone light on the principal problems − and she made women want to take action,” said Renata Souza, a long-time friend of Ms. Franco who comes from the same favela. She was elected to the Rio state congress for the first time last October. “So many ran for office, and that’s a reflection of her legacy too. She said she couldn’t do it alone, that other women had to come – she called them, especially black women. I answered that call, and others did, too."
Samira Bueno, director of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, said the question of who sent Ms. Franco’s killers is as important as the identity of those who shot her, and the arrests this week do nothing to reduce her level of concern. “There needs to be an investigation of the investigation,” she said, given that the men arrested this week told police they knew they were coming, and many other details of the criminal case.
“It was one of the most surreal sensations of my life watching the police sit and describe their excellent investigation − when one of the people they arrested was until last year a member of the same force − and everyone acting like this was normal,” she said. “In any other country in the world it would be a scandal. How can we trust our police?”