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  • OpEd: One Candidate Missing in Brazilian Election


    (ATR) Today millions of Brazilians will head to the polls in the first round of voting in elections running the gamut from the country’s president to city councilors in the smallest municipalities.

    However, one candidate in the Olympic city of Rio de Janeiro will be missing from the ballot.

    The details of Marielle Franco’s political assassination have been well documented by the local and international media.

    Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes were shot on the night of March 14 in Rio in the Estácio neighborhood. Media reported that officials believed the shooting was targeted, a political assassination in a time when the Brazilian army was patrolling Rio de Janeiro as part of a security crisis.

    Two years earlier Franco had been elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council, receiving the fifth highest vote total of any candidate. Franco’s election was seen as a landmark moment for the city. She was born and raised in the city’s favelas and was a black, LGBT, single mother.

    Prior to becoming a city councilor, Franco had won a scholarship to one of Rio’s universities and earned a masters degree from the prestigious Fluminense Federal University. She specialized in human rights and was critical of the policing tactics used in favelas to “pacify” them ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

    To her supporters Franco embodied a progressive wave in a conservative city while breaking the mold of traditional politicians in Brazil. She was a member of the Socialism and Liberty Party, and had worked for Marcelo Freixas, the runner up in the 2016 mayoral election.

    In the days before her assassination Franco had spoke critically of the military police in Rio, a cause for which she was known on the city council.

    “The 41st battalion of the military police is known as the battalion of death,” Franco tweeted on March 10. “Enough of trampling all over the population! Enough of killing our youth!" she wrote, adding a picture with the words "We're all Acari, stop killing us!"

    The perilous state of security in Rio is one of the main campaign themes of the gubernatorial election of Rio de Janeiro state. Since the Olympics and Paralympics wrapped up in September 2016, violence in the marvelous city has spiked considerably.

    The breakdown began with the erosion of public finances of the state, during the ongoing Brazilian recession. In 2016, ahead of the Olympics, Rio’s interim governor declared a “state of financial calamity” in an effort to release federal funds to provide cover for the state’s coffers.

    State funds were, and still are, so depleted that paychecks for public servants were repeatedly delayed, including for the police. Much of the financial deficit came from the Rio metro project being over budget in the rush to get it completed ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

    The view outside of Metro Line 4 (ATR)
    The metro was a major infrastructure project that, depending on who you talked to, was either vital to the Olympic transport plan or only another project where the political capital to complete it was generated because of the Olympics. For most of the city to use the metro expansion, rapid transit lines for buses will also need to be expanded. 

    Those lines were hailed as much needed progress for Rio de Janeiro, but one year after the Games there were talks that one line would be shuttered. Crime has blighted some stations, and for some the daily reality is finding a way to and from work that avoids the violence engulfing the city.

    According to the Amnesty International-backed app Fogo Cruzado, Rio de Janeiro suffers around 15 deadly shootouts a day scattered across the city. Many commuters routinely get caught running from stray bullets from these shootouts. An interactive report by the Globe and Mail shows the new reality for commuters in Rio: using apps to see where violence is and re-routing their commute just to make it home from work alive. 

    To say the Olympics are the sole reason for Rio de Janeiro’s financial problems would be disingenuous but it would also be naïve to say the Games have not played a part. The state had been tying oil revenues to public projects for the better part of a decade, an imprudent financial strategy that backfired as oil prices fell amid Brazil's ongoing recession. Meanwhile, paying for the Olympics helped dry up the state’s coffers at an accelerated rate.

    This led to a breakdown in public services and a complete political failure by the current leadership.

    In a twist of fate the two candidates vying to be Rio de Janeiro’s next governor are two men very closely tied to the Olympics, but in very different ways.

    Former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes is leading the polls and he was the face of Rio 2016, getting in front of every project that he said would “transform” the city on an international stage, such as former President Lula did for Brazil by winning the World Cup and the Olympics.

    His opponent Romario is a world class footballer who staked his legislative career on fighting corruption associated with the World Cup and the Olympics, opposing both projects. Romario was one of the few legislators who warned ticketing for both events could be manipulated, leading to investigations that jailed ticketing executives and sport administrators at the World Cup and Olympics. Cases from the latter are still ongoing.

    “Mainly the [election issues] is of public security and the economic crisis,” Mauricio Santoro, a professor of political science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, told me about the issues on voters minds in Rio.

    “They are similar concerns to those of the presidential election, but they are even stronger in Rio. The national crisis is more intense here. “

    The presidential election pits Workers Party (PT) Candidate Fernando Haddad who is viewed as the heir to Lula against far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro from Rio de Janeiro. Should Haddad win it will be the fifth straight Presidential election for the PT, unprecedented democratic political influence from a party still controlled by Lula.

    Lula left office as the most popular president in the world having rode Brazil's commodity boom to deliver the country the Olympics, a referendum on leaving the developing world behind. Now, Lula sits in a jail cell in southern Brazil after being convicted in the ongoing Lava Jato corruption cases, a swift downfall mirroring Brazil’s.

    Bolsonaro’s candidacy comes from a small far right party, where he has made himself the leading candidate in current polls through charisma, and well documented language against women, minorities, and LGBT individuals in Brazil. Bolsonaro has portrayed himself outside the political establishment, despite being in Congress since the 1990s, and supporters branding Green and Yellow shirts with the slogan “Meu Partido é o Brasil” (My Party is Brazil).

    His slogan may be apolitical, but his rhetoric borders on outright fascism. Bolsonaro has said he believed the anti-communist Pinochet dictatorship in Chile did not do enough to stifle dissent, and once called for Brazil’s Congress to be closed down. While many warn of Brazil backsliding away from democracy under Bolsonaro, investors have cheered his polling numbers. A number of factions in Brazil’s fractured congress have already backed him, should he win a mandate to govern.

    A defining picture in this election (Rodrigo Amorim/Facebook)
    Earlier this week Rodrigo Amorim, who is running to be a state representative from Rio de Janeiro endorsed by Bolsonaro, took to the streets of Rio and broke down a street sign renamed in honor of Marielle Franco. A man next to Amorim is shown wearing a “Meu Partido é o Brasil” shirt.

    On his Facebook he posted a photo of the act saying that Franco’s party “accuses us of being intolerant, accuse us of being fascists,” and violence against his candidacy “shows we're on the right track”. It may very well be a defining picture from the elections.

    I have not lived in Brazil since October 2016, but speak with many friends still in the country on a regular basis and have been following this election with a close eye. 

    Every day on social media networks, Brazilian journalist Eliane Brum reminds her followers how long it has been since Franco's murder. The message is the same every day, "Who Killed Marielle? Who Killed Anderson? Who told you to kill Marielle?"

    October 7, 2018 is election day in Brazil. It will also be day 207. 

    Homepage photo: Marielle Franco/Facebook

     Written by Aaron Bauer

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