Half a decade after the crime that sent shockwaves around the world, Marielle Franco’s death brought international visibility to the fight to bridge the social equality gap in Brazil. Since then, other Black and marginalized women have entered politics, including her own sister, Anielle Franco, the current Minister of Racial Equality in the Lula administration.
Inauguration ceremonies for Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, and Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Sônia Guajajara, with the presidential sanction for Bill No. 4566/2021, which criminalizes racial slurs as a crime of racism. Photo: Ricardo Stuckert/PR.
On the fifth anniversary of Marielle Franco’s killing, Brazilians still don’t know who ordered her assassination or what motivated the political crime that shocked the nation on the night of March 14, 2018. The course of the investigation and hopes for concrete answers to questions like “who ordered the killing and why” have gained new impetus in 2023, as former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once again takes office as the President of Brazil, resuming progressive plans for power.
The latest reports are that investigations to shed light on the crime will be stepped up. At the end of February, after Carnival, Brazil’s Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, announced the Federal Police would open an inquiry into the circumstances of the crime to help unravel the mysteries surrounding the attack that put an end to the life and first term of a young woman embarking on a promising political career. In his inauguration address, Dino stated that settling this case would be “matter of honor “.
Mídia Ninja, Rio de Janeiro, March 20th 2018. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
At the age of 38, Marielle Franco was experiencing a moment in Brazil’s political spotlight, defending social causes, human rights and the interests of minorities. A city councilmember for PSOL, a left-wing party in Brazil, the Black, lesbian sociologist, raised in the Maré favela, was shot four times with a rifle on a street in the downtown Rio de Janeiro.
She was returning home around 9 pm after attending one of the many meetings in her busy schedule. At the wheel, driver Anderson Gomes was shot three times, and also died instantly. Sitting in the backseat next to Marielle was journalist Fernanda Chaves, Marielle’s aide, who was not hit.
One year after the incident, a retired police officer and a former police officer were arrested, accused of carrying out the crime. Retired police officer Ronnie Lessa allegedly fired the shots, while former police officer Élcio Vieira de Queiroz drove the vehicle that pursued Marielle, who was shot 13 times.
The brutal crime sent shockwaves around Brazil and the world and gave international visibility to Marielle’s powerful voice. Just starting out in politics, Marielle worked to bridge social gaps in Brazil and she wasn’t shy about confronting organized crime in the so-called “Marvelous City”. In the city’s favelas, organized crime acts as a parallel authority, embodied by so-called militias.
Rio de Janeiro. Agência Brasil. Foto: Tânia Rêgo.
Contrary to what her killers and those who ordered the crime could imagine, Marielle’s voice and cause only got stronger. Since her assassination, many other Black and marginalized women have entered politics, with the former councilmember as their inspiration. As they say, Marielle became a seed.
Architect Mônica Benício, Marielle’s partner, was elected to Rio’s city council in 2020. Anielle Franco, Marielle’s sister, who was already working to defend human and minority rights, was recently named Minister of Racial Equality in the Lula administration.
In early March, she was the first and only Brazilian to appear in Time magazine’s select group of Women of the Year. Together with her family, Anielle runs the Marielle Franco Institute, which aims to defend the former councilmember’s, memory and expand her legacy in order to continue the tireless fight for justice and encourage new Marielles. “We are going to empower and support women, Black people and people from the favelas who want to a seat in politics, so that decision-making spaces look more like the people”, says a text on the institute’s website.
While the institute works and the government acts to shed light on the crime, countless important voices in Brazil still ask “who ordered the killing and why?”
Meanwhile, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, President Lula unveiled a series of measures designed to protect women in Brazil, including a proposal to make March 14th Marielle Franco Day, a day aimed at combating gender and race-based political violence. Lula signed the bill in a ceremony at the Planalto presidential palace, which will be sent to Congress.
Fábia Prates is a journalist whose work has appeared in major Brazilian media outlets. She currently writes on topics related to culture, behavior and corporate communication.
Translation: Zoë Perry