RIO DE JANEIRO — Relatives and supporters gathered Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro to mark five years since the assassination of Black, bisexual city councilwoman Marielle Franco amid hope that investigations into her death will accelerate under Brazil’s new leftist president.
“It has been five years of pain, suffering, hope and questions without answers. Half a decade is a long time,” Marinete da Silva, the slain councilwoman's mother, told reporters after the inauguration of an 11-meter (36-foot) cutout of her daughter at the Rio Art Museum downtown.
Known universally by her first name, Marielle is depicted wearing a flowered dress, and the figure represents her towering legacy, da Silva said.
Marielle won election in 2016 to the city council, where she fought against violence targeting women while defending human rights and social programs, particularly in favelas like the one where she was born and raised. The rising political star and her driver were killed on the evening of March 14, 2018, while returning from an event to empower young Black women.
Since then, she has become a martyr and symbol of left-wing resistance. Her silhouette can be found printed on T-shirts and painted on walls nationwide, and even abroad.
Two former police officers, accused of carrying out the double murder, are in jail awaiting trial. But central questions about the case remain: Who ordered Marielle’s killing, and what were their motives?
Marielle’s father, Antônio Francisco da Silva Neto, said former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro didn’t make a concerted effort to solve the case. He believes justice finally may be served since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became president in January.
“We wouldn’t have any hope if President Lula hadn’t been elected,” he told reporters.
Lula has strived to honor Marielle’s memory and to expedite investigations. On International Women’s Day, on March 8, he sent a bill to Congress to transform March 14 into a day named for Marielle and focused on combating gender- and race-based political violence.
On Tuesday, Lula and his Cabinet ministers stood for a minute of silence. Marielle’s sister Anielle Franco, who is Lula’s minister of racial equality, wiped away tears.
“It’s very important for us as a family … to have a government that is concerned about the case and it has, ever more, shown itself willing to collaborate, so we can discover who ordered my sister’s killing,” Anielle Franco said.
At Lula’s request, Justice Minister Flávio Dino has instructed the Federal Police to open an investigation running parallel to the one conducted by Rio’s state authorities. The case has passed through the hands of several state public prosecutors and several lead detectives.
Mônica Benício, Marielle’s widow who has since been elected to Rio’s city council herself, said Lula’s defeat of Bolsonaro in last October’s election has changed everything.
“The previous government never showed respect for Marielle’s memory nor any commitment to shine light on the case,” Benício told reporters in front of the Rio Art Museum.
Speaking to reporters in Rio yesterday, Dino said he has held meetings with state authorities to share information and that the Federal Police investigation is advancing. Later the same day, he visited the Mare favela where Marielle grew up.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International also opened an exhibition across the square from the massive cutout of Marielle. It consists of three panels, the first of which asks passersby to leave a note with something that happened to them in the last five years, and the other two panels cataloging events that occurred during that time.
“The idea is to show that in five years a lot has happened in everyone’s lives – people got married, changed jobs. But there hasn’t been justice,” Jurema Werneck, director of Amnesty International in Brazil, told The Associated Press. “Many different authorities have been involved, but they make promises they don’t keep.”
After the inaugurations of the cutout and panels, Marielle’s family and a handful of supporters made their way to a modest church nearby for a Mass held in her memory and attended by about 100 people. Draped across the carpet on the front steps leading to the altar was a yellow cloth bearing her silhouette.
Some of the attendees held sunflowers in their hands, and many wore shirts with Marielle’s image or slogans such as “Fight like Marielle Franco” and “Who ordered the death of Marielle?”
“Alongside Marielle’s family, and everyone not only in Rio de Janeiro, but in the world, we will receive the answers we need so that all this can be concluded, with the peace of mind that injustice will never prevail,” Father Luciano Basílio told the crowd.