Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon was blithely finishing the third part of his desultory philippic on Brazil’s confusing “presumption of innocence” — admittedly an abstruse topic — when Rio’s reality intervened. City councillor Marielle Franco was assassinated while sitting in the back seat of a car.
A man (Anderson Gomes) universally identified as “her driver” was also executed; an unidentified woman in the front passenger seat was only slightly injured—none of the bullets that entered the car struck her.
What do we know about this killing? We know Ms. Franco had been in a meeting in downtown Rio. We know she got in the car and (at least) one car followed her. We know that in a (relatively) deserted area of Rio at 11PM, a car overtook Ms. Franco’s car and nine shots were fired into her car. We know where the bullets came from.
What don’t we know? We don’t who the surviving passenger is. We don’t know where Ms. Franco was going in the car. We don’t know if it was one car or two that ambushed Ms. Franco; we don’t know who was in the car or who fired the shots. We don’t know who ordered the crime.
Why don’t we know these things?
Clearly, the identity of the surviving passenger is being withheld, because she probably knows the answers to many things essential to the investigation. Her own life may (or may not) be in danger—nine (nine) shots entered the car and killed the other passengers. Was she knowingly spared by the assassins, clearly professional hitmen?
We don’t know who fired the shots, because among other reasons, the murder happened in a street where there were no surveillance cameras to film the hitmen as they committed the crime. Professional killers know their territory.
We don’t know who called for the hit—although suspicion has fallen on two separate groups: (a) an organized drug lord syndicate; or (b) the so-called “militia” composed of past and present cops moonlighting as gangsters.
Most suspicion has fallen on the militia. The bullets used were from a shipment bought by the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro over ten years ago but somehow “lost” by the Postal Service. Bullets from the same shipment had been used in another (as yet unsolved) gangland style killing in 2016.
Moreover, the prime long-term objective of the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro is to clean up the local police, universally acknowledged to be both corrupt and violent.
The evildoers in Rio’s militia are firmly entrenched, and protected by powerful politicians. They stand to lose all their ill-gotten gains if the federal investigations are successful.
Ms. Franco’s city council position, in Portuguese, is “vereador”. The word comes from the Latin root “verus” or truthful, as in “veritable” or “verify”. The historical function of “vereadores” was to oversee and verify actions of the executive branch.
That is precisely what Ms. Franco had been doing, noisily and relentlessly, during her terms as “vereadora” — demanding truth from those in power.
Marielle Franco paid for those efforts with her life. Her assassination was clearly meant as a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.
That is scary.