By C.H. Gardiner
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s Civil Police arrested the President of the Municipal Chamber of Nilopolis Thursday on charges that he attempted to have a political rival assassinated.
Jorge Henrique da Costa Nunes allegedly paid R$200,000 (US$50,000) for a hit man to kill a council member who was causing Nunes legal problems. Police said they discovered the plot after the criminal group Nunes commands murdered the hit man for failing to follow through on the assassination.
Targeted killings against politicians are nothing new in Rio de Janeiro. When Councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver were shot and killed last year, the brutality of the murder sent repercussions throughout the world.
In March, police arrested two former police officers for her death. The judge in charge of the case said the two men have strong links with Rio’s paramilitary militias. During the investigation, a collaborating witness in the Marielle case, Carlos Alexandre Pereira Maria, was gunned down six days after giving testimony to police.
Maria worked as a political aide to Councilman Marcelo Siciliano who was also a witness in the Marielle case.
The thread between targeted killings and Rio’s organized crime is something that repeatedly shows up in the death of those involved in politics. The militias – mafia-like criminal groups comprised of former and active police and firefighters – have taken over the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in the security void left by the lack of a presence by the state.
They often violently pry control of neighborhoods from drug gangs and then make money by taxing locals and charging for things like propane, cable TV, and illicit cigarettes.
Seropedica, a town located in the north-west of the capital, has suffered a slew of targeted assassinations against politicians. In November of last year, a political activist and ex-candidate for mayor was gunned down in a local bakery after he denounced militia crimes in the area.
Witnesses say that Miguel Angelo Steffan de Souza was getting food when a man dressed in black and wearing a carnival mask opened fire with a rifle. He died at the scene. In October of the year before, a friend of de Souza and candidate for Councilman, Julio Fagra Reis, was gunned down in the same bakery.
A month before de Souza’s death, Councilman Rafael Cardoso was executed, and in November 2015 another councilman for Serpedica, Luciano Nascimento Batista, was killed.
In December of last year, the Civil Police unearthed a plot to kill State’s Deputy Marcello Freixo. A police officer and two merchants with ties to militias in Rio’s western suburbs planned the killing.
Police discovered the plot just a week before the State’s Deputy was to be executed. Freixo was friends with Marielle Franco, and they both belonged to the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL).
In 2008 Freixo led an investigation into the involvement of militias in politics and has since had to have armed bodyguards at all times due to the constant threats to his life. Militia members killed Freixo’s brother in 2006.
Following the discovery of the threat against his life, Freixo wrote on Twitter that not enough is being done to deal with the militias: “I’m a states deputy, and I’m once again being threatened. This isn’t just a threat to Freixo, but democracy. This isn’t a personal question, it is so much more than that. Criminals are governing the west of Rio.”
As militias have taken control of greater swaths of Rio de Janeiro it has left many Cariocas wondering just how it will affect politics in the next elections.