Just days after Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco was assassinated, leftist councilman Paulinho Henrique Dourado was murdered in a similar fashion. Dourado was in his car when he was shot multiple times, killing him and injuring another passenger in the car. These assassinations are two of 15 political assassinations that have occurred in Brazil since 2017 and are the first two politically driven murders following Brazilian President Temer’s decree to put Rio’s police forces under the military’s control (Telesur, 2018). The Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, an advocacy group based in Mexico City, reports that 19 of the 50 most violent cities in the world are in Brazil, and in 2012, 1,890 people were killed due to police operations in the country. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, 362 people were killed by police during these operations— a number that grew to 424 people the following year in 2013, resulting in a 15% increase in homicides between the two years (Saenz, 2015). In more recent years, these numbers have only gotten worse. In Rio between January to November of 2017, on-duty police officers killed 1,035 people, a 27% increase from the statistics of the same period in 2016, and in Brazil in general, police officers were responsible for the deaths of 4,224 people the previous year (Human Rights Watch 2017). So how did a country that has such high rates of police murder allow the military to take control of the police force and increase policing in the nation’s favelas? The answer is political instability and corruption.
In 2016, following the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Rousseff’s vice president, Michele Temer took office, despite accusations against him and his cabinet members of corruption, including illegal campaign financing and taking bribes. With extremely low approval ratings, Temer sought to increase support by strengthening the Brazilian armed forces, a political play that Brazil’s middle and upper classes traditionally support (Barnes, 2018). Temer claims that Rio is plagued with organized crime and that the solution is military intervention (Mazui, 2018). Many Brazilians have voiced concern regarding Temer’s decision, linking it to the torture and human rights abuses that occurred during Brazil’s military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.
Just after a week after the implementation of Temer’s decree, the number of shootouts, shots fired, and deaths from these occurrences have increased significantly. Between February 17, the day following the implementation, to February 26, there have been 238 gun shots resulting in 49 deaths, and 38 injuries. According to the Los Angeles Times, the numbers in the 10 days before that were 113, 12 and 24 (Langlois, 2018). The decree, which was supposed to prevent drug trafficking and gun violence, has only worsened the latter. As for the former, there is not enough data to determine if it has been successful. In terms of politically driven murders, the decree seems to have worsened an environment that is already drastically dangerous for politicians with the murders of Franco, who was definitively killed by police officers (King, 2018), and Dourado whose death is still being investigated.
The number of political murders in Brazil is already extremely high. A study conducted by Felipe Borba and Ary Aguiar of Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (State of Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University) explores the statistic and reasons for politically motivated murders in Brazil. According to the study, 79 candidates were murdered in Brazil between 2000 to 2016. Out of those candidates, 63 were running for city council, 6 for mayor, and 3 for deputy mayor. The remaining 9 cases were state or federal deputies. As for the reasons behind these killings, Borba explained to Brazilian news source O Globo that “Two factors are related to the murders in Brazilian politics. One is the presence of the organized crime; the other is the conflict between the powerful elites, which is addressed through violence.” Rio de Janeiro has the highest number of murdered politicians in Brazil, which is 13, including Dourado (Miranda, 2018).
Leftist and conservative politicians alike are mourning the deaths of Franco and Dourado. In the days following Franco’s death, thousands of Brazilians held protests in her honor, condemning the police violence that claimed the lives of both council members (Alexander, 2018). As of right now, there has been no indication as to whether or not the military control over the police force will last. However, the rising instances of gun violence and murders in the city in just the first few weeks of the decree are indicative of the decrees deficiencies.