The burning of the Borba Gato statue in São Paulo’s Santo Amaro district became an iconic image of Anti-Bolsonaro protests which swept Brazil on July 24. Days later, the spontaneous arrests of a couple whom police allege to have been involved in the action have sparked a backlash.
By Nathalia Urban
The activist Paulo ‘Galo’ Lima, known for organizing and promoting strikes by app workers last year through a group called the Antifascist delivery riders, was arrested during an investigation into the burning of the statue of pioneer/bandeirante Manuel de Borba Gato in Santo Amaro, in the capital of São Paulo.
Borba Gato, a pioneer, one of the bandeirantes (flag carriers) colonial militia, was slaver responsible for the death of indigenous peoples during the expansion of Brazilian territory into the continental interior. Use of the bandeirantes as a symbol of São Paulo gained strength at the time of the 1932 Revolution, when the rulers needed means to unite the population around a common cause. Thus, the bandeirante began to be portrayed as a hero, to the detriment of the history of more than 300,000 Indigenous captured and enslaved by them.
Inaugurated in 1963, the statue is criticized for the role of Borba Gato in the colonization to the interior of the country during the mining period, taking land and enslaving indigenous and black people. The statue is 13 meters tall and took six years to complete. The work of sculptor Julio Guerra (1912-2001) had already been the target of graffiti in 2016, along with the Monument to the Flags in Ibirapuera, another symbol of Brazilian colonial exploitation in the city.
The fire at the monument that honours one of the leaders of genocide against indigenous peoples and blacks in Brazil took place on Saturday July 24, as protests against the US-backed Bolsonaro regime took place across the country. Responsibility was claimed by the group ‘Revolução Periférica’, a collective with no previous history of interventions under that name. Their setting fire to Borba Gato was intended to express legitimate popular discontent against the representation of historical figures from the oppressive ruling classes.
Arrest warrants were issued against Paulo and his wife, Gessica. Search and seizure warrants were also issued. The couple takes care of a three-year-old child. According to the Civil Police, the two will be arrested for five days and, if necessary, the period will be extended for another five days. They are accused of arson, criminal association and license plate tampering.
The police have already carried out a search and seizure of the protester’s house on Wednesday. To this end, it had the cooperation of Galo himself, as reported in the defence note of the delivery rider (read the full text at the end of this article):
“The search and seizure warrant for Paulo’s residence was not granted by the courts, but he authorized the act, allowing entry into his residence for possible searches.”
The decision to report to the police came after lawyers located a request for temporary arrest pending against Galo, and after the alleged “flagrant” arrest – which occurred 12 hours after the incident – of Thiago Vieira Zem, who was allegedly responsible for drive the truck used to take people and tires to the protest site. Zem has already been released.
Danilo Silva de Oliveira, known as Biu, also presented himself spontaneously to the DP on Wednesday, for taking part in Saturday’s act. Upon arriving at the scene, he stated that “favelado never had a voice” and that, with the act, they seek to debate about having a monument honoring a person who was responsible for many deaths.
One of the most shocking aspects of this case is the arrest of Galo’s wife, Gessica de Paula Silva Barbosa, who was accused of participating in the act and claims that she was not even present on the day, as she was taking care of the couple’s child.
Gessica’s defense will request the conversion of temporary to house arrest, as she is responsible for the care of their 3-year-old daughter. “They arrested a mother. And she was not even present at the act. The arrest is absolutely meaningless,” said lawyer Jacob Filho, who accompanied the couple to the police station.
According to him, Gessica was arrested because the phone used by Galo is in her name.
Imprisonment of anti-Bolsonaro political activists is on the increase. Recently, activist Rodrigo Grassi, known as Rodrigo Pilha, was released from the Penitentiary Progression Center of the Federal District and was reunited with his family on the 10th of July.
Arrested on March 18 of this year after taking a banner with the words “Bolsonaro genocida” to a protest against the president in front of the Palácio do Planalto, Pilha had originally been charged with a crime against the National Security Law for the protest against Bolsonaro, but was acquitted. However, he was eventually held in prison on previous convictions for contempt and traffic crime.
After having his freedom hearing postponed several times, Pilha said he would start a hunger strike, and then finally the request for his release was issued.
Galo gained notoriety in March 2020, when he began to denounce the working conditions of app delivery riders during the pandemic, which gave rise to the Antifascist delivery drivers collective, and to ask for food and hygiene kits to be made available to the category.
In a direct and simple way, he summarized his fight against the precariousness of work in several acts during the last year.
Read below the statement from Galo’s defense about his arrest:
“Paulo (Galo) Lima went this Wednesday, the 28th, at around 1 pm, to the 11th Police District of Santo Amaro, in São Paulo, where the fire against the statue of Borba Gato, which occurred last Saturday the 28th, is being investigated.
The decision that decreed the temporary arrest came out moments after he presented himself. The search and seizure warrant for Paulo’s residence was not granted by the Court, but he authorized the act, allowing entry into his residence for possible searches
Besides him, Danilo Oliveira (Biu), appeared spontaneously to assist in the investigations and assume his participation in the act.
or those who say that we need to go through democratic means, the aim of the act was to open the debate. Now, people are deciding whether they want a 13 metre tall statue of a genocidist and abuser of women,” Paulo commented on occasion.
Galo’s wife, Gessica, was also present to collaborate with the investigations and was surprised to be issued a temporary arrest warrant in her disfavor.
Gessica was not even present at the political event on July 24 and has a 3-year-old daughter with Paulo, who was also detained on that date.
Jacob and Lozano’s legal team monitors the progress of the process and may give a new statement shortly.”