Marielle Franco murder arrests are tip of the iceberg

We need more information on the relationship between the Bolsonaros – neighbors of hit-man Ronnie Lessa -, the military and the Escritorio do Crime organized crime militia.

By Jeferson Miola

The arrests of those responsible for Marielle Franco’s murder, which also claimed the life of her driver, Anderson Gomes, fail to clarify the underlying motives and interests behind the crime, and who orchestrated this barbaric political execution.

This partially resolved case only moved forward after the Federal Police took over the investigation in February 2023, under the decision of then-Minister of Justice Flávio Dino. The investigation made no headway whatsoever during the nine months of the Temer government, from April to December 2018, and during the four years of the Bolsonaro-led military government, from 2019 to 2022, due to political interference and manipulation.

Hit-man Ronnie Lessa’s revelations about the identity of his alleged contractors does not fill all the gaps in this complex crime, that was executed with sophisticated levels of planning, intelligence, and political, police, and institutional support.

The case is a cinematic plot with multiple subplots. There was an undercover agent infiltrated in Marielle Franco’s PSOL party. There were false testimonies, sabotage and obstruction of investigations, and destruction of evidence. There were also murders of witnesses, and police authorities and prosecutors were transferred off the case.

Although the Federal Police declared the case closed with the arrests of brothers Domingos and Chiquinho Brazão and former Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Chief Rivaldo Barbosa, several murky elements demand the continuation and deepening of the investigation. So many things still need to be clarified that we can’t let the investigation simply be closed. They still have to investigate the connections between the killers and the Bolsonaros, who lived in the same Vivendas da Barra condominium complex as Ronnie Lessa, whose daughter dated Jair Bolsonaro’s youngest son Renan.

We need clarification on the role played by General Walter Braga Neto, commander of the military operation which temporarily took over Rio de Janeiro’s state security apparatus during the year of the crime. We need clarification on the role of General Richard Nunes, Secretary of Public Security who, like Braga Neto, was appointed by President Michel Temer’s Commander of the Army, General Villas Bôas. The military intervention in Rio in 2018 – under the guise of the same legal mechanism (the Guarantee of Law and Order decree) that the coup plotters attempted to pressure Lula into issuing on January 8, 2023 – seems to have been more related to that year’s presidential election than any security threat, as Rio de Janeiro wasn’t among Brazil’s 10 most violent states that year. The intervention was an essential tactic in the military’s strategy to support the election of Bolsonaro, who is historically linked to Rio’s organized crime militias. In this context, Bolsonaro’s words to Army Commander General Villas Bôas, shortly after winning the election, become more relevant than ever.

“General Villas Boas,” he said, “what we have discussed will die between us. You are one of the reasons I am here.”

In an April 2020 report, police reporter Humberto Trezzi wrote “the Army managed to benefit from Rio Civil and Military Police databases and also assembled a map of criminal actions in Rio.” He added that “General Braga Neto gained the reputation among friends of having the social security number, name, and address of every militia member in Rio.”

It is striking, therefore, that the inquiry did not draw greater consequences from the fact that, on the eve of Marielle’s murder, under orders from Braga Neto, General Richard Nunes appointed now-jailed murder suspect Rivaldo Barbosa to head the Civil Police, disregarding objections from Rio’s Public Security Intelligence Bureau.

Journalist Lauro Jardim reports that, as Assistant Secretary of Public Security Intelligence, Federal Police agent Fábio Galvão warned military leadership about Rivaldo Barbosa’s ties to militias. 5 months later he was fired by General Braga Neto. There is information circulating that the order for Civil Police Chief Rivaldo Barbosa to control and manipulate the murder investigation came from someone above Braga Neto, who went on to be Jair Bolsonaro’s Defense Secretary and 2022 Vice Presidential candidate.

Also noteworthy is the absence of an investigation into an incident that occurred on the afternoon of March 14, 2018, the day of the murders when Jair Bolsonaro authorized the doorman at Vivendas da Barra condominium complex allow second hit-man Élcio Queiroz entry to meet with Ronnie Lessa. Why would Élcio communicate with the Bolsonaro residence if he was heading to Lessa’s house?

Another omission from the inquiry is the contradiction of Carlos Bolsonaro, who lied about being present at a City Council session on that March 14, when he was really at Vivendas da Barra during the same time that Ronnie Lessa and Élcio Queiroz were finalizing preparations for the murder. Did Carlos meet with the assassins?

Strangely, neither Carlos nor Jair Bolsonaro, usually very active on social media, made any posts on X about the new arrests that occurred this Sunday, March 24.

The arrest of the alleged contractors of Marielle and Anderson’s murderers is a significant step forward in solving the crime, but it is still essential to continue until a thorough investigation is carried out that can reveal the masterminds and to clarify the motives and interests behind the killings.

Jeferson Miola is a journalist, member of Instituto de Debates, Estudos e Alternativas de Porto Alegre (Idea) and former executive coordinator of the 5th World Social Forum.