Militia groups concerned over her interference in land disputes deemed responsible for Marielle Franco’s assassination

By December 14, 2018

Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco was killed by militiamen who believed she could have interfered with affairs linked to the falsification of land documents in the west of the city, Public Security secretary Richard Nunes told Estadão newspaper.

These vital leads in the investigation of her murder were revealed in an exclusive interview published this morning, December 14, with the Brazilian daily.

Franco was brutally murdered in a planned assassination that took place on March 14 of this year, whilst travelling home from a political event by car. The city councillor suffered fatal gunshot wounds which also took the life of her driver, Anderson Gomes.

Her death shook the Brazilian population to its core, for the most part, because of the principles Franco stood for as a city councillor and politician. Franco was a black, gay, middle-aged woman who was raised in a favela, and she used her career to fight for the rights of the minorities she represented.

READ MORE: “How many more need to die for this war to be over?”: Marielle Franco’s murder over a month on

From the moment she was murdered, it was suspected that the motives behind her assassination might have been linked to the work she carried out. Franco was an advocate for minority rights and Rio’s favela communities, many of which are controlled by militia groups.

In the end, as Public Security secretary Nunes explained, it was these groups who ordered her killing.

Brazil’s armed militia groups are composed almost entirely of retired military policemen who have decided to take security into their own hands. In Rio, they tend to compete with organised crime factions for control of the city’s poorer areas.

“What I understand today is that the criminals overestimated the role the city councillor could have played [in the affairs linked to falsification of land documents],” Nunes told Estadão.

At the time of her death, Franco was working in an area of Rio controlled by militiamen, where economic interests had been brought into play over land disputes, he explained. As she started to question the relationships within the community, the interests of militia groups were automatically affected and, believing that Franco might put them at risk, the groups found reason to target her.

READ MORE: “We don’t want revenge, we want justice”: Rio City Councillor David Miranda on leads in Marielle Franco investigation

Public security secretary Nunes also confirmed that the crime had been in planning since 2017, long before President Michel Temer announced the introduction of military policemen into Rio’s favelas to restore law and order. With this in mind, therefore, theories suggesting that Franco’s assassination might have been linked to her public criticism of military intervention are null and void.

When asked whether the militia now represent more of a danger than organised crime groups, Nunes replied, “I think they are equal.”

“What is dangerous about the militia is the way in which they explore their determined activities,” he said. “They are more insidious. However, drug trafficking factions have adopted militia practices and vice-versa. So, as security secretary, there is no way of establishing a different level of risk. As soon as the militia start accepting drug trafficking business within the communities they operate in, and when drug traffickers also dedicate themselves to types of crime similar to those the militia have carried out, I think the scenario indicates that we have to combat both of these criminal movements with the same intensity.”

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According to a report by the Associated press, Rio’s police force has now served several warrants for arrest, search and seizure in connection with Franco’s death. However, as Nunes explained in conversation with Estadão, it is possible that some of the suspects responsible for her death may already be dead.