Biden and Latin America

By |8/April/2021|

It is not clear that a Joe Biden presidency is good news for an independent Latin America.

Late in the morning of 8 November 2020 cheering and honking erupted throughout Washington, DC as news outlets announced that Joe Biden was the projected winner of the US presidential election. Thousands of mostly young Washingtonians gathered in Black Lives Matter Plaza, across from the White House, to celebrate the defeat of a blatantly racist, sexist, and xenophobic president.

Relief and joy were also palpable in the city’s well-heeled neighbourhoods, where senior civil servants and government contractors could at last envision a return to the more normal and predictable politics of the pre-Trump era. Washington’s foreign policy elites were jubilant: the US would soon cease to be an international embarrassment; its leaders would reengage with traditional allies and work to restore US leadership in multilateral institutions.

Within Washington’s foreign policy community, expectations are particularly high for US relations with Latin America. During his stint as vice president, Biden focused on this region far more than any other and forged personal bonds with many heads of state. As a headline in the Atlantic put it, ‘Joe Biden’s Reset [with the world] Would Start in Latin America.’

For those who dream of greater independence for Latin America, it’s not clear that Biden’s election is such good news. To be sure, Trump played a disastrous role in the region: imposing deadly economic sanctions on Venezuela, hardening the US embargo against Cuba, and throwing his support behind Brazil’s racist, anti-Indigenous far-right president, among other horrors. But many will remember that during the Obama-Biden era progressive Latin American movements experienced major reversals in which the US all too frequently played a role.

The Obama administration may have sought to normalise relations with Cuba’s socialist government, but it also helped to enable coups against left-leaning governments. It supported a neoliberal trade and investment agenda, promoted militarised drug and security programmes, and provided unconditional support to right-wing governments with horrifying human rights records.

What will Biden do? Will he dust off and reapply the Obama administration’s playbook for Latin America? Will he adopt some of Trump’s overtly interventionist measures, particularly those that have received bipartisan support? Or will he seek to draw lessons from the unfortunate outcome of many of the policies of both the Obama and the Trump administrations? The early signs coming from the new administration are anything but promising.

Biden as senator and vice president

Joe Biden’s first significant foray into Latin America policy began in the early 2000s when he was a US senator.  As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he helped President Bill Clinton secure funding for Plan Colombia, an initiative that equipped and trained Colombian military and police forces engaged, in theory, in counternarcotics activities. In a joint press conference with Colombian president Andrés Pastrana in August 2000, Biden declared that US support for Plan Colombia would continue so long as human rights were respected and no US aid was used in

Ecuador’s Democracy at Stake

By |7/April/2021|

With progressive candidate Andrés Arauz the favourite to become Ecuador’s next president, attacks on the country’s democracy are escalating rapidly.

In 11 April, the people of Ecuador will cast their final vote to elect the country’s next president.

But as we approach the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, the attacks on its democracy are escalating rapidly.

In the last month alone, we have seen calls for a military coup published in Ecuador’s most popular newspapers, efforts to disqualify candidates with false accusations of fraud and an attempt to confiscate its voting databases for an illegal ‘audit’ of the first-round votes.

The presidential elections in Ecuador arrive in a context of severe economic, social and political crisis. Mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated communities across the country, with poverty rates soaring over 10 per cent since the start of the pandemic and economic output falling by over 10 per cent over the same time period. Doctors in Ecuador are now reporting a major spike in Covid-19 cases, adding to a death toll that ranks among the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, the Lenin Moreno government has been rocked by a vaccine scandal in which its members were caught red-handed giving out vaccines to their rich and powerful friends before the rest of the country. A wave of resignations from the Moreno government has ensued, fuelling discontent with a president who already had the lowest approval rating on record at just 7 per cent.

The 11 April elections therefore present a critical opportunity for the people of Ecuador to reclaim the constitutional rights that have been denied by the Moreno government. The right to health, to the right to decent work, and the right to popular sovereignty: Moreno and the creditors at the International Monetary Fund have threatened all three of them with an agenda of austerity and privatisation. The stakes of this election for all Ecuadorian citizens could not be higher.

But a range of political actors are conspiring against them. Over the course of the last several weeks, we have once again seen attempts by actors inside and outside Ecuador to interfere and undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

Inside of Ecuador, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Comptroller have come together to attack the National Electoral Council with false charges of electoral fraud, calling to confiscate their digital databases and annul their first-round vote count.

Outside of Ecuador, the Attorney General of Colombia has colluded with the Office of the Prosecutor to attack candidate Andrés Arauz with absurd lies about a loan from the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army [based in Colombia] to his presidential campaign.

It is for this reason that the Progressive International is mobilising again to Ecuador. During the first round of these elections, international observation delegations like ours played a critical role in resisting these antidemocratic pressures. Now, once again, bringing parliamentarians and data scientists from around the world, our delegation will travel across the country to help ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

Alborada is part of

Colombia’s Ongoing Human Rights Crisis

By |30/March/2021|

As Colombia approaches the fifth anniversary of its historic agreement, the peace process is under strain from political hostility, failures in implementation and an escalating human rights crisis.

The peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian government and the country’s largest Marxist guerrilla organisation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), brought hope to millions of people – in Colombia and around the world, including the many Colombians forced into international exile by conflict – that the country was finally leaving decades of violence behind. Following four years of negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the peace agreement not only addressed ending armed confrontation between the state and the FARC, but also the root causes of the conflict to ensure peace would be permanent.

The ambitious scope of the agreement provided for, among other areas, political participation, infrastructural development in the poorest rural regions and a new approach to the long-running issue of drugs production. Previous attempts by the left to participate in electoral politics had been met with massacre – orchestrated by the state and its paramilitary proxies. At the same time, chronic underdevelopment across swathes of rural Colombia denied millions of people access to healthcare, schools or decent roads.

Repressive anti-drugs policies, meanwhile, criminalised and targeted those at the very bottom of the production chain. These were poor rural farmers left with little alternative to growing coca – the base ingredient in cocaine – and marijuana due to Colombia’s free-market trade deals that saw small-scale agriculture crushed by multinational food imports.

Many Colombians – particularly those in regions most impacted by conflict and state abandonment – saw a negotiated settlement as vital to move the country forward. Yet the peace process encountered bitter hostility on the political right, centred around the hardline former president Álvaro Uribe. His Democratic Centre party led opposition to negotiations with the FARC, successfully mobilising its base to stun many observers when Colombians narrowly rejected the agreement in a public referendum in October 2016. Nevertheless, with a few amendments, the agreement was ratified in the national congress soon afterwards.

Under the terms of the agreement, the FARC reformed as a political party, taking a number of seats in congress, and more than 13,000 guerrillas put down their weapons and began transitioning to civilian life. Based in specially-created ‘reincorporation zones’ scattered around the country, former guerrilla combatants developed sustainable projects, enrolled on educational courses and undertook vocational training. They took up diverse new roles in medicine, journalism, tourism, textiles, agriculture and even beer brewing. The vast majority remain in the peace process today.

Unfortunately, as Colombia approaches the fifth anniversary of the signing of the agreement, the peace process is under strain from ongoing political opposition, failures in implementation and an escalating human rights crisis impacting much of the country. The presidential election in 2018 of Iván Duque – like Uribe, a member of the Democratic Centre – sparked concerns in the pro-peace movement over his party’s strong opposition to the agreement.

Indeed, Duque soon sought to make unilateral changes to the agreement’s

British Media Silence on Lula’s Persecution

By |30/March/2021|

Why was the British media silent for so long about Lula’s predicament under Operation Car Wash?

During the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s international reputation was positive, based on combatting hunger and lifting people out of poverty. Brazil was seen as a culturally rich, joyful ‘country of tomorrow’. Under Lula its foreign policy aimed to make the world a more egalitarian and peaceful place and he left office with record levels of popularity at home and abroad.

However, during Dilma Rousseff’s mandate, news from Brazil began to be focused almost entirely on governmental corruption. President Rousseff was impeached in a soft coup for alleged ‘creative accounting’, as the anti-graft Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) that put former President Lula in jail dominated coverage of the country.

Overnight, a low-level judge, Sérgio Moro, from a provincial capital in the south of Brazil, became a world celebrity. He was praised and awarded prizes for daring to go against the ‘mighty and powerful’. He made the covers of international magazines, whilst Lula languished in prison.

After almost five years of smears, Lula is back in the news. So, what happened to the celebrated Car Wash that put him in jail? The British press decided to focus solely on the ‘downfall’ of Brazil’s charismatic former leader, portrayed as the leftist mastermind behind the largest corruption scandal in Brazil.

But Lula is back in the news. Back because his legal processes were quashed by the Supreme Court and because he is still the most likely presidential candidate to take on Bolsonaro and steer Brazil out of the mire.

So why did Lula go from hero to pariah to riding high again? Don’t look towards the British media for an explanation. There is hardly ever any context of what goes on in countries in the global south. Politics shapes things in the UK, the US, sometimes in Europe, but if you follow the media, elsewhere things just happen. The Amazon is destroyed, the indigenous peoples are massacred, criminal gangs run favelas, regardless of politics. Weird and horrific figures like Bolsonaro and the extreme-right just pop-up like mushrooms out of nowhere.

But politics does matter. It matters at home and it matters abroad. The context to what happened to Operation Car Wash, described by Supreme Justice Mendes as the ‘biggest legal scandal in history’, and why Lula is back is a lesson not just for Brazil, but for the world.

Right from the beginning of the corruption task force, the Brazilian media was co-opted. It received first-hand information they never checked or investigated. For years, people were named and shamed and tried by public opinion, even before they got to court.

However, though the media ignored it, academics and legal experts were warning about the illegal and unorthodox practices of the Operation which, this Tuesday, led the Supreme Court to declare former Judge Moro biased.

At the time, an atmosphere of terror against dissenting opinion ruled over Brazil: if you questioned Car Wash in anyway or defended the rights of its victims, you were against

Democracy Under Attack

By |29/March/2021|

The left has sight of victory in the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, but fears persist of intervention to stop it.

When Ecuadorians go to the polls to choose their president on 11 April, the choice could not be starker. A young left-wing economist, Andrés Arauz, will run off against Guillermo Lasso, the founder of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, arch free-marketeer and a former minister linked to Ecuador’s deepest ever economic crisis.

Arauz is the clear favourite, with a double-digit poll lead and having topped the first-round vote with a 12 per cent advantage over Lasso.

Ecuador looks set to be the latest Latin American country to elect a left-wing government after Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico in recent years.

But faced with this progressive threat, there are growing concerns that some – both inside and outside Ecuador – are pursuing undemocratic means to prevent a left victory.

Recent regional developments offer plenty of reasons to be apprehensive. The 2019 military coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia and the jailing of Lula da Silva in Brazil after a politicised judicial witch hunt to stop him winning Brazil’s presidential election cast a dark shadow over Ecuador’s election.

In one worrying turn, Ecuador’s third-placed candidate Yaku Pérez recently endorsed a call to annul the first-round results and for Ecuador’s military to intervene in the electoral process to stop a left victory.

But perhaps the most serious attempt to prevent an Arauz victory, or to remove him as president if elected, is one using the kind of judicial processes that targeted Lula in Brazil known as ‘lawfare’.

While recent court rulings have highlighted how Lula was the victim of political, judicial and media persecution, this has taken years and prevented the left from winning elections it otherwise would have.

In Ecuador, one absurd but dangerous claim is that Arauz’s campaign is funded by the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional – ELN) guerrilla movement in neighbouring Colombia, one of the groups that has fought that country’s decades-long civil war.

This baseless claim was first published by the right-wing Colombian magazine Semana (Week) before being widely circulated across Latin America. The claims soon fell apart. But it was then followed by a video of masked ELN gunmen allegedly in the Colombia rainforest announcing their support for Arauz.

This clearly staged video quickly became an international laughing stock. As the Guardian reported, a local bird enthusiast proved the video must have been shot in Ecuador as bird noises heard in the video are from a rare species found in Ecuador but not Colombia.

This should have been the end of the bizarre affair. But then in a clear political intervention, the Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa arrived in Ecuador claiming to have ‘intelligence’ that proved the guerrillas’ links to Arauz. This was followed up by a visit last week of Colombia’s deputy prosecutor to meet with her Ecuadorian counterpart with information to help make ‘progress with the investigations’ against Arauz.

Colombia is perhaps the closest ally of the US in South America, a recipient of vast

Piñera’s Wall of Nothingness

By |26/March/2021|

In Santiago’s Dignity Plaza, a heavily-policed wall guarding an empty space has come to represent another challenge to neoliberalism in Chile.

On Monday 15 March, neighbours of the newly christened Dignity Plaza (formerly Plaza Italia) in the centre of Santiago, found a three-metre tall metal wall surrounding the place where the statue of General Manuel Baquedano (1823-1897) is located. The only problem is that the statue was not even there. It was removed for repair – as the official narrative indicates. Why, then, build a strong wall weighing twelve tons? What are the Chilean authorities attempting to ‘protect’?

Dignity Plaza has been the battlefield between protestors and the police since the start of Chile’s mass revolt in October 2019. Gatherings and manifestations have not ceased, even during Covid times – except during total lockdown in winter 2020. These activities go unreported, especially in the international arena. News of a wall being erected in the plaza may seem random if one does not know that Chileans are still fighting in the streets. Galería Cima, a gallery whose headquarters  overlooks the plaza, and whose management have strategically installed a camera, have been recording what takes place since the revolt began. Going through their footage, it is possible to watch the wall being erected. It took place undisturbed, during curfew, to the annoyance of neighbours who reported loud noise at late hours. There was police presence at all times during this procedure.

Prior to the wall’s installation, the statue was removed following the International Women’s Day demonstrations (8 March; known as 8M), when it was completely covered in red paint. The four-ton structure took six hours to be removed. The Santiago police department then deployed around 800 special forces to guard the area. This excessive display of state force clearly had one objective in mind: a clash with protestors. This police-led strategy is repeated every Friday evening, which is when citizens gather at the plaza to remind Sebastián Piñera’s government that their demands have not yet been met.

The results of the October 2020 constitutional referendum, in which 78 per cent of Chileans voted to draft an entirely new constitution, may have led some to believe that protests were over. Nevertheless, the demand to overhaul the neoliberal model has not been forgotten. It takes more than a pandemic or a high wall to appease those who seek a dramatic change to Chile’s unequal structures. Support for President Piñera remains obscenely low – a survey from a sympathetic think-tank put his approval ratings at 24 per cent. Still, it’s a vague improvement: the president had a 4.6 per cent rating at the end of 2019.

In order to understand the meaning – or lack thereof – behind a wall protecting an empty space in the heart of Santiago, it is important to consider two points. The first is the figure of General Baquedano and, second, the location of Dignity Plaza within the city of Santiago and its social and symbolic meaning.

General Manuel Baquedano passed into the annals of Chilean

São Paulo Teachers’ Strike: ‘We Are Defending Life’

By |25/March/2021|

A São Paulo teacher tells the story of an insane return to the classroom. They lack staff, classrooms have precarious ventilation and infrastructure problems abound. All this fuels the collapse of the Brazilian healthcare system.

The teachers in the São Paulo municipal education system went on strike on 10 February. I joined the movement on the 15th, the date on which classes were scheduled to resume in person, along with all the teachers in my school who were called back to work in person. This decision that we took collectively was not an easy one. At the same time that we care about our students’ education and want to see them again face-to-face, it is our obligation to take care of their lives and that of their families. Going back to school, in the midst of a worsening pandemic, with a higher number of deaths, is an act of irresponsibility.

The back-to-school protocol launched by the Municipal Education Secretary (SME) is impossible to execute, given the current situation in the schools. In the school unit where I teach, infrastructure problems have long been waiting for a solution. With the pandemic, the following have become very concrete obstacles to resuming classroom activities: the precarious ventilation of the classrooms; the narrow corridors occupied by closets; the lack of open spaces with coverage; the absence of an area dedicated exclusively to meals; the precarious electrical installation to serve the digital classrooms; the lack or fluctuation of the wifi signal; the presence of only two bathrooms available to serve all students; and the fencing of the digital education lab (LED) and reading room (SL) spaces as recommended by the protocols.

The staff, which has been reduced in previous years, is insufficient to meet basic needs of hygiene and safety. There are only three cleaning staff for the whole school during the two shifts and, at certain times, only one of them is available to keep classrooms, corridors, courtyard, bathrooms, kitchen, administrative rooms and courts at a higher and more frequent standard of cleanliness, as requested by the SME protocol. Moreover, the technical education assistants (ATE), who help with supervising students, are not enough to organise the classes, keep the social distancing in common areas and ensure compliance with sanitary measures. In addition, the commute to school is done by public transportation most of the time, increasing the risk of contamination.

The situation is not safe for students, teachers, employees, and family members alike. Opening schools for face-to-face classes now will mean 30 per cent more people circulating around the city. Examples of the worsening spread of the virus keep coming. Outbreaks in schools and increases in cases after reopening appear frequently in the media. In Europe, governments have decided to postpone the in-person return. To return to school every day is to contribute to the worsening of the pandemic. In my school, one teacher who did not go on strike tested positive for Covid-19 five days after returning to work.

Faced with this, with no choice between returning and

Justice for the Victims of the Áñez Coup

By |24/March/2021|

The Progressive International statement on the prosecution of Bolivia’s coup leadership.

The victims of Bolivia’s coup regime demand justice – and the Progressive International joins their call.

The Progressive International recognises the events of November 2019 for what they were: a coup d’état against a democratically elected government, fuelled by false accusations of fraud by the Organization of American States and its allies across the region.

Now, following peaceful and democratic elections in October 2020, the people of Bolivia are petitioning their new government to hold the coup regime accountable for the massacres, repression, and human rights abuses that accompanied the rule of interim president Jeanine Áñez.

These crimes include but are not limited to:

  • Massacres at Sacaba and Senkata facilitated by a presidential decree granting the military immunity from criminal prosecution for actions done to ‘preserve public order’.
  • Beatings and other abuse of arrestees and prisoners.
  • Teargassing of protesters, and of a nearby children’s school.
  • Imposing decrees, like Supreme Decree 4200 and Decree 4231 that criminalised dissent and severely curtailed press freedom.
  • Threatening, assaulting, and arresting journalists, and accusing some of ‘sedition’.
  • Arresting state officials and students for social media posts critical of the coup administration.
  • Using racist hate speech that encourages violence against minorities, as when Áñez spoke of wanting to prevent ‘the savages’ from returning to power, and that under her rule the government would ‘at last’ be free of paganism.
  • Facilitating violent attacks on political opponents, stripping them of their basic rights, and forcing many into exile from the country.
  • Suspending democratic institutions repeatedly to grant greater powers to the interim government that followed the coup in November 2019.

The evidence for these crimes points to direct involvement of those at the very top of the coup government, including Áñez herself.

For this reason, the Progressive International supports efforts to hold Áñez and her allies accountable for the role that they played in the execution of these crimes while respecting the rights to due process granted by Bolivian law.

Restoring democracy does not mean forgetting the past. Efforts to hold Bolivia’s coup regime are, on the contrary, critical to efforts to build a democratic Bolivia: a warning against future efforts to override the popular will, and a step toward reconciliation for the victims who suffered along the way.

The Progressive International calls on the international community – and all organisations that defend human rights – to support efforts to hold accountable the perpetrators of the above crimes, as to ensure full respect for their due process rights.

This statement was originally published by Progressive International and has been edited for style.

Alborada is a member of the Progressive International wire service.



Documentary Review: The Mole Agent

By |23/March/2021|

The latest documentary from award-winning Chilean documentary filmmaker Maite Alberdi, The Mole Agent, is a powerful film that humanises the elderly.

‘I came because I’m curious. And also because my age is usually a barrier to getting a job. They learn how old I am and it’s game over’, explains one of the interviewees, an upright octogenarian in a dapper suit and carefully combed hair. The setting is unusual: a stream of interviewees intrigued by the advert they have answered asking for a male, aged 80-90, confident with technology. What on earth is the job on offer, and is this a film or documentary?

The interviewer, Romulo Aitken, calmly selects his ideal candidate, Sergio Chamy, an elegant, softly spoken Santiaguiño who may have overestimated his tech skills. Sergio’s job is to spend a couple of months as a spy in nursing home El Monte, because a concerned daughter wants to ensure her mother isn’t being mistreated.

He is to keep strictly to his brief and provide a daily report – are the toilets clean? Are the staff treating the residents with respect? Opinions are unnecessary; hard facts are what the client demands. He must blend in with the residents and keep regular contact. The brief bemuses Sergio, who, after explaining to his tearful daughter that everything in their home reminds him of his recently deceased wife, that he is sick of the walks to the store and wishing it was bedtime, is dropped off at the home and begins his mission, armed with gadgets he can just about manage.

Sergio’s arrival causes a stir at the residential home. Very quickly he garners a tribe of admirers. Petita, a coquettish redhead that has gifted her virginity to God, takes a shine to him immediately and asks whether he’d like to go over the road and collect her pension with her, to get to know him better. Sergio politely spurns her amorous advances and touchingly tells her is he grieving for his wife who is still in his head and heart.

Lunches and dinners are a hive of social interaction. He is selected as the king of the home during an anniversary celebration and dances with a queue of anxious ladies. But Romulo sternly reminds him his work is serious, causing tension between employee and boss. Sergio strikes up a deep friendship with Rubira, a beautiful poet crippled with Alzheimer’s who recites verses on demand. In one poignant scene, a fellow resident thanks Rubira for bringing poetry to El Monte: ‘Where else will we get to hear poetry around here?’ she reflects.

Sergio’s new inner circle includes Marta, unfortunately trapped in her childhood, eternally waiting for her mother to collect her, and with a tendency towards kleptomania; Petitia, who has reluctantly eschewed her dreams of a nursing home marriage but remains cordial; and Rubira, who has given up on family visits and tells Sergio, ‘I gave them my life. And now not even a visit. Life is cruel’, breaking Sergio’s heart. Perhaps she just

Bolivia: The Right Threatens the Recovery of Democracy

By |19/March/2021|

In spite of the repressive and repressive policies that followed the November 2019 coup in Bolivia, MAS-IPSP party candidate Luis Arce won a landslide victory in October 2020 — and this victory must be defended.

After a full year of racist and repressive horror perpetrated by a de facto government resulting from a coup, the people of Bolivia went to the polls on 18 October 2020 and stunned their own country and the world by giving Evo Morales’ MAS-IPSP party candidate, Luis Arce, a landslide. The coup d’état that installed a racist regime led by Jeanine Añez, was engineered by OAS secretary General, Luis Almagro, carried out by fascists in November 2019, and of course, supported by the US.

 The specifics of the landslide reveal the size of the defeat of the de facto extreme rightwing regime: the MAS-IPSP won the presidency with a 55 per cent of the votes cast, against 28 per cent of rightwing Carlos Mesa, and 14 per cent of extreme rightwing Luis Camacho. This was a much improved performance compared to the election in November 2019 when their candidate, Evo Morales, won with 48 per cent against rightwing Carlos Mesa’s 36 per cent.

Not only that, the MAS-IPSP won in 6 out of the country’s 9 departments (with 68 per cent in La Paz; 65 per cent in Cochabamba; 62 per cent in Oruro; 57 per cent in Potosí; 49 per cent in Chuquisaca; and 46 per cent in Pando), with the rightwing winning in 2 (with 50 per cent in Tarija, and 39 per cent in Beni) and the extreme rightwing being victorious only in Santa Cruz (by 45 per cent with the MS-IPSP getting 36 per cent). The 6 departments where Arce was victorious contain nearly 7 million of Bolivia’s total population of 11 million.

It gets better: MAS-IPSP candidates obtained 75 out of the 130 seats of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, and 21 out of 36 in the Senate. The MAS-IPSP presidential candidate also won in 314 municipalities, the extreme-right in 21, and the rightwing in 18.

This was a very robust electoral victory indeed, all the more impressive given that it took place against the background of a year of systematic political and judicial persecution against the MAS-IPSP, its leaders and cadre (Morales himself was charged with terrorism that forced him to flee the country), including brutal repression against the social movements associated with it; the illegal imprisonment, harassment and exile of its leaderships and the spirited use of lawfare. All in a context of well-organised and very well-funded racist violence unleashed specially against indigenous women, by fascist paramilitary groups, the police, and the armed forces who perpetrated massacres against social movements defending their rights and fighting for democracy. To top it all, the mainstream media nationally and internationally was at best seeking to whitewash, and at worst supporting, the golpistas and the Añez regime’s brutal violation of human rights.

Añez’s economic policies, in line with extreme rightwing ideology and that of its foreign mentors, deliberately aimed at both demolishing what had

Book Review: ‘A Sunflower in Your Hair – Poems for Marielle Franco’

By |15/March/2021|

A new poetry collection remembers Brazilian activist and politician, Marielle Franco, who was assassinated in 2018.

Scroll to the end of this article to read poems from the collection Um girassol nos teus cabelos – poemas para Marielle Franco (A Sunflower in Her Hair – Poems for Marielle Franco).

It’s March the 14th, 2018. I turn my phone on and one of the first things I see is Marielle’s face. It’s a picture that would come to populate my feed for weeks to come. Marielle is standing in an alleyway in a favela. Her hair is tied up. Her natural curls frame her face. She’s smiling. Her eyes are so scrunched up I can’t help but think it looks painful to smile so much. She looks happy.

Marielle Franco – a bisexual Black woman, an activist, politician, wife, mother, a woman, a person – was born in 1979 in a favela in Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo da Maré and was murdered not far from her birthplace in 2018. She was 38.

Nine shots were fired. Four struck Marielle – three in the head and one in the neck. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed in the attack.

Marielle was elected as a city council member in 2016 with over 46,500 votes. As a city council member, she fought for LGBTQI+ rights, gender equality, the rights of people living in favelas and reproductive rights. One of her flagship policies promised to reduce police brutality and the extrajudicial killings that occur in Rio’s favelas.

Maré is Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela complex, with around 140,000 inhabitants. Violence perpetrated by drug traffickers and gangs is frequently reported on, however, many of the deaths that occur in favelas are at the hands of the police or extrajudicial militias. Armoured tanks roll through the streets, bullets fly down from helicopters, police break into homes, school is cancelled, innocent people are gunned down – and this isn’t a one-off occurrence.

Right before she was assassinated Marielle tweeted: ‘The death of another young man can be attributed to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was murdered. How many more need to die for this war to end?’ (All translations are mine unless otherwise stated).

Mere hours later she would be killed, allegedly by an ex-policeman and a retired military police officer, suspected members of a group called Escritório do Crime, or Crime Bureau, a militia group formed under the pretence of protecting residents from drug traffickers. These militia groups are not only covertly tolerated by the political establishment but actively supported by the President, Jair Bolsonaro, who suggested the militias should be supported and legalised in 2008.

Marielle’s death reverberated through the country and the world, and her murder came to represent the suffering of all of Brazil; women, lesbians, those who live in favelas, Black people. It was a rallying cry for all who were discriminated against, made to suffer, murdered by the Brazilian establishment.

A day after

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