A councilor executed in the streets, the leading presidential candidate jailed before the election, and a controversial politician rising to fame from previous anonymity. In the world’s fifth largest country with potentially the largest oil reserves in the world, corruption has been running rampant with paramilitaries increasingly spreading their influence.
The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro quickly rose to popularity through his anti-corruption rhetoric during an election riddled by scandals. Not only was Operation Car Wash uncovered, one of the world’s biggest money laundering schemes in history, but paramilitary groups and militias are increasing their control in the capital Rio de Janeiro, even to the point of being virtually in control of the whole city according to The Intercept.
It is of little surprise that combating corruption and crime was a successful platform, but already one month into Bolsonaro’s presidency serious revelations have put this platform into question.
It all started with Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro, being suspected of hiring so-called “ghost employees”. By employing people, you know in governmental positions, they can be on the governments payroll without needing to work. Then part of their salary can later be collected and given back to the employer, in this case the president.
It was discovered Flávio Bolsonaro had received several minor cash deposits over a month, in time frames and sizes typical for money laundering, implicating him as a collector of these so called “kickbacks”. Large payments to the president’s wife from Flávio Bolsonaro was also found in connection to this.
This was damaging, especially considering the Bolsonaro platform, but this type of corruption has been very common in Brazil.
At the same time a large-scale operation called “Operation Untouchables” was being executed by Brazilian police. The goal was to arrest the top members of the one of the oldest and most dangerous militias in the region. This militia contained a group within it called “The Crime Office”, known for their professional, and often political, assassinations.
One of their most prominent targets had been Marielle Franco. As a human rights defender on the rise. She had been increasingly critical regarding the military interventions in Rio de Janeiro and the spike in police killings, before her murder. As she was the fifth most popular candidate in the previous election. With even more support since then, she would have been a highly competitive candidate in the current election.
As the arrests unfolded, Brazilian media was overwhelmed by the new revelations. Among the arrested was the head of The Crime Office, Captain Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, linked to the murder of Marielle Franco.
It was found that the mother and wife of Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega had been previously employed by Flávio Bolsonaro for 10 years, purportedly as ghost employees. These had been recommended to their positions by Fabrício Queiroz; a friend of both Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega and Jair Bolsonaro, who was investigated for collecting parts of the kickbacks.
In addition, Flávio Bolsonaro was found to have officially honoured Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, giving him the highest honour in the Rio de Janeiro parliament, as well as honouring another member of The Crime Office. As these revelations came out Jair Bolsonaro, and close colleagues, immediately cancelled their press-conference at the World Economic Forum due to the alleged behaviour of journalists.
This was no longer just commonplace corruption. The militia connections of the Bolsonaro family shocked many, but there was more to come.
As the weeks went on it was revealed that two other members of the militia who had been arrested had close ties with the Bolsonaro family. Not only were they posing together with Jair -and Flávio Bolsonaro on Instagram, but the men’s sister had been signing campaign bills for Flávios Bolsonaro’s election to senate.
Later in March two men were arrested for the murder of Marielle Franco. As many in the militias are, these were police officers. However, both lived in very expensive areas which came under scrutiny as salaries for police officers should not be enough to afford such housing.
Furthermore, the neighbourhood of the shooter was the same neighbourhood as Jair Bolsonaro lived in. More reports came of how the daughter of one of the suspects had dated Jair Bolsonaro’s’ youngest son. Eventually a picture of Jair Bolsonaro posing with the alleged killer started circulating.
As headline after headline emerged, the internet search history of the alleged murderers was tracked. The police found online searches for a MP5 machine gun, the same type of weapon as the murder weapon. They also found searches for Marielle Franco and her policies. She was not the only researched target though; the search history contained a large list of left-wing politicians, prosecutors, and journalists living and working in Brazil.
All these findings though still partly based on speculations, shine a new light on the policies and statements from Jair – and Flávio Bolsonaro. Jair Bolsonaro has previously defended the militias in congress and other forums. Flávio Bolsonaro has been supportive of legalizing militias. When Marielle Franco was to receive a medal of honour, Flávio Bolsonaro was the only one to vote against it. Many more instances can be found.
As attractive as the promise of fighting corruption and criminality was, the revelations just 3 months into the new presidency have made some people lose hope. Instead of just the typical types of corruption, signs of an ever-expanding paramilitary at the highest level of politics overwhelm the newsfeed and spread fear.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva commonly referred to as Lula – one of the most popular presidential candidate during the election, was sent to jail just before the election, in what many claimed to be politically motivated act. The judge who helped getting Lula jailed, judge Sérgi Moro, was immediately appointed as Justice and Public Security minister by Jair Bolsonaro after his election.
Marielle Franco, one of the most popular progressive candidates and representative of the LGBT movement, was shot down in the street. Jean Wyllys, Brazils only openly gay congressman, left the country in March after death threats.
No matter your view on the situation, what is happening in Brazil needs more attention. The threats and murders of journalists and human rights activists requires it. It is through the fight from people such as Marielle Franco and the skilled reporting from journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, giving clarity in this overwhelming tumult, one is driven to action.