May 25, 2019
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Slain Brazilian rights activist remembered a year after her death

Rio de Janeiro, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- Family and colleagues paid tribute Thursday to the late Marielle Franco - an iconic LGBT politician, rights activist and vocal critic of police killings - on the one-year anniversary of her death in a drive-by shooting in this Brazilian metropolis.

The 38-year-old Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were killed on the night of March 14, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro's downtown Estacio neighborhood after taking part in a political event.

Franco's family members, who on Thursday attended a Mass here in her honor, told reporters that the slain Rio de Janeiro city councilor was a brave and passionate fighter.

Marielle was "much more than a councilor. She fought and put her heart into what she did. She talked about what bothered her. What others didn't dare to do, she did fearlessly," her sister Anielle said.

Her legacy, therefore, was to have sparked a global movement that tells women that their only option is to be strong, she added.

Franco's mother, Marinete da Silva, described her as "hardworking, fearless, a woman with hopes and dreams."

"She knew she had a great deal of power as a woman" but "never could have imagined how far her message would reach," she said. "I raised that girl and today Marielle belongs not only to (our family) but the whole world."

Fellow members of Franco's leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) hailed the struggle the native of Rio's low-income Mare favela (shantytown) waged as a politician and an activist.

Tarcisio Motta, one of Franco's closest friends and also a PSOL city counselor, remembers her as a woman with a "huge smile" but also as someone able to "correct things that she saw were wrong."

After the initial grief over her death, he said a sense of "the responsibility to defend her ideas" swelled up in him.

In his remarks to EFE, Motta said one of Franco's biggest political achievements was to secure a seat on a city council that had long been dominated by powerful white men, noting that the arrival of an openly gay black woman from a Rio favela was a momentous occasion.

Two suspects were arrested this week for their alleged involvement in the homicide: retired Military Police officer Ronnie Lessa, the alleged gunman; and 46-year-old Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, who had been expelled from the Military Police and is accused of driving the vehicle used in the drive-by shooting.

Prosecutors say the city counselor was targeted for her political activities and the causes she defended. But the homicide remains under investigation, and authorities are probing whether it may have been ordered by one of her powerful enemies.

A native of Rio de Janeiro's Mare favela, Franco has become an iconic figure in Brazil, as was apparent in International Women's Day rallies last week when demonstrators in several cities across Brazil chanted her name.

T-shirts bearing Franco's face can be seen in many parts of Brazil and are now synonymous with revolution, while her death has marked a before and after in Brazilian human rights activism.

Born into a low-income family, Franco studied at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and earned a master's degree in public administration from Federal Fluminense University.

She later worked at several NGOs and began championing human rights and speaking out against police violence against poor people after a female friend was killed by a stray bullet during a gun battle pitting drug traffickers and cops in the Mare shantytown.

Franco, who became a mother at the age of just 19, also focused her social struggle on the plight of women and black youth, the impoverished inhabitants of Brazil's densely populated favelas and the LGBTI community.

She was the fifth-highest vote-getter in Rio de Janeiro municipal elections in 2016 and began her term in office in January 2017.

Franco also was a member of a commission that supervised the deployment of the military for law-enforcement duties in Rio de Janeiro, a move decreed by then-President Michel Temer on Feb. 16, 2018, amid a rise in drug-gang violence and street crime.

By Sandra Carnota Mallon

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