RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When black Brazilian filmmaker Anderson Quack and rapper Nega Gizza launched their bids to run for office in October’s elections, the absence of a murdered colleague cast a long shadow over the event in an impoverished district of Rio de Janeiro.
Rising political star Marielle Franco, a black Rio councilwoman, had been instrumental in bringing the two candidates under the banner of her Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), but did not live to see them start their campaigns.
She was shot dead in March, a murder which investigators have linked to her many years of denouncing militia activity in Rio’s shanty towns, known as favelas. One suspect is a fellow councilman accused of links to militias, two sources with knowledge of the investigation said on Wednesday.
Thousands took to the streets to protest her death, which has become a rallying cry for favela residents and black Brazilians seeking a greater voice in their country’s politics.
“Let’s have a round of applause for our companion Marielle, who was one of our greatest supporters in this process,” Quack, who is running for Congress, told a cheering crowd of nearly 200 people assembled late Tuesday in a courtyard in the hardscrabble neighbourhood Madureira, on the outskirts of Rio. “Marielle is present!”
Quack and Gizza are part of the Favela Front of Brazil, a political movement attempting to unify the voting power of favelas and other poor black neighbourhoods historically overlooked and underrepresented in Brazilian politics.
Some 11.4 million Brazilians live in favelas, according to government data, although a study by the United Nations estimated a favela population five times that size, encompassing more than a third of the country’s population.
Yet late into the 20th century, favelas received little if any public services and were often left off official maps.
Outcry over the murder of Franco has galvanized the Favela Front’s efforts to push for change, tapping widespread disillusionment with traditional politicians to win more visibility for the concerns of poor black Brazilians.
“It was a bullet in all of us, an attack on our voice,” said Derson Maia, president of the Favela Front. “(Marielle) is a role model for us.”
Brazilians who are black or “pardo,” a Portuguese term for mixed race, make up 55 percent of the country’s population, but only constitute 20 percent of Congress.
“This democracy everyone talks about, in many cases it doesn’t exist. It will take a lot more black legislators,” said Gizza, the rapper running for state assembly in Rio, whose legal name is Giselle Gomes Souza.
Brazil has never had a black or pardo president and this time around only one black candidate, environmentalist Marina Silva, is a major contender, locked in a dead heat for second place.
“It is hard for those coming from popular movements to become candidates for mainstream parties,” said Chico Alencar, a PSOL congressman from Rio, who identifies as pardo. He blamed the high cost of campaigns for empowering traditional interests.
Even before fundraising, the Favela Front has run into hurdles trying to register formally as a party, a process that requires thousands of signatures and will not be completed before the October election.
Given that candidates must be affiliated with a registered party to run, the Front has worked to affiliate more than 70 of its potential candidates with various centre-of-left parties around Brazil, according to Maia.
Many of them will face intraparty battles to secure spaces on the ballot, he said.
But a deep recession and voter disgust over widespread political graft scandals have created an opening for outsider candidates in 2018 that they have rarely had before, said political scientist Sérgio Praça.
“I don’t think the success of this movement will be enormous ... but certainly the conditions today are favourable, much more so than previous elections,” said Praça, who teaches at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in Rio.
He said the Favela Front may find its best prospects in Rio, which has been especially hard hit by political and economic instability in recent years.
“This is the right time to be starting a new political movement,” Praça said.
Reporting by Jake Spring, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien