Rio of darkness: a war of excluding narratives

Without direction, trapped within a paradoxical temporality, Brazil has lost control. Brazilian society is caught up in a war of excluding narratives. Español

Jorge de la Barre
5 October 2018

Protest Against Marielle Franco's Murder in Rio. Source: Thiago Dinz, Favela em Foco. All Rights Reserved

Six months later, what do we know about who ordered and who carried out the killing of city councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes? Literally nothing. 

Since the federal military intervention in Rio de Janeiro, decided by President Michel Temer on a carnival Ash Wednesday and decreed on February 16 (a month before the double crime occurred on March 14 in the center of Rio), we are witnessing an acceleration of violent times. 

In addition to the deaths multiplied by the federal intervention itself, Brazil is living with the violence of the campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for October 7: shootings against Lula’s caravan, death threats against the minister of the Supreme Court reporter for the Lava-Jato Operation, Edson Fachin, Lula’s imprisonment, and more recently, the knife attack on extreme right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

Sure, Brazil has always been an extremely violent and bloodthirsty country, as the historian Leandro Karnal reminds us. And writing about the six months anniversary of Marielle and Anderson’s assassinations, columnist Marcelo Adnet wrote in a tribute entitled “Rio injured by great tragedies” (O Globo, September 15, 2018): “Of the surveillance cameras that were disconnected in the vicinities of the crime scene or the burning of compromising archives, the investigation did not present any response or even a clue about the perpetrators. It is a common thing in Brazil, injustice and slowness.” (my emphasis). 

I would like to think here this “common thing” from the perspective of two distinct temporalities: the slowness of justice, and the speed of injustice. These are two relative velocities, within which post-mega-events Rio has plunged deep, against all expectations.

At the heart of the Carioca darkness, we have, on the one hand, an inhuman systemic velocity (the shock doctrine of a federal intervention made of spectacular, and highly deadly urgency), and on the other hand, the suspended time of impunity: this is at best, the tranquil velocity of the “slow man” – as Bahian geographer Milton Santos called it –, made of faith and resilience.

Stunned by a frenzy of violent events, Rio de Janeiro is suspended, between the federal intervention and the presidential campaign. Caught in this suspended state is the ongoing mystery of the deaths of Marielle and Anderson. This paradoxical temporality is further accentuated by a deep moral crisis that the country is going through. Social networks “viralize” hate speech that also trivialize hate crimes. 

In Silicon Valley, social network inventors openly acknowledge that they have lost control of an engineering that they created to globalize interaction – and monetize it through “targeted” ads. From high-frequency finance to artificial intelligence and big data, a cybernetic speed is taking hold of opinions that are based on (debased by) fake news and post-truth.

Without direction, trapped within a paradoxical temporality, Brazil has lost control. Brazilian society is caught up in a war of excluding narratives. Boosted by the relative anonymity of computers and smartphones screens, public opinion is highly polarized – since at least the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. 

Ambiguous, floating signifiers remind us of the fragility of a democracy for which basic principles are still not consensual (as for example, the opinion that “Human rights were made to protect bandits”). In a country that holds the sad record of being one of the most murderous for councilmen and women, and human rights activists, the experience of dual temporality becomes a permanent reality. 

In the eternal present of the social networks, the nirvana of plenitude of “here and now” is also a denial of the very possibility of memory. Immediacy generates forgetfulness, amnesia, and individual and collective anxiety. And in the background of this frenzy of events, it is the very memory that is being denied, removed, destroyed, burned – just like whole pieces of Brazilian history burned down in flames with the fire at the National Museum.

Mourning and struggle: this is how Marielle left us, with her contagious smile and her indestructible strength, with the dreams of mobility that she incorporated so brilliantly. Fights for justice, truth, transparency, human rights; fights against inequality, injustice, prejudice: all these fights are slow. At the same time, all have become urgent guidelines of the moment. For they are the essence of democracy, and of a sense of history that demands will, courage, and vision. Marielle’s vision sent us messages of hope, forever. 

With time Marielle has also reached an exponentially wider constituency. People who never knew she existed now know that she was fighting for them. These realizations also grow with time and can be an impetus for action. Especially for young black women, and people who feel neglected by the system: families who have lost relatives to gun violence, victims of the militias, fallen police officers’ families. 

The unusual political activism of regular citizens is a slow yet powerful result. Such fights are always threatened – they can even be knocked down at times. But even so, Marielle’s fight never ends.

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