Brazil: congresswoman and friend of slain politician Marielle Franco flees following death threats

Talíria Petrone goes into hiding after claims members of Rio’s paramilitary underworld want her dead

Talíria Petrone, a Brazilian congresswoman from Rio de Janeiro and friend of the late Marielle France who has been forced into hiding by threats from criminal paramilitaries.
Talíria Petrone, a Brazilian congresswoman from Rio de Janeiro and friend of the late Marielle France who has been forced into hiding by threats from criminal paramilitaries. Photograph: Fael Penha

A Brazilian congresswoman who was friends with the slain politician Marielle Franco has fled Rio de Janeiro after an alleged plot to kill her was uncovered.

Talíria Petrone, a black feminist activist who is one of the new faces of the Brazilian left, said she had gone into hiding after claims members of Rio’s paramilitary underworld wanted her dead.

“It’s outrageous. My family is caught up in this. I’ve got a five-month-old daughter. It’s frightening to be forced to abandon the area that elected me carrying my daughter in my arms,” Petrone told the Guardian.

“Politically, it’s unacceptable that my freedom be curtailed like this. It’s one of the clearest demonstrations of how Brazilian democracy is in bad shape,” she added.

Petrone was a close friend and colleague of Franco, a favela-born campaigner and city councillor who was shot dead in March 2018 for reasons that remain murky. Two former policemen are awaiting trial for that murder, which shocked the world and cast light on the increasingly powerful paramilitary gangs allegedly responsible.

A report in the magazine Veja claimed the plot against Petrone was detected earlier this year after an anonymous tipoff to an anti-crime hotline. The informant claimed the masterminds were “milicianos”, as members of Rio’s paramilitary gangs are known.

Petrone said civil and federal police were investigating: “As a lawmaker and Brazilian citizen I hope to be able to return home as soon as possible … I want to fulfill my democratic mandate. I don’t want to be murdered. I want to see my daughter grow up.”

Petrone was born in Niterói, a city near Rio, and became a local councillor in 2016, the same year Franco was elected. She was elected to Brazil’s congress in 2018, vowing to fight for black, LGBT and women’s rights and seek justice for her murdered friend.

Petrone said she had received threats for years “but we didn’t grasp the scale of the danger until my friend Marielle was murdered”.

“After Marielle was killed I never rode my bike again, I never went to the bakery without bodyguards. I use a bulletproof car. It’s appalling and ridiculous that a mother and a black woman must go through this for being in politics,” she said.

Petrone’s escape comes amid growing unease over the strength of the militias. A recent study claimed such groups, which survive off extortion, controlled 57.5% of Rio’s territory, a far greater portion than the drug factions made notorious by films such as Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and José Padilha’s Elite Squad.

Their tentacles also reach deep into the world of politics. In a new book on the milícias, the security expert Bruno Paes Manso called them “the foremost threat” to democracy in Rio.