Celso Augusto Daniel, a popular mayor, was returning home from
dinner with a friend late on Friday, Jan. 18, when armed men pulled
him from his bullet-proof vehicle and whisked him away. Two days
later, his bullet-ridden body was found on a dirt road, 50 miles
from the center of Sao Paulo.
In a country where organized crime groups make millions of
dollars through abductions, cargo theft, and drug dealing - and
petty crime is rampant - such scenes are sadly commonplace. But
there is mounting evidence suggesting that the crime could have been
politically motivated - a throwback to an era when government
opponents were routinely targeted by right-wing death squads.
Mr. Daniel, a popular Workers Party (PT) mayor for the Sao Paulo
suburb of Santo Andre, was a top political adviser to PT
presidential candidate Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, who ranks
favorably in the polls for next October's elections. Daniel is the
second PT leader killed since September, and the 11th party member
to be shot dead in three years. Last week, three other PT members
received death threats.
"The truth is that no one feels safe these days," said Mr. da
Silva, who goes by the name Lula. "We don't know if we are going to
be assaulted at 7 in the morning, at 7 at night, at midday or at
midnight. It is something that leaves every man and woman scared and
If the murders and threats are connected, and intended to
intimidate Workers Party candidates, analysts say the threats may
have the opposite effect next October. Although the PT has done well
in recent elections, taking control of several important states and
cities, the party has been unable to convince voters it can be
trusted with the presidency. Lula has finished second in the last
three presidential elections.
If the killings and kidnappings continue, "then the PT would
benefit from it," says David Fleischer, a political scientist and
author of Brazil Focus, a weekly political journal. "It could cause
a positive backlash in favor of the PT candidate."
In a poll released yesterday by the polling company Ibope,
published in Veja news magazine, Lula led with 28 percent of public
So far, no one has claimed credit for Daniel's killing. But
Saturday, police arrested a fellow officer whose home computer
allegedly had been used to e-mail death threats to 19 PT politicians
in September. The e-mails were signed in the name of FARB, the
Brazilian Revolutionary Action Front, a previously unknown group
that claimed responsi- bility for the Sept. 10 murder of another PT
mayor, Antonio da Costa Santos, from the Campinas municipality, 40
miles from Sao Paulo.
The group reportedly said it will kill leftist mayors because the
PT - like socialist parties around the world - was deserting its
base and moving to the political center. …