Brazil: Kidnap-Murder of Popular Mayor Brings Public Outrage over Explosion of Violence
Flynn, Matthew, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
By Matthew Flynn
[The author writes for the International Weekly Edition of the Gazeta Mercantil, a Sao Paulo-based financial newspaper.]
The kidnapping and murder of Celso Augusto Daniel, a mayor from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), has outraged Brazilians who are demanding that the government do more to curb pervasive violence. PT leaders also fear for their lives because an increasing number of death threats against party members are being carried out.
Public security has become the dominant issue in this election year, more so because the middle class feels it is a target of organized crime. As thousands filed past Daniel's coffin at Santo Andre's City Hall, crowds outside chanted "Justice! Justice!," and sang the national anthem. An estimated 50,000 people attended the emotional funeral.
Daniel, re-elected in 2000 with 70% of the vote, was serving his third term as mayor of Santo Andre, an industrial suburb of 650,000 people near Sao Paulo. As a rising star within the PT who was chosen to outline the party's political platform for this year's presidential elections, Daniel could have been the victim of a political assassination.
"We are not in a position to dismiss any hypothesis. We could be facing a political crime, revenge, or a common crime," said Saulo de Castro Abreu Filho, the Sao Paulo security secretary.
Daniel's bullet-ridden body was discovered on Jan. 20, less than two days after his kidnapping. No ransom or other demand had been made in exchange for the politician's life. The only witness to his kidnapping, friend and businessman Sergio Gomes da Silva, claimed that two cars stopped the vehicle in which he and Daniel were riding on their way home from eating out. Armed men opened the door of Silva's bulletproof car and forced the mayor to go with them.
Gomes' statement to the police is being questioned, however, and he is not free from suspicion. Three months ago, the PT leadership requested that Daniel cut his political ties to Gomes, who has been under investigation by the district attorney's office regarding unlawful public contracts awarded to his transportation and garbage-disposal companies. Daniel accepted the party's request but maintained his friendship.
Daniel had been receiving death threats for the past couple of months. In November, his office was bombed, but no one was injured. The police blamed taxi and bus drivers who had their licenses revoked by the city for the incident, but no arrests have been made.
Threats and violence growing against PT politicians
The murder of Daniel comes on the heels of another murder of a PT politician. On Sept. 10, 2001, Antonio da Costa Santos, mayor of Campinas, was gunned down on a highway. The police have not yet made any arrests in that case.
A report drawn up by the PT and handed to Justice Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira on Dec. 6 said there have been 12 assassinations, 15 attempted assassinations, and 52 death threats against PT members between 1998 and 2001.
"Since it first began to compete in elections in 1982, the Partido dos Trabalhadores' political-institutional representation keeps growing," read the text drawn up by the party's national secretariat on human rights. "PT militants, parliamentary members, mayors, and governors have always topped the list of victims of political violence."
"It's a desperate situation," said Geraldo Cruz, mayor of Embu, who has denounced fraud in the Embu city council, where 18 of the 19 council members were removed. "We don't know who wants to kill us."
The remaining Embu city-council member is from the PT. On Nov. 27, two bombs exploded, one at his house and another in his office. No one was hurt.
One group has claimed responsibility for the recent wave of attacks against the PT. In a written note, the Frente de Acao Revolucionaria Brasileira (FARB) said it targets leftist politicians who it says are moving toward the political center-right. …