BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilians returned to voting in 57 cities on Sunday for municipal elections that have seen escalating violence involving assassinations and physical attacks on candidates.
In the two months of campaigning leading up to the first round of voting on November 15, there were 200 murders, attempted assassinations or other candidates injured, according to Brazil’s electoral authority TSE.
That compares with 63 cases of political violence in the first eight months of this election year, and just 46 such cases in the previous municipal elections in 2016, a report by the TSE’s security and intelligence unit found.
Violence is pervasive in Brazilian politics, especially in the “wild west” in poorer northern and northeastern states where powerful landowners sometimes ask for rented weapons to resolve political disputes.
The violence even reached the national Congress in Brasilia. In 1963, Senator Arnon de Mello of the state of Alagoas pulled out a gun in the room to settle quarrels with the enemy, lost his shot and killed another senator.
In 1993, Paraiba governor Ronaldo Cunha Lima shot his predecessor dead for accusing his son of being corrupt.
In recent years, experts say violence has spread in polarized Brazil where more weapons are available and new criminal organizations are consolidating power in cities like Rio de Janeiro. The risk is greater in local politics where crimes often go unpunished, said Felipe Borba, who tracks electoral violence at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“In smaller districts there is direct confrontation between local rivals. “Winners take everything and losing positions means you have nothing,” he said in an interview.
He pointed to two murders in one day. On September 24, three days before the campaign started, a candidate for city council in Minas Gerais state, Cassio Remis of Brazil’s center-leaning Social Democratic Party, was killed with five shots in a public killing caught on security cameras. On the same day in Pernambuco state, another candidate Valter do Conselho from the center-right Democratic Party (DEM) was also shot dead.
The violence is detrimental to all parties, including the right and the left.
Four days before the November 15 vote, in the Rio suburb of Nova Iguaçu, local DEM candidate Domingo Cabral, was shot dead by a hooded man in a bar. The day before, Mauro da Rocha, from the Christian Workers’ Party, was murdered in the same city.
Violence continued even after voting closed. Edmar Santana of the far-right Patriota party, who had just been elected to the replacement council in Sumaré, a city in the state of Sao Paulo, was shot dead by a bullet fired by a man passing by on a motorbike.
“In Rio, there is a pattern. Political violence mainly involves organized crime, drug trafficking or paramilitary militia groups, “said Borba.
Many political killings remain unresolved, especially in the interior of the country where near impunity reigns, he said.
Even high-profile cases are not fully resolved, such as the 2018 murder of Rio de Janeiro councilor Marielle Franco, a rising politician from the left-wing PSOL party, and her driver.
Despite domestic and international pressure, police to date have only arrested the gunman, former military policeman Ronnie Lessa, but not the mastermind behind Brazil’s most notorious political assassination recently.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguayassu, Written by Anthony Boadle; edited by Diane Craft