Anielle Franco was inaugurated Brazil’s new Minister of Racial Equality in Brasilia on Jan. 11, just three days after her nations’ seat of government was attacked by a rightwing mob.
Franco––the younger sister of Marielle Franco, the Rio de Janeiro city council member and Black LGBTQ activist who was murdered in a March 14, 2018 ambush––had been working as a journalist and as director of the Marielle Franco Institute before the new administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva asked her to take on this new role.
During her inauguration, which took place together with the installation of Sônia Guajajara as the Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Franco referenced the Jan. 8 attack on the Brazilian government. She deemed the presence of new Black and Indigenous ministers in Lula’s cabinet a sign of resistance to the nation’s history of racism and fascism. As she vowed to increase affirmative action quota laws that can help more Afro Brazilians attend public universities, further anti-racist policies within government agencies, and increase Black visibility in public administrations, Franco said, “We can no longer ignore or downplay the fact that race and ethnicity are determinants of unequal opportunities in Brazil in all areas of life. Black people are underrepresented in spaces of power and yet we are the ones who are most often stigmatized and vulnerable.”
Anielle Franco was among a host of progressive ministers named to occupy strategic ministries in Lula’s cabinet. Others with important administrative posts are the Salvador, Bahia-born singer Margareth Menezes (founder and president of the Associação Fábrica Cultural (Cultural Factory Association)), who was named Minister of Culture; Silvio Almeida who is now the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship; the environmental activist Marina Silva is the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change; and the engineer and politician Luciana Santos was named the nation’s first-ever woman to head the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The presence of progressive Black politicians in Lula’s cabinet points to the president’s intention to push policy advances that support Afro Brazilians, Indigenous people, and the poor in his governing ideology. Many feel that this is one of the reasons supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed and attacked Brasilia’s symbols of government. Pro-Bolsonaro mob members took over Brasilia’s three powers square on Jan. 8: where the National Congress, the president’s Planalto Palace, and the Supreme Court stand. They smashed windows, ransacked offices, and even attacked police and security forces with little resistance. Mob members claimed they were saving Brazil from Lula: they called on the military to take over the government.
Far rightwing movements around the world have been conferring together in recent years and organizing these kinds of disruptive events. In Brazil, a campaign of disinformation had been used on social media to rally mob members and it’s been determined that some 52 business owners paid for Bolsonaro supporters to be given free bus rides to Brasilia so they could take part in a “Festa da Selma” or “War cry” to keep Bolsonaro in power.
Edson Santos, who directed the Ministry of Racial Equality from 2008 to 2010, told the Amsterdam News that the pro-Bolsonaro mob was basically taking part in a voter suppression effort. “It was an attempted coup d’état,” Santos affirmed. “They hoped that with the rioting that was going on in Brasilia, a general would be called in to restore order; and this general was going to restore order by taking power in Brazil.”
The Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement (MNU)) was quick to denounce the coup attempt. On their Instagram page, MNU wrote that the coup perpetrators “must be held strictly responsible for their terrorist acts against the nation. This aggression against Brazilian democracy and its institutions is unacceptable.
“We have fought hard to strengthen [these institutions]. It is clear that the raids on the headquarters of the three branches of power and the destruction of public property represent an organized action by fascists throughout the country. We cannot accept that these coup plotters go unpunished…”
“This is an attack on Brazilian democracy, on Brazil,” asserted Rio de Janeiro-based lawyer and reparations activist Humberto Adami, “It hits Blacks, whites, browns, everyone. It is an orchestrated, armed, financed attack. President Lula … and the Brazilian congress are victims, as are the people of Brazil. It is worth noting the difference in the kind of treatment that these coup criminals received from the security forces, unlike how the poorer populations are treated, which are, coincidentally, the Black and brown populations of the outskirts of Brazil. Our total repudiation of these fascist, anti-democratic coup plotters, these are crooks who should be arrested, in accord with the law.”
The Brazilian right-wing attempt to keep Black and Indigenous people from participating in the nation’s functioning was thwarted on Jan. 8 and now Lula is promising thorough investigations. Meanwhile Lula’s administration is promising to push ahead with restoring progressive programs that were gutted under Bolsonaro. With Lula, the emphasis will be, again, on broadening access to government services. “We have close to 30,000,000 people living in misery today in Brazil, people that can’t have three meals a day, which is the bare minimum,” Edson Santos commented. “This is the reality of what Bolsonaro created: it’s exclusion. At the same time, he made it easier for people to purchase weapons in Brazil, so the number of people with weapons in their homes has increased a lot. There are people who have more than 30 guns at home, and they say that they are ready to use them. But for what purpose? That of elimination, right? The elimination of one’s neighbor, the attacking others, of not respecting people, of not accepting what is different or not accepting Black people, right? Cases of racism have grown a lot and attacks on people with different sexual orientations, and Indigenous people, they are all the object of attacks.
“We will soon see disclosures here in Brazil about these lamentable thigs that occurred in our capital,” Santos assured. “We stand firm together with Lula in defense of democracy and the welfare of our people, in particular the Black Brazilian population.”