Fellow activist vows to fight on after Brazilian councilwoman slain


Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

The murder of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco took away one of this city's most prominent black voices, but her friend Taliria Petrone vows to carry on their struggle.

In fact they were more than friends, they were almost like twins in a political landscape where powerful black women are few and far between.

Franco was killed March 14, aged 38, in what appeared to be an assassination. Her death prompted an outpouring of protests.

Like her, Petrone, 32, has devoted herself to feminist causes and defending the human rights of the poor in Rio's sprawling, violent favela neighborhoods.

In 2016, when Franco surprised many with her emphatic election to the Rio city council, Petrone was elected to the council in Niteroi, a suburb. They were both from the small PSOL leftist party.

They'd met a decade ago in the Mare favela, where Franco was born and where Petrone was giving history classes at a community center.

She said they used to joke that she was the "Marielle of Niteroi" and Franco "the Taliria of Rio."

Still clearly stunned by last week's tragedy, Petrone said that her friend's work would go on.

"If they wanted to shut up Marielle by executing her, they made a mistake, because her voice rings out from every street. There are many of us Marielles," she told AFP in her simple office at the city legislature, where she is the only female councilor.

- Who did it? -

Since the killing, Petrone has been at the forefront of street protests in Franco's memory.

Many supporters of Franco think she was killed because she was making life too uncomfortable for certain police with her fierce criticism of alleged atrocities in the favelas.

"We want to know who ordered the killing. Why did they kill Marielle?" asked Petrone, who wears an African-style turban in the same style as Franco.

"Knowing who pulled the trigger is important, but it's more important to know why they killed Marielle."

Their paths were so similar in their careers that the grim question now is whether Petrone feels similarly at risk.

Since winning her election, getting more votes than any other councilor, Petrone said she has received various threats. "You deserve a 9mm (bullet) in the neck" and "whore" are among the insults she's heard on social media.

Petrone said her staff and the PSOL are considering increased security in the wake of Franco's death. For now, she said, her only precaution is to be with "a lot of people" when she goes out.

"To say I'm not afraid would be a lie," she said, but that fear "gives me strength which lets me almost forget my fear."

"Retreating is not in my plans," she said. "The only way to remain alive is by fighting."