February 2002

Who's Afraid of the PT?

Who is killing the PT leaders? Two main opposing
views have surfaced. One is that these crimes have been
committed by a disgruntled faction within the ranks
of the Workers' Party. Another theory is that
the masterminds are right-wing
paramilitary groups and/or organized crime.

Marta Alvim

On January 21st, over 20,000 people took to the streets of Santo André, a blue-collar town on the outskirts of São Paulo, to mourn and bury its popular Workers' Party (PT) mayor, 50-year old Celso Daniel. Walking behind the fire truck that carried the mayor's casket, the grieving crowd cried for "justice" and "peace". Daniel's murder followed his kidnapping, which took place on January 18, after he and a friend had left a restaurant in the city of São Paulo. His bullet-riddled body was found 32 hours later, after police received a tip from an anonymous caller.

The outcry over Daniel's murder prompted President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to hold a news conference and pledge to "wage a war against organized crime, against banditry in Brazil, and against impunity." Simultaneously, São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin announced a $21,000 (50,000 reais) reward—the maximum allowed by Brazilian law—to anyone with information leading to the arrest of the kidnappers. The governor speculated that the crime might have been politically motivated, since no ransom had been demanded. But police officials involved in the investigation believed that common criminals were behind the crime instead.

Unlike other Latin American countries that have a history of political crimes, Brazil has had only a handful of such cases since its return to democracy after two decades of ruthless military dictatorship. However, a pattern of violence against PT leaders and politicians seems to be emerging, according to a recent report released by Amnesty International. (See accompanying table.)

The London-based organization sent a copy of their report to Brazilian Minister of Justice Aloysio Nunes on January 11. And in the wake of Celso Daniel's murder, it has also released copies of the report to its offices worldwide, as well as to the international press. The report contains a long list of violent acts perpetrated against petistas (Workers' Party affiliates), totaling 70 death threats and 16 deaths since 1997. Amnesty International has urged the Brazilian government to fully investigate and punish those responsible for Daniel's murder and for other recent shootings.

The Santo André killing was the fifth crime against petistas in four months—all in the state of São Paulo. On September 10, 2001, gunmen shot and killed another popular PT leader, Campinas mayor Antonio da Costa Santos, better known as Toninho do PT. On November 12, three shots were fired at the mother in law's house of the mayor Félix Sahão of Catanduva. Sahão had moved from that house at the end of 2000.

On November 11, the mayor of Ribeirão Corrente, Aírton Luiz Montanher, was a victim of a botched kidnapping. On November 28, a homemade bomb went off at the home of Embu mayor Geraldo Cruz and another one at the home of his aide, Paulo Gianinni. Both escaped with light injuries. To date, the murder of Toninho do PT remains unsolved.

Behind the Violence

In the squabble to identify the perpetrators of the crimes, two main opposing views have surfaced. One is that these crimes have been committed by a disgruntled faction within the ranks of the Workers' Party who is unhappy about the moderate instance adopted by some of its leaders.

The murdered mayor of Santo André was one such moderate. Daniel, who was serving his third term as mayor, had implemented controversial measures during his administration. Not only did he privatize the city-owned transportation system, but he also entered into what he considered to be necessary partnerships with private-owned companies. His firing of public servants and reduction of salaries and work hours for those who remained in the job were also incompatible with the ideology of a leftist party.

Still, the social projects he implemented throughout his administration were extremely successful. So much so that in 2000 he was re-elected with over 70 percent of the popular vote. In addition, Daniel was invited to join the team in charge of putting together the administration program of presidential hopeful Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

PT's founding father and honorary president, Lula, has had his share of criticism as well. In the often-heated debate over how the PT should define itself ideologically, the party's more orthodox faction believes that they should still follow the politics of former socialist countries as a model. On the other hand, PT's moderate bloc believes that socialism, as it was once known, is dead.

In a interview with Bernardo Kucinski and Sue Branford, who wrote Brazil Carnival of the Oppressed: Lula and the Brazilian Workers' Party (Latin American Bureau, 1995), Lula made the following statement: "You don't even need to call it a socialist project; call it a Christian project, or an ethical project... For me the label is unimportant; what matters is the content.''

More recently, a group calling itself the Brazilian Revolutionary Action Front (Farb) has claimed responsibility for some of the threats and killings of PT affiliates, including the murder of the Campinas mayor. In a note on its website—which the government has since shut down—the group declared that it had decided to attack those members of the Workers' Party who "have betrayed the people and allied themselves with right-wing forces". The same group sent e-mail death threats against several PT deputies, senators, and against Lula himself. One of their messages warned, "Lula is not going to assume the presidency, for two reasons. We don't like the Workers' Party, and Lula isn't bulletproof."

Brazilian Federal Police have been investigating the group since December, but so far have come up empty-handed. Another theory is that the masterminds behind the attacks against the petistas are members of right-wing organizations; the drug trafficking; the paramilitary groups, and the organized crime—whether acting isolated or in association with one another.

For example, in October 1999, PT mayor Dorcelina Folador of Mundo Novo (in Mato Grosso do Sul state) was gunned down after receiving numerous threats since she started to denounce the illegal activities of the region's drug lords. Eventually, police arrested the three gunmen who had shot Folador to death, and found that they had been hired by Roldão Teixeira, a political enemy of the mayor, and by Jusmar da Silva, then chief of the Municipal Finance Bureau.

Aside from the violence, the PT has been under heavy fire from rival parties all over Brazil in view of the upcoming presidential election in October. For months Lula has been leading the polls with nearly 30 percent of the votes. Moreover, opinion polls conducted in the past have indicated that the vast majority of Brazilians view the PT politicians as the country's most honest. In a nation plagued by corruption, this is no small feat for a political party.

Since its creation in 1980, the PT has steadily increased its political representation at all levels of municipal, state and federal governments and has grown to become the largest leftist party in Latin America.

So, it comes as no surprise that the opposition has been employing some objectionable, anti-PT campaign tactics in an attempt to frighten the voters. In a recent TV ad, for instance, right-wing PFL, the Liberal Front Party, predicted that a prospective PT administration inevitably would lead Brazil to the same chaos and social turmoil faced by its neighbor, Argentina. Another PFL ad, televised in São Paulo last year, mocked the petistas by referring to them as "petelhos" (a play on the word "pentelhos", which in Portuguese can mean pubic hairs, a brat, or a nuisance).

The ad also scoffed at São Paulo mayor Marta Suplicy, another PT luminary, by claiming that dating was the mayor's only concern—an allusion to Suplicy's new beau, who is believed to have been behind her separation from long-time husband, PT senator Eduardo Suplicy. Afterwards, PFL presidential hopeful Roseana Sarney called the mayor to apologize for that tasteless ad.

The War on Crime

In the meantime, Brazilians remain fearful, outraged and perplexed amid the increasing violence that has swept Brazil over the past years. Despite assurances from President Cardoso, the populace is skeptical of any promise of immediate relief from the rampant violence.

In São Paulo alone the number of kidnappings between 2000 and 2001 increased by nearly 400 percent, jumping from 63 to 307. Fewer than 50 percent of these have been solved. However, São Paulo is no exception. Violence in Brazil has spread beyond the big metropolis to the middle-sized cities—such as Santo André, Campinas and others—without sparing anyone.

Public safety and the war on crime were among Cardoso's top priorities during his two successful presidential bids. However, during his second term, investments in this sector were significantly less than what had been projected initially. In 1999, the Ministry of Justice invested only 30.95 percent of the $50.2 million that had been proposed in the draft budget for public safety. And in 2000 and 2001 the government spent only 42 percent and 59.18 percent, respectively, of the sector's budget. The 2002 budget already approved by Congress is $2.6 million less than last year's—down from $237.7 million to $235.1 million.

Since this is an election year, the government's lethargy (or reluctance to take bold action) could prove disastrous for its candidate, but as more and more Brazilians realize, their safety should be a constitutional right, not a proposition for political aspirations and self-serving interests.

PT Under Siege

States where Workers' Party leaders have been murdered, threatened with death or subjected to violence since 1997:


3 death threats


1 death

José Ribamar Alves Godim, 32, president of the PT regional chapter, was fatally shot in the town of Coruripe (October/1998).


1 death threat


13 assaults and death threats; 2 deaths

Councilman Pedro Carlos dos Santos was executed in the town of Candeias. (May/1998)

Councilman Ariomar Oliveira Rocha was murdered in the town of Jaguaribe. (July/1998)


1 assault

Distrito Federal

5 death threats and assaults

Espírito Santo

2 death threats


4 death threats

Mato Grosso

1 shooting; 1 death threat

Mato Grosso do Sul

3 death threats; 1 death

Mundo Novo mayor Dorcelina Folador was murdered. (October/1999)

Minas Gerais

20 death threats and attempted murders; 1 death

Ivan Chaves Teixeira, a councilman in the town of Abre Campo and president of the PT regional chapter, was murdered. (March/1997)


2 death threats; 1 death

Ademir Fredericci, a political leader in the state of Pará, was murdered in the town of Altamira. (August/2001)


2 death threats


1 death threat; 2 deaths

Fulgêncio Manoel da Silva, president of the local PT chapter, was murdered in the town of Santa Maria da Boa Vista. (October/1997)

Cícero Lucas de La Peña, da Silva's successor, was murdered. (June/1998)


4 death threats

Rio de Janeiro

4 deaths

Obílio Alapenha Filho, chief of the Public Works Bureau in the town of Angra dos Reis, was murdered. (February/1997)

Aldanir Carlos dos Santos, president of the Employees of the Electrical Energy Industry Union, and a PT affiliate, was murdered. (November/2001)

Union members Marcos Otávio and his wife, Edma Valadão, were executed. (September/1999)

Rio Grande do Sul

2 death threats


1 death threat

Santa Catarina

1 attempted murder; 1 death

PT member Edson Solbert was murdered in the town of Santa Terezinha. (September/2001)

São Paulo

13 death threats; 3 deaths

Antonio da Costa Santos, mayor of Campinas, was fatally shot in the back. (September/2001)

Manoel de Souza Neto, coordinator of the PT electoral campaign in Suzano, was fatally shot and decapitated. (October/2000)

Celso Daniel, mayor of Santo André, was kidnapped and killed. (January/2002)

Source: Amnesty International

Marta Alvim is a Brazilian journalist, freelance translator and interpreter. You can reach her at  

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