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Pro-Legalization Mayor Defeated in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro’s pro-legalization mayoral candidate Marcelo Freixo was defeated in the Oct. 30 run-off by his conservative opponent Marcelo Crivella—a bishop in the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

Crivella, who won by a safe 20 percent, is also the nephew of the founder of what Reuters calls the “evangelical megachurch.” He had to back down from his past criticisms of homosexuality in gay-friendly Rio—as well as his criticisms of Catholicism, Brazil’s dominant religion. With the country still reeling over the August impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff of the left wing Workers Party (PT), the race in Rio represents a further gain for Brazil’s political right.

Freixo, a former school-teacher and longtime human rights advocate in Rio de Janeiro’s state legislature, is with the Socialism and Freedom Party (POSL), which broke from the PT over a decade ago and tilts in a more social-libertarian direction. His outspoken stance for a debate on drug legalization as a solution to Rio’s deep crisis of crime and violence was, of course, exploited against him on the campaign trail. Freixo won support from activists, artists and intellectuals. But Crivella actually did better in the poorer parts of the city.

The vote took place amid ongoing narco-fueled violence, as police launched city-wide anti-gang sweeps under the code name Operation “Vou de Táxi” (Taxi Trip). Troops flooded the favelas, raiding some 30 residencies and detaining some 20 suspects.

And during the run-off campaign, Rio’s longtime public security secretary, José Mariano Beltramestepped down amid furor over a deadly shoot-out in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela—unnervingly close to the city’s posh downtown districts. This is a blow to Beltrame’s militarized approach to policing. 

But with Brazil’s political crisis deepening, the general trajectory is heading back toward intolerance. Freixo’s campaign put some radical ideas on the table, but they will have to fight to keep them there.

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