"There’s no place on my brother's body that is not marked": The Canelária massacre 25 years on

By Patrícia de Oliveira Río de Janeiro,

Violence tore my brother and I apart when we were little.

We were raised by different mothers in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. But 25 years ago, we recognized each other in the wake of a tragic event known as the “Chacina da Candelária”, or the Candelária massacre. I was starting out as a human rights activist. He was the survivor who stubbornly refused to die.

We immediately identified with each other: we both have strong characters, we do not accept injustice and we have to resist in order to exist.

My brother, Wagner dos Santos, was the key witness in the identification of the police officers who opened fire on a group of more than 50 children on 23 July 1993.

My brother, Wagner dos Santos, was the key witness in the identification of the police officers who opened fire on a group of more than 50 children on 23 July 1993.
Patrícia de Oliveira

He was near the Candelária Church, in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, when a car full of armed men approached, shot dead five children, wounded a young man who died a couple of days later, and took three other boys away to kill.

Wagner was the only one of those three to escape. He was shot in the face but survived, and he was the only one who could reveal to the world what happened that night.

Just over a year later, there was another attempt to kill him. Wagner survived again, but this time he decided to leave the country.

There’s no place on my brother's body that is not marked. The gunshot wounds were added to those from torture and beatings by Brazilian state agents when he was a child and teenager.

Today, Wagner lives in Switzerland. His scars are the memories of a past that will never leave him.

In my human rights activism, I’ve realized that my brother's story is an experience shared by many other black youths in Brazil – a country promoting a public security policy that incarcerates and exterminates youths with devastating effects for the entire society.

It is a seemingly endless cycle of violence in which we are the target. That’s why we learned early on that we must resist, just to be here telling this story.

My brother is a survivor. I am a survivor. The same violence that separated us as children ended up uniting us.
Patrícia de Oliveira

 

Now we meet to celebrate life and fight for justice. We’ve learned the hard way that the achievements of black people came with struggle.

We will not let 23 July 1993 fall into oblivion. We will remember this story today so that it does not repeat itself. Candelária never again!

Patrícia de Oliveira is the founder of the Network of Communities and Movements against Violence and is part of the Candelária Never Again! Movement.

This article was originally published in O Globo