20 years of the Candelária Church Massacre that claimed the lives of eight and shocked the world

Candelaria massacre

BW of Brazil: Today we look back in remembrance of a senseless massacre that shocked the world 20 years old and forever etched the image of a violent Rio de Janeiro that totally disregards the lives of its citizens into the memories of people around the world. Far from the postcard image of the famed Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, this stories highlights the dark side of “Marvelous City”. If this horrific story were just a distant memory that has been long forgotten as a one-time incident, perhaps the city and its people could move on. But, as the events of the massacre that occurred in a Rio favela just a few weeks ago proved, the slaughter of Rio’s young, poor, black residents remains the rule of the streets. This blog has consistently documented the reign of terror Brazil’s Military Police and death squads continue to inflict on mostly poor, black youth and this 1993 massacre is but one of many but perhaps the most infamous. The piece below recounts that day and covers a rally and protest that recently remembered that dreadful stain in the history of Rio and Brazil. At the bottom of the page is a video about the massacre featuring one of the survivors who is mentioned in the article below. 

by Sheila Jacob and Gustavo Ribeiro

Today, July 23rd, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the Candelária Massacre, when more than 70 children and adolescents who slept near the Candelária Church were victims of an act of extermination of the Rio de Janeiro police. On the occasion, eight died and dozens were injured. On Friday, July 19, families of the victims of violence and militants in defense of human rights organized a rally in memory of date and demanded that massacres don’t happen again. In the morning there was a Mass and ecumenical, and then the protesters began marching to the Municipal Theater, where besides the slogans and chants there were cultural presentations in front of the City Council.

Candelária Nunca Mais (Never Again) march remembered the victims of the massacre
Candelária Nunca Mais (Never Again) march remembered the victims of the massacre

“The Candelária demonstration is so that what happened is never forgotten and to show that violence happens every day against poor, black and favelados (slum dwellers). Since then, there has not been much progress, but we will not stop fighting,” said Sonia Araújo, sister of Wagner dos Santos, one of the survivors of the 1993 massacre. To illustrate the relevance of this struggle, she remembered the 24th of June this year when, in a police action in Nova Holanda, a group of favelas of Maré, nine (thirteen according to other reports) people were killed and others wounded.

caminhada-20-anos-da-chacina-da-candelaria - 20 anos da chacina da Candelária

The social scientist Alexandre Magalhães, of the Rede Contra a Violência (Network Against Violence), stressed that the main purpose of the act is beyond remembering, but showing the continuity of state violence especially in slums and peripheries, which in his opinion has increased in recent years. “We are living in a moment of consolidation and legitimation of this type of repression, and the so-called mainstream media collaborated much in justifying these actions.” For him, this situation has changed slightly because of social networking, because today it’s much more difficult to silence deaths and disappearances. “Many isolated reports have appeared, but overall the subjects continue to criminalize poverty and social movements, which in the long term helps to justify this kind of action,” says the activist.

Signs remember the massacre and call for an end to the extermination of young people
Signs remember the massacre and call for an end to the extermination of young people

For Magalhães, one of the main issues to be defended today is the demilitarization of the police, and the present moment can help in this kind of questioning because the violence that was previously concentrated in slums and peripheries is coming to other places. For Débora Silva, one of the “Mães de Maio (Mothers of May)” of São Paulo in this march, demanding demilitarization is important because the police cannot act against the people as if it were at war. She also criticized the lack of support of the City of Rio in providing snacks and buses for the youth who participated in the walk. “(Governor) Sérgio Cabral’s policy of public security is oppression and extermination. The state killed and continues violating because it weakens the struggle of those who want to remember.”

"We demand the demilitarization of the police now now now!!!"
“We demand the demilitarization of the police now now now!!!”

In addition to the massacres, Deize Carvalho, a resident of Cantagalo, came to denounce the violence committed by UPP (1) officers in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. She lost her son Andreu, 19, who was tortured and killed on the premises Degase (2) in 2008. Since then she has not stopped fighting. “In the slums we don’t have any more rights to culture, entertainment, even our right to come and go is compromised. In addition, there are threats and brutality against defenders of human rights and even murders that are coming out,” she complains. The most recent case is the disappearance of the bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, 47, after being taken away by police to the UPP in Rocinha (3).

Note from BW of Brazil: The story of one of the survivors of the Candelária massacre provides a chilling example of the cruelty and total disregard of human life that seems to rule the system of law enforcement in Rio – a disregard that is still apparent in the context of the most recent massacre in the community of Maré just a few weeks ago. The survivor’s story is the topic of a book by Julia Rochester. Here is a brief summary of the book’s subject.

Book: The Candelaria Massacre - How Wagner dos Santos Survived the Street Children's Killing that Shook Brazil by Julia Rochester
Book: The Candelaria Massacre – How Wagner dos Santos Survived the Street Children’s Killing that Shook Brazil by Julia Rochester

“Just after midnight, in the early morning of July 23, 1993, a group of men later identified as off-duty policemen opened fire on a group of street children sleeping rough outside one of Rio de Janeiro’s most prominent landmarks—the Church of Our Lady of the Candelária. The incident became known as the Candelária Massacre and it roused the people of Rio—the Cariocas—and took them to the streets in protest. Shortly before the shootings at the church the policemen picked up three boys returning to Candelária from the beach and took them off in their car to be shot elsewhere. Shot and left for dead, one of them survived. His survival altered the political landscape. His name is Wagner dos Santos.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Here is how Gustavo Ribeiro recognized the massacre and Wagner’s life since 1993. 

Wagner dos Santos: Survivor of the Candelária massacre
Wagner dos Santos: Survivor of the Candelária massacre

Twenty years have passed from the slaughter that killed eight poor children and adolescents on the steps of the Candelária Church, in downtown Rio de Janeiro on the morning of July 23, 1993. The crime, committed by a group of Military Police, turned into a blood bath that will never fade from the history of the city, from the statistics of police violence against black and poor children, and especially the memory of the victims’ families and of survivors.

In front of the church red outline figures painted in memory of the victims
In front of the church red outline figures were painted in memory of the victims

Wagner dos Santos is now has 40 years old. At the time of the massacre, he was 20 and was one of the young people attacked by the Military Police. He says he was taken by car and by Military Police and only survived because he played dead. In the following year, he was the target of a new attempted murder, when he took four more shots, but again survived. In total, according to his sister, Patrícia Oliveira da Silva, Wagner took eight shots.

So much time has passed and the families of victims still await compliance by public authorities. “One of the first disrespects was the trial. Lawyers and other people said they were homeless and had to die. A prosecutor’s own case of Candelária said that the massacre, in fact, was a ‘housecleaning’ said the Patrícia.

Patrícia Oliveira da Silva, Wagner's sister
Patrícia Oliveira da Silva, Wagner’s sister

Since suffering the second attack, whose perpetrators were never found, Wagner dos Santos has lived in Switzerland. He suffers from partial loss of hearing, vision and movement of his face, and contracted lead poisoning resulting from the bullet fragments that were lodged in his face and body. From 2009, he began to receive a lifetime pension of two minimum wages per month, a right granted by state law 3421. According to Patrícia, the government had pledged to bear the costs of three surgeries for her brother, but one of them had been denied.

Igreja da Candelária (Candelária Church) in downtown Rio de Janeiro
Igreja da Candelária (Candelária Church) in downtown Rio de Janeiro

“Wagner had to do reconstructive surgery on his face and to remove the bullets. We managed to negotiate one for 2003, one for 2005 and one for 2007. He did the first two, and in 2007, when Sérgio Cabral joined the government, he said that there had already been a lot of money spent and he would not spend any more,” she says.

Despite living all alone in Europe, Patricia ensures that her brother does not want to return to Brazil for fear, since no one knows who was responsible for the second attack and massacre shooters are on the loose. According to her, several strange things happened when Wagner came to Brazil as an episode in which he received a pizza at the front desk of a hotel. “Only the Secretary of Security knew where he was staying,” said Patrícia. “Another time they handed a gun in to the Secretary of Security saying it was for him,” she adds.

Since police opened fire on least 50 residents on the street who slept that night in Candelária three Military Police were sentenced to prison, fulfilled their sentences and are already free. The reasons for the violent act have never been clarified. A fourth MP accused of the deaths died in 1994 during an exchange of gunfire. On July 10, Marcus Vinicius Borges Emmanuel, one of those officers who was already free, had a new arrest warrant issued by the Court and is considered a fugitive.

The Candelária Massacre

Source: Núcleo Piratininga de Comunicação, Sidney Rezende


1. The UPP or Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, Pacifying Police Unit or Police Pacification Unit), abbreviated UPP, is a law enforcement and social services program pioneered in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which aims at reclaiming territories, more commonly favelas, controlled by gangs of drug dealers. The program was created and implemented by State Public Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame, with the backing of Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral. The stated goal of Rio’s government is to install 40 UPPs by 2014. Source: Wiki

2. Degase (Departamento Geral de Ações Socioeducativas or General Department for Socio-Educational Action) is an agency of the State Department of Education, that has the responsibility to promote socio-education in the State of Rio de Janeiro, favoring the formation of autonomous persons, citizens and supportive professionals, enabling construction of life projects and family and community.

3. is the largest favela (slum) in Brazil, and is located in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone between the districts of São Conrado and Gávea. Rocinha is built on a steep hillside overlooking Rio de Janeiro, and is located about one kilometer from a nearby beach. Most of the favela is on a very steep hill, with many trees surrounding it. 69,356 (census 2010) people live in Rocinha, making it the most populous favela in Brazil. Source

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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