Pennsylvania State Police
Escaped inmate Danilo Cavalcante has been captured by authorities.
Editor’s Note: Arick Wierson is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He advises corporate clients on communications and political strategies in the United States, Africa and Latin America. Follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. View more opinion at CNN.
After a nearly two-week manhunt, it’s finally over.
Danilo Cavalcante, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Deborah Brandão in 2021, is finally back in custody after a brazen escape from a Pennsylvania prison. According to police, he’ll now serve his life sentence in a state correctional facility. In his daring breakout, he “crab-walked” up a prison yard wall, got through razor wire on the facility’s roof and eventually found his way free.
Cavalcante successfully eluded authorities for almost two harrowing weeks that disrupted a number of Pennsylvanians’ lives and made his story worthy of a Netflix mini-series. But wrapped around the whole Cavalcante ordeal is a host of additional social and policy questions – many of which could have a real-world political impact both here in the US as well as in Brazil, Cavalcante’s native country.
Before his daring jailbreak, Cavalcante was wanted in Brazil for his suspected role in the 2017 shooting death of Valter Júnior Moreira dos Reis. Cavalcante allegedly managed to successfully elude Brazilian authorities for several weeks before escaping the country using a false identity, according to New York Times reporting. Then, he managed to enter the US.
Aside from the fallout from the two atrocious homicides and his wreaking a fortnight of fear across rural Pennsylvania during his time on the lam, the Cavalcante episode has managed to put egg on the face of law enforcement in two different countries, adding to already fevered rhetoric in both nations about public safety and immigration.
In Brazil, the indignation around the Cavalcante episode – especially how Brazilian authorities allowed a man wanted for homicide to leave the country – has reignited a debate across local media about whether the government is spending enough on public safety and if those resources expended are actually doing any good.
On social media, a number of Brazilians have been amazed at the level of high tech employed by American law enforcement in tracking down Cavalcante, such as the thermal aerial imaging that allowed authorities to eventually identify Cavalcante’s whereabouts. “In Brazil, he would have never been caught,” remarked Dayane dos Reis, the sister of Válter Júnior Moreira dos Reis, to local media in Brazil.
Brazil spent about R$124 billion (USD $25.3 billion) last year on public security, about 1.26% of its national GDP, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum. Even so, the widely held public perception is that Brazil is becoming increasingly unsafe for everyone. Now, the Cavalcante incident has given a high-profile face to attach to the perception of overall government incompetence. Meanwhile, a large swath of the Brazilian electorate that is still seething about the last year’s election of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, who was formerly convicted and incarcerated on corruption charges before his conviction was annulled. (Lula has said that the charges were politically motivated.)
In the United States, the Cavalcante story could very likely become a political weapon for the GOP as it heads into the competitive 2024 election cycle. Republicans, who have been hammering on the immigration issue for years, now have a well-known and terrifying face to attach to their cause: Cavalcante, a murderer.
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It is easy to see how the Cavalcante story might be used to play up the failures of the Biden administration in solving the immigration crisis at the border and distort perceptions about the types of people that are slipping through (of course, glossing over the fact that Cavalcante slipped into the US under President Trump’s watch and that the vast majority of immigrants aren’t violent criminals). Moreover, the Cavalcante issue has the potential to put Pennsylvania – a closely divided state that both parties see as key to not only winning the White House but gaining control of the Senate – back in play as the state’s senior US senator, Democrat Bob Casey, is up for reelection.
It’s quite astonishing to think of the immense impact that one criminal, who made his way illegally to the US, might end up having on the politics the two of the most populous nations in the world.