By Lindsay Spratt, Sub Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Following our series of three key candidates for next year’s general election, a fourth contender has emerged. On August 15, Epoca magazine announced that former Environment Minister, Marina Silva, will also be running for election. The magazine splashed her face across its cover with the provocative proposition ‘President Marina?’.
The news has taken the Brazilian media by storm with columnist Zuenir Ventura even drawing a parallel between Silva and President Obama in O Globo on August 18.
“Marina excites young people…in such a way that she could create a spontaneous and contagious movement within society … as innovative as that which occurred in the US with Obama,” he wrote.
Silva’s entry into the presidential race has certainly made it all the more exciting, as she is a popular public figure known for her resolute defense of the Amazon and its resources. She has been a friend of Lula’s for thirty years and was Brazil’s youngest ever female senator when she became Environment Minister for the PT (Workers’ Party) in 2003 at the age of 35.
She resigned this May, after six years in the role, claiming irreconcilable differences with other party ministers and prominent businessmen who accused her of hindering important projects in the Amazon and subsequently the Brazilian economy.
In her resignation letter, Silva cited “the growing resistance found by our team in important sectors of the government and society.” The environmental groups who had rejoiced at her appointment as Environment Minister were quick to attack the government for prioritizing development at any cost.
Following her resignation, Silva returned to her role as Senator for Acre. She then resigned from the PT and joined the PV (Green Party) and will run as their candidate for president.
Silva’s candidacy represents an important choice for Brazilians. Her split with the PT (after having been a loyal member for her entire political career) and alignment with the PV pushes the environment even further into the limelight. It comes at a pertinent moment for Brazilian politics, as the country’s natural resources including not just rainforest lands but offshore oil deposits are set to provide abundant future wealth.
The historical conflict continues between those who place paramount importance on economic development and see the Amazon as Brazil’s greatest resource for achieving this aim, and those with environmental concerns about the continuing destruction of the region. The sheer size and geo-demographics of Brazil also factors in, as the majority of the population is concentrated on the country’s coasts, far from rainforest devastation and its effect on indigenous populations.
Silva was born in Acre, a region bordering Amazonas state. She grew up in a community of rubber-tappers and was one of eleven children. She was orphaned at the age of sixteen and moved to the state capital of Rio Branco where she received a Catholic education and worked as a maid.
While studying history at Acre’s Federal University, she became interested in Marxism. Along with Chico Mendes, she founded the union Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (Unique Workers’ Center), which became one of the largest unions in the world. Silva then joined the PT, and was later elected senator for Acre in 1986 with a record number of votes.
Her past has gained her a reputation for being a guerreira (rebel freedom fighter), as she has overcome not just childhood illiteracy but numerous tropical diseases to reach where she is today. She was named one of Brazil’s fifteen most influential women in Forbe’s magazine in 2006 and is a great hope for the PV who are traditionally a fringe party in Brazilian politics.