Brazil: Presidential Elections Shaping Up as Referendum on Environment

Brazilian senator Marina Silva Brazilian senator Marina Silva, Brazil's former environment minister has left the ruling Workers' Party, paving the way for an expected presidential run in the October 2010 election. The opposition praised her attitude and her former party companions said they have no resentment towards her.

A famed defender of the Amazon rain-forest, who quit the cabinet last year, she has been considering an invitation to join the Green Party and run as its presidential candidate. "I am now in talks with the Green Party in this period of transition," she told reporters in Brazilian capital Brasí­lia.

Her candidacy may undermine the election chances of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's chosen successor, his chief of staff Dilma Rousseff. Silva could attract a similar base of left-wing and female voters, but most analysts believe the race is still likely to be dominated by Rousseff and São Paulo state governor José Serra of the opposition PSDB party.

Silva, a 51-year-old who is one of Brazil's millions of evangelical Christians, trailed a distant fifth with 3 percentage points in a survey by polling firm DataFolha released last weekend, which showed Serra in the lead with 37 points and Rousseff in second place with 16.

Silva stressed that she has not yet decided whether she will run for president, and has said her main objective is to put the environment on the election agenda. The Green Party, long a fringe party in Brazil with little clout said on its website it was preparing a ceremony for August 30 in São Paulo to welcome Silva.

"For the first time in Brazil, we will have a real debate about sustainable development," said José Maria Cardoso da Silva, vice-president of Conservation International in South America.

Silva, who was raised in a poor rubber taper's family in the remote Amazon state of Acre and went on to become an environmental activist, was one of the fresh faces who marked a break from Brazil's conservative past when she was appointed environment minister in Lula's first cabinet in 2003. She only learnt how to read and write at the age of 14.

During her five years as environment minister, Silva struggled to push sustainable development, arguing that the Amazon could be preserved and produce income for its impoverished inhabitants through industries such as rubber-tapping.

But she became increasingly isolated inside Lula's team for opposing government plans for infrastructure and agriculture projects in the Amazon. She also opposed its positions on genetically modified crops and nuclear power.

She quit in May 2008 after Lula, who has generally favored development over conservation, rebuffed her and named another minister to oversee a government development plan in the Amazon.

Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso praised Senator Silva and anticipated that her presidential bid would be very healthy for the Brazilian political system.

"It will avoid a polarization between Brazilian Social Democrats and the ruling Workers Party and force a long awaited debate on environmental problems," said Cardoso.

"She's a woman of great character, of strong positions; she wrote me several nice and interesting letters with constructive criticism of my government," added Cardoso who ruled Brazil from 1994 to 2002.

The chairman of the Workers Party Ricardo Berzoni said Marina is a "colleague" and in spite of her leaving "we have no resentment towards her."

Mercopress

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