Marina Silva was born in the faraway state of Acre on a rubber tree farm in 1958. She has six sisters and one brother (three other siblings did not survive childhood). She is the second oldest. When she was a teenager she moved to the state capital, Rio Branco, and learned to read and write in a military government literacy program, Mobral.
At that time, after a hardscrabble existence working at extractive agriculture in the rainforest for many years, she began to have health problems that have plagued her ever since: hepatitis, malaria and, especially, heavy metal contamination.
In Rio Branco, she briefly worked as a maid. She then received help from the Catholic bishop of Acre and considered becoming a nun. Many years later, Marina converted to evangelical Christianity.
The contact with the Catholic Church in her youth led her to socialism and when she got into the university she joined the Marxist Communist Revolutionary Party (PCR), at that time a leftist umbrella group that included the budding Workers Party (PT).
She got a degree in history at the university (Universidade Federal do Acre), became a high school teacher and helped found a workers union in Acre (CUT) in 1985, together with activist Chico Mendes who was a leader of landless rural workers. In 1986 she joined the PT and ran for Congress (federal deputy) but lost the election.
In 1988 she ran for public office again and became the most voted member of the city council of Rio Branco, where she was a controversial figure, scorning many of the normal perks and privileges given to elected officials. In 1990 she went to Brasília as the most voted federal deputy from Acre.
In 1994, she was elected to the Senate at the age of 36. In the process, she overcame a long tradition in the state of Acre of only sending former governors and big landowners or businessmen to the upper house. In the Senate she quickly became the principal voice in defense of the Amazon – the rainforest, the people and its biodiversity.
In 2003, with the election of Lula, Marina Silva became minister of Environment. And began a long series of conflicts with the rest of the government in the battle between economic development and environmental protection.
By 2006, when Lula was reelected, Marina was under enormous pressure to approve the construction of dams on the Madeira River and curtail her campaign against deforestation.
Then, in May 2008, the government announced a major development program for the whole Amazon region, the Sustainable Amazon Plan (Plano Amazônia Sustentável – PAS), which discarded recommendations made by Marina Silva and instead followed an ambitious path laid out by Roberto Mangabeira Unger (minister of Long-Term Planning).
Five days after the PAS rollout, on May 13, 2008. Marina resigned as minister of Environment. In 2009 she left the PT (after almost 30 years) and joined the PV (Brazil’s Green Party). In June 2010 she announced her intention to run for president.