Environmental activist and politician Marina Silva could have been on the plane that crashed on Wednesday and killed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six other occupants.
The two of them had been together in Rio de Janeiro, where Campos had been interviewed on the Globo television network, and he had offered her a ride to Guarujá. But, at the last minute, Silva decided to go straight to the São Paulo airport of Guarulhos instead, aboard a commercial flight.
The decision will shape her future for years to come. Silva – who until Wednesday was running as Campos’ running-mate – will now have to decide if she is ready to take his place and represent the Brazilian Socialist Party’s (PSB) presidential aspirations.
Under Brazilian law, the PSB has 10 days to decide on a candidate.
The daughter of illiterate rubber-tappers, Silva grew up in the rainforest and learned to read as a teenager. Orphaned at 16, she moved from the Bagaço rubber tree plantation to the capital of the western state of Acre, Rio Branco, where she worked as a maid.
She eventually made it to university, where she became politically active, and graduated at 26. At 36, she became Brazil’s youngest senator. In 2003, then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva picked her as his Environment minister, a position she used to fight against deforestation.
But ideological differences eventually led her to break with the Workers’ Party (PT) and join the Green Party. In the 2010 presidential election, she ran on an environmental platform and came third with a surprising 19.3% of votes, the equivalent to 20 million voters.
An evangelical with a feisty campaign style, Silva is an unconventional figure in Brazilian politics. Her conservationist advocacy has earned the wrath of Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, yet Silva can appeal to conservative voters with her defense of family values and opposition to abortion.
Last year, as massive protests hit the country’s political establishment, polls revealed she was the only political figure still trusted by voters. As President Dilma Rousseff dipped in polls, Marina – as she is known to Brazilians – kept rising.
After failing to register her own political party on time for this year’s electoral campaign, an alliance with Campos became her only option, even though she had a political identity of her own and greater name recognition than her running-mate.
She also had more supporters, which made her a particularly appealing vice-presidential candidate.
A visibly shaken Silva spoke to reporters in Santos following the plane crash on Wednesday. In her brief remarks, she focused on her relationship with Campos.
“During these 10 months of partnership, I learned to respect him, admire him and feel confidence in his attitudes and his ideals in life,” Silva said in a soft, wavering voice. “He had a commitment to making Brazil a better country,” she said.
The deceased Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, 49, was a former governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco and belongs to a traditional family from the Brazilian political establishment.
In the latest opinion polls Campos had 10% support from likely voters, according to a survey released on July 22 by polling firm Ibope ahead of the October 5 first-round election.
President Dilma Rousseff, who is standing for a second four-year term, leads the race with 38% support, while social democrat Aécio Neves has 22%, the poll found. The presidential campaign officially opens on August 19.
Campos had been traveling to São Paulo, the Brazilian financial hub, to film a campaign-related TV segment with his running mate, ecologist Marina Silva. Silva was not aboard the plane.
Campos, who was married with five children, had been running on a platform of change after 20 years of government by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) and Neves’s PSDB.
He had served as science and technology minister from 2004 to 2005 under Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Lawmakers from Campos’s PSB party expressed their shock on Twitter.
“It is with great sadness that I received the news of the tragedy involving Eduardo Campos. I’m very upset,” representative Julio Delgado tweeted.
“We lost our greatest leader. I’m devastated,” said colleague Beto Albuquerque.
However when the mourning is over, and the campaign officially begins, there will be surprises in the electoral scenario because of Marina Silva, who is expected to become the head of the Socialist presidential ticket.
Originally from an Amazon rubber tappers family, a leading member of Lula’s Workers Party, Senator and later minister, she abandoned the party disenchanted with the government’s environment and indigenous peoples policies.
In 2010 she ran for the presidential office with the Green party and against all odds and opinion polls, garnered 19.5% of the vote.
She later organized a “sustainable network” with environmentalists, minority groups and others who support a sustainable economy as opposed to an extraction, wasteful economy. Silva’s organization was not accepted as a political party and was forced into a strategic alliance with Campos, as vice-president hopeful.
Marina is considered a formidable campaigner, and is a big magnet for many disenchanted voters from the ruling party, which has become too ‘orthodox and distant from its original charter’.
Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, a contender to unseat President Dilma Rousseff in October elections, died Wednesday when his campaign jet crashed in the city of Santos, killing all seven people aboard.
Campos, a 49-year-old socialist who had been running third in the polls, was flying to São Paulo to record a TV segment when his Cessna 560XL slammed into a gymnasium and several houses, breaking into pieces and igniting a large fire.
Rousseff declared a state of national mourning and suspended her campaign for three days.
“All of Brazil is in mourning. We lost a great Brazilian today, Eduardo Campos. We lost a great comrade,” the president said in a statement.
Campos’s plane was en route from Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport to Guarujá airport outside São Paulo when it hit bad weather, according to air force spokesman Pedro Luis Farcic.
“As it was preparing to land, the plane fell due to bad weather. Air traffic control then lost contact with the aircraft,” he said.
All seven people aboard the plane died. The other passengers were advisers, a photographer and a videographer.
Flaming piles of rubble sent up a large column of smoke, and several houses were on fire. Santos firefighters said at least 10 people were injured.
The air force said it had launched an investigation into what caused the medium-sized jet to crash. Santos is Brazil’s main overseas port, 70 kilometers from São Paulo.