Will Brazil elect Marina Silva as the world’s first Green president?
The Guardian/The Observer
Jonathan Watts, Latin America Correspondent
Born into a poor, mixed-race Amazon family, Marina Silva is on the verge of a stunning election win after taking over her party
It started with the national anthem and ended with a rap. In between came a poignant minute’s silence, politicised football chants and a call to action by the woman tipped to become the first Green national leader on the planet.
The unveiling in São Paulo of Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva’s platform for government on Friday was a sometimes bizarre mix of tradition and modernity, conservatism and radicalism, doubt and hope: but for many of those present, it highlighted the very real prospect of an environmentalist taking the reins of a major country.
In a dramatic election that has at times seemed scripted by a telenovela writer, Silva has tripled her coalition’s poll ratings in the two weeks since she took over from her predecessor and running mate, Eduardo Campos, who was killed in a plane crash. Following a strong performance in the first TV debate between candidates, polls suggest she will come second in the first-round vote on 5 October and then beat the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, in the runoff three weeks later.
This is a spectacular turnaround for a candidate who did not even have a party a year ago, when the electoral court ruled that she had failed to collect enough signatures to mount a campaign. It was also the latest in a series of remarkable steps for a mixed-race woman who grew up in a poor family in the Amazon, and went on to become her country’s most prominent advocate of sustainable development.
The distance Silva – known as Marina – has come from her remote forest home was evident at the launch of her programme for government in the affluent Pinheiros district of São Paulo. About 250 people – mostly from her Sustainability Network party and its allies in Campos’s Brazilian Socialist party (PSB) and other groups – gathered under the chandeliers of the swanky Rosa Rosarum venue, where waiters in white gloves served canapes, while they waited for their leader…
…Women are hugely under-represented in Brazilian politics, but it is not because of her gender that Silva could break the mould. That has more to do with the colour of her skin and ideas.
Silva is a mix of Brazil’s three main ethnic groups. Among her ancestors are native Indians, Portuguese settlers and African slaves. While she is usually described as predominantly “indigenous”, friends say Silva categorises herself as “black” in the national census. In Brazil’s white-dominated political world, this is exceptional.
“It will be super-important for Brazil to have a black president, as it was in the US with Obama. It would signify a big advance for our country against discrimination,” said Alessandro Alvares, a member of the PSB and one of the few non-white faces in the room.
Silva’s political colours could prove still more controversial. For more than a decade, she has been known as the country’s most prominent Green campaigner, having first worked on sustainability at the grassroots with the Amazon activist Chico Mendes, who was later murdered. She later served as environment minister in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration from 2003 to 2008, when she put in place effective measures to slow the deforestation of the Amazon. In her address to Friday’s meeting she stressed that Brazil could double its output of crops and meat without further clearing of the rainforest.
“If elected, Marina will be the greenest president in history, the first black president in Brazil and the first to be born in the Amazon,” said Altino Machado, a journalist based in Acre state, who first met Silva more than 30 years ago when they both attended a theatrical group. “She has proved her credentials as an environmentalist and protector of the Amazon. She also has a very strong ethical code and is totally free from any taint of corruption, which is extremely rare in politics in Brazil, where scandals happen all the time.”…
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