|Current Position (s)||Founder, Spokeswoman|
|Party||Sustainability Party (Rede Sustentabilidade)|
|Previous Position||Minister of the Environment|
Born in a small rubber plantation in the Brazilian Amazon, Marina Silva spent her childhood making rubber, hunting, and fishing to help her father support their large family. Marina’s parents had 11 children, and their mother died when Marina was only 15. Her childhood was very difficult. She woke up at 4 a.m. each day to prepare breakfast for her large family and travelled several kilometres to work in the rubber fields daily.
At the age of 16 she contracted hepatitis, the first of three she would suffer. Her health history also includes five malaria cases and one leishmaniasis. She moved to the city in search of medical treatment and took the opportunity to become literate. Eventually, Marina would graduate from the Federal University of Acre with a degree in History and would complete her postgraduate studies in Psychoanalytical Theory at the University of Brasilia and in Psychopedagogy at the Catholic University of Brasilia.
In the early 1980s Marina Silva became one of the architects of the empates – peaceful demonstrations by forest-dwelling rubber tappers and their families against deforestation and the expulsion of traditional forest communities. Silva had decided to dedicate herself fully to the social struggle, and in 1984 she went on to found CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores), an independent trade union movement, with rubber tapper leader Chico Mendes in the state of Acre.
In 1986 she ran for public office for the first time, attempting to secure a seat in the House of Representatives. Her first electoral successes didn’t take long to arrive. By 1988 she was elected alderman in Rio Branco and then in 1990 she became a state representative. In January of 1994, at age 35, Silva became the youngest senator in the history of the Republic, and was reelected in 2002 with triple the amount of votes.
Her record as a Senator in the state of Acre between 1995 and 2011 is beyond remarkable. In the Senate, she was the first to defend the importance of the government taking on targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, the Planalto finally announced the adoption of these goals, prompting the Federal Executive and Congress to include the Brazilian target, with the percentages for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, in the National Climate Change Plan, which would be approved by the president before the Climate Conference (COP15), in December 2009 in Copenhagen. As a native Amazonian, she also elaborated the first bill to regulate access to genetic resources of biodiversity and its associated traditional knowledge. This project was later used by the federal government as a basis for a Provisional Measure on the matter, facilitating scientific research on the riches of the Amazon biodiversity, as well as the fight against biopiracy.
A member of the Workers’ Party, in 2003 Marina was appointed Minister of the Environment by then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in his first term. At the Ministry of Environment, Marina sought to transform government policy in favour of environmental protection, trying to break the traditional isolation of this subject area. She worked on structuring policies based on four basic guidelines: 1) greater participation and social control; 2) strengthening the national environmental system; 3) transversality in government actions; and 4) promotion of sustainable development.
This is how the government began to demand that hydroelectric projects obtain a prior license so that the environmental viability of these undertakings could be evaluated before the concession for private exploitation. Measures to protect Brazil’s biodiversity were also implemented in large measure thanks to her through the creation of two institutions in the government’s environmental sector: The Chico Mendes Institute, to take care of more than 70 million hectares distributed in 300 Nature Conservation Units, and the Brazilian Forest Service, dedicated to the promotion of sustainable economic use of the country’s tropical forests.
In May 2008 Silva resigned from the Ministry and Lula’s government, citing difficulties in carrying out her mandate as the reason for her departure.
On August 19, 2009 Silva officially announced her switch from the Worker’s Party to the Green Party (PV). A year later, in October 2010, Silva ran for President as the candidate for the Green Party, coming in third with nearly 20 percent of the vote in the first-round and forcing a run-off. Though her 2010 presidential bid was unsuccessful, Silva retained the hope to become the first black woman of poor origin to become president of Brazil.
Next, the former Environmental Minister launched her own political party, Sustainability Party (Rede Sustentabilidade, REDE) in Brasilia in 2013 after several years without membership in any political party. A year later, the party formed a strategic alliance with the Brazilian Socialist Party ahead of the 2014 Brazilian general election, until its registration as an independent political party was approved in 2015. According to Brazilian law, nearly 500,000 signatures are required to officially register a political party.
Three years later, in 2018, REDE formed United to transform Brazil, a coalition with the Green Party ahead of the Brazilian general election and in support of Marina Silva. Failing to make runoff, Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad faced each other as the two Presidential candidates in runoff, which led to Jair Bolsonaro from far-right Social Liberal Party (PSL) becoming the 38th President of Brazil after winning the 2018 elections.
Marina has won numerous awards in recognition of her environmental activism. She is the recipient of the 1996 Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America – a prize she was awarded for protecting millions of hectares in the Brazilian Amazon through the establishment of reserves led by traditional communities. In 2007, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) named her one of the Champions of the Earth, and two years later she was awarded the 2009 Sophie Prize. In 2010, Silva was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s top global thinkers, alongside Elizabeth May, Cécile Duflot, Monica Frassoni and Renate Künast, for taking Green mainstream. She was also named Woman of the Year by the British Financial Times newspaper in 2014.
A few years ago the former Presidential candidate launched the Marina Silva Institute for sustainable development. Its mission is to do for sustainable development what the Jane Goodall Institute did for wildlife conservation and to offer new perspectives and fresh solutions for the future of sustainability. Speaking about this initiative at a Roundtable and Reception hosted in her honour by the Goldman Environmental Prize and Amazon Watch some years back, Silva stressed the need for a paradigm shift in society, noting that “sustainable development is not just a way of doing things, it is a way of living.”
Overall, Marina Silva has ran for Brazil’s presidency three times, in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Today, she continues to be a firm advocate for social and environmental justice, and regularly takes to her social media accounts to promote sustainability as well as to denounce corruption and rainforest deforestation. She also publicly opposes Brazil’s nuclear program and advocates for the redistribution of nuclear energy funds towards solar and wind power.
In a tweet from October 16, Marina demonstrated to remain readily involved in Brazilian politics, albeit from the sidelines, urging Brazilians to “clean up the terrain of politics, clear the way for the future, and preserve [Brazilian] democracy.” Will the Amazon native run for President for a fourth time?
Sources: https://www.goldmanprize.org/blog/marina-silva-discusses-the-future-of-sustainable-development/, https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/marina-silva/, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-21487993, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Silva, https://marinasilva.org.br/biografia/.