Meet Brazil's Black Female (Green) Presidential Candidate

Photo of Brazil's Atlantic Forest via Flickr user Dan Bebber
Photo of Brazil's Atlantic Forest via Flickr user Dan Bebber

In good news for both women and environmentalists, the NEW YORK TIMES flags a heartening story from the heart of the Amazon, one with fantastic implications for politics in Brazil and all of South America. Marina Silva has announced that she will be the first black woman to stand for the office of the presidency.

Illiterate and seriously ill from hepatitis, Ms. Silva left her home when she was 16 and headed by bus to the city of Rio Branco seeking medical care and an education. There she learned how to read and write, graduated from college and became a teacher and a politician.

She worked closely with her friend Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper and environmental activist, before he was gunned down in 1988 by ranchers opposed to his activism. When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected Brazil’s president in 2002, he picked Ms. Silva to be his environmental minister, and on her watch Brazil devised a national plan to combat deforestation and created an indigenous reserve roughly the size of Texas.

Last week Ms. Silva shook up Brazilian politics by announcing that, after nearly three decades, she was leaving Mr. da Silva’s Workers’ Party to join the Green Party, where she is likely to be its candidate in next year’s presidential election.


It's worth noting that Silva, whose gender makes her an unlikely leader of the South American nation, isn't some upstart rabblerouser: The once-impoverished activist has become a key ally and powerful supporter of the current (soon to be outgoing) president, who has himself been instrumental in elevating the profile of populous developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (known as BRIC) on the world stage.

Silva framed her pitch for leadership around issues of environmental security and naturalism: “With the opportunity to try to construct this new future for Brazil and for the planet, I prefer to put my hopes in this movement,” she said of her switch to the Green Party. And though she's leaving his political coalition, this underscores her years of partnership with "Lula"—of whom President Barack Obama has called himself "a great admirer." Together, Silva and Da Silva's progressive stance on renewable energy, especially biofuels, has been outstanding.

What's more, the BRIC countries stand to play a pivotal role in the upcoming G20 summit in Pittsburgh later in September. As the summit—suddenly less focused on the richer, western G8—prepares to debate climate change compromises that will have a huge effect on the economies and the health of still-industrializing nations like Brazil, Silva's advocacy for the environment and against the deforestation of Brazil's immense natural rainforests stands out as much as her unusual rise to power.


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.