Almost out of time: an interview with Marina Silva

The Economist, 09/30/2013

MARINA SILVA was born into a family of rubber-tappers in Acre, a state in Brazil’s Amazon region. She survived hunger, severe illnesses and hard childhood labour to become one of the founders of the movement of environmentalists and activists for workers’ rights. In the 1970s and 1980s they organised the opposition to the big landowners who kept rubber-tappers in indentured servitude and cleared rainforest for large-scale ranching. Since being elected a senator for Acre in 1994 she has ploughed on in Brazilian politics, acting as environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, before stepping down in protest at pressure to weaken environmental laws, and then leaving the president’s Workers Party (PT) altogether.

As the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2010 Ms Silva received 19.6m votes, putting her in third place. Recent opinion polls have found 16-22% support for her as a candidate in next year’s presidential elections, even though she is currently without a political party. That puts her second in the running behind the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff of the PT.

Since 2011 Ms Silva has been working to set up a new party, Rede Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network). Brazil’s electoral laws require Rede to collect 492,000 signatures backing its formation and have them authenticated by notaries before it can be registered. Unless this is done by October 5th—exactly a year before the next elections—the party will not be eligible to field candidates, putting Ms Silva’s political future in doubt. Though it has managed to collect more than 900,000 signatures, only 450,000 had been authenticated by September 27th, when The Economist’s São Paulo bureau chief spoke to Ms Silva in her private office in Brasília about Rede’s programme for government—and its race against the clock. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

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