Environmentalist and Brazilian politician
Marina Silva, born in 1958, was the first rubber tapper and youngest female ever elected to Brazil’s Federal Senate, in 1994. Silva was Minister of Environment of Brazil from 2003 to 2008 and the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate for the 2014 election.
Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima grew up as one of twelve siblings in a poor rubber tapper family in the state of Acre, in Western Brazil. When she was 16 years old, she was sent to Rio Branco for medical treatment. She was illiterate and had a dream of studying and becoming a nun.
She worked as a maid, learned to read, was enrolled at a public school, stood for exams and started history studies. Along the way she was inspired by liberation theology and the ideas of the environmental activist Chico Mendes. She became politically active, and an ardent proponent of negotiation, non-violence, and innovative solutions. She saw many of her fellow activists murdered.
As a native Amazonian and a Senator, she built support for environmental protection of the reserves as well as for social justice and sustainable development in the Amazon region. While serving as Minister of Environment, she took drastic measures to protect the Amazon forest, clamping down on illegal activity, and managed to reduce deforestation by almost 60 per cent from 2004 to 2007.
The United Nations Environment Programme named Marina Silva one of the Champions of the Earth in 2007 and The Guardian also recognized her that year as one of the fifty people who could help save the planet. In 2008, Prince Philip awarded the Duke of Edinburgh medal to Marina Silva for her work defending the Brazilian Amazon.
In 2008, Silva resigned as Minister of the Environment, citing “the increasing resistance in central parts of government and the society.” Silva continued her struggle from her place in the National Assembly and still has great influence on environmental policy in Brazil. In 2009, Silva left the Workers’ Party for the Green Party, ran in the 2010 Brazilian elections, earning about 20% of the popular vote.
Since 2011, along with former Minister of Health of Mexico Julio Frenk, Marina represents Latin America in the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group that aims to harness political will and mobilize on the global scale for the sake of the poor and vulnerable. As recognition of her work for the environment and sustainable development, Marina was chosen to carry the Olympic Flag at the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in summer 2012 in London along with Ban Ki-moon, Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim and Nobel Prize winners.
In 2014 Eduardo Campos named Marina Silva as his vice presidential candidate for the 2014 presidential elections. After his death in a plane crash during the campaign, Silva was selected to run as the candidate for the Socialist Party and won more than 20% of the vote. Marina established the nonprofit sustainable development education and advocacy center, The Marina Silva Institute.