Marina Silva named Brazil’s socialist presidential candidate

Former candidate Eduardo Campos killed in plane crash last week

Marina Silva, a conservationist and former environment minister, has been named the socialist candidate for the upcoming Brazilian presidential elections. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Marina Silva, a conservationist and former environment minister, has been named the socialist candidate for the upcoming Brazilian presidential elections. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 14:11

The mixed-race daughter of a poor, illiterate family of Amazonian rubber tappers has been chosen as a Brazilian presidential candidate.

Marina Silva, a conservationist and former environment minister, met with members of the Brazilian Socialist party (PSB) in Brasilia who officially approved her as the new candidate. Polls suggest she has the popular support to challenge the president, Dilma Rousseff.

Ms Silva, until now a vice-presidential candidate for the PSB, accepted its nomination to top the ticket after candidate Eduardo Campos, a former governor and rising political star, was killed in a plane crash last week.

Ms Silva pledged to build a more prosperous Brazil and slammed the performance of incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, who has overseen four years of lackluster growth and high inflation in a previously booming economy.

“We know that our country needs investments and they will come when there is a new government that has credibility among investors,” she said at a news conference.

Ms Silva reaffirmed her commitment to fiscal responsibility, inflation targeting and a floating exchange rate, the so-called “tripod” of economic policies that gave Brazil stability after a period of rampant inflation and erratic growth in the 1990s.

Viewed as an outsider with no links to traditional elites, Ms Silva is a former environment minister whose ironclad environmental and religious beliefs prompt critics to call her inflexible but supporters to praise her as Brazil’s most principled politician.

Ms Silva, a rubber tapper in her youth who was illiterate until adolescence, appeals mostly to young voters disgusted with Brazil’s political establishment.

But she is also embraced by Brazil’s large evangelical Christian community and has proven, in a 2010 bid for the presidency with the Green Party, to be an attractive candidate for independent voters seeking an alternative to the Workers’ Party and its main opposition, the business-friendly Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).

Still, Silva’s prospects could fade when the emotional impact of Campos’s death subsides and the two much-bigger parties begin heavy campaign spending.

Last Wednesday, Silva was the vice-presidential running mate of Campos, a rising political star from the north-east who was in third place with just under 10 per cent of the vote. The two of them planned to fly together from interviews in Rio de Janeiro to a campaign stop in São Paulo. However, Silva had a last-minute change of schedule and was not on the Cessna jet when it crashed into the residential neighbourhood of Santos, killing everyone on board.

The cause of the accident is still being investigated. According to the Brazilian air force, the black box on board the plane did not record the flight details. There has been no suggestion of sabotage. Pilot error and bad weather are thought most likely to blame.

The crash triggered a nationwide wave of mourning for Campos, who was a popular and effective governor of Pernambuco state. About 100,000 people crammed into the centre of the capital, Recife to see his coffin and watch a commemorative mass on Sunday. Among them were Ms Rousseff and the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, but the focus of political attention was on Ms Silva.

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Marina Silva, a 56-year-old pioneer of Brazil’s environmental movement, entered politics to fight for Amazon conservation. Once a member of the Workers’ Party, which embraced environmental causes before assuming a developmentalist tack once it came into power, Ms Silva served as environment minister during the administration of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

As minister Ms Silva clashed with other officials, including Ms Rousseff, over the licensing of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, ultimately leading her to resign. As a Workers’ Party opponent in 2010, she reaped a stronger-than-expected 19 percent of the vote.

For this candidacy to succeed, Silva must broaden her base and draw funding from sectors of Brazilian society, particularly the business segment, long wary of her views.

Among other pledges, Silva would ensure autonomy of the central bank and streamline a government budget long criticized as wasteful by investors and Brazil’s business community.

A clear sign that Silva was now in charge of the PSB ticket was an announcement that campaign contributions will no longer be accepted from companies that make fertilizers, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and guns.

(Reporting from PA and the Guardian)