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Brazil’s ‘Obama’ weighs presidential bid

Marina Silva, the charismatic rubber tapper who went on to become senator and Environment Minister, is weighing a presidential bid in Brazil’s 2010 election, according to multiple reports. Political observers say that while her chances are long, Silva’s entrance and focus on the environment could spur interest among Brazilians disenchanted by the Workers’ Party, the dominant part which has been tarnished lately by corruption scandals.

“Marina excites young people, those who are disenchanted with the current situation [and] with the Workers’ Party… in such a way that she could create a spontaneous and contagious movement within society… as innovative as that which occurred in the US with Obama,” wrote Zuenir Ventura, an influential columnist with O Globo.

Silva cleared the way for a potential bid today by resigning form the Workers’ Party. She had been a member for three decades. In her resignation letter, Silva said she hoped to move away from the “growth at any cost” model that carries produces “huge gains for a few and perverse results for the majority” including “the destruction of natural resources,” according to The Guardian.

Sergio Abranches, a Brazilian journalist who focuses on politics and environmental issues, says her entrance into the presidential race “has the power to radically alter the competitive structure of the game,” possibly attracting “one to three left-leaning mid-sized parties to her coalition.”

But Silva faces formidable challenges. She is reviled by business interests for her efforts to limit development in the Amazon rainforest and will be disadvantaged by the political weakness of her new party, the Green Party. Further she’ll lack the financial backing that other leading candidates are likely to enjoy.

Abranches writes that Silva will need to design “a political discourse that transcends environmentalism and widens her appeal, with a special eye on wage-earners, worried with their incomes and job… and business groups wary of her “leftism.”

Silva nevertheless has a strong political resume. Growing up in one of Brazil’s poorest areas, Silva was illiterate until her mid-teens, helping support her family by working as a rubber tapper in the forests of the state of Acre. Silva eventually earned a college degree and became involved politically in the nonviolent rubber trapper movement, which sought to promote sustainable livelihoods for rural Brazilians. Smart and hard-working, Silva rose quickly, becoming Brazil’s youngest female senator in 1994 at the age of 35. In 2004 President Lula chose her as Environment Minister, a position where she clashed with industrial interests and ranchers bent on developing the Amazon. But her enemies, and the challenges they presented, proved too strong for her — she resigned last year, citing conflicts with other ministers who sought new infrastructure projects to facilitate agricultural expansion and energy production in the Amazon.

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