Marina Silva is one of Brazil’s leading political figures and environmentalists. She was minister of environment of Brazil from 2003 to 2008 and was a member of Brazil’s National Assembly from 1994 to 2011.
Silva grew up as one of twelve siblings in a poor rubber tapper family in the province of Acre, in Western Brazil. When she was 16 years old, she contracted Hepatitis and was sent to Rio Branco for treatment. She was illiterate, but with a dream of studying and becoming a nun. She worked as a maid, learned to read, was enrolled at a public school, studied 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.
In 1994, Silva was the first rubber tapper ever elected to Brazil’s Federal Senate. 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. 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 percent from 2004 to 2007.
Another result of Silva’s work is the Amazon Fund, established to prevent greenhouse gas emissions through rainforest conservation. The Fund is financed by national and international contributions. In 2008, Silva resigned as Minister of the Environment, citing “the increasing resistance in central parts of government and the society.”
After resigning, she switched parties to the Green Party and unsuccessfully ran for president first in 2010 and then in 2014. She remains one of the most visible public figures in Brazil.