Marina Silva has become a much-maligned figure of Brazilian politics. Dismissed as a perennial presidential also-ran—having put herself forward for the country’s highest office three times and lost on every attempt—it is easy to forget the vast importance of her contribution to Brazil’s environmental policies, especially during her time as the Environment Minister (2003–2008) under the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Her story is incredible, perhaps going some way toward explaining why the international press has been so fond of her. Born in the rural northern state of Rio Branco, she worked with her father tapping rubber in the rainforest until she was 15, when she was diagnosed with hepatitis. Throughout her teenage years, the young Marina would suffer from a number of health issues picked up in the field, such as mercury poisoning and leishmaniasis.
At 16, she learned to read and write, and then embarked on completing a History degree at the University of Acre. In the mid-1980s, Ms. Silva joined the Workers’ Party and engaged in environmental activism work alongside her colleague and friend, Chico Mendes. In the same year Mr. Mendes was assassinated, she was elected councilor of Rio Branco, eventually making her way to the Senate in 1994—where she became the youngest senator in Brazil’s history up until that point.
She spoke to The Brazilian Report about her legacy, Brazil’s environmental policy, and her frustrated attempts at becoming president. Read the highlights from the interview below.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.