Amazon Finds a Hero in Presidential Hopeful, Marina Silva
The rainforests of the Amazon are in danger. Countries throughout South America are prioritizing other resources (minerals, agricultural land, etc.) above the health of this critically important global ecosystem. But one heroine has risen in Brazil to defend the Amazon.
Similar to Joan of Arc, the young, French peasant girl whose visions inspired her to defend her country, Brazil’s Marina Silva emerged from the peasant class of her country. The daughter of rubber-tappers, she too began life close to the land and in the process witnessed first-hand the destruction of the Amazonian forests.
Both Joan and Silva were steeped in Catholicism at a young age; although Silva ultimately became an unapologetic evangelical Christian. And both crusading women met with surprising initial success, Joan on the battlefield and Silva as the first rubber-tapper ever elected to Brazil’s federal senate. During her term in the senate, Silva established an integrated government policy that fostered sustainable development by implementing territorial zoning and officially recognizing the value of standing forests.
Like Joan riding fearlessly to the court of Charles VII and receiving his blessing, in 2003 Silva accepted the position of Environment Minister under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, beginning a courageous battle to balance economic interests with preservation of the tropical rainforest. Deforestation decreased by 59% from 2004 to 2007, which Silva contended was proof that, “when there is integrated planning and effort, it is truly possible to change the picture.”
Despite her triumphs, Joan of Arc’s people turned away from her and entered into a doomed truce with the English. Likewise, when Silva turned her focus to hydroelectric dams, biofuels (production of which promoted deforestation), and genetically modified crops, her reluctance to “play ball” effectively with the political establishment left her increasingly isolated within her own government. The president appointed a new minister for coordinating an “Amazon sustainable development initiative” — clearly a slap to Silva.
Resigning her post in 2008, she cited “the growing resistance found by our team in important sectors of the government and society” as the reason. Speaking of her resignation, Sérgio Leitão, the director of public policy for Greenpeace in Brazil, lamented, “It’s time to start praying [for the rainforest].”
Nevertheless, Silva soldiered on, running for president on the Green Party ticket in 2010 and gaining a surprising one third of the vote. While attempts to establish her own Sustainability Network party failed, her popular support led to a vice-presidential offer at the side of Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist Party earlier this year. When Campos was killed in a plane crash in August, Marina became that party’s presidential candidate despite the fact that, unwilling to compromise her religious principles, she has rejected the party’s official positions supporting abortion and same-sex marriage.
When the Hundred Years’ War finally ended, the Pope authorized a retrial of Joan of Arc, whose original trial and condemnation had been accomplished through blatant disregard of canon law. The Inquisitor-General’s final summary of this reinvestigation described Joan as a martyr, an innocent woman convicted in pursuit of a secular vendetta.
Silva, the daughter of illiterate, desperately poor rubber tappers and the former Environment Minister driven from office, is now favored to become the President of Brazil. Her popular support is even more surprising in the face of the opposition’s political machine, which through a network of coalition parties, commands over five times the allotted television advertising of her Brazilian Socialist Party.
Will Silva be granted the ultimate vindication of election as president, as Joan was elected to sainthood? Only time will tell, but surely, in her passion and resiliency, one finds echoes of the French heroine.
“Although I would rather have remained spinning [wool] at my mother’s side… yet must I go and must I do this thing, for my Lord wills that I do so.” – Joan of Arc
“I see politics as service. This service could be as president, it could be as a teacher, a senator, a government minister, a citizen.” – Marina Silva
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