Marina Silva: Bolsonaro has turned Brazil into an environmental pariah

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Sep 22 (EFE).- A Brazilian former senator and environment minister, three-time presidential candidate and icon of Amazon conservation efforts, Marina Silva now is seeking a seat in the lower house of Congress to help combat the legacy of incumbent head of state Jair Bolsonaro, whom she accuses of turning the country into an “environmental pariah.”

A native of Breu Velho, a small village in the westernmost state of Acre, which borders Bolivia and Peru, Silva’s life has been closely tied to the Amazon rainforest.

She grew up among rubber plantations and began her political struggle as a colleague of rubber tapper, trade union leader and environmentalist Chico Mendes, who was slain by a rancher in 1988.

More than three decades after Mendes’ death, the 64-year-old founder of the Sustainability Network, an environmentalist party, said in an interview with Efe that the growing violence against rainforest defenders is “frightening.”

Recent examples include the June killings of indigenist Bruno Araujo Pereira and British journalist and longtime The Guardian contributor Dom Phillips in a remote area of the Amazon, a double murder attributed to illegal fishermen.

“The continuous nature of this violence is frightening. People say we’re taking a step backward, but in Bolsonaro’s case it’s not a step back, it’s a regression. This regression is costing us dearly, not only in terms of protection for the environment and for environmental activists, but also (the impact on) society as a whole, including agribusiness itself,” she said.

Bolsonaro has dismantled Brazil’s socio-environmental policy and put the country’s democracy at risk, according to Silva.

She said the danger of a potential second term for the retired military officer led her to reconcile politically earlier this month with former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the clear front-runner ahead of the Oct. 2 first round of balloting with 47 percent of voter preference, compared to Bolsonaro’s 31 percent.

Silva, who is unrelated to the ex-head of state, served for more than five years as environment minister under Lula before resigning in 2008 amid squabbles with pro-development members of his administration.

“That (reconciliation) move … was necessary for democracy, the protection of the environment, indigenous peoples, the Amazon, human rights, as well as to combat the immense injustices we’re experiencing,” she said.

Her endorsement of Lula’s candidacy is seen as important, among other reasons, because she is a Pentecostal Christian and could help chip away at Bolsonaro’s strong support among evangelical voters.

“A lot of people are uncomfortable with the use of God’s name in vain, the way Bolsonaro … uses faith to disseminate hate, violence. None of that has to do with Christianity,” said Silva, who carries a Bible with her at all times and frequently quotes Scripture in her speeches.

The candidate for a lower-house seat representing the southeastern state of Sao Paulo said she is leaving the door open to a possible return to the Cabinet but refused to say how she would respond if asked by Lula to serve as environment minister a second time.

“Brazil cannot afford four more years of Bolsonaro … (Lula’s) government will not be just a party or a group of parties. It will be a government of people who want to help rebuild the country,” Silva said. “Regardless of who is (environment) minister, I presented a set of (environmental) proposals to Lula and he publicly pledged his support for them.” EFE


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