Brazil Environment Chief a Former Rubbertapper

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2002 (ENS) - Environmentalists were pleased today by the selection of Senator Marina Silva to head Brazil's Ministry of Environment in the Workers Party government of President-elect Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

The President-elect announced his selection of the popular senator at a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington after meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House. Lula, the first elected leftist leader in Brazil, said Senator Silva would give Amazon environmental issues "a special treatment."

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Senator Marina Silva (Photo courtesy PT)
Interviewed today on Globo TV in Brazil, Senator Silva defended international financial contributions for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest but with the guarantee of the Brazilian sovereignty.

"It is a necessary contribution because we have the richest region of the world," she said, "the biggest water reserve of the planet." In a modern world view, this cannot be the responsibility only of the countries that share the Amazon, she said.

Senator Silva, who represents the Workers' Party in the state of Acre, was born in the Brazilian Amazon, and spent her childhood making rubber, hunting and fishing to help support the family. After earning a university degree, she went on to found the independent trade union movement in Acre with rubber tapper leader Chico Mendes.

In the 1980s, she and Mendes created the "empates," peaceful demonstrations by forest dwelling rubber tappers against deforestation and the expulsion of forest communities from their traditional holdings. This movement also led to the establishment of sustainable extractive reserves in the rainforest. Although Mendes was murdered in 1988, Silva continued to push for creation of the reserves.

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Senator Marina Silva (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Today Acre's sustainable extractive reserves encompass two million hectares (4.94 million acres) of forest managed by the traditional communities that inhabit them.

Beginning in 1988, Silva was elected to the state capital city council, state legislature, and in 1994 became the first rubber tapper ever elected to Brazil's federal Senate. She was reelected to a second term in a landslide victory in October.

In 1996, Senator Silva won the Goldman Environmental Prize for Latin America for her environmental protection of the reserves as well as for social justice and sustainable development in the Amazon region.

Contamination with heavy metals and other health problems have caused her to be hospitalized for lengthy periods, but environmentalists are sure she will be an effective environment minister.

"The selection of Senator Silva is a significant victory for the people of Brazil and the nation's unparalleled environmental treasures," said Environmental Defense International Program co-director Stephan Schwartzman from his office in New York.

v "Brazil has some 20 percent of all of the species of plants and animals on the Earth, 20 percent of the world's fresh water, and a tropical forest half the size of the United States," said Schwartzman. "For Brazil to have an environment minister of the stature and ability of Marina Silva is the best news of the 21st century for South America's rainforests."