“To see families that lived in the forest in dignity; in the favelas, in terrible poverty— that was a great motivation to become involved in political work, in social movements.”
One of my memorable moments at The World Social Forum in Porto Alegro, Brazil was seeing and hearing a small frail woman take the stage and capture the hearts of the audience when she spoke. Marina Silva was then the Senator from the Amazon in Brazil´s national government and was passionate about protecting the people and the ecology of her home.
Silva was the daughter of a poor rubber tapper on a rich plantation. She was employed as a maid by rich people — she was an illiterate teenager. But she learned to read & write and went to university, then became an activist and politician.
For many years she worked with rainforest activist Chico Mendes, who was murdered nearly 20 years ago. She led many campaigns to save the rain forest at a time when logging and clear cutting the Amazon was rampant. Those who opposed this destruction were in constant danger of assault and assassination by powerful paramilitary forces of the wealthy elites. Marina was in the forefront of these struggles and became an international representative of the ecology movement of workers, peasants, scientists and activists.
This small book is a very useful one of a series on ´Women Changing the World.´ It is intended for high school students, but It gives an excellent background to Brazil, its culture and geography and places the difficult life of Silva in context. It has a chronology of Silva´s life with all the important events listed. I remember her saying, was that she had problems talking and expressing herself because of a neurological disorder caused by mercury poisoning. But after treatment she continued her work. Hildebrandt tells the story of a determined girl, wanting education and then considering entering a convent. But she chose a life in this world. “Months before I was to be initiated as a nun, I told them that I wasn´t going to become a nun anymore. I had acquired a strong sense of justice.”
The books well organized and illustrated; it explains Portuguese terms used, the political background of the environmental struggles and the obstacles this brave woman had to face. Her marriage ended and she had to allow her mother and aunt to care for her children. She believed that by working to save the Amazon she was working for all children. She carried her convictions into politics and became one of them most beloved politicians in Brazil. She understood the effect of international structures and was active in campaigns against the WTO´s policies. The book is the story of one remarkable woman; it is also a primer on Brazil.
After this book was written, Lula da Silva appointed her Environment Minister in 2002; she had great hopes of her ability to protect the Amazon rainforest. She resigned her post in 2008 citing difficulties she had faced “for some time” in implementing the government´s environmental agenda. She opposed the use of GMOs and plans for a nuclear power plant, both promoted by President da Silva who seems to be more interested in economics than ecology. Although many mourn her resignation, Silva will surely find other ways of continuing her life´s work in the Amazon.