August 19, 2009 / 3:15 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 2-Amazon defender quits party, eyes Brazil election

* Famed Amazon advocate Marina Silva quits Workers’ Party

* Silva says starts talks to join Green Party

* Move seen as first step to presidential run in 2010 (Adds environmentalist’s comment, background)

By Isabel Versiani

BRASILIA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Brazil’s former environment minister, Marina Silva, said on Wednesday she is leaving the ruling Workers’ Party, paving the way for an expected presidential run in the October 2010 election.

Silva, a senator and a famed defender of the Amazon rain forest who quit President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government last year, has been considering an invitation to join the Green Party and run as its presidential candidate.

“I am now in talks with the Green Party in this period of transition,” she told reporters in the capital Brasilia.

Her candidacy may undermine the election chances of Lula’s chosen successor, his chief of staff Dilma Rousseff. Silva could attract a similar base of left-wing and female voters, but most analysts believe the race is still likely to be dominated by Rousseff and Sao Paulo state Governor Jose Serra of the opposition PSDB party. [ID:nN18422654]

Silva, a 51-year-old who is one of Brazil’s millions of evangelical Christians, trailed a distant fifth with 3 percentage points in a survey by polling firm Datafolha released last weekend, which showed Serra in the lead with 37 points and Rousseff in second place with 16. [ID:nN14308983]

Silva stressed that she has not yet decided whether she will run for president, and has said her main objective is to put the environment on the election agenda.

The Green Party, long a fringe party in Brazil with little clout, was preparing a ceremony for Aug. 30 in Sao Paulo to welcome Silva, it said on its Web site.

“For the first time in Brazil, we will have a real debate about sustainable development,” said Jose Maria Cardoso da Silva, vice-president of Conservation International in South America.

RUBBER TAPPER TURNED ACTIVIST

Latin America’s biggest economy is a world leader in sustainable energy sources such as ethanol, but has been criticized for years for failing to protect the world’s largest rain forest from destruction by farmers, ranchers and loggers.

During her five years as environment minister, Silva struggled to push sustainable development, arguing that the Amazon could be preserved and produce income for its impoverished inhabitants through industries such as rubber-tapping.

Polls show voters in Brazil, home to most of the Amazon forest, care more about jobs and crime than the environment.

Still, Silva’s candidacy and that of others on the left could chip away at Rousseff’s votes in the first round of the election and give Serra a slight chance of winning an absolute majority, negating the need for a run-off vote. [ID:nN14306777]

Silva, who was raised in a poor rubber tapper’s family in the remote Amazon state of Acre and went on to become an environmental activist, was one of the fresh faces who marked a break from Brazil’s conservative past when she was appointed environment minister in Lula’s first cabinet in 2003.

But she became increasingly isolated inside Lula’s team for opposing government plans for infrastructure and agriculture projects in the Amazon. She also opposed its positions on genetically modified crops and nuclear power.

She quit in May 2008 after Lula, who has generally favored development over conservation, rebuffed her and named another minister to oversee a government development plan in the Amazon.

Reporting by Fernando Exman and Isabel Versiani; additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; editing by Todd Benson and Phil Stewart

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