Brazil Amazon defender weighing presidential bid

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A former Brazilian environment minister who won fame as a staunch defender of the Amazon rain forest is considering running for the country’s presidency next year as the Green Party candidate, her office said on Wednesday.

Brazil's former Environment Minister and Senator Marina Silva speaks during a press conference to explain her resignation from Environment Minister in Brasilia May 15, 2008. REUTERS/Roberto Jayme

Marina Silva’s candidacy would ensure that environmental issues get a high profile in the campaign and could also hold risks for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is backing his chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, for the top job.

Silva, who has been a senator for Lula’s Workers’ Party since she resigned as environment minister last year, could attract votes from the left and from women, making it more difficult for Rousseff, also a woman, to win.

Silva, who was raised in a poor rubber tapper’s family in the Amazon forest before becoming an environment activist, said in O Globo newspaper on Wednesday that she was considering an invitation to join the Brazilian Green Party.

Media reports said the Green Party wants Silva to contest the presidency in the October 2010 elections in which the popular Lula is constitutionally barred from running for a third straight term.

A spokeswoman for Silva in Brasilia confirmed to Reuters that the senator was considering the offer from the Green Party but had not reached any decision yet.

The former union 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.

But she became increasingly isolated inside Lula’s team over issues ranging from the government’s support for biofuels to genetically modified crops and nuclear power.

She finally 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.

Despite Lula’s high approval ratings, likely opposition candidate and Sao Paulo Gov. Jose Serra leads Rousseff by a wide margin in early opinion polls ahead of the 2010 election.

Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; editing by Cynthia Osterman