BRASILIA (Reuters) - Former rubber tapper turned environmentalist Marina Silva joined Brazil’s presidential race as candidate for the small Green Party on Sunday, pledging clean government and sustainable development.
The soft-spoken former environment minister trails the two front-running candidates by a wide margin and most analysts say her chances of winning the presidency in October are slim.
But as a world-renowned champion of the Amazon, she is likely to get the limelight she seeks to push the environment higher up on the campaign agenda.
At a party convention on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Silva on Sunday pledged to promote sustainable economic development and to combat social injustice and corruption.
“We already have many of the technical answers for food, education and housing problems — what’s missing is an ethical commitment,” the 52-year-old Silva said.
Proposing bicycle paths, water treatment plants and greener farming technologies, Silva said she was as motivated as she was several decades ago when she worked alongside legendary environmental activist Chico Mendes.
Silva, who stepped down as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s environment minister in May 2008, pledged to maintain economic policies that have given Brazil economic growth and stability in recent years, such as inflation control, a floating currency and fiscal discipline to reduce public debt.
Poverty eradication and investments in social welfare were only possible with economic stability and inflation control, she said, announcing that her vice-presidential running mate will be wealthy businessman Guilherme Leal, owner of the big cosmetics company Natura.
“We won’t embark on any adventures” in economic policy, she was quoted saying in O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper interview on Sunday.
She also proposed a constituent assembly to help Brazil overcome “paralysis” on issues such tax and pension reforms.
Born into a family of rubber tappers, Silva only learned to read and write when she was 16 years old and worked as a maid to pay the bills.
Currently a senator for the northwestern Amazon state Acre, Silva has only 8-12 percent of voter support in opinion polls. That is 25-30 points behind former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra of the centrist PSDB party and Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Rousseff has been closing the gap with Serra and passed him in one poll. Many analysts consider her the favorite as she has the support of the hugely popular Lula, who hand-picked her.
Silva had became increasingly isolated inside Lula’s team over issues ranging from the government’s support for biofuels to genetically modified crops and nuclear power.
The Green Party, long a fringe party in Brazil with little clout, made headlines in 2008 when its candidate, Deputy Fernando Gabeira, nearly won the mayorship of Rio de Janeiro.
Still, the Green party lacks financial muscle to compete with Serra’s and Rousseff’s alliances of larger parties.
“It will be difficult for Silva to boost her current ratings much,” said Ricardo Ribeiro, political analyst for MCM consultancy. “Will she run a single-note campaign on the environment or be competitive on several issues?”
Reporting by Raymond Colitt, editing by Anthony Boadle