September 17, 2014 / 3:38 PM / 5 years ago

Brazil's Silva hits back at rumors, recalls hungry youth

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - In an emotional new television ad, Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva hit back at rumors that she would do away with popular social welfare programs if elected, citing her own youth growing up poor and hungry in the Amazon rainforest.

Presidential candidate Marina Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) talks to the media after a TV debate in the city of Aparecida do Norte September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

The ad, which ran late Tuesday, went viral on social media and could swing some momentum back in Silva’s favor after recent polls showed her support sagging as she battles to unseat leftist President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s Oct. 5 election.

Silva, an environmentalist running on a pro-market platform, lashed out at what she described as Rousseff’s recent negative campaigning and denied that she would halt the popular decade-old “Bolsa Familia” program, which pays a monthly stipend to poor families.

“I know what it’s like to be hungry,” Silva said. “All my mother had (to feed) eight children was an egg and a little bit of flour and salt.”

Choking back tears, Silva recalled how her parents often went more than a day without eating but disguised their hunger so as not to worry their children.

“Whoever lived through that experience will never do away with ‘Bolsa Familia’,” Silva thundered. “That’s not rhetoric. That’s my life.”

The ad was mentioned on the front page of some newspapers on Wednesday and appeared to strike a nerve in a country where more than half of households earn less than $1,000 a month.

Despite her own humble roots, which also saw her work as a maid and learn to read as a teenager, Silva has struggled to win over poorer voters. They tend to prefer Rousseff and her Workers’ Party for their record of reducing poverty and expanding social programs over the past decade.

Silva and Rousseff are likely to face each other in a runoff on Oct. 26. Earlier this month, Silva had a slight lead in such a scenario, but she recently slipped back into a statistical tie with Rousseff after ads highlighted Silva’s connections with bankers and relative lack of political party support.

The latest poll by Datafolha showed Rousseff leading Silva in a runoff by a 51 percent to 39 percent margin among voters making less than about $700 a month. Silva had a strong lead among all other income groups.

Silva’s new ad, filmed during a recent campaign appearance in Brazil’s impoverished northeast, is the most explicit to date about her destitute background and also received praise for being comparable to Rousseff’s high-quality ads.

“Strongest sign so far that (Silva) now has a marketing team that can execute and has funding,” one Twitter user wrote.

One executive based in Sao Paulo wrote via email: “Heard about it on the radio this morning, but had no idea of how powerful it was. I’m crying here in the office.”

Editing by Todd Benson and W Simon

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