World Environment News

NEWSMAKER - Former maid could be new savior for Amazon

Date: 16-Dec-02
Country: BRAZIL
Author: Axel Bugge

Born in a rubber tapping area in the Amazon state of Acre, 44-year-old
Silva has dedicated much of her professional life to defending the
forests, stressing the need for coexistence between local communities
and the environment.

"The state has to be prepared to accept both the criticisms and
contributions by society" in environmental policy, Silva told Reuters
in an interview. "The challenge is sustainable development."

Roberto Messias Franco, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in
Brazil, commented: "Marina Silva personifies that protection of the
environment and development are not opposed, but rather that they
complement each other."

The Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest and home to up to 30
percent of the world's plant and animal life, covers an area larger
than all of western Europe. Fires and logging destroy an area about
half the size of Belgium each year.

Silva was named this week by Workers' Party President-elect Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva to head the environment ministry under Brazil's
first elected government from a leftist party.

Silva will take office on Jan. 1 with the new government.


Her first job was as a maid in Acre.

But she soon began working with activist Chico Mendes, whose killing
in 1988 made him a martyr in the fight to save the Amazon. Mendes had
championed the rights of Acre's rubber tappers and defended the
forests that provided their livelihood.

She became Brazil's youngest senator at 36 when she was elected for
the Workers' Party in 1994.

While many, especially foreign, environmentalists want the Amazon to
remain virgin and untouched, minister Silva's plans will focus on
local communities being able to live off the forests and also protect

Poverty and the incentive of quick riches has been the main cause of
Amazon destruction.

Acre state, under Workers' Party Gov. Jorge Viana, has set the trend
in recent years, using special land zoning for protecting biodiversity
and extracting wood with strict certification. Acre has received aid
from the World Bank to develop such plans.

"We have to avoid aggressive deforestation," said Silva. "We have to
invest to avoid abuses, but we have to have the instruments to allow
for other investments."

Environmental groups welcomed Silva, primarily because of her belief
that the destruction of nature is one of the reasons that the fringes
of Brazil's large cities are inundated with poor rural immigrants who
have no jobs.

Environmentalists have criticized Brazil's outgoing government for not
taking the environment into consideration on major public works, like
power stations.

But Silva promised that: "All my forces will be spent on changing
things. Environmental policies will be part of the entire government."

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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