Marina Silva, Amazon activist, is President-elect Lula’s choice for Brazil’s new minister of environment.

Marina Silva grew up in the Amazon, working as child labor on a rubber plantation. As an adult, she has worked hard to undo the damage of the kind of farming she experienced all her life. Serving as environment minister during Lula’s first presidency from 2003 until 2008, she helped create dozens of conservation areas, protocols to prevent deforestation, and international efforts to preserve the rainforest like the Amazon Fund.

She then had to see all of her work undone under President Bolsonaro, who pushed hard for development in the Amazon and never replaced his own environment minister after the official resigned under investigation of aiding timber smuggling.

Despite having fallen out with Lula in 2008 over his prioritizing farming over forest protections, Silva presented a united front with him in 2022 at the U.N. climate conference in Egypt. Together, the two committed Brazil to prosecuting all environmental crimes in the Amazon, mostly illegal logging, mining, and slavery. Most of that work will fall to the environment minister.

Marina Silva is popular internationally for her hard pro-conservation status, but not within Brazil, where agribusiness and the farm caucus hold a great deal of political power. But some are cautiously optimistic, like agribusiness caucus member Neri Geller.

“At the time, Marina Silva was perhaps a little too extremist, but people from the agro sector also had some extremists,” he said, citing a strengthened legal framework around environmental protection as well. “I think she matured and we matured. We can make progress on important agenda items for the sector while preserving (the environment) at the same time.”

Many in Brazil appreciate that Silva comes from a party which has been a fierce critic of Lula and his Workers’ Party, believing she will be a balancing force in the new government.

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