Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The "Green" Agenda in Contemporary Brazil: Fact or Fiction?

The October 2010 elections in Brazil revealed the unexpected popularity of Marina Silva, a presidential candidate supported by the small Green Party. Due to the huge size of the country, its deep heterogeneity, the comprehensiveness of the process and the absence of any mandatory linkage between regional and national representatives, the 20 million votes received by Marina Silva as a president candidate did not translate to the Green Party’s overall performance. The Green Party was and is a small party, with a modest number of representatives in the Congress (15/513), without a single senator (0/81) or governor (0/27) elected in this round.

Brazilian campaigns are relatively small and cheap compared to their North American counterparts; partially due to the fact political parties have free time on both television and radio. Nevertheless, the scope and the costs of Brazilian campaigns have been increasing, due to an increasing population (~185 million people) living in a network of over 5,500 municipalities, as well as its increasing professionalization (e.g. involving political advisors, parties’ sponsored polls etc.). Big politics is translated, in Brazil as anywhere else, into rising costs and the need to use nationwide party structures. Half of the expenses of Marina Silva’s campaign were paid by the then vice-president candidate, Guilherme Leal, founder and chairman of Natura, the world’s largest company in the field of organic cosmetics.

Marina Silva’s 20 million votes should be viewed as resulting more from a combination of her personal leadership and the growing power of Brazilian companies committed to sustainable development than to a “green boom”. In the context of a harsh competition between the two major political coalitions (supporting the elected president Dilma Rousseff and her main adversary, Jose Serra), Marina Silva also appeared to be viewed as a new, “third” way.

In the second round of the elections both major coalitions stated they would incorporate the “green agenda” into their own plans. Dilma Rousseff was elected by a large political coalition and it is too early to fully understand the broad agenda to be followed by her presidency. The stage is set for the reemergence of the long-term conflict between the so-called “ruralists” (i.e. large farmers and leaders of agribusiness in Brazil) and the MST, the movement of landless peasants, as well as the conflicts between environmentalists and the supporters of accelerated development at the expenses of environmental degradation. Such conflicts tend to be especially violent in Brazil and it is no coincidence that Marina Silva’s regional leadership (in the state of Acre, in the northwest border of Brazil’s Amazon Rain Forest) is usually viewed as a leadership consolidated after the brutal murder of Chico Mendes, her former mentor and the late leader of the Brazilian rubber taper union (

Brazil ranks nowadays as one of the main forces of agribusiness and the main producer of biofuels (especially sugar cane ethanol), worldwide. The country houses both the largest extensions of pristine forests in the whole world, as well as retaining the unfortunate record of having the fastest pace deforestation rate.
With an expected annual growth of its GDP of 7.5-8% in 2010, Brazil is an emergent partner in the complex and contradictory world agenda on global warming, protection of the environment, and biodiversity.

The world’s environmental agenda remains a big puzzle to be debated in the next rounds of the global diplomacy on the environment and climate changes. There is no consensus either within the US or between the US and its main partners, China and India. Much likely Brazil will have a central role in the global negotiations, depending on its own capacity to establish domestic consensus. Marina Silva is a key term in this global equation.

Global health is closely intertwined with environmental conditions in a broad sense and this interrelationship will undoubtedly become even more entangled in the coming years, with the increase of population, global warming, and scarcity of vital resources such as clean water and non-renewable energy. As a professional working in the field of global health, I see means of sustaining the ‘green agenda’ in Brazil, as globally, both increasingly politically complex and increasingly politically crucial.

Francisco I. Bastos, is a researcher at Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, working with Mailman School faculty to establish a GHI ‘Global Partners Alliance.’ As with all ‘Global Posts’ the views expressed are personal and do not reflect the institutional positions of either FIOCRUZ or Columbia University.