Renowned rain forest defender Marina Silva resigned as Brazil’s environment minister on Tuesday, saying she was unable to protect the Amazon because she lacked political support to do her job.
Silva did not specify the nature of the political support she lacked, and did not blame her boss, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, according to excerpts of her resignation letter published by the government’s official Agencia Brasil news service.
Marina Silva said she was stepping down because of “the difficulties I have been facing to pursue the federal environmental agenda,” Agencia Brasil said.
She said she would leave office and go back to her post in the Senate to rebuild political support and push for Brazilian environmental causes.
The president’s appointment of Marina Silva after he was elected in 2002 brought a universally renowned environmental star into his Cabinet.
But her resignation ended a stormy six-year term during which she often clashed with Brazilian interests lobbying for development in the Amazon rain forest.
It also left environmentalists lamenting that they had lost their biggest ally in the fight against rampant deforestation of the world’s largest standing forest, known as the “Lungs of the World.”
“Brazil is losing the only voice in the government that spoke out for the environment,” said Sergio Leitao, director of public policy for Greenpeace in Brazil. “The minister is leaving because the pressure on her for taking the measures she took against deforestation has become unbearable.”
Lula picked Carlos Minc, Rio de Janeiro state’s environment secretary, to be the new environment minister, Agencia Brasil said.
Marina Silva was a colleague of Brazil’s most renowned rain forest activist, Chico Mendes, who was shot to death in 1988 in the western Amazon state of Acre.
She had earned a reputation for defying developers and setting stringent conditions for logging permits and environmental licenses.
Her positions antagonized pro-development ministers within the current government as they sought to boost Brazil’s economic growth — mainly with agricultural commodities often cultivated in cleared jungle.
Speculation arose that Lula wanted to fire her but feared she would gain martyr status as an environmentalist.
Lula’s office did not immediately comment on the resignation.
Denise Hamu, secretary-general of the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Brazil, said Marina Silva tried unsuccessfully to coordinate environmental defense with health and transportation.
The tipping point for the resignation, Hamu said, was the government’s decision to give priority to a multibillion-dollar development plan and put the Ministry of Cities in charge of a little-defined plan to promote sustainable growth in the Amazon.
“The environmental area was relegated to no priority. She got tired of the thankless struggle,” Hamu said. “It’s a tremendous loss for Brazil, at home and abroad.”