Brazil’s financial sector gets behind presidential hopeful Marina Silva

But agribusiness remains wary of candidate who views environmental issues “like a religion”

Carla Jiménez
Marina Silva on the campaign trail last week.
Marina Silva on the campaign trail last week.P. C. (EFE)

With surveys showing growing support for presidential contender Marina Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), the financial world is beginning to embrace the outspoken environmentalist as one of their own.

“Marina is our very own Obama,” says Tony Volpon, head of emerging-market research at the consulting firm Nomura Securities. “She is consolidating herself as a safe, reliable agent for change.”

The comparison with the US president makes reference to his election in 2008, when Americans were looking for a new leader amid the financial crisis. Ever since she became the official PSB candidate, Silva has made it clear that she will respect the pledges made by her predecessor, Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash on August 13 in the midst of campaigning.

All she needs to do to win the election is to avoid tripping up or doing something stupid” Tony Volpon, Nomura Securities

Meanwhile, Silva’s aides have been sending out reassuring messages regarding her own plans. One of these aides, the economist Eduardo Gianetti, told the Folha de São Paulo that Silva’s team will reintroduce the macroeconomic trio of floating exchange rate for the real, inflation goals and fiscal discipline that former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso promoted and another former leader, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, eliminated.

Statements like this one satisfy the markets’ thirst for predictability, and have managed to attract economists and investors to Silva’s cause even as she continues to gather momentum among politically disaffected youths and undecided voters.

In fact, the clearer the message that public spending will be contained and inflation reined in, the more supportive the financial sector becomes. That is why the markets also look favorably upon the social-democrat Aécio Neves, of the PSDB, says Zeina Latif, an economist at XP Investments. This candidate “has a more well-defined team, he already knows who his ministers are going to be.”

Neves has publicly stated that if elected, he will hand the finance portfolio to Armínio Fraga, who presided the Central Bank under Henrique Cardoso.

An informal survey among business leaders conducted by the newspaper Valor Econômico showed nearly 70-percent support for Neves, followed by 14 percent for current president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party, and 12 percent for Silva. The business sector is less supportive of Marina Silva because she has yet to explain how she will handle sensitive issues such as international trade agreements and incentives for investment in long-term projects.

Silva’s aides have been sending out reassuring messages regarding her economic plans

Some analysts are certain that the next voter intention survey, due to be released next weekend, will show Silva beating out the incumbent. Meanwhile, the market is beginning to toy with the idea of a Silva victory.

“All she needs to do to win the election is to avoid tripping up or doing something stupid,” said Volpon of Nomura Securities. “It is hard to find someone who does not believe in Marina’s victory.”

But Elizabeth Johnson, research director for Brazil at the British consulting firm Trusted Sources, would rather exercise caution.

“It is still very early to talk about the defeat of President Dilma Rousseff. Despite all the economic issues, she manages to provide answers,” she said.

Meanwhile, agribusinesses is divided over the socialist candidate. Roberto Rodrigues, a former agriculture minister under Lula who worked with Marina Silva when she was environment minister, said he had faith that she would respect her predecessor’s pledges to the agriculture industry. “We had many confrontations while we were working together, but in the end we always came to an agreement. And these days she is more open than she used to be.”

But Senator Kátia Abreu, a spokeswoman for agribusiness, recently told Época magazine that Marina Silva views environmental issues “like a dogma, like a religion,” and that she “refuses to talk and open her mind to other situations that society is demanding.”

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