The only black presidential candidate, Marina suffers resistance among Afro-Brazilians

among blacks - Marina

Note from BW of Brazil: With black Brazilians being nearly invisible in Brazil’s sphere’s of power, one would think that the strong possibility of Marina Silva becoming the first black president in the nation’s history would have more feelings of hope and celebration within the Afro-Brazilian community. Well, this is not exactly how is looking for Silva. According to recent numbers, the incumbent president, Dilma Rouseff leads with 37% of the intended vote, while Marina carries 31% and Aécio Neves, 15%. But those same reports last week were predicting that once Aécio Neves dropped out of the race and Silva goes head to head with Rouseff, Silva would claim a victory. A report by Financial Times out today reveals that Silva and Rouseff would be in a tie without Neves in the race. 

Breaking last week’s number down even further, we find that Dilma is the favorite among Catholics (40% to 31%), while Silva claims an edge (43% to 32%) with Evangelicals and a slight edge (32% to 30%) among persons of other religions. In terms of economic class, Dilma leads among Brazil’s poorest (49% to 27% among those earning one minimum salary per month and 38% to 33% among those who earn two minimum salaries), Marina leads among those who earn more than five minimum salaries (37% to 28%) while there is 35% tie between the two women in terms of people who earn between two and five minimum salaries per month.

Current President, Dilma Rouseff and candidate Marina Silva
Current President, Dilma Rouseff and candidate Marina Silva

We also see a sort of rich/poor break down in terms of support by education. For those who have up to a 4th grade education and between 5th and 8th grade, Dilma leads (50% to 25% and 44% to 29%, respectively) while Marina has the support of those who graduated from high school (38% to 33%) and those who graduated from college (37% to 24%). In terms of the racial question, numbers from late August and early September suggest that 40% of the Afro-Brazilian population intends to vote for Dilma versus 28% who intend to vote for Marina. These same reports show that the third candidate, Aécio Neves, would receive about 12% of the black vote, which is exactly the difference between Rouseff and Silva among this segment of the population. This could be a huge factor for either of the eventual two candidates, which will certainly be Silva and Rouseff.

According to research from TSE, PNAD/IBGE, the população negra (black population or the sum of pretos/blacks and pardos/browns) makes up 55% of qualified voters for the 2014 election, the first that this parcel of the population represents the majority. And as the black population represents the larger percentage of poor Brazilians, we can also see how, for the most part, race and class are also intimately linked in the upcoming election. In the past 12 years, under PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers Party) presidents Lula da Silva and Rouseff, the poor and black population made great gains in terms of access to higher education and ascension into the middle classes, which could explain why the black and poor seem to be remaining faithful to the possibility of Dilma’s re-election. This is part of the reason that this election cannot be simply seen as a racial vote with the population that looks more like Marina Silva voting for her based on identity politics. And there are a number of reasons for this.

Marina Silva lags behind incumbent President Dilma Rouseff in terms of black support
Marina Silva lags behind incumbent President Dilma Rouseff in terms of black support

1) Even though racism, racial exclusion and white supremacy continue to reign supreme in Brazil, non-white people see this election, as always, as a chance to support the candidate that will most likely create policies in their interests. And with reputation of the PT connected to the struggle of “the people” (even with its rightward turn in recent years) and 12 years of economic improvement for this population, Dilma remains the favorite. 2) Racial numbers in Brazil can never been seen as absolute and cannot automatically be assumed that persons see themselves as others may seen them. What does it say for identity politics if we take note of a female who physically looks likes Marina Silva but sees defines herself as branca (white)? As there are millions of people in Brazil who would fit this phenotype, it would throw off the entire prediction.

3) In a clear difference in comparison with US President Barack Obama’s carrying of 95% of the African-American vote  in the 2008 election, the dream of actually seeing a black president isn’t as strong a sentiment that could overcome other factors associated with quality of life and social ascension in Brazil. How else can one explain the fact that during his historic run for the presidency in 2008, Obama actually said very little about what he would do to improve the plight of black Americans and yet African-Americans overwhelmingly voted for him anyway. Sure, one would expect that in a country like Brazil in which the power structure is overwhelmingly white that non-whites would vote for someone who looked like them, but also remember that racial identity in Brazil is not as black and white as it is in the US. 4) There is an old saying in Brazil that even blacks don’t for blacks, thus, it is very likely that there are persons of visible African ancestry who would never vote for Marina regardless of how much she spoke to their interests. 

5) Although Marina has identified herself as a black woman, her campaign as not as of yet spoken directly to concerns of black Brazilians, or better, persons of visible African descent. There are several key issues to consider in this issue. First, if she were to speak directly to the “black community” how many people would that actually be, as the vast majority of persons of visible African ancestry don’t actually define themselves as negro/negra/black. Second, it is apparent that Marina, as any other candidate, must represent the wishes of the big money interests that are backing her. This clearly doesn’t apply to non-whites as they don’t represent big money, business interest nor political power. Although white supremacy is clearly visible in Brazil, because of a different history with less open racial conflict (despite the strong presence of racism/white supremacy), aspirations simply aren’t as tied directly to race in Brazil as they are in US. In fact, rather than seeing Marina as a female Obama, one could argue that in this election, President Rouseff may represent a figure closer to someone like a US President Lyndon Johnson in the minds of non-white Brazilians: a white political figure who is deemed to be in solidarity with an excluded parcel of the population is search of social ascension. And judging from the plight of African-Americans under nearly six years of the first black president, maybe it would be a good idea for Afro-Brazilians to analyze these candidates beyond the perspective of race. 

The only black presidential candidate, Marina suffers resistance among afrodescendentes (African descendants)

Activists and researchers of the black movement say that Marina has no ties to militancy

Marina is viewed with “suspicion” by blacks, academics, social organizations and activists. The more backward evangelical leaders of Brazil, like Malafaia and Feliciano, support her with force

by Ricardo Senra


“Brazilian nata, born in Rio Branco, Acre, on February 8, 1958, female, color/race preta (black) (1),” says the document from the Superior Electoral Court that formalizes Marina Silva’s candidacy for president.

In 2010, when she ran for the Planalto (quarters of Brazilian president) (2) for the first time, Marina said she wanted to be “the first black woman, from a poor background, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil.” Four years later, it appears, according to IBOPE, in the leader among intentions of white voters, but behind Dilma Rousseff among blacks and mulatos.

Despite being the only one of the three leading candidates to devote an entire chapter of her government program for the black population, the former senator is not perceived as a representative of that portion of the electorate.

Evangelical, daughter of mestiça (mixed race) mother and black father, Marina is analyzed with suspicion by academics, research institutes, social organizations and activists interviewed by BBC Brasil.

The most frequent criticisms question the candidate’s stance on issues important to black militancy. Freedom for religions of African origin, the land registry for quilombo communities, viability of affirmative policies such as racial quotas, and the lack of links with the movement were the main points raised by respondents.

Paulino Cardoso, president of the Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros
Paulino Cardoso, president of the Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros

“We are very happy that someone self-declares themselves black, but under no circumstances does Marina represent the struggle of this population,” says Professor Paulino Cardoso, president of the Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros (ABPN or Brazilian Association of Black Researchers) and researcher of Afro-Brazilian culture for 30 years.

We [blacks] are the poorest of the poor in Brazil,” said Cardoso. “Will it be that the State streamlines what she promises, of neoliberal character, with an independent Banco Central (Central Bank) will able to fund our social policies? Blacks rely heavily on these initiatives, they cost more than R$12 billion (US$5.16 billion) for the government and are frowned upon by oligarchies,” says the professor.

Marina’s committee assured that the candidate would personally respond to questions sent by BBC on the subject by BBC Brasil. After cancelling the commitment twice, aides failed to respond to the report.


A PhD in psychology, Elisa Nascimento, president of Ipeafro (Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro Brasileiros or Research Institute of Afro Brazilian Studies), says that political allies of Marina can compromise her stance on religious tolerance.

To the press, Silva repeatedly said that she defends a “secular state”. The candidate, however, has the support of important Evangelical political leaders – such as the congressman Marco Feliciano (PSC-SP), who has said “to prophesy the burial of the pais de santo (Afro-Brazilian religion priests)” and the “closure of the terreiros de macumba.” (3)

“I have seen Marina try to unbind religion from her positions, but it is evident that her beliefs influence her political action. There are Neo-pentecostals who repeatedly disrespect the Candomblé and Umbanda (Afro-Brazilian religions). There are terreiros being invaded and destroyed. The religious are being persecuted. Marina hasn’t no positioned herself (on this) and has support of some of the main enemies of these religions.”

Speaking to BBC Brasil, Valneide Nascimento, national political coordinator of and racial equality promotion of the campaign, recognizes the flaws.

“Not detailing (the policy on religions) was our mistake,” she said by telephone.

Marina Silva, left, with Valneide Nascimento
Marina Silva, left, with Valneide Nascimento

“Like Marina, I, the national coordinator, am also Protestant and we didn’t have an accumulation of knowledge about religions of African origin,” she says. “We didn’t put it in because we didn’t have an understanding on how it should be, at the time.”

Valneide, however, denies other alterations in the government program – in late August, the PSB eliminated sections of the chapter directed at LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexuals) rights. The change was justified at the time as “a failure in the publishing process.”

“We will not change. Religions are in the program, what was missing was the detailing. But we will announce these details in person on the 20th, in Salvador.”


According to the 2013 Fundação Cultural Palmares (Palmares Cultural Foundation), at least 1,281 quilombola communities are in the formalization process, with only 21 having their territories effectively titled as recommended by the Constitution.

The government program announced by Rousseff does not cite quilombolas at any moment.

Presidential candidates and the black population

Candidates for the presidency: Current President Dilma Rouseff, Aécio Neves and Marina Silva
Candidates for the presidency: Current President Dilma Rouseff, Aécio Neves and Marina Silva

Policies directed at the black population proposed in the government plans of Aécio Neves and Dilma Rousseff, Silva’s chief competitors in the race for the Planalto, are much leaner than the PSB candidate.

In her program, consisting of 242 pages, Marina is the only one to devote a whole chapter to afrodescedentes (African descendants) and other traditional communities, including quilombolas.

Aécio, whose full program has 76 pages, proposes, on topics, joint initiatives for “blacks, women, elderly, children, LGBT, quilombolas, ciganos (gypsies), indigenous peoples and disabled people”, without distinction between policies for each groups.

Dilma’s government program (42 pages) says defending the “fight against discrimination and the promotion of racial equality” as “priority tasks”, assuming the “challenge of making a reality of the Quota Law in the federal public service, culminating in June 2014, guaranteeing the same efficiency already achieved by the law of quotas in public universities.”

The current president’s program also highlights “addressing violence against young blacks” by expanding the Programa Juventude Viva (youth program).

Aécio Neves mentions the “implementation of support and assistance programs for quilombola communities”, besides references to “vulnerable sectors” such as “women, children, elderly, afrodescendentes, LGBT, quilombolas, gypsies, persons with disabilities, victims of violence and indigenous peoples”.

In addition to citing quilombolas 34 times, Marina’s program is the only one to dedicate a chapter to the subject.

In the text, she promises to “accelerate the processes of recognition and titling of quilombo lands”, “improve the water supply, sewer and garbage collection”, “curb property speculation in and around areas of quilombos”, among other initiatives. Even so, her proposals meet resistance.

João Jorge Rodrigues of Olodum sees a conflict in Silva's candidacy
João Jorge Rodrigues of Olodum sees a conflict in Silva’s candidacy

“Culturally, the boundaries of the negotiation of lands for traditional communities come up against agriculture. Demarcation will never be the interest of the owners,” says João Jorge Rodrigues, owner of a master’s in Public Law and president of the organization Olodum, in Bahia.

“How can announce a series of policies for quilombola communities while having an agribusiness leader as her vice?” he asks.

Paulino Cardoso, of ABPN is also skeptical. “Marina allies herself with banks and oligarchs to do what is called new politics. On paper she accepts everything. We need to know how it will be done.”

Quotas for ten years

The three main presidential candidates in this election defend the policy of racial quotas in universities.

“Marina Silva and no other candidate for the presidency position themselves (on policies for blacks). The political class is still far behind in this.”

In her government program, the ex-senator says “reaffirming the importance of quotas for black people, as a temporary, emergency and reparatory of the historical debt with an expected date to end.”

Dilma Rousseff says she plans to “make the Quota Law a reality in the federal public service, guaranteeing the same effectiveness already achieved in the quota law in the universities.” Aécio Neves follows the same line, preaching the “defense and maintenance of affirmative action for social inclusion, including quotas, because of race.”

Widow of former Senator Abdias do Nascimento, creator of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater) in 1940 and awarded by UNESCO for his pioneering in the fight for the rights of the black population, Elisa Nascimento, president of Ipeafro criticizes the text of the PSB candidate’s program on quotas.

“She talks about quotas as a measure with an expected date to end, but I don’t see how to determine a date. We are far from a social situation of equilibrium without statistical inequalities between blacks and whites,” she says.

According to the IBGE, 66.6% of white students between 18-24 years of age attend college, while 37.4% of pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) are in higher education.

Speaking to BBC Brasil, the coordinator of Marina’s racial program says that within 10 years the transition from racial quotas to social quotas would be expected.

“We don’t want blacks to stay forever dependent on quotas,” says Valneide Nascimento.

“The racial dimension of the quotas is necessary because poverty and racism are different things,” counter argues Elisa. “The racial factor is another and is not resolved with general policies.”


For Jurema Werneck, none of the candidates have positioned themselves on the issue of Afro-Brazilians
For Jurema Werneck, none of the candidates have positioned themselves on the issue of Afro-Brazilians

For the doctor Jurema Werneck, of the Articulação de Organizações de Mulheres Negras (Articulation of Black Women’s Organizations), the lack of effective proposals for the black population is a problem common to all candidates.

The possibility of a black president “is symbolically important,” says the activist.

“But this is a symbolism that speaks of the past, of the struggle waged by the Movimento Negro (black movement) and that allowed her to get there,” he says. “Marina Silva and no other candidate for the presidency have positioned themselves [on policies for blacks]. The political class is still far behind in this.”

For Thais Santos, of the Coletivo Negro (Black Collective), of the University of São Paulo (USP), the candidate declaring or not declaring herself black “does not mean much.”

João Jorge Rodrigues, president of Olodum, says quilombola policies are incompatible with agribusiness

“In a country where many blacks don’t understand themselves as blacks, they will not understand her also. If she declares this in advertisements, if that was part of her campaign, this would be something else.”

The biography of the candidate, published on her official campaign website does not mention her color. Even so, Dennis de Oliveira, USP professor and coordinator of the collective Quilombação, considers it important that Afro-Brazilians earn space in spheres of power – and cites Joaquim Barbosa, former president of the Federal Supreme Court.

“Marina campaigned with rubber tappers, but I don’t recall policies for the black population,” he says. “She is much more perceived on the environmental issue than for her identification with blacks.”

According to the coordinator of racial policies, Valneide Nascimento, “the program was constructed with the participation of representatives of society and militancy in Brazil.”

Asked which groups of militancy in which they participated, Nascimento didn’t know how to respond. “There were many, we called and they came.”


1. This fact is quite surprising. In Brazil, it is difficult to find persons of Silva’s skin color classified as preta/preto, meaning black, on their birth certificates. Even those who most would classify as black and possessing medium to dark brown skin are often defined as pardo/parda (brown) on their birth certificates. Historically, Brazil has always tried to hide/erase its black population, and still today, persons of African ancestry are encouraged to define themselves in lighter-skinned categories (see here, here or here)

2. The Palácio do Planalto is the official workplace of the President of Brazil. It is located in the national capital of Brasília.

3. A terreiro is a temple of worship for followers of Afro-Brazilian religions. The term “macumbeira” is a derogatory term used in reference to persons who are thought to practice “macumba”, which was the name used for all Bantu religious practices mainly by Afro-Brazilians in the northeastern state of Bahia in the 19th Century. “Macumba”, and the term “Macumbeira”, became common in some parts of Brazil and this word is used by most people as a pejorative word meaning “black witchcraft”, although actual practitioners don’t view the term negatively. In some ways, it is equal to saying someone practices “Voodoo” or “Voudoon”, another misunderstood, negatively viewed religion practiced in Haiti. “Macumbeira” is a common used term to slight Afro-Brazilians whether they are actually practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions or not.

Source: Pragmatismo Político, O Globo, BrasilPost, Black Women of Brazil

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Its always struck me as ironic that African based religions are very tolerant and inclusive of other faiths but Christianity has historically been very intolerant and assumes a superiority to others which traditional religions never do.

    That aside. Its good to see that black people in Brasil are not easily swayed by identity politics porque as the article states.. Silva has to observe her sponsors agendas ( big business) and those agendas are muito infrequently good for poor and struggling classes.

    Coming from Jamaica/ UK I make no claims in understanding Brasil’s identity politics but blogs like this help. May the struggle continue..One love.

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