Human Rights and
International Democratic Solidarity


Monitoring of democratic governance


Interview: Fernando Henrique Cardoso

By Gabriel C. Salvia

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was born in 1931 in Rio de Janeiro. He was married to anthropologist Ruth Cardoso (1930-2008), with whom he had three children.

Fernando Cardoso

Fernando Henrique Cardoso served two consecutive terms as President of the Federal Republic of Brazil (1995-2002) and, according to an opinion poll carried out by Prospect and Foreign Policy, is considered to be among the top two hundred most influential public intellectuals in the world.
He is current President of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Institute (iFHC, São Paulo), honorary president of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and a member of the Deliberative Council of the Proyecto Plataforma Democrática (Democratic Platform Project). He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Club of Madrid, the Clinton Global Initiative (New York), the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Dialogue (Washington, D.C), the World Resources Institute (Washington, D.C) and the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University (Providence, RI).
He is President of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Co-President of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy since 2008 and, since 2010, leading member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health.
Cardoso writes a monthly column for the newspapers O Estado de Sau Paulo and O Globo.
He was born in 1931 in Rio de Janeiro and was married to anthropologist Ruth Cardoso (1930-2008), with whom he had three children.

-What would you say were the most significant contributions your administration made to Brazil’s current standing as an economic and social role model with a thriving democracy, despite the many challenges still ahead?

I believe our greatest contribution was to bring about the conditions necessary for Brazil to advance towards the achievement of the main goals of the 1988 Constitution: the consolidation of democracy and the realization of wide-ranging social rights. This was made possible by bringing stability and constructing a new regime.
Out of control inflation and the financial weakness of the State were getting in the way of securing democratic governance and constituted a severe hindrance for the social rights laid out in the Constitution. This, however, has now changed. From a historical perspective, it would be fair to say Brazil has never before been as democratic a country as it is today, both with regard to the exercise of political rights and access to social rights. I must however point out that this cannot be attributed to a single government. It rather reflects a change in Brazilian society.

-What do you believe to be the greatest structural reform that Brazil must make?

I don’t believe there is a single, key structural reform to be made. There are numerous initiatives on the agenda. The key is to identify our own idea of which reforms are necessary. That’s reforms, plural: to improve the State’s efficiency and the quality of social policies, to secure the sustainability of public finances, to better prepare the economy (companies and labour force) to compete in the global scene.
New challenges lie ahead. It is estimated that by 2030 the economically active population of Brazil will be 150 million. Quality jobs must be created for this growing contingent of the population, which must be given the necessary tools to be able to fill these posts. This will largely determine the country’s economic and social progress. There is a need for greater business initiatives and development projects on one hand, and for better education on the other. The next twenty years will be decisive since from 2030 our window of demographic opportunity will begin to close. That is to say, the proportion of the population who are inactive will start growing significantly. Now is the time to make faster progress.
The main use of politics is to point out challenges and the direction to be taken, and to create the necessary conditions for the advancement of society. In a democracy, the State cannot replace society.

-How would you evaluate Lula’s two mandates?

The fact that Brazil had a relatively smooth transition of power was very positive for the country. Despite a fair amount of rhetoric stating the contrary, I do not see pronounced discrepancies between the economic and social policies of Lula’s government and my own. This reflects an advancement of Brazilian society.
Modern, more developed countries change through more or less incremental progress, not by great disruptions. One thing which, in my opinion, does make a difference is that Lula’s government invested less in institutional reform. He was rather political, in the more conventional sense of the word. I would dare to say he was less “republican”.

-What substantial differences do you find between Dilma and Lula?

They have very different styles. Lula is a political animal, one that above all adapts to the given circumstances. Dilma has more structured conceptions. However, they both share a relatively state-centred vision of the social change process.

-Looking at both Brazil and the surrounding region, which would you say are the greatest challenges and political, economic and social opportunities facing Latin America?

The region has made progress in terms of its capabilities in macro-economic management, in the way it has consolidated electoral democracy, and in the fight against poverty. In the last decade, it has also benefited from growing commodities prices in the global economy. At present there’s great uncertainty over the duration and intensity of this favourable period in the commodities market. The challenge is to lessen the inevitable repercussions of the 2007/2008 crisis, which are still to make an impact.

From a longer-term perspective, assuming there is to be a return to the previous structural tendencies, the challenge is to take advantage of the extraordinary revenue brought in by commodities in order to make quicker progress in policies that promote a qualitative change in our development processes. There are those who believe the most efficient way of promoting change is to concentrate power and resources in the State. I believe the State plays a key role not only as a regulator, but also as an instigator, so long as its actions take place under clear rules which do not smother the opposition, and under efficient mechanisms which allow for society to evaluate and control the government’s actions.

-Is the coexistence of so many regional organizations efficient for the strengthening of democracy and economic integration?

As a matter of fact, high-level regional political bodies have proliferated in the last few years. I see this proliferation as a symptom of the difficulty of consolidating integration. This integration is a gradual process, which generates norms and policies capable of easing the socio-economic flows between the countries in the region within a relatively stable framework safeguarded from short-term political fluctuations. It’s not that such flows haven’t increased: they have. However, at the same time, in practical terms, the attempt to build a stable institutional framework based on the consolidation of sub-regional blocks like Mercosur and the Andean Community is no longer on the agenda.
The truth is that in the last few years in South America, in terms of development and external insertion models, we have come up against more divergence than convergence. The gap between those countries that remained aligned with a liberal, capitalist model and those that broke with it is evident. However, this gap does not encompass the big picture I’m referring to here. It is important to note that, even among those countries that did not break with this model, the idea of broadening the space for autonomy in decisions concerning development policies, free from the influence of supranational institutions, has gained ground.
This is not my own judgement, but a fact. At the same time, the subject of integration is not dead. Within this framework, from a symbolic point of view, organizations such as Unasur allow for a significant political and discursive space, demanding very little from their members given that their aims are extremely generic and that adherence to them entails neither a considerable break with sovereignty not genuine efforts towards policy coordination.

Gabriel C. Salvia
Gabriel C. Salvia
General Director
International human rights activist. Since 1992 he has served as director of Civil Society Organizations and is a founding member of CADAL. As a journalist he worked in graphics, radio and TV. Compiled several books, among them "Diplomacy and Human Rights in Cuba" (2011) and "Human rights in international relations and foreign policy" (2021), and he is the author of "Dancing for a mirage: notes on politics, economics and diplomacy in the governments of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner" (2017). He is also the author of several reports, including " The chairs of the Council: authoritarianism and democracies in the evolution of the integration of the UN Human Rights body" and "Memory closed: The complicity of the Cuban revolution with the Argentine military dictatorship".

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