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date: 23 April 2017

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil

Summary and Keywords

Fernando Henrique Cardoso (b. Rio de Janeiro, June 18, 1931) had an influential academic career before going into politics and becoming a senator, foreign minister, finance minister and president of Brazil. His book Dependency and Development in Latin America, co-authored with Enzo Faletto, was translated into several languages and was very widely cited. Cardoso’s academic career was interrupted by a military coup d’état in 1964, forcing him and many other left-leaning Brazilian academics into exile. In 1968 he was allowed to return to Brazil, where he and a number of colleagues started an applied research institute. When the military government began a gradual transition back to democracy, Cardoso joined a movement to rally the middle class and intelligentsia to pressure for direct elections to the presidency. Cardoso was elected an “alternate senator” on an opposition party ticket and later succeeded to the Senate. As a senator, he played a key role in the Constituent Assembly that wrote a new constitution for Brazil in 1988. In 1992, he left the Senate to take the position of minister of external relations. In 1993, President Itamar Franco unexpectedly prevailed on him to accept the position of finance minister. Much to everyone’s surprise, Cardoso and his team succeeded in ending hyperinflation and giving Brazil a stable currency without imposing austerity or hardship. The success of the monetary reform led to his election as president of Brazil in 1994. In 1998, he again won the presidency, but in his second term the economy went into decline, largely due to crises in Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere. In 2002 he passed the presidential sash on to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers Party. In retirement from the presidency, he continued to be active in the leadership of his political party, and served on many international boards and commissions. In 2016, he supported the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff for violations of fiscal responsibility laws.

Keywords: presidency of Brazil, monetary reform, sociology of development, social democracy, democratization, welfare reform

Cardoso’s Early Years, 1931–1964

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was born into a family of generals, cabinet ministers, and writers, a family that was not wealthy but was very much a part of the political establishment. His father retired from the military with the rank of brigadier general to pursue a career in law and social reform, and he was closely associated with the Brazilian Labor Party. He was elected federal deputy in 1954 and opposed the military coup d’état in 1964. Fernando Henrique was allowed to return briefly to Brazil from exile in Chile to attend his father’s funeral in 1965. His father met his mother on a military posting to Amazonas; he never met his maternal grandparents. The dominant figure in the household when he grew up was his paternal grandmother.

Cardoso chose to study social sciences at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of São Paulo, which gave him the opportunity to work with pioneering Brazilian and French professors. He was close to intellectual circles surrounding the Brazilian Communist Party and helped in editing and writing for a Party-associated journal called Fundamentos, although he never joined the Party. Together with many Brazilian intellectuals, he was disheartened by the revelations in Nikita Khrushchev’s February 1956 speech “The Personality Cult and its Consequences.” By the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in October 1956, he clearly identified with the critics of the Party.

Cardoso’s reputation as a Marxist is largely due to his participation in a Marx seminar organized by group of graduate students and young professors in 1958. Many of the participants went on to become distinguished intellectual and political figures. They focused on reading Marx because his works were not covered intensively in the university classes, but they also read luminaries such as Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Cardoso also studied and taught empirical methods in sociology and the works of mainstream American social scientists. He had a strong background in anthropology as well as sociology and political science.

As a young scholar aspiring to a tenured university position, Cardoso participated in a United Nations–funded research project on Brazilian race relations under the leadership of his mentor, the sociologist Florestan Fernandes. This led to two academic monographs, Cor e Mobilidade Social em Florinópolis (1960), co-authored with Octávio Ianni, and Capitalismo e Escravidão no Brasil Meridional (1962), reporting on research in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. This last also served as his doctoral dissertation. These books were part of a comparative study of regions, but Cardoso and Ianni concluded that the racial patterns reflected national culture and development rather than regional differences.

His next major book, Empresário Industrial e Desenvolvimento Econômico (1965), was based on interviews with industrialists and business leaders, and the results contradicted a fundamental strategic argument of the Brazilian Communist Party. Party leaders thought that the Brazilian national bourgeoisie could be recruited to lead a nationalist movement against foreign corporate investment. Cardoso found that the local business leaders were actually quite willing, even eager, to collaborate with foreign investors. There was no time to pursue this as an academic debate, however, because the book came out in April 1964, the same month when the Brazilian military overthrew the elected government. Learning that he was on a list of those to be arrested, Cardoso fled to Buenos Aires and then to Santiago, Chile.

From Exile to Senator, 1964–1982

Cardoso lived comfortably as an exile in Santiago, Chile, with a well-paying job and diplomatic status at the Economic Commission for Latin America, a United Nations agency. His wife, Ruth, an anthropologist, and their young children joined him. Every Saturday he and the family met with a large circle of friends for a traditional Brazilian feijoada. The friends included many leading social scientists from all over Latin America. He referred to his experience as “the bitter caviar of exile” (Cardoso and Winter [2006], Chapter Five).

Dependency and Development in Latin America, co-authored with Enzo Faletto, was written during his period in Santiago. It was first published in Spanish in 1969 and went through sixteen printings in Spanish before it appeared in English in 1979. As with much of Cardoso’s work, its importance had much to do with its timing. In the 1970s, Latin American and other specialists were rethinking many of their ideas about capitalism and Third World development because of the remarkable economic growth of the countries that became known as the Asian tigers. The book had a tentative, exploratory style and relied heavily on empirical case studies rather than on abstract theory or complex statistical analysis. Cardoso rejected the positivist idea that social scientists should proceed by formulating abstract theories, drawing hypotheses from them, and then testing them with experiments or statistical studies. This approach often worked well in the physical sciences when the subject matter was unchanging, but he did not believe it was the best way to study complex and rapidly changing social systems. Cardoso also rejected the idea that social developments are rigidly determined by social forces. The case studies showed that leaders had real policy options and that it mattered which options they chose.

In 1967, Cardoso accepted an invitation to move to France, where he became a professor at the University of Paris campus at Nanterre. He had no role in the explosion of student radicalism that took place soon after his arrival, but his courses on Marx, Weber, and Marcuse were well received by the activist students. Cardoso was eager to return to Brazil and to work on Brazilian issues, and this became possible in 1968. He entered a competition for a professorial chair at the University of São Paulo, but before that was resolved the military government announced the compulsory retirement of a group of leading leftist professors, including Cardoso. They were prohibited from teaching at any Brazilian university or running for political office, but in good Brazilian fashion their status as professors was respected, and they continued to receive full salary with no required duties.

Rather than returning to Chile or accepting posts offered in France or the United States, Cardoso joined several distinguished colleagues in starting the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Research in São Paulo. The center employed a number of scholars who had been “retired” from university teaching, including several who had been members of the Marx seminar. Several of Cardoso’s colleagues were suspicious of the chief funder, the Ford Foundation, which they thought of as representing American imperialist interests. But they were left entirely free to choose their research topics.

The most influential book published by researchers at the center was São Paulo 1975: Growth and Poverty. The predominant tone of the book, which had a number of authors, was to the left of Cardoso’s views, especially in the assertion that capitalism necessarily led to immiseration. But the book documented the persistence of poverty in the midst of São Paulo’s economic boom, and it was strongly supported by the Catholic archdiocese and was widely read and well received. An anti-communist group detonated a bomb in the center’s offices, and Cardoso was taken into the military police offices, blindfolded, and questioned, mostly about a brief meeting he had had with a Trotskyist intellectual at the Mexico City airport.

By this time, Cardoso was increasingly critical of the abstract theoretical preoccupations of much academic social science, including on the left. At a meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in August 1976, he attacked the “present-day butterfly collectors who abound in the social sciences and who stroll through history classifying types of dependency, modes of production, and laws of development with the blissful illusion that their findings can remove from history all its ambiguities, conjectures and surprises.”1 He rejected the label “dependency theorist,” insisting that dependency was a problem, not a theory.

Cardoso continued to be a respected academic and served as president of the International Sociological Association from 1982 to 1986. Rather than writing academic treatises, Cardoso spoke at many conferences, in Brazil and abroad, and wrote essays and newspaper columns that focused on current events and weighed political options for Brazil and Latin America. Many of his essays were published in different versions in different countries, with changes to incorporate ongoing developments. The books he published during this period were mostly collections and revisions of his shorter works.

Cardoso’s writings gradually relied less on Marxist concepts and ideas and more on writers such as German sociologist Max Weber who viewed politics as a domain independent from economics. His primary concern was not with social theory but with analyzing the contemporary political conjuncture in Brazil. Looking back, he argued that the 1964 coup d’état had not been determined by economic contradictions and that other political outcomes had been possible. Looking ahead, he observed that Brazil was progressing sociologically under the military regime, a conclusion that he documented with statistical data. He thought that a nonviolent transition from authoritarianism to democracy was possible because of divisions between hard- and soft-line groupings in the military. He thought that socialist revolution was not viable for Brazil, but that a mass movement for democratization could work.

Many other Brazilians had reached the same conclusion, including experienced politicians such as Franco Montoro and Ulysses Guimarães and union activists such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As a well-known São Paulo intellectual, Cardoso was part of a large coalition of forces advocating for democracy. He chose to work within the Brazilian Democratic Movement, the semi-official opposition party that had been allowed during the military regime. As pressure for democratization grew and the Brazilian economy took a turn for the worse due to the international debt crisis, the MDB was successful in winning many state and local elections. When the military changed the rules to allow multiple parties, many leftists, including Lula da Silva, chose to build a new Workers Party. Cardoso decided not to join that effort, but the two parties worked together in supporting the democratization movement.

In 1978, Cardoso was asked to join a list of Brazilian Democratic Movement candidates running for the federal Senate from the state of São Paulo. Under the Brazilian electoral system, parties nominate a list of candidates, and the one with the most votes gets the office. Cardoso was not expected to win, but it was thought that his name would attract votes for the party list, headed by Franco Montoro, a well-known moderate politician. Montoro was elected, and Cardoso as next in line was the alternate senator. He became senator in 1983 when Montoro left to become governor of São Paulo.

From the Senate to the Finance Ministry, 1983–1994

Cardoso’s debut speech to the Brazilian Senate quoted from Max Weber’s thoughts about how politicians must attempt the impossible to achieve the possible, implying that even if the movement for direct presidential elections failed for a time, positive gains could come out of it. Thinking that much could be accomplished on the local level, he ran for mayor of São Paulo but was narrowly defeated when a television reporter asked him if he believed in God. He was not ready for the question, which the reporter had promised not to ask. Later, he learned to respond by saying that there were many mysteries in the universe, so it made sense to believe. Fortunately, the Brazilian press usually avoids personal questions, such as whether he had had his children baptized.

The legislation for direct elections failed in the Chamber of Deputies, but the sentiment for democracy was so strong that the opposition won the 1984 presidential elections even under the old indirect voting system. Then the president-elect, Tancredo Neves, fell ill just before the inauguration, and it was unclear who should take office, because the vice president–elect, José Sarney, had not yet been inaugurated. Cardoso was among a small group of legislative leaders, under the leadership of Ulysses Guimarães, the president of the Chamber of Deputies and next in line after the vice president, that decided to give the post to Sarney, a conservative who had been selected to balance the ticket. They expected this to be temporary, but Neves died of his illness, and Sarney was the first president of the new democratic Brazil.

The big priority of the new government was drafting a new constitution, a task which was undertaken by a Constituent Assembly made up of all the members of the legislature. Because of the circumstances of his election, President Sarney did not have the political backing to play a central role in guiding this process. As leader of the government coalition in the Senate, Cardoso played a key role in the very difficult negotiations about the new constitution. Rather than create a short document guaranteeing basic rights, the assembly included many detailed provisions granting benefits to specific groups. Cardoso worried that this would lock Brazil into a statist developmental approach that could not be sustained financially when what was needed was more modernization and integration into the global economy. Finally, the new constitution was passed, including a provision for direct elections to the presidency. Cardoso accepted it as the best that could be accomplished at the time, but correctly predicted that it would require extensive amendment to modify many of the provisions granting desirable but unrealistic benefits to specific constituencies.

In 1988, Cardoso left the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) to join Mario Covas, Franco Montoro, José Serra, and other political leaders in founding a new party, the Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). He felt that the PMDB, which dominated the government at the time, had become overly careerist and ineffective. The PSDB became the major centrist party in the Brazilian multiparty system, with the Workers Party (PT) the major party on the center-left. The PMDB continued to have strong organizations on the state level, but often was unable to reach consensus on nominating a presidential candidate. Both the PSDB and the PT formed electoral and congressional coalitions with a number of other parties, the PMDB generally allying with the party that controlled the presidency.

The 1990 presidential elections were not won by any of the major parties but by a populist from the northeast, Fernando Collor de Mello. Collor’s views on many issues were ambiguous; his strengths were as a television personality and as a crusader against corruption. Once in office, he imposed a radical currency stabilization program which froze most of the money in people’s bank accounts. People were desperate enough to accept almost anything that promised to stabilize the currency, but Collor’s plan failed, followed by widely believed accusations that he was personally corrupt. He was threatened with impeachment and resigned, an action that Cardoso supported as senator. The presidency went to the vice president, Itamar Franco.

President Franco appointed Cardoso to the post of foreign minister, breaking with a tradition of appointing career diplomats to this role. Cardoso had foreign language skills and international prestige as well as a strong political base in Brazil, and he was able to continue the ministry’s efforts to build wider economic ties to other countries. His expertise on third world development was very relevant, and he very much enjoyed meeting distinguished leaders from all over the world. As the global spokesman for Brazil, however, he often found it embarrassing to have to explain the country’s inability to maintain the stable currency and financial system needed to attract investment.

He was in New York on foreign ministry business on May 9, 1993, when he got a surprise call from President Franco asking him to accept the post of finance minister at a time when the inflation rate was approaching 30 percent a month. Three of Franco’s appointments to this role had failed to bring inflation under control, and Franco was desperate. Taking the post was not considered a wise career move for a man who already had a prestigious position. If he failed, he might have to retreat back to academia and write about the experience. But President Franco insisted that the country needed him, so Cardoso did not explicitly refuse on the telephone, thinking he would have time to discuss it with his wife. Then President Franco called to say that he had gone ahead and announced the appointment and that the reaction from business and political leaders was very positive.

Cardoso had a strong background in political economy, the study of the interaction between politics and economics, and ending hyperinflation was not primarily a technical economic problem. The hard part was getting the political system to implement the budgetary measures that would be necessary. Most Brazilian presidents had little background in economics, and this was true of Itamar Franco. Franco was relieved to be able to turn the problem over to Fernando Henrique and gave him his full support.

Radical measures such as freezing prices, wages, and bank accounts had lost their appeal because they had repeatedly failed to bring lasting change. The politicians often blamed the economists for the failures, but Cardoso understood that the problems had been more political than technical. Instead of bringing in new experts with new theories, he assembled a team of outstanding economists, most of whom had worked on previous failed anti-inflation efforts and had learned from their failures. His team included Edmar Bacha, Pérsio Arida, André Lara Resende, Francisco Lopes, Pedro Malan, and Gustavo Franco. They decided to make the transition as transparent as possible with no sudden surprise announcements. The first step was to create a temporary dual currency system with a new non-monetary currency called the Real Unit of Value. All prices were to be quoted in this new unit as well as in the paper currency currently in circulation, the cruzeiro real.

Brazilians had learned to live with very high inflation by regularly adjusting prices and wages and bank balances to compensate for it. Adjustments were made according to indexes published by government statistical agencies. But this automatic adjustment process meant that inflation had an inertia built into it, every increase caused other increases in a vicious cycle. Publishing all prices in the new unit changed the mentality as people now knew what the “real” price was as well as the cruzeiro price. The new unit was popularly known as the real, which means both real and royal in Portuguese. The term had been used as a monetary unit during the Brazilian Empire.

Once people got used to thinking in reais, the next step was to replace the old paper currency with new notes. The real was to be real money with a fixed value; bank accounts and prices and wages were not to be adjusted. Brazil had replaced its currency several times before, often replacing one thousand units of the old with one of the new. The difference here was that the replacement was not based on moving the decimal point in the old currency; it was based on an established index of the real value. At the beginning, the value of the real was set at one U.S. dollar because many businesspeople had become accustomed to keeping track of inventory values in dollars as one way of coping with the hyperinflation. But there was no promise that reais could be redeemed for dollars as in the Argentine convertibility plan of 1991. This was a Brazilian currency, and Brazil retained control of its fiscal and monetary policies.

The Plano Real, as this reform was known, was a tremendous success. Having money that was worth as much at the end of the month as at the beginning was most important for people who lived from paycheck to paycheck and did not have inflation-adjusted bank accounts to protect their income. They could plan their spending and shop for bargains. Living standards went up, especially for the poor and working classes. This was quite different from the austerity plans many other countries had implemented under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund.

Many Brazilians saw Fernando Henrique as the knight who slayed the dragon of hyperinflation. Itamar Franco decided to support him for the presidency in the 1994 elections, and he was enthusiastically endorsed by the business community that had supported Collor in 1990. Prior to his candidacy, the expectation was that Lula da Silva and the Workers Party would win in 1994. The Workers Party’s leaders thought the Plano Real was a gimmick that would fail a few months after the election as Fernando Collor’s plan had. They felt cheated when Fernando Henrique Cardoso coasted to the presidency in the first round of the election with 54 percent of the vote. Lula da Silva got 27 percent with the rest divided among other candidates.

President of Brazil, 1995–2003

When Cardoso assumed the presidency he was widely quoted as saying, “Forget everything I ever wrote.” He insisted that this was invented by a journalist and that he never said or meant any such thing. And, in fact, there is no major inconsistency between his academic writings and his actions as president. He was never the kind of dependency theorist who believed that third world countries could not progress with a capitalist model. In 2010, he published a book called Relembrando o que escrevi (Remembering what I wrote).

The Plano Real ended the vicious cycle of automatic price and wage increases, which turned out to be a great deal of the problem. But long-term monetary stability meant getting government spending into reasonable balance with revenue. Congress gave Cardoso exceptional powers to control spending because of the hyperinflation crisis, but as the crisis eased, there were strong pressures to revert to previous spending patterns. Much of the problem was excessive spending by state governments to recompense large numbers of state employees and pensioners. At the end of the year, the federal government had traditionally printed money to fill the budget gaps of the states in return for political support. Federal as well as state employees enjoyed very generous retirement benefits, which drained the federal coffers.

The economy was in a period of cyclical recovery when Cardoso took office, which helped. The Collor government had begun a policy of privatization of government-owned corporations, which Cardoso supported and continued, providing a revenue stream to help fund the transition to a balanced system. The privatizations were strongly criticized by the left on the grounds that they compromised Brazil’s national independence. Many of the companies did quite well after privatization, which could be interpreted as meaning that the prices paid for them at auction were too low. Supporters argued that their successes showed that private management was more effective.

Privatization was a transitional measure; for the longer term Cardoso needed to pass a fiscal responsibility law to limit government spending not matched by revenue. He needed to institute civil service and pension reforms. Brazil generally spent a lot of money on government programs that had good intentions but were costly and inefficient, and government agencies were often managed by political appointees and used as rewards for political support.

Most of these problems could only be addressed with legislation passed by Congress, and as Cardoso had anticipated, many constitutional provisions were unrealistic and had to be modified by constitutional amendments. Cardoso had been elected as the candidate of a coalition of his PSDB, the Liberal Front Party, the Brazilian Workers Party, and other smaller groups. Many congressional seats were held by the PMDB, the party that Cardoso had left to form the PSDB. Fortunately, he remained on good personal terms with many PMDB leaders, and the PMDB joined with him in a congressional coalition that passed many of the measures he needed, including a fiscal responsibility law. Opposition was led by the Workers Party and many traditional politicians including Itamar Franco, Cardoso’s erstwhile patron, who had become governor of the state of Minas Gerais and was outraged when Cardoso insisted that the state pay its bills.

The national oil company, Petrobras, had a monopoly on oil exploration and production, guaranteed in the constitution. Petrobras employees and executives were very well paid, but oil production did not keep up with the country’s potential. Privatizing Petrobras was politically unthinkable because of its historical role as a symbol of national pride, but the Cardoso government succeeded in opening the country up to competition from other oil companies. Petrobras became a publicly traded corporation in which anyone could buy stock, although the government continued to own the majority of the shares. Brazil’s largest mining company, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, was privatized, despite strong objections from the left. It did well as a private company, paying more in taxes than it had generated in profits as a government company.

The Cardoso government also had to institute a major banking reform when a number of very large banks owned by state governments went into crisis. These banks had been accustomed to profiting from high inflation when deposits lost value and depended on support from state governments that were under pressure from the fiscal responsibility law. There was no federal insurance program to protect depositors, and massive bank failures could have caused an economic collapse. The government developed mechanisms to consolidate smaller banks, helped large private banks take over some operations of failing state banks, and took over other operations and liquidated them.

Land reform was a difficult issue, thanks to the militant Landless Peasant’s Movement mobilized largely by Catholic and Marxist radicals. Activists developed the tactic of occupying underutilized farmlands and demanding that the government turn them over to them. Much of this land had been held by wealthy Brazilians as a hedge against inflation. The government had land redistribution programs, but the bureaucracies tended to move very slowly, and the occupations received a good deal of public sympathy. Brazil had plenty of land; why not give it to poor homesteaders? The problem was that to generate an acceptable standard of living for the homesteaders, the farms required very large subsidies, and they often failed to become financially viable. Cardoso thought small family farms were a 19th-century solution to a 20th-century problem. Brazilian commercial farming, on the other hand, was often very profitable, and commercial farmers were a very strong political group. The Cardoso government struggled to keep the land reform process going to help the vulnerable and needy population but discouraged illegal occupations of farmland.

The AIDS epidemic was a threat to Brazil, as it was to the rest of the world, during the Cardoso administration. Effective retroviral treatments were being developed, but the cost of treatment was too much for countries such as Brazil. Brazil had the ability to produce the drugs itself, and Cardoso’s health minister, José Serra, successfully threatened to impose an emergency suspension of international patent laws until the drug companies accepted lower prices.

The Bolsa Escola, or School Allowance, was a successful social program begun during the Cardoso administration. It was a conditional cash transfer program, giving money to impoverished mothers on the condition that they keep their children in school. This program was later expanded by the Lula da Silva government and renamed the Bolsa Familia, or Family Allowance.

Cardoso’s wife, Ruth Cardoso, was instrumental in organizing Comunidade Solidaria, or Community Solidarity, an organization that assisted non-governmental organizations working to supplement government programs and provide social services.

In 1997, Cardoso succeeded in getting the constitution amended to permit a second term for the president, as well as for governors and mayors. The PMDB was reluctant to support the measure, but succumbed to popular pressure due to Cardoso’s popularity and belief that their congressional coalition could not hold together without him. The re-election amendment met strong opposition from Workers Party supporters, who argued that incumbency gave a candidate too many advantages for a fair election. The succeeding presidents, Lula de Silva and Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party, also benefited from incumbency to be re-elected to a second consecutive term.

The re-election amendment marked the peak of Cardoso’s popularity, because the global economy went into crisis following a Hong Kong stock market crash in 1997 that spread to New York and the rest of the world. Cardoso accepted the advice of the economists and resisted devaluing the real, at great expense to the Brazilian treasury, until he was finally forced to accept reality.

Despite the devaluation, inflation remained under control, and Brazil weathered the crisis well enough for Cardoso to be re-elected to the presidency in 1998. Cardoso’s re-election was very frustrating to the Workers Party opposition, who thought the crisis proved that they were right about Cardoso’s economic plan being faulty. The public, however, did not want to change captains in the midst of a storm, especially since Lula da Silva, once again the Workers Party candidate, seemed to be cheering for Brazil’s failure. Cardoso’s popularity was much lower throughout his second term, partly because of economic problems caused by crises in Russia and Mexico. Economic growth slowed, and there was a problem with electricity blackouts when drought led to low water levels at hydroelectric dams. Lula da Silva, however, and many other Workers Party leaders recognized that Cardoso’s economic policies had been much more successful than they had expected and that the Brazilian public was not ready for a radical transition to socialism. For the 2002 election, Lula promised to pay Brazil’s debts to international lenders, which meant that he would have to be careful about fiscal stability. He hired a skilled political consultant and changed his public image from that of a shrill radical to a reassuring, mature, fatherly figure. Lula defeated José Serra, the candidate of Cardoso’s party, and Cardoso passed the presidential sash to Lula da Silva on January 2, 2003.

After the Presidency, 2003–

Cardoso continued to be active in the leadership of the PSDB after his retirement from the presidency, although his popularity with the general public was not great, and candidates for office often chose not to identify with him. The Lula da Silva government maintained and took credit for the fundamentals of Cardoso’s economic and social policies, to the disappointment of the left within the Workers Party. Cardoso continued to give interviews and to write newspaper columns, and he produced scholarly books and several lengthy books of memoirs. He organized and secured funding for the Fundação Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a think tank located in the city of São Paulo.

He served on the governing or advisory bodies of a number of international organizations, including the Club of Madrid, the Fondation Chirac, the World Resources Institute, and the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. He served as president of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and advocated regulating rather than criminalizing the drug trade. He is an honorary member of the Elders, an independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela that offers advice on global issues. He served as president of the United Nations Panel of Eminent Personalities on the revitalization of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and as a member of the United Nations High Level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. He also served on the advisory boards of several corporations and as president of the board of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. He was a scholar in residence at Brown University for many years.

In 2016, Cardoso publicly endorsed the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, arguing that it could not be called a coup d’état because it followed constitutional rules as supervised by the Brazilian Supreme Court. He argued that the impeachment process was justified by evidence of a criminal organization that had been in place since the Lula da Silva government and that conspired to use kickbacks from government spending projects to finance a political machine. His position was severely criticized by the Workers Party and its sympathizers around the world, but his reputation and prestige remained high within Brazil.

Discussion of the Literature

The most engaging account of Cardoso’s life is The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir (2007), a book that benefited greatly from Cardoso’s collaboration with journalist Brian Winter. A more scholarly treatment is Fernando Henrique Cardoso: Reinventing Democracy in Brazil (1999) by Ted Goertzel. Political and family gossip is highlighted in Fernando Henrique Cardoso: Le Brésil du Possible (2000) by Brigitte Hersant Leoni. All three are also available in Portuguese.

A good discussion of Cardoso’s early sociological work, written before he went into politics, is Modernization, Exploitation and Dependency: Germani, González, Casanova and Cardoso (1976) by Joseph Kahl. The relationship between his social science and his policies as president is discussed thoughtfully by Theotonio dos Santos and Laura Randall in “The Theoretical Foundations of the Cardoso Government: A New Stage of the Dependency-Theory Debate,” in Latin American Perspectives 25.1 (1998): 53–70. Robert Packenham forces Cardoso’s work into a positivist model of hypothesis testing, then complains of how poorly it fits, in The Dependency Movement: Scholarship and Politics in Development Studies (1992). “The Originality of a Copy: CEPAL and the Idea of Development,” this was a pamphlet published by the Cambridge Center from the Cambridge University Center for Latin American Studies (1977) gives Cardoso’s analysis of the intellectual history of dependency and development debate and its policy significance. “The Consumption of Dependency Theory in the United States,” from the Latin American Research Review 12.3 (1977): 7–24, gives his piquant response to academic scholasticism.

Cardoso’s classic work, with Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America remains in print, and the introduction to the 1979 English-language edition updates the argument. While this was certainly his most influential work, especially outside of Brazil, he believed that Capitalismo e Escravidão no Brasil Meridional (1962) and Empresário Industrial e Desenvolvimento Econômico (1965) were better. The best of his essays and later writing can be found in Charting a New Course: The Politics of Globalization and Social Transformation (2001), edited by Mauricio Font, and in his many essay collections in Portuguese: O Modelo Politico Brasileiro (1972), Autoritarismo e Democratização (1975), As Idéias e seu Lugar (1980), A Construção da Democracia (1993), Relembrando o que Escrevi (2010), 1964: Do Golpe à Democracia (2013), and A Miséria da Política (2015).

The history of the Plano Real is detailed in A História Real: Trama de uma Sucessão (1994) by Gilberto Dimenstein and Josias de Souza. Cardoso’s own views on this process are in the preface and epilogue to O Plano Real (1995) by Gustavo Franco and in the epilogue to O Plano Real e Outras Experiências Internacionais de Estabilização (1997) by Edmar Bacha. Cardoso’s 1994 presidential campaign is detailed in O Real na Estrada: A Campanha de Fernando Henrique à Presidencia (1995) by Francisco Graziano. Cardoso’s mid-presidency thoughts are recorded in a lengthy interview with journalist Roberto Pompeu de Toledo in O Presidente Segundo o Sociólogo (1998). Critics on the left have their say in O Brasil do Real (1996), edited by Emir Sader, and Cardoso’s Brazil: A Land for Sale (2003) by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer. Many of Brazil’s leading politicians, including Cardoso himself, give their evaluations of the Cardoso presidency in interviews with journalist Álvaro Pereira in Depois de FHC (2002). Insider gossip on both Cardoso and Lula da Silva are in O Sapo e o Príncipe (The Toad and the Prince, 2004) by Paulo Markun. Scholarly evaluations of the impact of the Cardoso presidency include A Era FHC: Um Balanço (2002), edited by Bolivar Lamounier and Rubens Figueiredo, and Democracia, Crise e Reforma: Estudos Sobre a Era Fernando Henrique Cardoso (2010), edited by Maria Angela D’Incao and Hermínio Martins.

Cardoso is placed in historical context in A Concise History of Brazil (2014) by Boris and Sergio Fausto, in Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (2014) by Alfred Montero, Starting Over: Brazil Since 1985 (2011) by Albert Fishow, The Drama of Brazilian Politics (2015) by Ted Goertzel and Paulo Roberto de Almeida, and Brazil in Transition: Beliefs, Leadership and Institutional Change (2016) by Lee J. Alston, Marcus André Melo, Bernardo Mueller, and Carlos Pereira.

Cardoso’s political memoirs, which are of great interest to those who follow Brazilian politics closely, include A Arte da Política: A História que Vivi (2006), Diários da Presidência (2015), A Miséria da Política (2015), and Perspectivas: Fernando Henrique Cardoso: Idéias e Atuação Política (2008), edited by Eduardo Graeff. He offers advice to aspiring young politicians in Cartas a Um Jovem Político (2012). His views on global issues are in Xadrez Internacional e Social Democracia (2012). His mature reflection on his life and his role in history is in A Soma e o Resto—Um Olhar Sobre a Vida aos 80 Anos (2016), also available in French.

Primary Sources

Cardoso’s papers and presidential documents are archived at the Fundação Fernando Henrique in São Paulo. Other documents can be found at the Brazilian National Archive and at the São Paulo state archive.

Further Reading

Alston, Lee J., Marcus André Melo, Bernardo Mueller, and Carlos Pereira. Brazil in Transition: Beliefs, Leadership and Institutional Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique. A Arte de Política: A História que Vivi. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2006.Find this resource:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique. A Soma e o Resto: Um Olhar Sobre a Vida aos 80 Anos. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2015.Find this resource:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique. Charting a New Course: The Politics of Globalization and Social Transformation. Edited by Mauricio Font. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.Find this resource:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Brian Winter. The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir. New York: Public Affairs, 2006.Find this resource:

D’Incao, Maria Angela, and Hermínio Martins, eds. Democracia, Crise e Reforma: Estudos Sobre a Era Fernando Henrique Cardoso. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2010.Find this resource:

Goertzel, Ted. Fernando Henrique Cardoso: Reinventing Democracy in Brazil. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999.Find this resource:

Lamounier, Bolivar, and Rubens Figueiredo, eds. A Era FHC: Um Balanço. São Paulo: Cultura Editores Associados, 2002.Find this resource:

Packenham, Robert. The Dependency Movement: Scholarship and Politics in Dependency Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer. Cardoso’s Brazil: A Land for Sale. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.Find this resource:


(1.) Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “The Consumption of Dependency Theory,” in Charting a New Course, ed. Mauricio Font (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 85.