The Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) last week hosted an extraordinary politician, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (also known as FHC), the president of Brazil from 1995 to 2002.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso is a member of a group of “elders” founded by the late Nelson Mandela that works towards peace and human rights in the world
The event and details.
Cardoso was in İstanbul to launch the somewhat-belated Turkish translation of his celebrated work from the 1970s, “Dependency and Development in Latin America,” which was highly influential among intellectuals of the continent during that decade. I was happy to be among the group of academics and journalists attending the meeting in which he spoke and responded to questions.
What makes FHC an extraordinary politician is his remarkable career both as an academic and a politician. He may be called a rare example of a “philosopher king.” He was a professor of sociology when he had to leave Brazil and work at various universities abroad due to persecution by the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. During those years, he appeared on the world scene as an outstanding social scientist and served as the president of the International Sociological Association between 1982 and 1986.
His political career began after being elected to the Brazilian Senate in 1986, and he was among the founders of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party founded that year. He took part in the Constitutional Assembly that drafted the current constitution of 1988, which consolidated civilian rule. From 1992 to 1994, he was first the foreign minister and later the finance minister under President Itamar Franco. He ran for president and was elected at the end of 1994 and later in 1998, both times winning in a single round, and remains to date the only president of Brazil to win office without a runoff.
After leaving the presidency, FHC assumed honorary leadership of his party and continues to actively participate in public debate. He is a member of a group of “elders” founded by the late Nelson Mandela that works towards peace and human rights in the world. What Cardoso achieved as president of Brazil was summed up by former US President Bill Clinton: “He assumed the presidency of a young democracy with an unstable economy, and he transformed Brazil into a mature and prosperous nation respected around the world.” He surely is the architect of Brazil as one of the fastest growing economies, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries.
FHC’s greatest achievement can be said to be the Plano Real, which brought down hyperinflation that reached up to 3,000 percent a year. He privatized an important part of public enterprises, brought down barriers to globalization and attracted $100 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) during his administration. He implemented land reform that resettled 600,000 families. He established the Bolsa Scola program to provide assistance to families attending school and instituted a program similar to affirmative action in the US to encourage employment of the non-white population.
He reduced deaths due to AIDS by two-thirds, fought corruption and deepened democracy and the rule of law. He used Brazil’s soft power as a market democracy to extend its influence in the region. He refrained from meddling in the affairs of neighbors, using dialogue and negotiation to resolve disputes. He apologized on behalf of the government for atrocities committed by the military regime. He even managed to influence the policies of his rivals. His friend and opponent from the Labor Party, Lula da Silva, who had once declared him the “executioner of Brazil’s economy,” largely continued with Cardoso’s policies during his presidency between 2003 and 2010.
The foundation FHC established that carries his name is engaged particularly in activities that aim to keep Brazil well informed about the world. I was invited to Sao Paulo by that institution to give a talk on Turkey’s politics last October. I failed to meet him personally then as he happened to be abroad at the time, but had the privilege of discovering his memoir, “The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir” (2006), which is a book that really needs to be translated into Turkish. There is so much to learn from that book for all politicians in Turkey, especially for those who claim to be social democrats.