Speaking with Cardoso, former President of Brazil


Comments of Hon. Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Former President of Brazil

September 15, 2006, Houston, Texas

Janet Moore spoke one-on-one with Hon. Fernando Enrique Cardoso, the former President of Brazil during his visit to Houston, Texas. She asked him what, in his opinion, made an effective international lawyer. “A general, global vision,” he replied, noting further that effective international lawyers need to have an ability to understand broad, global issues and “establish connections” between various cultures. In other words, lawyers needed to be culturally savvy enough to solve legal issues across borders and cultures, and doing so requires a truly global sensitivity and outlook.

Mr. Cardoso expanded on the importance of having an international perspective during his presentation to members of the World Affairs Council of Houston. He started by comparing and contrasting America and Brazil, noting that, like America, Brazil has a large immigrant population. In fact, Brazil is home to 25 million persons of Italian descent, 10 million of Arab heritage, and 2.5 million of Japanese descent. Further, the ethnic groups commingle nicely in this melting pot and intermarriage among races is common. Mr. Cardoso explained that in San Paolo, home to approximately 15 million citizens, Lebanese and Israeli descendants happily live side by side. “Our culture is a culture of acceptance of the other,” he noted.

Again, as in America, Brazil imported slaves from Africa. Because slavery lasted in Brazil till the end of the 19th century, it felt like a “tremendous weight in Brazilian society.” Mr. Cardoso commented that whereas the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, in Brazil there was “no such process. In Brazil, it took a long time.”

After slavery’s demise in the US, segregation was imposed by law till the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s ended it “I have to say that we [Brazilians] don’t pay too much attention to law,” he noted, receiving an appreciative laugh from the crowd.

However, he acknowledged that the economic classes in his country are “highly unequal and used to inequality.”

Mr. Cardoso also explained the important role that Rio de Janeiro has played in his country’s history, starting when it became the nation’s capitol in the 19th century. The Portuguese crown, other members of the nobility, and their staffs and bureaucracy–15,000 persons in all–relocated to Brazil when Napoleon invaded Lisbon in 1815. Thus, an enormous, established bureaucracy descended on Rio in tact, including an organized judiciary, military and other governmental branches. Mr. Cardoso explained how when King Peter I returned home, his son (Peter II) declared himself the Emperor of Brazil. Mr. Cardoso joked about the elevated title chosen by the new monarch: “He chose “Emperor”; why [be] just a King?” This new emperor of Brazil was married to Austrian royalty. According to Mr. Cardoso, these beginnings, with a large royal elite descending en masse on Rio, explain the social stratification that exists still today: the elite and the masses.

Despite these royal roots, Mr. Cardoso believed that there is social mobility within Brazil due to its entrepreneurial spirit. “Our mind is New World,” he commented. “We believe that you can do what you want to do. Maybe it’s not true, but we believe it.” He shared a study that had been done of working class Brazilians in the 1960s, and how their greatest aspiration was to open their own business.

Brazil’s sheer size is clearly an important factor in both its successes and woes. Argentineans in the crowd visibly winced when Mr. Cardoso mentioned that the GDP of the State of San Paolo exceeds that of the country of Argentina. Because Brazil is so large and made up of states, which states have various priorities, Mr. Cardoso felt that governing the whole nation is challenging; “Will orders from Brasilia be followed [by the states]? Maybe. It depends.”

He addressed the issue of poverty in Brazil, noting that “the poor people are correctly asking for more, but the government can’t provide it all; it’s a trade off, and a lot depends on the quality of leadership [as to whether] it’s a success.” But, he noted, “to become a respected society, we must transform ourselves into a more just society.” Mr. Cardoso then elaborated on several areas needing improvement within Brazil, including education, health care, and income and land concentration. Brazil’s “social security problem is a nightmare–for you [Americans], too,” he sympathized.

On the international front, he hopes to see Brazil’s government take a “firmer position” vis-à-vis Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and new Bolivian President Evo Morales “in a way that shows our values. This is necessary, to give more strength to Brazilian leadership in the region; however, this can’t be our obsession–to be the leader in the region.”

International cooperation was another important theme of Mr. Cardoso’s talk. He explained that it is “important for Brazil that we have been able to be more tolerant than other nations,” and hoped that his country could be more involved in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Mr. Cardoso ended by discussing impediments to democracy throughout the world, noting that “we are living in a bad moment because there is double fundamentalism: the idea that democracy must be imposed [on the one hand], and the idea that democracy is the devil [on the other].” In his opinion, Western democracy can’t be transferred and imposed across the world without being adapted. Mr. Cardoso concluded that democracy must be better at adapting to the “diversity of cultures,” and he called on nations to sit together and talk with hope of reaching a compromise. “We have to have a new vision and reorganize the world order.”

For more on Mr. Cardoso’s thoughts, read his new book: The Accidental President of Brazil.

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