Cardoso, Fernando: 1931—: Sociologist, Politician

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Fernando Cardoso: 1931: Sociologist, politician

Fernando Henrique Cardoso became the first reelected president of Brazil, based on the strides he made in modernizing the nation. During his terms, he emphasized economic reform, privatization, foreign investment, and funding for social services and education, and did so without a hint of the corruption that had plagued Brazil's former leaders. He is best known for his economic policies that succeeded in halting the chronic hyperinflation that plagued the country. The inflation rate in 1994 was 50 percent a month; by 1998, Cardoso had reduced it to three percent per year, but was facing criticism for his austere economic reforms. He also introduced a new stable currency, the plano real. Under Cardoso's leadership, Brazil has become the largest developing-world trading partner of the United States. Trained as a political sociologist, Cardoso sympathized with left-wing politics as a student and professor, and spent the late 1960s and 1970s blacklisted by the nation's former military-dictatorship government.

Cardoso was born on June 18, 1931 in Rio de Janeiro. His father, Leoncio, and grandfather were both military generals. During his time as an officer in the Brazilian army, Leoncio Cardoso was imprisoned briefly for his involvement in a democratic revolt, though he retired as brigadier general. Leoncio Cardoso was happy to see his son pursue sociology and academia rather than follow in his military footsteps. The president has kept much about his early life private, though it is known he studied sociology at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and earned his doctorate in 1961. As a young professor, he was part of a Marx study group. Though the group analyzed the social and political theories of Karl Marx, Cardoso maintains that he "was never a Marxist in an ideological sense," wrote Cardoso biographer and sociology professor Ted Goertzel after an interview located online at Goertzel's homepage.

Leftist President Joao Goulart was overthrown in a military coup in 1964, and Brazil came under power of a military dictatorship. Cardoso fled to Chile to avoid the fate of other distinguished liberal academics throughout the country, who had been forced to retire or even were tortured and imprisoned. He remained in exile in Santiago from 1964 to 1967 as a professor at the Latin American Institute for Economic and Social Planning, and spent the next two years at the University of Paris at Nanterre. During his years in exile, Cardoso continued his research into the relationship between developing countries and the West. He also earned a distinguished reputation in the field of sociology after publication of the book Dependency and Development, which he co-authored, and which "revolutionized thinking in the field," according to Goertzel.

At a Glance . . .

Born Fernando Henrique Cardoso on June 18, 1931 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. married to Ruth Correa Leite Cardoso (an anthropologist); three children. Education: University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, doctorate, sociology, 1961. Politics: Brazilian Social Democratic Party.

Career: Sociologist, politician. Professor of developmental sociology, Latin American Institute for Economic and Social Planning, Santiago, Chile, 1964-67; co-wrote book, Dependency and Development in Latin America; professor of sociological theory, University of Paris-Nanterre, 1967; professor of political science, University of Sao Paulo, 1968; professor at Stanford University, Cambridge University, University of Paris, c. 1969-78; ran for Senate on Brazilian Democratic Movement ticket, 1978; associate director of studies, Institute for Higher Studies in Social Sciences, Paris, and University of California; Brazilian Senator, 1983-93; foreign minister, 1993; finance minister, 1993-94; president of Brazil, 1995-.

Awards: Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco; Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Portugal; named a chevalier in the French Legion of Honor.

Addresses: Office Gabinete do Presidente, Palacio do Planalto, Praca dos Tres Poderes, 70150 Brasilia, D.F., Brazil.

Blacklisted From Teaching

Upon his return to Brazil at the end of 1968, Cardoso taught political science for a short time at his alma mater, the University of Sao Paulo. In 1969 he was arrested, banned from teaching at any Brazilian university, and his political and civil rights were suspended. Cardoso and his fellow liberals and intellectuals then formed a social science think tank called the Brazilian Analysis and Planning Center (also known as the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Research, and Cebrap). Rather than shrinking into the background, he became known as one of the most prominent members of the left-wing opposition. The group's Sao Paulo headquarters were bombed in 1975 by right-wing terrorists. Cardoso was summoned to military police headquarters, where he was blindfolded and interrogated about a meeting he had had in Mexico City with a leading Belgian intellectual. When his blindfold was removed, he witnessed a man being tortured.

After twenty years of successive military rulers who drove the country's inflation rate out of control, a general election re-instituted a direct-election system. In 1986 Cardoso won a Senatorial seat for Sao Paulo. In his first days in politics, Cardoso's colleagues were impressed at his high level of intelligence. He brought an unusual level of intellect from his academic days into his inspired Senate speeches. In his first speech, he quoted form the works of German sociologist Max Weber, which proposed the need to attempt the impossible to achieve the possible. In 1988, he co-founded the moderately-leftist Brazilian Social Democratic Party.

Brazil's President Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached for corruption in 1992 and was replaced by Itamar Franco. President Franco appointed Cardoso Foreign Minister, in part because of his established intellectual and political reputation and in part because he is multi-lingual. (In addition to his native Portuguese, he speaks English, French, and Spanish.) In May of 1993, Cardoso was shocked to hear that Franco had appointed him Finance Minister. He called Franco to complain, but Franco told him "the public response has been excellent," according to an excerpt from Cardoso's biography located online at Brazzil magazine. Cardoso tempted fate by taking the position. It seemed a hopeless assignment for a sociologist after the long line of economists that had failed to halt inflation. Cardoso put together a team of the country's leading economists, but ignored the advice of those who told him it was impossible to draw back inflation before the end of Franco's term.

Introduced the New Plano Real

Cardoso's plan was rooted in the use of a currency which was continually readjusted to the U.S. dollar. The plano real was introduced in 1994, during his last year as finance minister. According to an excerpt from Goertzel's biography of Cardoso, Cardoso recognized the immediate effect of the real on his nation. "The society got tired of inflation," the president told Goertzel. "There came a point when they were fed up with it. At that point, we needed something to close the circuit. That was the plano real. We took a chance on it, and we won because the country understood. It was fantastic. Within a week, everyone knew what it meant." Once Brazil had a hard currency system, Cardoso exuded optimism for Brazil's future and for the fundamental reforms that would be necessary to achieve it. The nation responded by electing him president in October of 1994.

Cardoso triumphed in the election over his more charismatic opponent, Labor Party candidate Luis Ignacio da Silva. Brazilian voters could understand Cardoso's plansin fact, they already had already been put into action. Brazil's business leaders overlooked Cardoso's liberal politics and education in Marxism and gave him their support, mainly because he had already proven his understanding of Brazil's complex economic problems and his preparedness to deal with them. While some of some leaders associated with the former military regimes found reasons to support him, so did many leftists, who felt his socialist convictions were still intact. Cardoso considers his "strong personality," bold vision for Brazil's future, and motivational and decision-making skills among the qualities that voters twice elected him for, according his interview with Ted Goertzel. Some Brazilians liken Cardoso's wife, anthropologist Ruth Correa Leite, to Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States. The couple has three adult children and several grandchildren.

Cardoso continued his regimen to get Brazil's economy back on track. He privatized some industries and was active in attracting foreign trade to the nation, which had previously avoided foreign imports. Cardoso's policies benefitted the poorest Brazilians the most, bringing service-industry wages up. Because they had to pay an increased cost for services, the middle class felt the greatest pinch. In 1994 the inflation rate was 50 percent per month; by 1998, Cardoso had reduced it to three percent per year. Brazil became South America's cornerstone trade marketbillions of dollars in foreign trade and investment poured into the nation. In fewer than four years, Cardoso had made great strides toward stabilizing the nation. So well-liked was Cardoso that voters improved an amendment to the Brazilian constitution that allowed him to serve a second term as president. This second victory was not as easy for Cardoso as his first election was.

Crumbling World Markets Threatened Brazil

In 1997 Asian stock markets crashed and shook Brazil's economy. In response, Cardoso subjected Brazil to austere financial reforms that included spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the nation's budget deficit and to secure international loans. Unemployment rose, as did inflation. Though his motivation was to secure the economy, the strict reforms were not popular with voters. Then Russia's government defaulted on its foreign debts, which damaged confidence throughout Latin America, and investors began pulling their money out of Brazil. Before the election, Cardoso began negotiations for an economic bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the international agency designed to stabilize the world economy. Despite the downturn, In Cardoso became Brazil's first president to be reelected to a second term.

After the election, Brazil accepted a $41.5-billion aid package from the IMF to secure its economy. The deal required that legislation be introduced in Brazil to restructure Brazil's tax and social security systems and further reduce government spending. Cardoso devalued the real in January of 1999 in hopes of lowering the cost of Brazilian exports, making products more attractive in overseas markets and increasing Brazil's incoming cash flow. Unfortunately, the real's value continued to slide.

For as many issues as he has tackled successfully, Cardoso is often cited for what many consider his shortcomings. "Cardoso may have done too good a job of containing the crisis," suggested one Business Week writer in an article published in October of 1999. In addition to his tenuous hold on Brazil's economy, "critical intellectuals" found his administration too predictable, according to Goertzel. Leftists complained that he had not solved more of the nation's ills, including poverty, destruction of the Amazon rainforests and other environmental damage, murders of street children by police death squads, and displacement and extermination of indigenous tribes. His approval ratings plummeted.

The corruption Brazilians had come to associate with politics before Cardoso once again appeared when scandal involving a number of questionable legislators threatened his administration. It was not suggested that Cardoso himself was involved. In a speech, Cardoso accused his political opponents of "pretending that we're taking away social rights, when we're trying to do away with abuses of privilege," according to Business Week in October of 1999. Because he is prevented from running for a third term, the best Cardoso can hope for is that a candidate of his choosing will carry on his legacy, though voters may opt for a candidate with an entirely different approach.



Business Week, January 25, 1999, p. 38; October 11, 1999, p. 64; May 21, 2001, p. 29.

Economist, October 10, 1998, p. 16; March 27, 1999, p. 3; July 29, 2000, p. 35; January 6, 2001, p. 1; September 15, 2001; September 29, 2001.


Brazzil magazine, (February 20, 2002).

Christian Science Monitor online, http://www.cs (February 20, 2002).

Current Leaders of Nations, Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, The Gale Group, 2001 (February 20, 2002).

Encyclopedia Britannica, (February 27, 2002).

Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 18, Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, The Gale Group, 2001 (February 20, 2002).

Ted Goertzel's Homepage, (February 21, 2002).

Brenna Sanchez

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Cardoso, Fernando: 1931—: Sociologist, Politician

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