The Library of Congress announced Monday that Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will receive the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime intellectual achievement.
Paulo Sotero, who directs the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says Cardoso essentially forged today’s vibrant Brazil.
“Based on his enormous capacity for dialogue, his enormous intellectual energy, and his activism, he brings people together (to) forge alliances and that puts Brazil on the path that Brazil is on today,” says Sotero.
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Lisa Mullins: A former Brazilian leader is to be honored in Washington. The Library of Congress announced today that Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will receive the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime intellectual achievement. This is an unusual choice because the award typically goes to philosophers and historians, not politicians. Paulo Sotero directs the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He agrees with others that Cardoso was a sort of Brazilian Thomas Jefferson because he laid the philosophical foundation and forged the political alliances that returned Brazil to democracy in 1985.
Paulo Sotero: He helps to put together forces, forming the opposition of the military government and carve a way for a negotiated return to democracy. He’s a key actor in all of that, behind the scenes, once Brazil becomes a democracy. Cardoso always said that Brazil is not an underdeveloped country. Brazil is, above all, an unjust society, and based on that belief, based on his enormous capacity for dialog, his enormous intellectual energy, and his activism, he brings people together to forge alliances and that puts Brazil on the path that Brazil is on today.
Mullins: Now, what was one of the most salient examples of how he did that?
Sotero: Once he is, to his own surprised, called to be Finance Minister in Brazil in 1993. After Brazil had failed, had experimented and failed in every possible economic program, he manages to bring together a group of economists, a group of politicians, and find the path to approve something that is called the “Real Plan”. The Real Plan refers to a currency that today is the currency of Brazil. Compromises in democracy with open elections in a congress where the multi-party system, he is the key person that brings this together for the first time. In more than three decades, Brazil finds itself with a stable economy and it is on that basis that he is elected and re-elected President of Brazil.
Mullins: One of things that Cardoso also did was to come to the conclusion that racially based servitude in Brazil acted as a direct contributor to social backwardness and economic backwardness. That was revolutionary at the time.
Sotero: Yes. And he went to the south of Brazil, the states colonized by Italians and Germans, that had very little presence of African slaves, but he found the same structure in that part of Brazil that existed in other parts of Brazil. He determined that Brazil had a systemic problem of a social structure based on slavery and that it had to be faced, it had to be tackled, and that’s what he ends up doing as both a militant and, later, as President. Cardoso has the courage to go on national television and tell the Brazilians that there is no such thing as a racial democracy in Brazil. We were led to believe by sociologists in Brazil that Brazil as sort of some kind of perfect society where there is no racial tension, and he is the person that introduces the first programs of affirmative actions so Brazil can have, as it has today, black professors, black diplomats, black businessmen. A long way to go, but he is really a pioneer, as a politician, bringing to the country that reality and forcing the country to face it and to act on it.
Mullins: Paulo Sotero directs the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He was speaking to us about Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso who is getting the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime intellectual achievement from the Library of Congress. Thanks a lot.
Sotero: It was a pleasure to be with you.
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