Reprinted from the WEB page of the Political Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association



[Editors’ Note:  We are fortunate to have for this issue a dialogue between two prominent Latin American political sociologists.  Heinz R. Sonntag interviews Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who served two terms as Brazil’s president until 2002, after also having served as Senator, Foreign Minister and Finance Minister, and having helped found the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB).  Cardoso is also known as the renowned Brazilian sociologist credited with being one of the first authors to theorize “dependency.”   Sonntag is a retired Professor of Sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and former director of its Center for Development Studies – CENDES, and author of several books, including a forthcoming book on social exclusion in comparative perspective.   This is the complete text of the full interview that took place at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, on October 19th, 2003.  We wish to thank Ted Goertzel, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, for his help in translating the interview.  Ted Goertzel is the author of Fernando Henrique Cardoso:  Reinventing Democracy in Brazil and other materials on Cardoso and Brazil available at]


The friendship between Fernando Henrique Cardoso and myself dates to 1966, when we spent three days together at the University of Muenster during his visit to the then Federal Republic of Germany, after the military regime of his country had expelled him from his post as professor of sociology of the University of São Paulo.  We have kept in touch all these years, within the context of the social scientific community of the Latin America and the Caribbean.   During his term as president, personal circumstances made it possible for us to see and write each other.  When he came to Brown University in October of 2003 we came in face to face contact for the first time since 1998, and intellectually and affectively it was as if the five years in between hadn’t existed.  The dialogue that follows continues our discussions since those in those since those distant years in GermanyHeinz R. Sonntag



HRS:  Fernando, first of all I would like to thank you for this opportunity for dialog.  I would like to begin with a recollection.  On January 1, 1995, I had the honor, pleasure and joy to take part in the ceremonies when you became President of Brazil for the first time.


FHC:  What Americans call "Inauguration Day".


HRS:  Yes, on Inauguration Day.  Shortly before it began I had met with a Brazilian that I know.  He told me that you had said right after the election that from this moment on Brazilians and Latin Americans should forget everything that you had written before.  If I remember correctly, these supposed words of yours were published.


FHC:  Look, this was a very curious question.  I was Minister of Foreign Relations - or was it when I was Minister of Finance?  In any event, I was a Minister.  And some of the press wrote that at a lunch which was also attended by Celso Laffer, who later was a Minister of mine, also Minister of Foreign Relations, I had said that it was best to forget everything that I had written.  I asked all the people who had been at that meeting, and nobody heard that.  Later I asked the people who had published it who had told them that, and they could not answer me.  Nevertheless, this story has been repeated over and over.  But just recently a new edition of my doctoral thesis has been published in Brazil, which was the first book that I ever wrote.


HRS:  Yes, abut capitalism and slavery in the south of Brazil…


FHC:  Precisely.  I wrote a new preface where I mentioned that incident.  I am the re-editor of my own work.  I think this is the most convincing proof that I do not want to forget what I have written.


HRS:  Then this was an act of propaganda, a political ploy?


FHC:  Certainly, I know that it was a political ploy by extreme leftist groups or by the Workers Party.  There is always a difference between what these groups say I wrote and what I really wrote.  They build straw men that are easy to demolish.  Instead of discussing my actual ideas, they attribute ideas to me that I never expressed, then they say "this thinking is not true."  I never thought that.  I never said or wrote that phrase.


HRS:  The mention of your thinking brings us quickly to one of the points I want to talk to you about:  social science thinking about dependency.  I have a very specific interpretation of this school of thought.


FHC:  Let's see, let's see…


HRS:  I think that a little bit after the concept of dependency became a strong force in Latin American social thought and social science, basically after the Congress of the Latin American Sociological Association[1] in Mexico in 1969, it split into two currents.  One of these called itself Dependency Theory and understood itself as a version of the theory of imperialism from the perspective of underdevelopment.  The other current, which included you, me and Faletto, defined itself as a focus on dependency, in the sense of the analysis of concrete situation of dependency.  This current of thinking, I believe, maintained a theoretical and empirical electicism that allowed it to incorporate elements from very distinct schools of thought:  from Marx, Weber, Durkheim, the doctrines of CEPAL and others.  This split led to a polemic with you and Jose Serra on one side and Ruy Mauro Marini on the other, published in 1978, in the Revista Mexicana de Sociología.  What is your view on this?


FHC:  It's true.  I believe that your interpretation is correct.  I was always opposed to the very existence of a "Dependency Theory."  The theory cannot be of dependency.  It is a general theory of capitalism, it cannot be of a subcapitalsim, or of a branch of capitalism.  We developed the focus on dependency because we were against a cruder, more primitive version of Marxism-Leninism.  CEPAL had already initiated the study of dependency.  Of course, it had direct antecedents in my book on the entrepreneurs in Brazil which had discussed these things, also in my book about capitalism and slavery in the south of Brazil.  What was the quid of this matter?  CEPAL had an economistic theory of development.  And the left, basically Communist at that time, at least with a Cuban version of Communism, had a very simplistic version in which everything was overwhelmed by foreign powers, by imperialism. 


What did Faletto and I want to say?   That history consists of structures, and that these are not dependent, they consist of relations of production and domination.  Men make history and the configurations are highly variable.  Despite the fact that there is relationship between the periphery, as Raul Prebish called it, and the center, it is not always the same, invariable and eternal until the arrival of the revolution.  We wrote this book to show the differences:  the different enclave economies, some economies under the control of the national bourgeoisies, others where there is still foreign investment, the implicit and changing association of capital between the periphery and the center in situations of development.  This was the most dynamic part of our studies.  We had no pretense of creating a new theory of capitalism out of underdevelopment.  You are entirely right.


HRS:  Being a dependency theorist, with the definition and connotation of dependency which you have just given, and being the overwhelmingly elected president of a democratic country, for two constitutional terms, has the fact of your being one of the first authors of dependency theory, or of the historical-structural focus that you just described, had any influence on your actions as president?


FHC: Without a doubt.  I much prefer to speak of a historical-structural focus.


HRS:  Exactly.  Me too.


FHC:  I know.   When I wrote about the slaves in my youth[2], when I was not yet thirty, I attempted to explore historically the structure in which slavery functioned within capitalism, in Brazil as in other parts of the Americas.  That is:  I always referred to a series of specific conditions and to another series of general conditions.  The double reference is to the general conditions of the capitalist system and to ones specific to each societal unit that need to be taken into account in the analysis.  It is impossible to take only one and say, well, because there are general conditions, the consequence is that countries will behave in a mechanically subordinate way, just as it is impossible to imagine that a country can behave without reference to a larger structure. 


Understanding this double game is what I think allows us to understand things better.  It is clear that in the presidency of Brazil I always had this in mind.  Take for example, our state.  What is it possible to do during a period of globalization, with a very strong foreign investment in Brazil?  Without a doubt, this has never displaced local investment, it was close to 20% of the whole of investment in our country.  But this simultaneous presence demands that the state has to change.  In what direction?  It can adjust to the situation and maintain the capacity to continue controlling and taking decisions.  If it doesn’t, it cannot face contemporary challenges.  This means that it has to face a relationship that is neither internal nor external.  I have always defended the principle that you have to organize internal forces that are linked to the exterior, but that are not from the exterior.


HRS:   That is, in the purest sense of the word, the dialectic of dependency.  The coexistence, at once contradictory and complementary, of internal and external social forces on the political system and the state.


FHC:   Yes.  For this reason, to govern today has this double character.  I have never accepted, for example, this question of neoliberalism.  Of course the Workers Party and the extreme left have labeled me neoliberal, but this had to do with political fighting.   This is demonstrated by the fact that, in truth, Lula[3] is now following the same policies as I did.  Lula has not adhered to any neoliberalism.  But what happens is that in a country like ours, these are words without meaning.   Because it is not possible to have democratic action or development without the state, as neoliberalism postulates.  Because to maintain such a relationship depends on the rule of law, on the possibility that contracts exist and are respected, and requires that the state be capable of respecting the common interest.  As a consequence, it needs to be a more sophisticated state, it means having regulatory agencies, depending on a growing participation of civil society, trying to build alliances with forces in civil society.  It does not mean making a sharp dichotomy between bureaucracy and non-bureaucracy but something much more complex, keeping in mind that today people do not want to just vote without participating in deliberations.


Without understanding this, it is not possible to make politics work and progress.  I have always had in mind that it was important to reinforce institutions while opening them to civil society to participate in their deliberations.  And I have always had in mind that Congress plays a very important role.  Because I think that there has to be participation, social mobilization, but not to replace Congress.   Here again one has to carry out this analytical operation that consists of taking a vaguely abstract concept and take it beyond its content.  [The question] is not whether there is participation, but that at the same time there are institutional agencies, there actions that derive from civil society, and from the action of individuals.  It depends on political parties, on representation, on the constitution.  This is very important for those in power to continue, we could say, knowing the country.


HRS:  Then Montesquieu continues to be correct:  the three branches of power:  the executive, the legislative and the judicial, but with the active participation of civil society, which at his time was practically nonexistent.


FHC:  Yes.  But something more.   I think that today it is very important to value the role of leadership.  Curiously, it is more important than before.  In the so called mass society, despite the fact that there are strong institutions, at the same time, it is necessary to have a symbolic figure so that the masses can decide what direction the country will take.  Leadership helps the masses accept the difficulties a country must go through at a given time, so that they can adjust to these difficulties in order to follow a road, an objective, a goal.  This requires leadership.  If the president is not able to exercise it, the system will not function.  The more this is institutionalized, the more this is mobilized, the more participation there is, the more need there is for a certain level of leadership which has in this sense moral standing and which is able to serve as a symbol for the country.


HRS:  We can see this in a concrete example.  In two examples.  The first will be political economy.  The range of possibilities within political economy.  And the second is what you and Ruth did with social policies.  One could…


FHC:  I will give you some concrete examples.  How did economic stabilization take place in Brazil?  The Real Plan?[4]  We were experiencing an inflation of 30% or 40% every month, or between 350% or 400% or 500% a year, a thing which was really crushing.  And we had had recent experience with many anti-inflation plans.  All of these plans had been made technocratically, which mean that, one day they were just promulgated and everything changed:  everyone's bank deposits were frozen, or prices were fixed, or salaries were only adjusted every three months, etc.  A typical technocratic vision. 


What did we do with the Real Plan?  Just the opposite.  The idea was:  we will explain to the public in advance what is going to happen.  First, we will make a campaign.  I did this, to explain that if there was no fiscal adjustment it would not be possible to control inflation.  That inflation was damaging not only the country but especially the popular classes.  Because they did not have a guaranteed adjustment of their income, because they could not put their money in a bank where it would be indexed for inflation. 


I explained that Congress thought it governed, but it did not govern because the government could put off a payment and then the inflation ate up the value of what was paid.  On the other hand, this was very confusing.  I undertook to explain all of this to the public.  And I took many months to explain it.  I spoke a great deal on television and on the radio.  We even explained the monetary plan in advance. 


We said, look, we are going to create a kind of hyperinflation.  We will be making daily adjustments of prices and salaries, of everything.  But at the same time we are going to create a kind of virtual money.  A money that has a fixed value.  And you will see then, I said on television, that the prices will be moving.  But calculated in this virtual money, they will  not move at all.  And then, after some time we will convert this virtual money into the national currency.  And this is what we did.  Some people said, the people will not understand, the people will feel lost.  But no, the people understood.  We used the democratic system to implement a change in money, a change in the fiscal regime, a change in the exchange regime, because I believe in democracy.  And the people responded.


HRS:  After the elections of 1994, a group of friends from Brazil and other parts of Latin America commented that you had won on the first round of voting because Lula and the Workers Party never understood how you had managed to lower the inflation, nor did they believe that you could keep it down.  They expected that the Real Plan would fail just as the previous plans had failed.  Democracy won over technocracy.


FHC:  The same thing happened with the recent electricity crisis.  For me it was surprising.  At that time we did not know that this could happen.  I had not been informed of this.  It was a failure of the system of government.  Nor did the Minister of Energy exercise caution with the water reserves.  What happened with a period of drought.  The opposition said there had not been investment.  No, no.  There was a lack of rain.  Then we had to decide what to do.  The first proposal was to have massive blackouts, as has been done in various parts of the world, with each part of the country going two or three hours a day without electricity.  I did not accept this.  Impossible.  It couldn't be done.  How could we cut the electricity for three hours in a city like São Paulo


I spoke with other people.  We had to talk to the people, share with them every day all the information we had, what was happening with the water reserves, and what had to be done.  We would ask them to save electricity.  And it worked, we saved an enormous amount of energy.  We never had a blackout, we never shut off electricity, but everyone, including the industries, voluntarily saved electricity.  Of course, we did institute a new pricing system.  Those who saved energy for the people had their electric rates cut.  Those who used more - and they could use more - had to have the money to pay more for it.  This required belief in democracy.  A democracy does not mean that, as president, I have the constitutional right to impose a blackout of electricity.  Yes, I have the right, but I am not going to do it because I believe that the people have to participate in the process.  And this requires that the government has credibility and that there is a free press, which tells the people what is true:  the water was getting better or not better, exactly how much there was.  I believe that to govern today one has to act in this manner.


In the area of social policy that you mentioned, Ruth [Cardoso, his wife] made an experiment with Communidade Solidaria which was not part of the government, but a part of civil society, and the government created mechanisms to take advantage of it.  What we did was increase the participation of society in the entire process of social change.  To really believe that the people can understand and act and be responsible, this requires that the government, the state, to use Gramsci's expression, becomes more porous, that it allows society to enter into it.  The clearest example of this is with the struggle against HIV/AIDS in Brazil, which was an international success.  Why?  Because it was the non-governmental groups, made up of people who had AIDS or HIV, who occupied positions within the Ministry of Health, and who controlled and mobilized these programs.  This worked.


Also with the problem of infant mortality, which we have lowered a great deal.  We lowered the infant mortality from 44 per thousand to 28 per thousand in six years.  This was a powerful change.  How did we do this?  In this case, we had a lay person from the Catholic Church;  not an official member of the hierarchy, but a person tied to the church.  The government gave them money and materials, I don't know how much, but it came together.  Not only with the Catholic Church, but with various sectors, we mobilized society.  We did the same thing with the family doctors.  We sought out Cubans, Brazil is full of Cuban doctors.  Cuba has a surplus of doctors, so it exports them.  And we used the same system for the poor families.  The doctors in Brazil do not make much, but they earn money, and it is hard to get them to go to the countryside.  The Cubans will go to the countryside and because of this, with time, the Brazilian doctors also began to go to the small towns.  We improved the salaries there.  And we created organizations that had one doctor and six or seven people who were nurses, assistants, paramedics.  And there were many simple things, because often what one has to do is get people to boil their water or give better food to their children, small things that are necessary for the poorest population.  This also had positive results.


Now the statistical data on Brazil in the last ten  years are coming out.  They go from the years 1991 to the year 2002.[5]  There has been a total change in the social area.  The area where we made the most progress is the social area.  But during all those years I was continually criticized by the opposition, with the PT at front, that I was a neoliberal, and all I cared about was the market, while in truth, the market did not go so well with us.  The social area functioned very well, we now have a well organized social policy and you can see that the Lula government has not only continued my policies in the economic area, but also in the social area.  If it did not, it would be minimally neoliberal.


HRS:  Or only neoliberal.


FHC:  Yes, I mixed up the words…


HRS:  I agree with you on this, but…  let's go on to another point.  I read your last book, where there are some things that you had written some time ago and some new things.


FHC:  Ah, the book that came out in the United States.


HRS:  Yes, the one edited by Mauricio Font.


FHC:  What is the book called in English?


HRS:  Charting New Politics, Charting Politics of the 21st Century.[6]  I read the book with special attention because International Sociology, the journal of the ISA, asked me to write a review.  I wrote it and the only part where I had some doubts, and expressed my doubts, and where I continue to have some doubts is with your concept of globalization.   It struck me precisely because of what you were saying earlier, that you do not like to only speak of the historical-structural perspective without its application, but suddenly in the  book appears the concept of globalization in the same way as in mainstream opinion: a less reflexive, less historical, and more superficial concept.  Meanwhile, the capitalism that has appeared since is a world-wide phenomenon, or increasingly global.  I did not understand it, as there appeared to be a contradiction between what you had always defended and what you had said in the book.


FHC:  Frankly I do not know which article you are referring to.  Probably the book included the text of one of my speeches.


HRS:  Yes.  A relatively long speech.  Eight to twelve pages.


FHC:  But as president?


HRS:  Yes.


FHC:  It was probably not a work to which I gave much thought.  I do not remember which one it was.  I could look to see what is there.  What I have done here in the United States about this question of globalization is a small book with Manuel Castells, years ago, some ten years ago.  I think that in that book the approach is more historical-structural.  Because you are right if the text to which you refer is as you perceived it, I don't know, I would have to look at it to see.  But, in fact, I believe that capitalism is becoming increasingly global.  Marx had a vision that predicted its expansion, and had a Eurocentric vision as well.  He believed this would solve the question of capitalism:  because of globalization it would be possible to have a revolution on a world-wide scale.   That is not what is thought today.  I believe the question of globalization, beyond the economic and more technological aspects having to do with the revolution in transportation and in the means of communication and information technology, can mean that the space of production no longer matters.   You can take the decision to take a factory here, move it to India, put other parts of production in China, and it is the same thing from the point of view of profit for the company.  This is correct, there is this level of globalization.


But there are other levels of globalization.  A planetary society is being formed, if asymmetrically.  Asymmetrical in not only in who has the resources, financial capital and all, but also in terms of power.  There continues to be a strong asymmetry.  And on the other hand, there are networks being formed, that are transnational, and that are not interest based.  These are social movements, of various types...


HRS: I believe this is truly new.  In the current wave of globalization.


FHC:   It is new.  It is new because for the first time it is possible to put in concrete terms the Kantian thematic, and his vision of universal peace.  And it is now that this has become meaningful for various countries.  It is possible to imagine a cosmopolitan vision that is very important.  A cosmopolitan vision of laws, of the universal, of things that apply to all, of universal laws.  But you have to at the same time take into account that while we are not far from it, there is much asymmetry in the political and economic planes, while there is also a reaffirmation of cultural identities.   We can later march towards a world that is more homogenous from the point of view of cultural identities.  We can march towards a world that is more homogenous from the point of view of production.  Perhaps a world that allows for general rules, the cosmopolitan question.  I believe this to be the heart of the question.  What is the limit between the cosmopolitan question and cultural differentiation.


Take Iraq.   What right is there to impose a North American electoral system on Iraq?  It doesn’t exist.   What is possible is to increase human rights, deepening them.  Torture is not acceptable.  This is a human right, it is universal.  Crimes against humanity are not acceptable.  I think there needs to be an international criminal court, and there is one.   The United States does not accept it, but it exists.  Saddam Hussein should be judged in this tribunal, to apprehend him and to finally condemn him.  Genocide and gender inequalities that lead women to die of stonings in Africa also are not acceptable.   These, I believe, are rules that befit a cosmopolitan system.  But not the specific form of government, nor the forms of decision making.  Neither are the specific ways in which people identify themselves.  This is a question for the new century, for the 21st century.


And at the same time, what has returned is the fundamentalist vision and the empire of the United States which is not based on economic interests.   The imperial vision here is not based on economic interests.  This is not the case.  Economic interests are global, they require consistent rules, not arbitrary and capricious behavior.  Now we are faced with an arbitrary situation that needs to be put in check and discussed in this way.  It must be seen as an anti-global phenomenon, if we understand globalization in the Marxist-Habermassian way or the Kantian one, as something that can be positive.  The situation at hand is not an instance of globalization, it is of unilateralism.  These are themes that I believe will continue to be important in the next century. 


HRS:  You mentioned the strengthening of differences in cultural identity.  This seems to me a very important consideration, primarily because it has to do with fundamental human values of which you spoke:  tolerance, the acceptance of diversity.  This should be a part of this globalization.


FHC:  Surely.  There is no reason to be opposed to globalization as such, although one has to be opposed to this globalization.  But not in general.  In general it is good.


HRS:  Also one cannot be against it because it is a historical trajectory that has been going on for centuries and continues.


FHC:  It continues, so the question is:  how can we add positive dimensions to this ongoing process?  This movement we see all the time which is anti-globalization, against the World Trade Organization, is in error.  I understand their reasons;  concerns about asymmetry and all of that, but we have to get to the positive alternatives.  So what do they propose at the global level.  What is the order that we want?  What are we going to do with the United Nations?  How far can we think in terms of universal rules?  Who is going to enforce these rules?  Should there be a parliament in the United Nations?  Even if it is not a parliament of votes, but a parliament where the totality of the sentiments of the world can be expressed.  How to reconcile this with the nation states, which will not disappear either?  I think their core vision is unrealistic.  At 72 years of age, I cannot attend many more of these forums and events.


HRS:  Who knows, perhaps the best medical care will permit us to live longer than appears to be the limit today.  But seriously, with your last response you already covered my last question, which was to be about utopia.


FHC:  Yes, it is a utopia, and I do not believe one can live in utopia.


HRS:  I believe that Carlos Fuentes once said that a world without utopia was rotten wood…


FHC:  I very much liked Fuentes' book, the one about the "buried mirror."[7]   It is a beautiful discussion of the relationship between Latin America and Spain.  I think he was writing about a relationship, a contradiction in terms, a viable utopia.  Utopia is not viable.  Utopia is Greek for a place that does not exist.  But I think one has to have utopia to motivate people, to give us something in which to believe, so that we can construct viable routes to a better world.


HRS:  Yes.  To conclude, on July 5, 1995, during a visit you made to Venezuela, when we gave you an honorary doctorate at the Central University, I heard you give a beautiful speech on a topic which is much less developed here in the United States.  You spoke about an authentic community of social scientists in Latin America during the 60's, 70's and part of the 80s.  When we fought, when we argued, when we questioned each other, there was so little personal animosity, so little personalization of the conflicts, despite the differences and controversies that we had.  The last sentence of your speech was (and I quote loosely):  "Ruth and I and those who accompany me will be content on leaving the government if we have changed Brazil, even if only a little bit."  Now, how much do you think your government has changed Brazil:  a little bit, a moderate amount or a great deal?


FHC:  I believe Brazil has changed a great deal. I also changed quite a lot.   I believe that each day has its problems.  If I returned to be president, I would do other things.  Or different things.  There is no question.  But I can say with tranquility that we have changed Brazil.


HRS:  Thank you, Fernando.


Translated by Ted Goertzel and Gianpaolo Baiocchi

[1] The Asociacion Latinoamericana de Sociologia was founded in 1950 in Zurich and still exists.  It celebrates this year its XXVI Congress in Arequipa, Peru.  The book Dependencia y Desarrollo en America Latina, by FHC and Enzo Faletto had been published in June of this same year, and played an enormous and influential role in the discussions of the Congress.

[2] Cardoso, Fernando Henrique. 1962. Capitalismo e escravidão no Brasil Meridional; o negro na sociadade escravocrata do Rio Grande do Sul. São Paulo,: Difusão Européia do Livro. [eds]

[3] Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva, the Workers Party leader who is currently President of Brazil.

[4] The Real Plan was a monetary stabilization plan developed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso in his role as Finance Minister in the government prior to his election as President of Brazil.  His success with this plan led to his election as President.  The real was the new Brazilian currency introduced at this time.  See Ted Goertzel, Fernando Henrique Cardoso:  Reinventing Democracy in Brazil, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999, for details on this and other matters in Cardoso's biography.

[5] Many of the statistics can be conveniently found in "Eight Years of Pragmatic Leadership in Brazil,” available at

[6] The exact title is Cardoso, Fernando Henrique 2001.  Charting a New Course:  The Politics of Globalization and Social Transformation.  Edited and Introduced by Mauricio A. Font.  Rowham and Littlefield Publishers.

[7] Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror:  Reflections on Spain and the New World.  Houghton Mifflin, 1999.