Brown Daily Herald - Campus News
Issue: 10/25/05

Former president of Brazil debates future of his country
By Jill Luxenberg

A former president of Brazil and a Brazilian economist and educator proposed divergent visions for Brazil'sAlanna Tisdale photo development in a debate titled "Brazil: Visions of the Future" Monday night in Starr Auditorium.

Professor at Large Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president, and Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies Marcos Arruda both agreed that the goal of the nation should be a more democratic, equitable and financially stable society, though they presented separate versions of how this transformation could occur.

As a professor at large, Cardoso comes to Brown for about five weeks every year. Each time he visits, he participates in an event that is organized to promote discussion of Brazil. Monday's event took place in the form of a modified debate -[Photo by Alanna Tisdale]-  each speaker was given 25 minutes to present his vision of the future of Brazil, and then Associate Professor of History James Green, who served as the moderator, allowed questions from audience members.

Arruda adopted a more ideological approach than Cardoso, calling for reclamation of Brazil's sovereignty, particularly with respect to the United States. He argued that Brazil needs to be more independent as both a political and economic entity. Moreover, Brazilians need to "conquer our own right with or without international support to have a national development plan of Brazil which is led, controlled and managed by the people of Brazil and a national government that corresponds to the people of Brazil," he said.

Cardoso, in his opening remarks, stressed that although he has great hopes for Brazil's future, his training as a sociologist and his experience as a politician led him to approach the subject as a realist. Throughout the debate, he admonished the more idealistic Arruda: "As you probably understood, we have different visions. I can't agree because I don't know how to get the results. I have to understand more clearly how to get it, otherwise it's just wishful thinking."

Although Cardoso echoed Arruda's call for the increased empowerment of Brazilians, he was less critical of the country's economic dependency on United States markets and investments. Arruda lays much of the blame on external debts and creditors, specifically the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, for driving the country's macroeconomic policies. His organization, the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone of Latin America, Rio de Janeiro has been active in calling on the Brazilian government to audit international debts, a move mandated by the 1988 constitution that has yet to be acted on.

While Cardoso acknowledged that both the IMF and the World Bank need to be more democratic and less subject to the control of the United States, he said the trade organizations are vital to maintain the laws of international commerce. Instead he suggested that domestic measures should be taken to reduce interest rates, adding that it is too easy to blame the international sector for Brazil's ongoing financial struggles.

Much of the debate focused on improving the economic sector. Both men discussed the shortage of funding for social services because of the constant strain on resources. They noted that as the government works to pay off its debts, areas such as education, health and agrarian reforms suffer. In spite of these constraints, Cardoso pointed out that since education reforms have begun, the number of Brazilian children attending school has risen to between 97 and 98 percent.

The rising education level reflects one of the key goals shared by Cardoso and Arruda - the development of an active civil society. In their remarks, both stressed the need for a more educated electorate that would put pressure on the government to act in their interests. They also expressed their hope that a more involved civilian population would help "to create a national policy that is strong enough to introduce proportionality in the place of competitiveness for a more egalitarian distribution of political wealth," Arruda said.

In spite of his declared skepticism, Cardoso ultimately offered a cautiously optimistic vision for Brazil's future. "Look at democracy, look at what is happening in university, social organization, economy," he said. "I think this is not an unrealistic hope that in 20 years we will have a better society."

The event was cosponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies, the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and the Watson Institute for International Studies.