The Lemon in the Refrigerator

By Melchíades Cunha Júnior
O Estado de São Paulo
October 30, 2002

José Serra had a lemon and could have made lemonade. But he kept it in the refrigerator. The lemon was Fernando Henrique Cardoso and his government.

Serra was caught in a trap that he himself had created. He thought that the lemon was too sour, he overlooked the quality of the fruit, forgetting that good lemonade requires pure water, preferably mineral water without carbonation, without too much sugar or sweetener.

And what did Lula, Garotinho, Ciro, José Maria and Rui Costa [the other candidates] keep doing over and over in their campaigns? They demonized the government in which Serra had participated and turned the Social Democratic into an inedible bitter lemon. The official candidate chose not to counter-attack. He insisted on telling voters that they should only look forward, never look back. He had misread the Biblical passage about the wife of Lot. In other words, Serra seemed to be saying that he also did not agree with Fernando Henrique Cardoso's model of government that had been in place since the implementation of the Real Plan [currency reform in 1994].

"Forget FHC," one might have thought that this had been the advice of Nizan Guanes, Serra's celebrated campaign consultant. Was it? Those who know Nizan know of his intense admiration and friendship for Fernando Henrique. But if it was Nizan who advised Serra to forget FHC, as the solution that would lead his client to victory, he was guilty of wishful thinking at best. The fact is that the official candidate never made the effort to make an evaluation of the FHC years, in any part of his campaign, either for the first round of elections or the second.

Can it be that Brazilians remember how the country was before the Fernando Henrique years? Some millions, certainly. But, many other millions did not have this opportunity during the electoral campaign. Instead, they allowed themselves to be seduced by the opposition's rhetoric, centered on "change" and the demolition of the work of the current government. And that image was consolidated by the inaction, if not the unconscious collaboration, of the governing party's candidate. One does not have to be a marketing expert to know that, in a campaign, the first task is to motivate and consolidate the voters that are sympathetic to the candidate. FHC's admirers had no reason to mobilize themselves to support the Serra campaign. What does this say, then about the top leadership, the second leadership, and the middle and lower levels of staff that made up Fernando Henrique's government? Lula accused Serra of being the least unifying politician he had ever known. It was a campaign strategy, evidently. But a not very different judgment must have been made by the people in the Planalto [president's office] and the Ministries. In the end, the candidate offered no defense.

And there was much José Serra could have said about the government of Fernando Henrique.

He did not even mention that the president had received, right in the middle of his second term, the United Nations' Mahbud ul Haq Prize, given to leaders who contribute most to social development in their countries. In Fernando Henrique's case, this was for advances made in education, health, and agrarian reform and in abolishing child labor. "We will miss many aspects of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government," wrote the journalist Márcio Moreira Alves in reporting on the prize ceremony. He made this confession, "I will also sorely miss Ruth Cardoso [the president's wife] who, quietly and discretely, changed the way the government intervenes in the social area."

This is not a small thing. But Serra could also have remembered that, with FHC, Brazilian democracy was consolidated, economic stability was maintained, the financial health of the states and municipalities was achieved, and the irresponsible binge of public finance was blocked with a Law of Fiscal Responsibility. And he could have remembered, also, that the president confronted successive external crises, without allowing the country to founder, and that we scored an honorable third place among the nations in the amount of direct foreign investment. FHC's defenders will long appreciate these memories, to which could be added many others,. They will also remember the president for his gracious, gentlemanly personal style.

If Lula's government succeeds, it will be because of the heritage he received. If he fails, it will be because he squandered it.

Translated by Ted Goertzel.  For the Portuguese text, go to:

For an analysis of the accomplishments of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, go to: