In 1995, we still had a backward political society. The impeachment campaign had placed new politicians on the scene. But even the fall of Fernando Collor, as his entire political history, was much more the result of his incapacity to ally himself with the regional political chiefs.
Almost eight years later, the political chiefs are disappearing one by one. There are those who see behind each of these disappearances the direct interference of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. And there are those who believe that everything has happened despite him, as part of the spontaneous maturing of the country's political institutions.
What happened in this period was something more subtle that can be traced back to the beginning of the first FHC administration, as I stated in a column called "A Work of Political Art" that I wrote on July 3, 1995.
The strategy consisted in building an alliance with the old political machines, conceding to their philosophy of government by distributing favors, so long as it could be done without compromising the administration's project of definitive political reform.
At the same time, FHC the intellectual played his best role, that of professor. In these almost eight years, he did away with the personalism that always transformed the President of the Republic into a father figure for everyone. At times he even exaggerated his professorial role, not even assuming responsibilities that really were his. But, day after day, this depersonalization of power and social policy, and non-interference with state government and the other branches of the federal government, enriched the institutional life of the country. Everything else was consequence.
Many times he took heavy blows in order to avoid institutional crises. This posture was sometimes confused with cowardliness. He explained that it was a matter of the institutional responsibility of the President not to throw the country into a crisis. When the interests of the country required that he take a strong position, he never vacillated. When it was necessary, Antonio Carlos Magalhães was swept off the map of federal power without hesitation.
He made many mistakes, especially with regard to the exchange rate. He was a careless manager, many times the victim of his own intellectual arrogance. He found it extraordinarily difficult to demonstrate solidarity with the people, because of his preoccupation with not taking a populist stance.
But, as his administration is reaching its end, intellectual circles have begun to revise their appraisal of his administration. The power of the old political machines has been reduced in some ministries. Most of the state enterprises have been privatized, the rest have professionalized management. The Presidency is no longer a magical, Freudian institution, but a political one, with the obligation to make an accounting of its acts. Fiscal responsibility has become an indispensable requirement. And all of this has been done without dismantling the state, as the savage liberals would have done.
If Fernando Henrique Cardoso had had more managerial determination, much more could have been done. We would not have had the burden of four years of an erroneous foreign exchange policy, and the public debt accumulated during that period. But the ideal is the enemy of the good.
As his government reaches its end, the commentaries are becoming less passionate, as the political work is being completed, we are able to see the results of the process. There is no doubt that, in the future, we will look back with nostalgia on the times when FHC called the politicians into the Palace and, half an hour later, a conversation had aborted political crises that, in other times, would have paralyzed the country.
Translated from the Portuguese by Ted Goertzel.