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'Accidental President' Cardoso returns to Brazil

While studying for political science exams, students may turn to textbooks to brush up on dependency theory, a framework of international relations which argues that poorer developing nations are economically exploited by wealthier developed nations. But more resourceful students could arrange office hours with the man who helped develop the theory, Professor-at-Large Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who spends a month each year on College Hill.

Students too intimidated to visit the former president of Brazil could instead read his memoirs, "The Accidental President of Brazil," released in 2006.

Brazilians chose Cardoso, who served as president from 1995 to 2003, as the best president in the nation's history in a poll conducted just before he left office. Cardoso had previously served as finance minister for President Itamar Franco and also as senator for the state of São Paulo.

His memoirs offer a history of Brazil through the lens of the Cardoso family, whose prominence in Brazilian politics goes back to Cardoso's grandfather, who in 1889 delivered to the soon-to-be-deposed emperor a message declaring the formation of a republic.

The book's title derives from Cardoso's initial resistance toward what he calls his "family business" of politics. A sociology professor until he "tired of the idleness of academia," Cardoso entered politics late in life and ran for the Senate in hopes of promoting democracy during the final years of Brazil's military dictatorship.

At times in his book, he generalizes Brazilians in endearing ways such as, "It is said in Brazil that every youth is born with a soccer ball attached to his foot."

Still, he resists popular stereotypes of Brazilians, citing their "distaste for the way the world sees Brazil: a country of frivolous, perpetually beach-bronzed youth, reveling in an eternal Carnival."

The former politician writes and speaks openly about his contemporaries in Brazilian politics, telling embarrassing stories about deceased former president Jânio Quadros, and offers criticism of Brazil's current president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writing in his book, "I would never have imagined what a disappointment Lula would be as president."

Lula had been twice defeated by Cardoso in presidential elections and took office only after Cardoso had served the two term limit. Despite their contrasting public images - Lula, the rugged labor union leader, and Cardoso, the sociology professor - Cardoso writes that their relationship has not been entirely oppositional since they met almost 30 years ago. The two first met when Lula arranged to meet Cardoso to tell him that Lula's union would support Cardoso's senatorial campaign.

As students head off for spring break, they may miss the chance to meet the former president before he leaves College Hill this month. Cardoso will take a roundabout journey home after his month-long stay at Brown, stopping by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., Chapel Hill, N.C., and Madrid, Spain, before finally arriving in Brazil.

The Herald sat down with Cardoso to discuss his book, his friendship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.S.-Brazilian relations.

The Herald: What motivated you to release memoirs in English?

Cardoso: The deal was not just to write memories, but to try to put the American audience, the non-Brazilian audience, in contact with what is going on in Brazil. So I used my memoirs to try to motivate people to read about Brazil.

What has been the English-reading audience's reaction to the book?

I think it was not bad. I guess, they published two editions and now, this month, March 26th, a paperback will be available. ...We had lots of reviews of the book, much more than in Brazil about the Brazilian book. Lots of book reviews. And, also, when you open Amazon(.com), you have some comments by the readers, and, also, they put some stars for each book, and mine has plenty of stars. (laughs) So, I assume that the public has accepted the book.

What were the different purposes for the Portuguese and English books that you released around the same time?

The Portuguese book is much more of an analysis of my own government. It is not memoirs. It is much more a discussion of some issues related to my government, to some changes occurring in Brazil.

How did Bill Clinton come to write the foreword of the English version?

We have very good contact. When I started in Brazil a presidential library, Clinton came to the inauguration. We had contact before, because he was president at the same time as me. We had been together in the same network, named "the progressive governments," the so-called "Third Way," I was involved in that, too. So we had good connections. Then I asked Bill to write the intro. ... Clinton, I like him very much. We have very good personal relations.

In the book, you criticize several Brazilian political figures, including current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Did you feel any restraint while writing these criticisms, and what has been the reaction to them?

In the press, no, no one reacted to my criticisms. I did have some comments on Lula, but, normally, rather positive than negative comments on him. I think that's not my appropriate role, to criticize the Brazilian president abroad. When I'm speaking in Brazil, I can be a little bit more critical. But when speaking in foreign countries, or writing for a foreign people, I think it's not correct to criticize strongly President Lula. And I tried in this book not to be personal, not to be aggressive, and not just with Lula, in general terms, but to understand people rather than to criticize people.

President Clinton mentions in the foreword that Brazil and America have a special responsibility to work together to promote democracy in the region. What are your hopes for relations between these nations?

In terms of democracy, we can do a lot of things together. The point is to understand to what extent democracy is being enhanced in America itself. I think it would be very positive if America continued to be more open as a society, more capable to correct mistakes. For instance, the Iraq war - it is clear for the American public that this was a mistake. So, now I'm anxious to see how the American public reacts in the upcoming elections and how the American government will try to reshape its international ties. So, provided that America continues to make progress in that area, it is a positive element to consolidating democracy in Latin America.

When you write now, do you write as a sociology professor or a former president?

Well, I suppose more as a man, putting together my experiences as president and my training as a sociologist. The thing is, with this coming age, we are less preoccupied with labels and more preoccupied with and entitled to say more openly, frankly, and sincerely in the simplest way possible, what we think about different issues.


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