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Overcoming The Myth of Cardoso


“The course of history depends largely on the daring of those who act in terms of historically viable goals… These will depend, not on academic predictions, but on collective action guided by political wills that make work what is structurally barely possible.”

Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s 1971 book Dependency and Development in Latin America (co-written with Enzo Faletto), provided Latin American ‘dependency’ theorists and other social scientists of the day with one of the most persuasive and comprehensive analyses on Latin American economic development during the 20th century. The book’s core thesis was both powerful and clear – Latin America had traded its colonial political and economic dependence for a dependence led by international capital markets and multinational corporations.

When Cardoso became Brazil’s finance minister in 1994, and then president from 1995-2003 under the banner of Brazil’s Social Democrat Party (PSDB), he would apply the lessons of this early academic exercise by working to strengthen Brazil’s standing in the world economy. Without the stabilization of the Brazilian Real (via the ‘Real plan’) and Brazil’s return to capital markets under a more resilient currency and a reformed economy, the path of Brazil’s recent economic boom would never have been set and the accomplishments of Lula’s government would never have been achieved.

This simplistic interpretation of Brazil’s economic history has led the PSDB’s José Serra to lay claim to the genesis of Brazil’s current economic success and argue for the PSDB’s historic role in shaping Brazil’s economic future. Yet for most Brazilians Cardoso’s reforms remain a thing of obscure policy, with their measure of economic success coming mainly from the expansion of Lula’s ‘Bolsa Familia’ cash-transfer program. After some delay the Serra campaign has accepted the terms of Brazil’s economic debate, promising to double the size of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ program in today’s official launch of the PSDB’s campaign for the presidency. Even if the PSDB succeeds in convincing the electorate that they are better suited to expand on the current government’s economic achievements, the PSDB must still compete with the maturing myth of President Lula (most-bluntly depicted in the Lula biopic released earlier this year).

Earlier this week the Worker Party’s (PT) Dilma Rousseff (and Lula favorite) hinted of a return to the presidency for Lula in 2014 should she win the office of the presidency this year. Given this recent announcement, and Ms. Rousseff’s campaign to date, it is clear that she is betting on the power of Lula’s legacy for both her electoral success and the country’s future. Regardless of the outcome, this year’s campaign marks a decisive test for Brazilian democracy and the power of personal politics, as well as the newfound irrelevance of Cardoso’s legacy.



Rodrigo Camarena

Rodrigo is an analyst and consultant on Latin American business, politics and public policy. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics and New York University. Follow him on twitter @Ro_Camarena and find more articles by him by visiting: