Looking Forward to Mr. Cardoso's VisitAn Outstanding Leader Who Changed the Fate Of Brazil
Fernando Henrique Cardoso is the most distinguished Marxist scholar to lead a nation since the death of V.I. Lenin, according to the American sociologist Ted Goertzel. Mr. Cardoso is also the president of Brazil, who will be making a state visit to Korea next week. But he is better known as the leading advocate of a set of ideas called the "dependency theory" during the 1960s and early 1970s, whose critique of the exploitation of third world nations by advanced countries captivated young scholars in the third world.
Dependency theories argue that the world consists of an industrialized advanced core area and a peripheral area that is still at an agricultural development stage. Because of the prevailing global economic system under which the former exploits the latter, the countries in the periphery will never escape from poverty as long as capitalism prevails, the theory says.
Mr. Cardoso''s transformation from a Marxist scholar to the president of Brazil is a minor detail compared to his success in ending Brazil''s hyperinflation and revitalizing the economy by pursuing new liberal free market reforms without being confined by his Marxist ideals after he became the finance minister in 1993, won the presidential election in 1994 and re-election in 1998.
In his role as finance minister, Mr. Cardoso devised financial stabilization measures called Plano Real to restore the country''s ailing economy. The measures proved enormously successful and turned back runaway inflation from 50 percent a month to 15 percent a year.
Brazilians repaid him by giving him 54.28 percent of their votes in the 1994 presidential election.
In his role as president, Mr. Cardoso privatized key industries, including telephone, communications, steel, electricity, gas and the railway. When the financial crisis swept through Asia in 1997, he did not hesitate to take unpopular emergency measures, such as laying off 33,000 civil servants and freezing their wages and pensions.
His former colleagues in the left-wing camp did not remain silent about his new liberal economic reforms. Brazil''s Marxists denounced him as a puppet of new liberalism, neo-colonialism and multinational corporations. The right wing also condemned him for not repenting his past as a Marxist.
Mr. Cardoso was pursuing an academic career when he was forced into exile in 1964 for opposing a right-wing military coup d''etat. In retrospect, this proved to be a blessing, for it gave him the opportunity to win global academic acclaim. While teaching at the University of Paris-Nanterre, a hotbed of student activism in the 1960s, he formed close bonds with anti-system student leaders. He also taught at the University of Cambridge in Britain, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, and the Free University of Berlin.
When he returned to Brazil, he won a chair at the University of Sao Paulo in 1968, but was forced out of the academia by a military crackdown. The military leaders, however, allowed him and a number of his academic colleagues to open a social science research institute. This had the unexpected result of making them far more influential than the military leaders foresaw.
Their most influential study, a book called "Sao Paulo: Growth and Poverty," documented the suffering caused by the military''s economic and social policies. Sponsored by the Catholic Church, the book was so widely read that it helped to build a grass roots movement for democratic reforms.
Mr. Cardoso also successfully depreciated the Brazilian currency in 1999. Last year, Brazil attracted $28 billion in direct foreign investments, the second largest in the world following China. The sum attests to the world market''s high confidence in the Brazilian economy and Mr. Cardoso''s leadership. Inflation, which reached 6 percent last year, is projected to drop to 4 percent, and gross domestic product is expected to grow 5 percent, the highest rate since 1995.
Mr. Cardoso''s reforms are not yet over, however. He is having a hard time implementing social welfare policies aimed at sharing the fruits of economic reforms with the poor. Even so, Brazil is set to emerge as one of the most powerful countries in Latin America in the 21st century, comparable to China in Asia, as a nation with vast natural resources and 160 million people. He is living proof that the outstanding leadership of one person can change a nation''s fate and steer it out of darkness in less than 10 years.
What has made Mr. Cardoso such a successful leader? Together with a vision for the future of Brazil, a country of enormous potential, he also had the moral courage of "betraying" the ideals of the Marxist camp to which he had belonged. He is also a person of keen intellect who presents a public philosophy to the people to serve as their guiding star in understanding the realities of society.
Mr. Cardoso''s coming visit to Korea is a blessing for us, in a way different from that of Bill Clinton or Jiang Zemin; we can look forward to the Korean leaders scheduled to meet him being inspired by, and learning from, the philosophy of his statecraft.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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