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Podcast: Brazil on the brink: perspective from former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso

A Bolsonaro supporter in Brazil

TRANSCRIPT: Brazil on the brink: perspective from former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Henrique Cardoso:

For us, as a nation, what is important to be in good terms with different parts of the world, including Latin America? If we have some importance in the world, it is because we have some importance in Latin America, and hopefully there is not the sense that our neighbors are our enemies, that's not the Brazilian sense.

Ian Bremmer:

Hello, and welcome to the GZERO World podcast. Here you'll find extended versions of the interviews from my show on public television. I'm Ian Bremmer, and today's show is all about Brazil. Latin America's largest economy has been through quite a lot in the past few years. More than its share really, from its worst ever economic recession to an Amazon on fire, quite literally. And, of course, the disastrous, one of the world's worst, COVID-19 pandemic experiences. And at the country's helm, sits Jair Bolsonaro, far-right populist president who some have called the 'Trump of the Tropics.' As he looks to an uncertain reelection campaign next year, I'm talking to a man who used to be in that hot seat himself, former Brazilian president, Henrique Cardoso. Let's get to it.

Announcer:

The GZERO World podcast is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company understands the value of service, safety, and stability in today's uncertain world. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Ian Bremmer:

President Cardoso, so happy to welcome you on GZERO World.

Henrique Cardoso:

Thank you.

Ian Bremmer:

We've been watching your country as it's gone through an incredibly difficult period with coronavirus, as well as an incredibly difficult period with the economy, the worst recession of Brazil's history. For us, it feels like this has been very badly managed by your government. Is that the way it feels for you on the ground right now?

Henrique Cardoso:

Well, I do agree with you, but that's my feeling, too. I'm not sure if the people, Brazilian people, is already convinced that the electorate made a bad choice, electing [the] current president. It's obvious that the government is not managing quite well... on the contrary, by denying truth. It's impossible to deny that people are dying, and this is true. And he said, "Well, this is not... a little influenza." It's not that, it's different. It's much more dramatic than that. The number of dying people isn't normal. Every day, the situation is increasing, not decreasing, and now it's maybe more stable, the number of deaths. But then how are they in a high level... to what extent did you affect the government? It depends on the opposition, and the press, and to characterize more directly, what is the responsibility of the government for the situation. I have been president, so I know that it's not simple, but tell me how... it's difficult to explain how it was possible for the president to seem so indifferent with respect to the pandemic.

Ian Bremmer:

In my country, of course it has been a very divided, a very polarized country for lots of reasons we've spoken about on this show. Your country increasingly feels very divided, as well. They call Bolsonaro the 'Trump of the Tropics.' Former President Lula is his opposite in many ways. The country feels very divided, very politically angry. There's a lot of fake news, a lot of disinformation. Why is there so much political hatred and disgust in Brazil right now?

Henrique Cardoso:

Well, in the last years, the division was enormous. Brazil has lots of people without conditions of life. They have not the minimum conditions for a decent life, and Lula [represents] these people some way. So we need someone connected with society. Lula is connected, Bolsonaro is as well, is connected with low, middle-class people. So both are representatives of our different segments of society. And Lula has the advantage that he came from the people, he was governing in terms of the interest of the majority of the entrepreneurs, but working people, he made a kind of connection.

Ian Bremmer:

I see the polls right now, of course, are showing that Lulu would win if there was such a match. But right now is the depth economically and the pandemic, the election's not till next year. It's hard to imagine. When you saw Lula, I mean this is a man who, of course, had been convicted. He was under house arrest, massive corruption scandal. Now, does he feel, when you saw him, did he feel completely vindicated? Does he feel like he is a man of destiny? What was his personality like at the time? How is he doing right now?

Henrique Cardoso:

I know Lula very well, for a long time, and Lula is, from that time on, is convinced that he has a destiny to be [the] leader of the nation. Still, if you stop and talk to him, [it's] as if he never was put in jail. Huh? He has never assumed he has some responsibility, the events in the past. He will try to insist on his innocence, and as well as he has a strong party, working class party, it's really very powerful as [an] organization. Because they need him. It is a kind of banner for them. It will be more prudent not to be [a] candidate. But Lula is not a man who respect prudence.

Ian Bremmer:

I want to ask you a broader question about Brazil's democracy. I mean, with the years of the corruption scandals, now you even have these investigations going on with Bolsonaro, as well, with the military who Bolsonaro is closely attached to, some of whom make statements that imply that maybe Brazil's democracy is not so strong. I mean, are we starting to see, nevermind the political divide, but are we seeing the erosion of Brazil's democracy more broadly? Is that happening in your mind?

Henrique Cardoso:

Well, I think that democracy in the sense of liberty, there is no connection between the parliament and freedom. The parliament is considered as people capable of [political] maneuvers, not necessarily in favor of the people. So it opens space for demagoguery. I don't think that in the possibility of, against, something against democracy openly. Today, well, we have freedom. There's no incarceration for political opposition. No, the opposition is free. If you look, the press in Brazil it is absolutely free.

So, this I think is where I take for granted. I take for granted, anyhow. That's not the same as [the] institutionalization of democracy, because people don't look to the congress, to the political parties as instruments for the formation of the country. They look [to] employment, they look [to] the entrepreneurs, they look [for] political leaders, but not the institutions who have enormous space for freedom in press, in every part. If you look [at] the young people, my grandson, [a] child for instance, they are absolutely convinced they live in a country of liberty. And it's true, to some extent, what is lacking in institutions. I'm not saying to you that you have, we are in danger of democracy. It's more by step-by-step maybe, but not now.

Ian Bremmer:

In my country, of course, Trump lost the election. He was incapable of admitting that he lost the election, did everything he could to de-legitimize that. Has caused a lot of damage for the Republicans and the US. If Bolsonaro were to lose, and I know it's close, is he capable of admitting that he lost an election?

Henrique Cardoso:

Well, I think so. I think that Bolsonaro, in his mind... I have never met Bolsonaro in my life. I never saw him. And I was senator, minister, president, never. He was not considered as a political actor. What is it important? I think it's what to look after people to see. Now Bolsonaro has... he is not against democracy in his mind. That's not the way. He came from the army, but he's a mere representative. He deals quite well in terms of within the constitution. It's different, but he's not acting against institutions.

Ian Bremmer:

You're the most important living political figure in Brazil. Is it strange for you that Bolsonaro has never reached out to meet with you personally?

Henrique Cardoso:

Yeah, yeah. It is strange, but this is essentially the double sense. It's also strange that I've never thought of him. Yeah, this is also my fault, my mind, and my problem, to not recognize the possibility [of being] represented by Bolsanaro. So this is difficult for me to understand sometimes what is changing in society in Brazil. And, remember, Bolsonaro represent the new middle class, which in the past had no importance. But now they have importance, the numbers. Bolsonaro is more focused on the old classes.

Ian Bremmer:

So let me ask you another question that wasn't around to the degree that it is today, when you were president, and that's climate. Brazil is also in the news in the last year and will be again with all of these forest fires, and the clear-cutting of the Amazon forest, and an issue that really has set Brazil apart from a lot of the rest of the world. How do you see that issue? How do you see the rest of the world coming to Brazil now, and saying, "You're not being responsible, you need to do more?"

Henrique Cardoso:

My mother was born in Manaus, in the Amazon. So, for me, the Amazon has a specific signification, see. And I was very close to all the climate change problems and so on and so forth. I would say that's not the average people in Brazil. The average people don't look after the Amazon as a wealth or a problem. And the Amazon represents both, it's a wealth and a problem, you see? You have to keep the Amazon going on. I think that Brazil is now becoming more and more blamed by other countries because it's not responsible vis a vis the climate. And this is a pity. I think Brazilians should understand the importance to have the Amazon, and not just to use the Amazon as an instrument.

But, I don't know if this will affect elections in Brazil. So probably, this will be more and more [about] the actions of organizations looking after the necessity of taking account [for] the environment. But that's not yet a political issue in Brazil. It's a political issue for foreigners, for the Europeans, and the Americans, and the world in general. They look after us and "Look, wow, they are destroying the nature." But there is no self consciousness for the problem.

Ian Bremmer:

Before we close, tell me a little bit about how you see Brazil's role in the world with the United States and with China... increasingly hard to manage both of those relationships. And I wonder where you think it's going right now.

Henrique Cardoso:

I'm not fearing the Chinese, in terms of Chinese institutions. The Chinese are more similar to Brazil in some ways. If you are inside China, in the interior of China, well, they don't have the idea of the government being for them. They are not like that. They're living their lives like in Brazil, you see? So I think that if you look the foreign affairs in Brazil, the orientation of the Brazilian government, we have no choice. We have to try to be in good terms with both, the East and the West. We don't fear, as well, that the fact that it's possible that Brazil is being influenced by China.

For us, as a nation, what is important [is] to be on good terms with different parts of the world, including Latin America. If we have some importance in the world, it's because we have some importance in Latin America. And hopefully there is not the sense that our neighbors are our enemies. That's not the Brazilian sense. We have, like America, we are composed by migrants. Japanese, Italians, Germans. So we are used to having dispute as Brazilians who look after them as Brazilians. They speak Portuguese. They are also to speak Portuguese. But I think that the international situation, as far as we don't have a war, it's okay.

Ian Bremmer:

What's the thing that surprises you the most about the world today, that you had no idea would end up like this when you were president?

Henrique Cardoso:

Peace is very important. I think that people don't realize that we are living in a world of peace. The end of [the] Soviet Union, and the transformation in China, and also in America, produced a possibility of dialogue. So we take for granted that this will be always like that. It's not true. It depends. It depends.

Ian Bremmer:

President Cardoso, it's so good to see you. Thanks for joining me on the show today.

Henrique Cardoso:

Bye-bye.

Ian Bremmer:

That's it for today's edition of the GZERO World podcast. Like what you've heard, come check us out at gzeromedia.com and sign up for our newsletter, Signal.

Announcer:

The GZERO World podcast is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company understands the value of service, safety, and stability in today's uncertain world. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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