Friday, November 13, 2009

Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Caetano Veloso - Angry, Bitter, Jealous Old Men

A couple of Brazil's more famous political and cultural leaders have decided to make complete asses out of themselves in the past few weeks. The ugliest, worst, most infuriating, and most hypocritical incident comes from Fernando Henrique Cardoso himself, writing about Lula. The not-too-subtle title of his editorial? "The Time Has Come to End Lula's Monarchy in Brazil." This is rich on so many levels, not least of which because Lula has only served two terms. Why was it possible for him to serve two terms? Because of a constitutional amendment passed in Fernando Henrique Cardoso permission to run for re-election (an amendment that was surrounded by controversy and not-unsubstancial accusations that Cardoso engaged in corrupt practices and promises in order to get Congress to pass his request for an amendment that would allow him to run for re-election).

From there, Cardoso's rhetoric just gets more hilarious. He accuses the Lula administration of offering little more than "odd government decisions, apparently meaningless presidential phrases and so much propaganda," which sounds really witty and completely out of touch with reality. Aside from getting the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics (which aren't exactly empty statements of "propaganda"), Brazil's economy has bloomed under Lula in ways that Cardoso only dreamed of as he used the blank check he received for the plan that stopped hyperinflation in 1994 in Brazil in order to ravage the country with his neoliberal policies and hollowed-out monetary policies that saw the real drop in value by half to the dollar immediately after his re-election.

As I said, the development and growth Brazil is now experiencing dwarfs even Cardoso's hopes, and to add insult to injury, Lula was able to achieve this growth by basically taking the opposite approach to the national economy that Cardoso did. Lula halted the privatizations that Cardoso pushed; he increased federal investment in state companies like Petrobras, with great results; where Cardoso tried to attract foreign businesses and offer tax relief to the upper class, Lula invested in programs like Fome Zero and the Bolsa Familia to help the country see real improvements in standards of living and consumption rates; and instead of relying on investment from European and American multinationals, as Cardoso did, Lula instead sought to diversify Brazil's global economic relations, bringing in deals with Africa, China, and India, even while continuing to establish deals with the U.S. and Europe when it was practical and beneficial to Brazil.

In short, Lula did everything Cardoso spurned, and under Lula's policies, and not Cardoso's, Brazil has finally seen the growth that many have expected for Brazil for decades. As a result, Cardoso's rant comes off as little more than the humorous, impotent rumblings of an angry bitter man whose policies have been rightly spurned, and, what's worse, proven to be ineffective in the face of a political rival's much greater successes.

If Cardoso has reached the point of a hollow shell of an angry old man, then Caetano Veloso has gone beyond the point of self-parody. Veloso is highly respected musically globally, even while he puts out pretty middling stuff. However, while Veloso may have once been pretty politically engaged in opposing Brazil's dictatorship, he jumped the ship of political progressivism years ago. Back in the 1990s, he declared that Brazil no longer had racism (something with which his former collaborator and friend Gilberto Gil strongly disagreed with, and in any debate on whether a country is racist or not, I'm going to tend to side with the guy who would experience racism).

With a tendency for ridiculous statements in the past, you'd think Veloso would know when to keep his mouth shut. But he doesn't. In proclaiming his support in Brazil's 2010 elections for Green Party candidate Marina Silva, Veloso declared that Lula is "illiterate," a president "who doesn’t know what to talk about and when he does he’s coarse." That's fine - if Veloso wants to hold to that belief, that's his right. But that notion of Lula as an incompetent speaker was pretty much passe by 2002, as years of political experience had helped Lula sharpen his rhetorical abilities. Is he an Abraham Lincoln or Cicero when he opens his mouth everytime? Of course not, but neither is Obama, nor was Cardoso, nor are most people (including Veloso, in spite of how highly he holds his own lyrical ability). In his comments, Veloso doesn't come off as angry as Cardoso. Still, positions and statements like these are risible at this point; Lula's proven time and again he's far from "illiterate," and even if you don't think his every word is poetry, one might hope you'd realize that presidents are supposed, first and foremost, to help lead and improve their countries, and in that arena, Lula has been a major success. Sure, there are shortcomings even in his administration (hello, environmental policy), but to hear Veloso and Cardoso tell it, you'd think Brazil was ruined by the cult of personality of an illiterate laborer. It would be offensive if it weren't so disconnected with the actual current situation in Brazil.

Instead, Veloso and Cardoso just show their true colors: as bitter old men out of touch with Brazilian politics and development.