April 7, 2010

Former President Cardoso of Brazil Speaks to Cornellians

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Former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, well-known for his contributions to the field of sociology and economic reform, spent Wednesday at Cornell. He spoke to an undergraduate class and gave a lecture to a packed Call Auditorium about the impacts of globalization and the current financial crisis.

“He was certainly one of Latin America’s most prominent statesmen,” Prof. Kenneth Roberts, comparative and Latin American politics, said.

“He implemented a program of economic reforms that did a lot to stop hyperinflation,” Roberts explained.

The former president’s sociological work is highly regarded in academia, especially the book he wrote with Enzo Faletto in 1967, Dependency and Development in Latin America.

“He’s someone who generated some of the most sophisticated analyses of dependency in Latin America,” said Prof. Raymond Craib, history.

Before his lecture, Cardoso spoke to two undergraduate classes, including Craib’s.

“I liked that he wanted to speak with undergrads,” Craib said. “It’s also nice to have a former president speak — a former president can say things that a president can’t.”

In yesterday’s lecture, entitled “Beyond the Global Financial Crisis: Politics, Economics, and Culture,” Cardoso — the 2010 Bartels World Affairs Lecture Fellow — evaluated the effect of the crisis on economic policy. He outlined three possible reactions to economic crisis: regulation, blind trust in the self-correcting powers of the market or state intervention in the form of stimulus packages.

“The countries that survived were those with the highest regulation,” Cardoso concluded.

The former president explained that an imbalance was created in the wake of the financial crisis. “Some countries accumulated high debts and others, like China, high reserves,” Cardoso said.

Cardoso recognized that the crisis lead to the weakening of western economies rather than profound change in global regulation.

“The task at hand is to repair the current system, not to replace it with something else,” Cardoso said in his lecture.

He also spoke about the political consequences of financial crisis. He acknowledged that economic turmoil creates an opportunity for political challenges to the incumbent, citing President Barack Obama as having run on a reformist platform.

“Whether the challenge comes from the left or the right,” Cardoso said, “it is unlikely that the newly elected governor will make significant changes.”

The former president also emphasized the importance of globalization and innovation on today’s culture. He described the technological revolution and advancements in communication as a modern-day Renaissance.

“Technological advancement is changing our social and cultural landscape,” Cardoso said.

He explained that along with economic shifts, countries must also be able to absorb unexpected cultural and even technological changes in order to survive.

“In today’s world something can happen suddenly to change a seemingly impregnable system,” Cardoso said.

He later addressed issues of social equality and human rights, emphasizing the importance of tolerance as well as recognizing the magnification of this challenge in light of economic crisis.

“In the short term, fear and insecurity may lead to the revival of nationalism and prejudice,” he said.

Cardoso went on to offer a uniting vision of humanity and stressed the importance of universal solidarity in the aftermath of global crisis.

“It is high time to deeply discuss common values that define us all as human beings,” he concluded.

After his lecture, Cardoso held a question and answer session in which he addressed issues of indigenous rights, the political relevance of elder statesmen and populist movements in Latin America.

Cardoso recognized the struggle for indigenous rights as “one of the most challenging questions in my country” but ultimately concluded that it is a complex issue that is sometimes beyond the government’s reach.

On the topic of populism, Cardoso acknowledged the trend as somewhat common Latin America. He cited Venezuela and Hugo Chavez’s rise to power as an example of populism resulting from inequalities in Latin American societies.

“There was democracy there for a long time, but those that were conducting the democracy were not looking to the bottom of society,” Cardoso explained, in reference to Venezuela.

Cardoso left the stage to an auditorium full of applause.

“I really enjoyed [the lecture],” said Mack Wallace ’12, “I like that he talked about how small initial changes lead to change in the long term.”

Original Author: Anna-Lisa Castle