- Cardoso’s Brazil: A Land for Sale, and: Reforming Brazil
Fernando Henrique Cardoso's eight years as president of Brazil (1995–2003) were a time of near-constant attempts to transform Brazil's economy, society, and polity. These years were also, few would disagree, consequential in shaping contemporary Brazil. Of course, disagreement arises about whether the outcomes of the Cardoso years were largely satisfactory or largely disappointing. The reforms Cardoso succeeded in promulgating, along with his failed attempts at reform in other areas, gave rise to widely varying assessments of his success.
Two differing views of the Cardoso presidency emerge in these recent books. Petras and Veltmeyer lambaste the Cardoso administration for systematically capitulating in the face of international financial pressure and, indeed, for serving as a handmaiden of hegemonic international capital. Font and Spanakos and their contributors, by contrast, parse the Cardoso presidency from a variety of thematic angles and reach much more mixed conclusions about outcomes.
For Petras and Veltmeyer, the lens for viewing Brazil under Cardoso is the country's interaction with international financial markets. Their book invokes a Brazil in which national assets are auctioned off, not even to the highest bidder, but at a discount to transnational capitalists. In this view, state-owned enterprises are jewels in the crown, and privatization is among Cardoso's most egregious decisions. Similarly, increased foreign investment and concentration of ownership of rural lands are blamed for a host of economic iniquities. For Petras and Veltmeyer, Cardoso is an agent operating on behalf of foreign (and some domestic) capital, a puppet of international oligarchs who worked to "make Brazil safe for capital."
Beyond examining the ownership of means of production, Petras and Veltmeyer argue that the process of macroeconomic adjustment restructured representation in Brazil in ways that marginalized labor, agrarian workers, and the urban unemployed and underemployed. Laborers and agrarian workers are treated at length in respective chapters. Petras and Veltmeyer are undoubtedly correct in asserting that [End Page 159] adjustment under Cardoso was especially difficult for those who lost formal employment. In critiquing structural adjustment, they address themselves primarily to those "on the side of revolutionary change" who favor processes that are "destructive of capital" (37). Because the authors give no quarter and because adjustment is viewed as an aggregated action, it is unclear whether the authors see the stabilization of Brazil's macroeconomyas necessary to rectify significant economic imbalances. Attentiveness to distinctions between macroeconomic stabilization and structural adjustment would further the analysis in this regard.
Responding to economic and structural adjustments in the cities and the countryside are actors that have arisen to propose alternatives to capitalist development. Most notable are certain local actors in the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, or Worker's Party) of current president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST, or Landless Workers' Movement). The chapter-length profiles of these actors are the most compelling elements of the book, as they place assessments of these actors into a structural-economic context. They raise important, probing questions about the broader applicability of such experiments as the widely touted Porto Alegre model of participatory governance by noting that these are contingent on a favorable national context. Analysts of Brazil's social movements and participatory successes would do well to consider this.
Mobilization by marginalized groups clearly results from frustrations with Brazil's economic system, as the authors assert. Less clear, however, is whether all marginalized groups really fared more poorly than usual under Cardoso. Most challenging for Petras and Veltmeyer is not the applause from Cardoso's strongest supporters but the hard evidence about the ambiguities of the Cardoso years. The trajectory of land reform serves as an example. As The Economist noted in 2002, "more than 600,000 families [were] settled during his mandate, three times as many as in the...