His hair is shot with gray now and age creases his forehead. But three years after stepping down from what might be Latin America's most punishing job, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso is holding up remarkably well. Today, pushing 75, he travels as relentlessly as ever--though instead of seeking bailouts and trade pacts, it's prizes, honorary degrees and keynote speeches that keep him on the move. "Nothing gives me more satisfaction than having put Brazil on the right path," he often says, with his Cheshire-cat smile.
That contentment is stamped all over "The Accidental President of Brazil" (291 pages.Public Affairs), a candid, sometimes brilliant but thoroughly readable autobiography. Although there are few revelations, these memoirs offer an intimate glimpse into an extraordinary moment: when one of Latin America's most creative minds took on one of the world's most promising and vexing countries.
Cardoso describes in rich detail the blended life of scholarship and politics that took him on a circuitous route to the top. An accomplished sociologist, he was banished from the classroom at the University of So Paulo after the 1964 coup. So he packed off to a relatively comfortable exile job at a think tank in Chile (where he drew a fat salary and drove a Mercedes) and then on to lecture in France. "Here I was, a professor on the run," he writes, "transformed overnight into some kind of Che Guevara in a tweed jacket." Later, when the dictatorship relaxed its iron grip, he returned home to join the nascent political opposition, eventually serving a term in the Brazilian Senate before suffering a stinging defeat for the mayoralty of So Paulo. The rout only whetted his appetite for higher office.
Brazil's worst problem proved to be his lucky break. In 1994, while serving as Finance minister, prices were rising at a staggering 2,500 percent. Much of the rest is already well known: Cardoso rallied the best economic minds in Brazil and instead of freezing prices created a new currency and backed it with a plan to control public spending. Inflation dropped to single digits.
Memoirs, by definition, are incomplete, and this one is no exception. The title, for one, is misleading. In a country known for serial coups, Brazil has had plenty of accidental presidents, but Cardoso--who hailed from a long line of politically minded military officers--was not one of them. (He also takes an inappropriate bow for Brazil's heralded policy to combat AIDS, failing to note that the policy was pioneered a decade earlier by the then President Jose Sarney.) No one has ever accused Cardoso of modesty: "Governing was much easier than I thought it would be," he once said. Yet in eight tumultuous years (1995-2003), he presided over Latin America's biggest country with a rare mix of arrogance and ability that broke taboos and won him scores of enemies. It also left Brazil a better country.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso - Wikipedia

Jump to Presidency (1995-2002) - Fernando Henrique Cardoso also known by his initials FHC is a .... FHC was the first Brazilian President to start a program to address the inequality issue in Brazil—the enormous gap between rich an ...