(b. Rio de Janeiro, 18 June 1931)
Brazilian; Senator 1978–94, President of the Republic 1995–2003 One of Brazil's most distinguished sociologists, Cardoso comes from a military family prominent in the civil and military politics of Brazil. Both his grandfather and great uncle were generals, the latter being Minister of War; but Cardoso's family belonged to the nationalist, reformist tradition in the Brazilian officer corps. His father, General Leônidas Fernandes Cardoso, was associated with the tenente movement which, in the 1920s, opposed the coffee-based oligarchy. Later, as a civilian lawyer, especially under the Vargas administration, he strongly defended national control of Brazil's oil industry, as did his brother, General Felicissimo Cardoso.
With this background, it is not surprising that Cardoso opposed the right-wing military-backed coup in 1964. By this time he was also a member of an outstanding school of social scientists in the University of São Paulo, mainly shaped by the highly respected sociologist and socialist, Florestan Fernandes.
After the 1964 coup, Cardoso taught in universities in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, establishing his reputation as a political sociologist, being best known for his work on dependency theory. He founded, in São Paulo, CEBRAP, the Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning and held the Simon Bolivar chair in Cambridge. In 1978, as Brazil's return to democracy gathered pace, Cardoso formally entered politics as the suplente, the officially elected substitute, of Senator Franco Montoro, of the MDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement, in São Paulo. In 1982, when Montoro was elected governor, Cardoso took his Senate seat. In 1986, he was elected to Senate in his own right.
After Brazil's return to civilian government, in 1985, Cardoso gained invaluable experience in congressional negotiation, working with leaders of the PMDB, the Party of Brazilian Democratic Movement. In 1988, he was one of a group of politicians, many of them from São Paulo, who broke away from that party, to form the PSDB, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, the ‘Tucanos’.
When President Itamar Franco took over from the discredited Collor de Mello, in late 1992, Cardoso became Minister of Foreign Affairs, then, in May 1993, Minister of Finance. He then began to introduce a phased stabilization and reform programme which finally took shape, on 1 July 1994, as the Plano Real. In June, the monthly rate of inflation had been just under 50 per cent, but it now dropped sharply, so that in 1995 annual inflation was below 15 per cent, the lowest since 1957.
It was largely the success of the Plano Real which brought Cardoso a sweeping victory in the presidential election of 3 October. He won 54.28 per cent of the vote, in the first round, with over 5.4 million more votes than all seven other candidates.
On the strength of this massive mandate, Cardoso and his team introduced wide-ranging reforms. They include much-needed fiscal reforms and others affecting the public administration, education, health, and social security systems. The Plano Real brought inflation under control, while the selling-off of some state-owned companies and the opening up of Brazil to competition and investment made his government popular with the business sector. In 1997 his proposal that Presidents could hold a second consecutive term in office was passed, and he was re-elected in 1998. In his second term he was criticized for not moving faster, especially in terms of social reforms, given the vast inequalities that exist within Brazilian society. With further financial problems affecting the country, he had to increase taxes and cut back on spending, and there was a change of party at the presidential elections in 2003, when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the left‐wing Workers' Party, was elected. However, Cardoso's period as President brought much-needed stability to Brazil, and he became the first President for forty years to hand over power democratically at the end of his period in office in 2003.