At the beginning of the year, the political news in the United States was totally dominated by the results of the November elections: the takeover of Congress by the Republicans and in particular the installation of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. Minimal attention was given to a simultaneous event: the inauguration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso as the first social democratic president of the United States of Brazil.
With one hundred and fifty-five million people, Brazil is, after the United States, the second most populous nation in the Western Hemisphere. It is also a major industrial power (turning out, for example, 1.5 million cars in 1994), and an increasingly important exporter of sophisticated industrial and diversified agricultural products (coffee is down to 2.5 percent of total exports). The country has a considerable political impact on the rest of Latin America. The overthrow of democracy in 1964 by a group of Brazilian generals was the beginning of a vicious authoritarian wave that engulfed a major part of the continent for two decades. When the Brazilian military decided to “retire from power” in 1985, the country returned to democratic forms, but then had to contend for almost a decade with weak or corrupt leaders as well as with economic instability and a recurring tendency to hyperinflation. Under these conditions, the accession of sixty-three-year old President Cardoso, the leader of Brazil’s Social Democratic party (PSDB), on January 1 was widely greeted as a promise of genuine political renewal, the vigorous resumption of economic growth, and effective social reform. Some attention should be paid to this “point of light” that has appeared in our hemisphere....
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