Brazil's Ex-president Tells Haaretz: Nothing Justifies Exorbitant World Cup Spending

Retired leader Fernando Henrique Cardoso speaks to Haaretz after invited to Israel to receive honorary doctorate at TAU.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Graffiti depicting a starving child with nothing to eat but a football captures the displeasure of many Brazilians, May 23, 2014.
Graffiti depicting a starving child with nothing to eat but a football captures the displeasure of many Brazilians, May 23, 2014.Credit: AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A former Brazilian leader, on a visit to Israel, has criticized his government for lavish spending on stadiums for the soccer World Cup finals scheduled to open in Rio de Janeiro next month.

“There is nothing to justify this,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who served as president of Brazil from 1995 to 2002, in an interview with Haaretz. Cardoso (also known as FHC) was invited to Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.

The Brazilian government has been sharply attacked for spending billions of dollars on new and refurbished stadiums for the World Cup, when many of the country’s hospitals and schools are in a state of neglect.

What, if any, price the government would be forced to pay for its mistakes, Cardoso speculated, would ultimately depend on the performance of the Brazilian team in the tournament. “In the case of victory, people will forget about it all,” he said. “But in the case of failure, that could affect the elections.” Brazilians are due to go to the polls in October.

Brazil has also come under widespread criticism for its lack of preparedness for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, which it will also be hosting. Cardoso noted that when he was president, he also tried, though unsuccessfully, to bring the games to Brazil. He questioned the wisdom and feasibility, however, of a country like Brazil hosting two mega international sporting events within two years. “Maybe to have simultaneously the World Cup and the Olympics is a little too much,” he said.

During his two terms serving as president, Cardoso initiated economic and social programs that helped eliminate hyperinflation and reduce income gaps, ushering in an era of great prosperity for Brazil. Many of these programs were expanded by his two successors. Before embarking on his political career, Cardoso enjoyed an illustrious career as a sociologist and economist, and has taught, among other institutions, at Princeton and Brown. During the years of military dictatorship in Brazil, he lived in exile.

Cardoso was recognized by Tel Aviv University for his accomplishments as a “respected national leader, intellectual, scholar and statesman” as well as “his ongoing endeavors to leverage his international renown to promote peace and human rights; and his warm friendship toward the State of Israel.”

During his short stay in Israel, the 82-year-old met with President Shimon Peres, who he described as an old friend. Asked to comment on the recent breakdown of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Cardoso said he had not given up hope and urged Israelis to be more patient.

“I don’t think that a mediator could do more than Kerry did,” he said, referring to the efforts made by the United States secretary of state to broker a deal. “The Arab people − and they’re not so different from Jewish people − they have a different sense of time. We Westerners, we have more of a sense of urgency that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the sense of time that motivates the Arab world. For the mediators, this is difficult because they’re always pushing and pushing, putting on pressure and more pressure, and the response is ‘no, no, no.’ But political life requires patience. What we have here is more of a cultural problem.”

He said that unlike many observers, he did not view Israel’s demographics as a ticking time bomb because the Jews were still a clear majority within the country’s internationally recognized borders. “If we’re going to look outside [these borders] then the Arabs have always been much more numerous,” he said.

Asked to comment on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance as a national leader, Cardoso sufficed with the following: “My position is not similar to Netanyahu’s position. I belong to the center-left, and therefore I am closer to the position of Shimon Peres, at least the position he used to have.”

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of Brazil from 1995 to 2002.Credit: Ofer Vakhnin

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