How Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula worked together to woo George W. Bush
As Brazil is heading for a fiercely contested election in October, a fascinating new book looks back at Brazil's most dramatic power transition since democratization three decades ago. 18 Dias.: Quando Lula e FHC se uniram para conquistar o apoio de Bush (roughly "18 days: When Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso worked together to obtain support by President Bush" ) by Matias Spektor, Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation and columnist at Folha de São Paulo, uses the unique moment after Lula's historic victory in 2002 as a starting point for an excellent analysis of presidential diplomacy and Brazil's place in the world.
The outgoing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso faced a dilemma. Brazil had made great progress during his 8 years in power, but the economy was still vulnerable and fear by US policy makers and investors of Lula had the potential to throw the Brazilian economy into crisis and undo Cardoso's achievements. To protect his legacy, Cardoso had to convince the United States that Lula, his political enemy, had only the best intentions. This led to an unprecedented degree of across-the-aisle cooperation during the power transition, a scenario hardly imaginable in today's polarized political climate.
Perhaps the only problematic aspect of 18 Dias is its title, which fails to do justice to the book's ambition and scope. Far from merely telling the story of the power transition from Fernando Henrique Cardoso to Lula, Spektor's book is both a tour de force of Brazilian diplomacy of the 1990s and a thought-provoking piece of global history at the turn of the century, weaving together a large number of seemingly independent strands that provides the reader with a vivid impression of global political dyamics at the time. Throughout the book, Spektor jumps from one country to another and describes parallel events, powerfully showing that nothing at the time occured in isolation.
The multitude of issues affecting Fernando Henrique Cardoso and President-elect Lula in October and November 2002 was maddeningly complex, including problems with the United States, Venezuela, Colombia and others. Discussing them, 18 Dias elegantly does away with countless myths that dominate the foreign policy debate in Brazil until today. Many readers will be surprised to learn that Brazil-US ties under President Cardoso were far from smooth. Despite their excellent personal relationship, Cardoso and Clinton disagreed on countless issues, such as how to deal with the civil war in Colombia. Things did not improve when Clinton left office, and Cardoso remained skeptical of the United States' proposal to liberalize trade in the Western hemisphere. In the same way, Spektor shows that Lula and Dirceu, despite their anti-American rhetoric, were keen on establishing a strong relationship with President Bush, and that the incoming PT government had no interest in alienating the United States.
The book's most impressive achievement is its capacity to provide the reader with a surprisingly detailed idea of what it was like to be a leading foreign policy maker at the time. 18 Dias contains so much behind-the-scenes information that it reads like an insider's account, yet it does not suffer from the inevitable one-sidedness that dominates books written by former diplomats or Presidents. It took the author years to interview all major players involved, including both President Cardoso and President Lula, as well as the leading US foreign policy makers such as Condoleezza Rice. Careful to offer a balanced account, Spektor writes that given the current polarization in Brazilian politics he expects "all sides to be equally frustrated by the book." Yet, for those who care about gaining an unprecedented glimpse into a crucial episode of Brazilian diplomacy, the book will be anything but frustrating. Quite to the contrary, 18 Dias is a must-read and certain to turn into a reference work for years to come.