Nobody likes to be backed into a corner. But when Brazil’s famed ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso – or FHC as he is widely known – was invited onto Al Jazeera Network’s UpFront program to be interviewed by Mehdi Hasan last week, he could hardly have been expecting the volley of dizzying blows he was dealt.
85-year-old Cardoso, who served as President of Brazil from January 1995 until 2003, was challenged on his support of the ongoing impeachment process against suspended President Dilma Rousseff and contradictory opposition to that of her interim successor, Michel Temer. Of Rousseff’s case he said: “This is a crime against the constitution. This is a political crime. It is a lack of responsibility.”
However, when his claim was explored a little further by Hasan, Cardoso’s own hypocrisy began to shine through. While Rousseff has been accused of manipulating the national budget, a crime known as “fiscal pedalling,” Cardoso was accused of exactly the same offence in 2001, to the tune of US $300 million per year.
His response to this was flimsy at best, putting his own economic misdemeanours down to a new set of laws to which his government had been “adjusting.” He also attempted to play down his misconduct, saying that the amounts were hardly comparable – Rousseff has been accused of adjusting up to 24.5 billion Reais (US $7.4 billion) in the national budget.
Now sweating profusely, Cardoso was then made aware of a recent poll that had found 58 percent of Brazilians were in favor of also impeaching Acting President Temer – while 61 percent back the proceedings against Rousseff. Still, he refused to comment on whether he supported impeachment of Temer, instead embarking on a long-winded explanation of the differences between the two cases. Cardoso’s widely-ridiculed retort, “Listen to me! You need to have more information!” – in spite of having been informed of the aforementioned poll during the course of the interview – was particularly indicative of his defensive stance.
Mehdi also pointed out that both the current and former speakers of the Brazilian congress, along with the current leader of the Senate, have all been accused of taking bribes. Starting to buckle somewhat under the pressure eased onto him by his interviewer, Cardoso was evasive and dismissive – preferring to avoid questions and pick on smaller details of Mehdi’s gathering assault against him, such as the source of the impeachment movement against Rousseff.
Firmly on the back foot throughout, Cardoso’s aptitude for the English language also came in for light-hearted criticism from Brazil’s social media-friendly populous. The interview was described as a “mico” (the phrase ‘pagar mico’ means ‘make a fool of oneself’) on various social media platforms, and the vast majority were in agreement that the ten-minute conversation could barely have gone worse.
Whereas Cardoso has had a week to forget, Rousseff’s stock seems to be perpetually on the rise. She gave a remarkably frank interview to the Los Angeles Times in which she managed to exploit her favourable position in the public domain and send her popularity yet higher, despite her reputation as something of an introvert during her time in office. Rousseff’s relaxed demeanour and occasional outbursts of laughter will be winning her friends throughout Brazil, while adopting a “Rir para não chorar” (laugh so you don’t cry) – mantra seems to be the best she can do given her situation.
Embarrassing as it was, Cardoso has for some time now operated largely beyond the penetrating glare of the political spotlight. However, it is unlikely that his uncomfortable horror show of a television appearance will linger too long in the nation’s memory; as if things keep going as they have recently, the next Brazilian political disaster will unfortunately not be too far away.