Man of center set to put Brazil on democratic path
All the major newspapers in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have endorsed him. He enjoys the trust of the business community and the military. And close to 79 percent of the population supports him, according to a recent poll.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He is Tancredo Neves, and he is virtually certain to become Brazil's first civilian president in 20 years. The 686-member Electoral College is expected to elect Mr. Neves by about a 2-to-1 margin on Jan. 15.
In an exclusive interview with the Monitor, Mr. Neves sketches out the broad outlines of his program.
''Essentially, my four years as Brazil's president will be dedicated to the peaceful transition - socially, politically, and economically - to a free, responsible, and just society to which all and not only a few Brazilians may feel that they belong,'' he says.
His three most pressing tasks, as he sees it, will be:
* Strengthening the democratic institutions and the people's faith in them.
* Alleviating the enormous burden of Brazil's foreign debt - close to a $100 billion.
* Reducing gradually the ''scandalous gap that divides a small, wealthy minority from an abjectly poor majority.''
He says he always has been and will be a man of the center, a believer in compromise and in middle-of-the-road solutions, one ''who has no taste for radical experiments, be they of the left or the right.''
Most observers describe Neves as a conservative in economics, a liberal on social justice, a practicing Roman Catholic, and a traditionalist when it comes to moral values. Above all, they say, he is a man who believes deeply in democracy and has opposed authoritarian rule all his life.
His countrymen consider him the most experienced politician in Brazil. He served as minister of justice in the 1950s, prime minister in the '60s, and is a former governor of the key state of Minas Gerais.
As the head of the opposition Party of Democratic Movement - a wide-ranging coalition grouping right-of-center, left-of-center, and middle-of-the-road forces - Neves feels he has a mandate to renegotiate the repayment terms on Brazil's foreign debt.
''Brazil will honor its commitments,'' he says, ''but it will seek easier terms, both with regard to interest rates and to a time frame in this respect.''
Neves says a bilateral approach - not a multilateral one, such as the establishment of a consortium of debtor countries - is more appropriate for eliminating Brazil's foreign debt. But he warns that on this matter ''Brazil will be a tough cookie'' and ''will not bargain away its sovereign rights.''
Neves intends to implement an emergency plan aimed at bringing the 219 percent inflation under control and at encouraging economic growth (now at a standstill) to reduce unemployment. He hopes to achieve this by opening up the domestic market and by giving a hike, through fiscal incentives, to small and medium-sized enterprises.
His plan, the ''Social Pact,'' aims to improve the purchasing power of the working man (the minimum wage is now $50 a month) and thus at stimulating consumption and at encouraging sales. He may freeze prices and wages for six to months ''to deal a psychological blow to the inflationary trend.'' Brazil's minimum wage in real cruzeiros (discounting inflation) is 40 percent of what it was when the military took over in 1964.