Franco, Itamar

Franco, Itamar
▪ 1994

      The anniversary of Itamar Franco's first year as president of Brazil was hardly cause for celebration in 1993. Vice President Franco had become acting president on Oct. 2, 1992, and was sworn in as president on Dec. 29, 1992, as the impeachment trial of former president Fernando Collor began. Franco's image as a quiet, down-to-earth, honest man familiar with the workings of Brazilian politics contrasted sharply with that of his slick, flashy predecessor, who was plagued by charges of corruption and inability to move reforms through the legislature. One year later, however, the corruption scandal had spread to the legislative branch. Franco seemed temperamental and indecisive—overseeing some 20 ministerial changes, including four ministers of the crucial finance portfolio. He appeared unable to tame one of "the most fragmented party systems in Latin America," and the ruling coalition seemed fragile indeed. His 14.5% approval rating was one of the worst ever. On Oct. 18, 1993, Franco offered to resign if Congress would schedule early elections (currently set for November 1994), but his offer was declined. The right feared that early elections would mean victory for the popular Workers Party; the left wanted to milk the ongoing corruption scandal; and business interests sought to avoid postponement of a debate concerning reform of the 1988 constitution. So it seemed that Franco might, in fact, serve out his term through January 1995.

      Itamar Augusto Cautiero Franco was born July 28, 1931. After attending the School of Engineering of Juiz de Fora in Minas Gerais, he served (1966-74) as mayor of Juiz de Fora, which was also his hometown. He was a founding member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (now the largest party in Congress) when it was the only opposition party permitted under military rule. Franco was a senator for 16 years, leading committees on economy and finance (1983-84) and investigating corruption (in the late 1980s). He lost a bid to be governor of Minas Gerais in 1986 but was later picked by Collor to balance the ticket and thus became vice president in 1990.

      Franco was an unusual president—a private man who disliked public attention and criticism. In his first year in office he held only one scheduled news conference and Cabinet meetings on an average of one every three months. When a Rio newspaper proclaimed him "a president with a vice president's agenda," he stopped making his schedules public. He spoke only Portuguese and was an economic nationalist opposed to neo-liberal market reforms. This put him at odds with the IMF among others. At a meeting of primarily Spanish-speaking Latin-American heads of state, he reportedly remained aloof and did not attend official dinners. And it was six months before he received the U.S. ambassador—despite the fact that the U.S. was Brazil's leading foreign investor and trading partner. Brazil's most widely read columnist summed up, "Itamar Franco would be a good city councilman in Juiz de Fora with his office in the corner barbershop"—not a viable option for the president of the fifth largest country in the world at a time of economic and political crisis. (ELLEN FINKELSTEIN)

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Universalium. 2010.

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