Brazilian economist and diplomat Roberto de Oliveira Campos (born 1917) struggled for most of the latter half of the twentieth century to promote what he called pragmatic, democratic nationalism in his socialist homeland that, during the early 1960s, had been flirting with Communism.
Campos was born in Cuiabá, in the rural state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, on April 17, 1917. In reference to his humble background, Campos often referred to himself as "a Brazilian hillbilly." He initially planned to enter the priesthood, and received degrees in Philosophy and Theology from the Catholic Seminary of Guaxup. For his graduate work, however, he turned to economics, and studied at George Washington University, Columbia University, and New York University, all in the United States. In 1939, at the age of 22, Campos entered the Brazilian foreign service.
Frustrations with Foreign Service
From the foreign service, Campos moved to a number of important national and international posts, serving on the Brazil-U.S. Economic Development Committee and the National Development Council, and acting as a delegate to General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs ( GATT) and other international conferences during the 1950s. Campos was often openly critical of the United States' treatment of Latin American countries. In 1958, the New York Times reported that Campos, speaking as president of Brazil's National Bank for Economic Development, accused the United States of treating Latin America as "less important than Europe for public investment," adding that the U.S. had "lost much goodwill as the result of its former opposition to the creation of an inter-American [including both North and South America] financial agency," an idea Campos supported.
Despite his criticism of U.S. policy, the Brazilian press considered him too pro-American. After a conflict with Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek over the president's plan to print new money to finance government programs, he set up a management consultant firm with former Finance Minster Lucas Lopes. The firm encouraged and advised foreign clients on establishing industry in Brazil-a position that earned Campos the nickname "Bob Fields," an English translation of Roberto Campos.
In 1961 a new president, Joao Goulart, called Campos back to the government to serve as ambassador to the United States, hoping to gain U.S. favor and aid. Goulart's regime failed to fulfill many of its promises, however, and became increasingly corrupt; although Goulart had promised agrarian reform he amassed more and more private land, becoming, by far, the country's greatest landholder. Brazil's high rate of economic growth gave way to stagnation and decline. As Goulart repeatedly sacrificed national economic security to political pressures, the U.S. grew frustrated and cut off aid to Brazil.
After Goulart disavowed Campos' agreements with foreign investors and fired his fourth finance minister in less than three years, Campos resigned the ambassadorial post as a form of protest in 1964. Newsweek reported that Campos had "grown weary of serving as an apologist for a nation characterized by 'financial irresponsibility and disregard for social equity."' He criticized Goulart for his "purely demagogic and utopian tendencies," adding that Brazilians tended to blame their troubles on foreign exploitation, "as if there were no lack of discipline or waste in government spending and no tax evasion or intemperance in private finance." Campos returned to Brazil hoping to run for congress, in order to facilitate change. "I was so tired of trying to interpret policy," he told Business Week, "so I decided I wanted to help make it."
Revolution Led to Opportunity
Change came more quickly than he had expected. As Goulart lost one after another source of domestic support, Brazilians began to fear he would resort to a coup d'tat to solidify his power. As election time drew near and serious challengers to Goulart's increasingly authoritarian presidency began to fade, tensions ran high. In April 1964, three months after Campos' resignation, a revolution took place, and the Goulart government collapsed without a fight. Army Marshal Castelo Branco reluctantly accepted the post of interim president, and Campos was appointed minister of planning, the top policymaking post in Brazil.
The problems Campos faced were staggering. Inflation was going up at the rate of 114 percent a year; in the first four months of 1964, the rate was 120 percent. The gross national product could not even keep up with the rate of population growth. Adding to his difficulty was President Branco's tendency to cave into pressure from right-wing extremists, driving the administration toward an increasingly reactionary policy and making significant changes hard to implement.
Campos' own style also undermined his efforts. As he later admitted, he struggled with translating economic ideas into terms ordinary people could understand. "One of my main problems," he said in Newsweek, "has been my excessive rationalism, my horror of instincts. It has reduced my ability to communicate with the people." He also demanded stringent austerity from a government and people accustomed to the spendthrift regimes of the past. When he got rid of federal subsidies for wheat and gasoline, bread prices and bus fares soared. Campos' bold Action Plan, driven by what he called his "congenital recklessness," was supported by President Branco and the U.S. government, but was tremendously unpopular among the Brazilian people.
He was not without successes, however. In the first hundred days of the Action Plan, the congress passed two tax-reform bills, a banking-reform bill, housing legislation, and a sweeping agrarian-reform bill designed to support family-size farms. By the end of 1965, the inflation rate had been cut by more than half, down to 42 percent. Noted for his shrewd bargaining skills, he persuaded a reluctant World Bank to grant Brazil a loan, and he continued to push U.S. manufacturers to invest in their Brazilian subsidiaries, resulting in hundreds of millions of new dollars for expansion or initiation of Brazilian industry.
Left Office still Unpopular
Nevertheless, when Campos retired from the position in 1967, along with President Branco, he was still without the respect of many of his countryman. "Most Brazilians consider him an aloof, insensitive man who has shown himself to be more interested in techniques than in people," Newsweek reported. When he made his final report to the Brazilian Congress, one congressman told him, "We consider your presence here today meaningless.
Despite this treatment, he continued to be drawn to national service. In Reflections on Latin American Development, Campos corrected critics who accused him of a lack of national interest: "I shall continue considering myself a pragmatic nationalist. I renounce the temptation of mobilizing resentment in order to gain the authority to plan development. I would rather strengthen the national entrepreneur than merely antagonize the foreigner. I would want the State not to do what it cannot do, in order to do what it should do. I prefer to love my own country rather than to hate the others."
Campos continued through the rest of the 1960s and 1970s to serve on such committees as the Inter-American Committee for the Alliance for Progress and the Inter-American Council of Commerce and Production, still committed to helping South American countries learn and benefit from North American prosperity. During this period, he also turned more of his attention to publishing his ideas in such books as A tenica e o riso (Technique and Laughter), A nova economia brasileira (A New Brazilian Economy), and Funcao de empresa privada (The Function of Private Enterprise). Whether addressing economic theory or Brazilian nationalism, Campos maintained his position that the future of Brazil's economy would depend on a reduction in government spending, the substitution of private businesses for government services, and the encouragement of foreign investors.
Returned to Congress as Senator
In 1975 Campos returned to an official government post to serve as the Brazilian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Among his successes in this term as ambassador was a multimillion dollar loan for equipment to modernize and electrify Brazilian railroads. When he left his diplomatic position and returned to Brazil in 1982, he had become popular enough to win a seat in the Brazilian Congress. A 1996 poll included Campos as one of Brazil's top 10 most influential congressmen.
Despite his influence, he continued to struggle to win acceptance for his ideas. In 1995, The Economist Survey quoted Campos repeating his mantra to a still-uncertain audience: "Privatize, privatize, privatize." In 1997, Campos was still in congress pushing his country to open its doors to foreign business. When U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Brazil, Campos took the opportunity to promote Brazil's participation in a global economy. In a speech so vehement that it brought opponents to tears, he declared that "Brazil should exchange the clichs of nationalistic discourse-based on reactions (such as those of the politicians) that are mere posturing, and not supported by reality-for a coherent and sustainable attitude towards the opening up of its economy, with the objective of becoming fully integrated into the new world order." Many Brazilians, and much of the influential Brazilian press, still objected to his position.
Nevertheless, Campos is likely to be remembered in Brazil with admiration. As one of his critics told Newsweek in 1967, "Campos was like a Napoleon. Some people will remember his victories and some his defeats, but no one will forget he existed."
Further Reading on Roberto de Oliveira Campos
Campos, Roberto de Oliveira, A nova economia brasiliera, Crown Editores Internacionais, 1974.
Campos, Roberto de Oliveira, Reflections on Latin American Development, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1967.
Business Week, June 13, 1964.
Newsweek, February 24, 1964; March 20, 1967.
New York Times, December 3, 1958.
Times (London), December 15, 1976.
Washington Post, March 14, 1995.
"The Power in Brazilia," http: //www.brazzil.com (March 15, 1998).
"Slimming the State: The Many Virtues of Privitization," The Economist Survey, http: //www.demon.co.uk (March 15, 1998).
"Brazil, USA and the New Order," Banco Icatu S.A., http: //www.icatu.com.br (March 15, 1998).