Friends since the late 1960s, when both taught at the University of Paris Nanterre and witnessed the outbreak of the May 68 student movement, sociologists Manuel Castells (Spain) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former president of Brazil, 1995-2003) had a video conversation about the social, economic, and political impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective countries and around the globe.
Manuel Castells - “This crisis is totally different from the ones we have previously experienced. It is multidimensional and global. We can only overcome it with humanity, not one country against the others, much less one politician against another. It is our common destiny at stake.”
FHC - “In your well-known book ‘End of Millennium’ (1996), you first described the enormous impact that the internet would have on our societies, and today, a few years later, it is clear that representative democracy is at risk. The current crisis requires leadership. In the beginning, was the word, says the Bible. It is always the word! We, intellectuals or politicians, are used to talking but not listening, let alone listening to many, which is what happens in today’s online world. When I was president and faced with a crisis, politicians, business and labor leaders, and societal representatives convened in the Planalto Palace, and I would let them talk as I just listened. That alone alleviated the pressure of the crisis. In some cases, nothing else needed to be done. Of course, now, given the severity of the pandemic, speaking and listening alone is not enough. Concrete actions need to be taken in healthcare, the economy, and education. And it’s vital to support science and technology in long-term programs.”
Castells - “Yes, we are experiencing a ‘crisis of crisis management’, the political instruments we were used to, and the connections between political leaders and citizens all being destroyed. In most countries, especially in the democratic West, there is a profound distrust of politics. It is essential to rebuild the capacity for democratic leadership, but this cannot be done if withdrawn from the situation. We have to get citizens more involved through a new type of mobilization and improve management abilities and the aptness of the Federal Government to give real answers. Social networks, truly, have had a corrosive effect on democracy, but they can also be an instrument to stimulate public debate, organization, and social mobilization. We have to understand how to use ‘networks against networks’.”
FHC - “I fully agree. Now is the time for us to move forward together, cohesively, to break paradigms and even think of Utopian solutions such as minimum universal income, to seek a balance between the role of the Federal Government, society, and the private sector, and build a true social market economy.”
Castells - “Spain (one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus) will begin to adopt a minimum universal income next month (June). The pandemic has shown us that it is no longer possible to persevere in the same economic system as before, increasingly unequal, excessively consuming, and destroying the environment. Now is the time to make an effort for cultural transformation and create economic and social molds that are feasible and sustainable. It is either that or chaos!”
Otávio Dias, journalist, specialized in politics and international affairs, former correspondent for Folha in London and editor of the estadao.com.br website. He is currently a content editor at Fundação FHC.
Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin & Todd Harkin (Harkin Translations)