Two centenarians

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The human being is endowed with memory. But it also forgets. There are, however, people who transform themselves into icons: they cannot be forgotten. This year, 2020, if they were alive, and not only in our memory, they would be 100 years old Celso Furtado and Florestan Fernandes. One left its mark on economics, the other on sociology. Both, in our intellectual history.

I knew them both well. I was trained at the Faculty of Philosophy at USP by many “masters”. In my case, none was more important than Florestan, since he gave me an introductory course in 1949. Celso met him when I was doing, in 1962, a research on the role of entrepreneurs in economic development and I went to Recife, with Leôncio Martins Rodrigues, to interview some of them. Celso, then, was already managing director of Sudene. I may have seen him before at a conference in São Paulo – my memory, too, is gradually filled with forgetfulness …

I do not forget, however, two episodes. We went to look for him in his modest apartment, at Praia de Boa Viagem. He loaned us a Sudene jeep with a driver. We took advantage of the visit that a couple of Yugoslav journalists would pay to Engenho da Galilee, famous for the occupations of Francisco Julião, leader of the Peasant Leagues, to visit the Zona da Mata. Years later, when I was detained at Oban, I was thoroughly inquired about the two “communists” who had gone with me to those plagues. I didn’t know them, they were just fellow travelers. The driver was also a police informant …

When Celso and I were already friends, I was in Barcelona, ​​in the winter of 1986, visiting my daughter Beatriz, who was studying there. One fine morning the phone rang. It was Celso, he wanted to know if I would also be appointed minister, as he had been invited by José Sarney to occupy the portfolio of Culture. He would have to leave the Embassy of Brazil with the European Community in Brussels, where he was appointed. Celso, a civil servant par excellence, besides being a great intellectual, was spoken to other ministries, such as Finance or Planning. It was up to Culture, who organized and lent the prestige of his name.

I told him that I could not even be considered for a ministerial role because I was a senator exercising the substitute and who would occupy my position in the Senate would be the second alternate, who was mayor of Campinas. He would have to resign from the city hall to take over the Senate. I advised him to accept the ministry, without having asked me.

They wanted the facts to be friends. In Paris, more than once I stayed in your apartment. In the same way, Celso stayed numerous times in my apartment in Brasilia when I was a senator. Also frequent were our meetings when we lived in France. Throughout 1961, Celso, Luciano Martins, of whom he was very close, me, and, eventually, Waldir Pires, had lunch together.

The friendship, which remained, never made me forget that it was with his books, especially The Economic Formation of Brazil, that I began to understand the changes that occurred in the country.

When, in 1964, we were (Celso for a few months before going to Yale) to live in Santiago, we lived together. And with us Francisco Weffort and Wilson Cantoni. Celso had previously worked at ECLAC and, in addition to being friends with Chilean economists, he was admired by Prebisch, our inspirer and head of Ilpes and the IDB.

I don’t know of another economist (more than that: social scientist) who has influenced both my generation and Celso. And many more. Not only for what he renewed in his vision of the economy (adding Keynes to Prebisch and Kaldor), but as an exemplary public man.

Intelligent, cultured and modest. Future generations will not only remember him, but will thank him. Celso showed us how much the Brazilian economy was integrated into the world economy and how without State action it would have been impossible (or much more difficult) to advance as far as it did. Besides, he knew how to write: he had started his life in literature.

The same I say about Florestan Fernandes: a man of encyclopedic culture, he knew both sociology and anthropology and the writings of classical economists were not mysterious to him. From Marx to François Simiand, he knew them well. More than that: it unveiled not only the evils of slavery and color prejudices, but also showed the bourgeois bases on which power was based in Brazil. He loved research, both sociological and anthropological, but he knew that without a chance the data doesn’t speak. He knew how to interpret what he knew from research. I owe it to him to dedicate myself to sociology, which was his passion.

As in the case of Celso, Florestan’s writings are here to stay. Both those on The Social Organization of the Tupinambá and The Social Function of War in the Tupinambá Society, as well as the studies on blacks in Brazil and the undemocratic character of our way of life and, above all, of command. It is intellectuals of this temper that Brazil needs. Who research and know how to foresee what may happen. Without fears or arrogance. With wisdom.



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