In mid-1978, the old Leão de Ouro canteen, in São Bernardo do Campo (SP), brought together professor Fernando Henrique Cardoso and union leaders led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the same table.
There they were closing the support of the metallurgists to the FHC campaign for the Senate, in the November election of that year.
At the end of the meal, the two future presidents of the Republic and the other diners celebrated the agreement in a chorus of “Pra Não Say que Não Fali das Flores”, an informal hymn against the dictatorship by Geraldo Vandré.
The story is remembered by ex-unionist Djalma Bom, Lula’s friend, one of those at the table. “We saw Fernando Henrique as an ally in the defense of wage guidelines and democratization. At a rally in Osasco a few days later, Lula called it the nation’s moral reserve, ”says Bom.
Last week, a photo of Lula and FHC during lunch at the home of former minister Nelson Jobim surprised the political world.
There were several praises to the civility of both, united against the anti-democratic attitudes of President Jair Bolsonaro, but also criticism from PT and toucans against the gesture of approaching the respective political opponent.
If looked at in a larger horizon, however, lunch was just another part of the roller coaster ride that has been the link between the two political leaders over 45 years of living together.
The first decade of this relationship was undoubtedly of great affinity. In 1978, FHC would end up not being elected (he remained as a substitute, according to the rules of the time), but the coexistence with Lula remained close.
Two years after singing at the restaurant, they met in June 1980 at leaf, in a debate promoted by the Newsletter, the newspaper’s old Sunday supplement.
The topic was wage negotiations between workers and employers, and the two agreed on almost everything. They analyzed the difficulties of making this possible in a context of dictatorship and, in a friendly atmosphere, exchanged humorous provocations.
FHC, academic by nature, made a long theoretical digression on the subject, citing examples from other countries, to which Lula joked: “Professor Fernando Henrique Cardoso was short in his explanation and, if he were to tell everything, he would end up tiring the plenary”.
The change followed, when the professor praised the courage of the unionist, who had just spent 31 days in prison by the regime. “There is one of the commanders [da resistência à ditadura], alive and beside us. Despite the chain, which incidentally physically did him good. ”
After the debate, Lula left the newspaper and stopped at a bar next to the leaf, at the Barão de Limeira mall, downtown São Paulo, where he ordered a beer and stayed with supporters and journalists. FHC arrived a few minutes later, but did not enter.
“The two spoke quickly on the sidewalk, and Fernando Henrique told Lula that later they needed to talk more calmly,” recalls Edgard Alves, who worked in the sports section of the newspaper.
Despite the camaraderie, FHC did not join the PT, although he had participated in meetings in São Bernardo do Campo to discuss the creation of the party, which would take place in February 1980.
“Fernando Henrique had a vision that the country at that time needed a popular but broad party, not a classist party as we wanted. And that party was already the PMDB, where it was, ”says Bom.
Both followed on the same side in the Diretas campaign in 1983 and 1984, and then began to distance themselves politically, as their political ambitions grew.
Political scientist Francisco Weffort, who lived closely with the two, says the departure was much more political than ideological.
“Small-scale politics confuses big-horizon politics. The guy wants a place, the other wants the same place, then it got complicated, ”says Weffort, who was PT’s general secretary and FHC’s Minister of Culture.
According to him, what differentiates the two is basically the social origin, because the essence of the governments of one and the other, he says, was very similar.
In 1993, PT and PSDB rehearsed a union for the election of the following year, but it ended up failing as the Real Plan was conceived and the PT betting ahead of its candidate in the polls.
With FHC’s victory, Lula and the left stuck the “neoliberal” label to the toucan, something he never accepted. “In fact, Fernando Henrique did not have a neoliberal government, but a liberal-democratic one, with an emphasis on the social. Just as Lula’s government was, ”says Weffort.
FHC and Lula’s 16-year tenure (1995-2010) was the culmination of mutual aggression, with accusations that often went beyond the programmatic field and slipped into that of ethics. The toucan was talking about a monthly allowance, and the privatist petista.
“The big break was when Lula assumed the Presidency and said that he had received a cursed inheritance. It is as if he had stabbed Fernando Henrique in the back, ”says Xico Graziano, who was FHC’s private secretary and minister.
According to him, the toucan never hid this hurt. “FHC passed the baton to Lula, even with a certain taste of seeing a worker in the Presidency. And it was not a damn inheritance at all, Lula harvested the oranges that FHC planted in his government, ”says Graziano.
For Djalma Bom, if there was friction between them, it was not because of the PT. “Fernando Henrique always had a bit of vanity, he looked like a movie heartthrob. Lula’s charisma and intelligence bothered him, ”he says.
There were short periods of truce in this period of high spirits. One of them was in 2002, when Brazil needed to turn to the IMF and the toucan, still president, called the candidates to his succession for talks in Brasilia. Lula was the only one to have the deference of a chat alone.
In 2005, the PT made a gesture of good neighborliness and included FHC and ex-president José Sarney in his entourage for the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome.
In 2013, with Dilma Rousseff already in the presidency, the ex-presidents made another trip together, this time to the Nelson Mandela funeral, in South Africa. time to Valor Econômico newspaper.
“We remember a lot of things from the past, things from São Bernardo [do Campo], in which I participated a lot and Lula was the leader there ”, said FHC at the time.
The deaths of the respective women also subsided resentments between the two presidents. Lula was at Ruth Cardoso’s wake in 2008, and FHC visited the hospital where Marisa Letícia died in 2017.
But it was the presence of Bolsonaro in the chair that belonged to both of them that served to once again bring the two political rivals together.
“They were together at the end of the military period and shortly thereafter, in the Diretas campaign. Bolsonaro is not a candidate within the body of democracy, and he brings about this union. It is the same principle as before, ”says Weffort.
Graziano, who found the photo of the former chief with Lula “regrettable”, says that the two maintain a complex relationship. “Deep down, they have a certain admiration for each other.”
FHC now says that, unlike 2018, he would opt for Lula in a hypothetical second round against Bolsonaro next year.
With research pointing to this scenario, the scene of a new union, four and a half decades after the festive meal in the São Bernardo canteen, is on the horizon, despite the years of heavy criticism from both sides.
In this scenario, the toucan will be able to make the desire it expressed in an interview with filmmaker Fernando Grostein in 2018, published in leaf. “If I could relive the story, I would try to get closer not only to Lula, but to political forces that I found progressive in general,” said FHC.
Friends and rivals
Senate Campaign, 1978
ABC union members under Lula’s leadership engage in FHC’s campaign for the Senate for São Paulo; he ends up staying as an alternate
PT Foundation, 1980
PT is founded; FHC participates in meetings to discuss the creation of the party, but decides not to join
The two political leaders are engaged in the campaign for the Diretas-Já
Election and Plano Real, 1993
PT and PSDB negotiate alliance for presidential election, but talks fail. In 1994, FHC is victorious in the wake of Plano Real
FHC is re-elected, beating Lula once again
Lula elected, 2002
FHC leaves Lula aware of the country’s agreement with the IMF; after PT victory, toucan makes praised transition
Petista includes toucan in entourage for funeral of Pope John Paul 2nd
Lula goes to the funeral of ex-first lady Ruth Cardoso, the toucan’s wife
New trip, 2013
The two ex-presidents chat amicably on the presidential plane to South Africa, where they attend the funeral of ex-president Nelson Mandela
New wave, 2017
FHC reciprocates Lula’s gesture and finds him in the hospital where former First Lady Marisa Letícia died
FHC says he would vote for Lula against Bolsonaro, in an eventual second round; ex-presidents meet for lunch at the home of ex-minister Nelson Jobim