A retelling of the history of Brazilian politics would be incomplete without the name Fernando Collor de Mello. In 1990, at age 40, he was sworn in as the country’s first democratically elected president after 21 years of military dictatorship. Two years later, he also became the first Brazilian head of state to be impeached, following mounting corruption allegations.
But the story of the Collor de Mello clan does not start with Fernando. His grandfather Lindolfo Collor was a key member of the 1930 coup d’état that consolidated Getulio Vargas’ grip on power, and he was made Brazil’s first-ever Labor Minister. Meanwhile, ex-President Collor’s father Arnon de Melo was also a congressman, governor, and senator — who went down in infamy for killing a fellow senator in the Congress building in 1963, yet avoiding any punishment.
Fernando Collor de Mello’s years in the presidency were turbulent, to say the least. One day after taking office, he announced a radical plan to tame Brazil’s wild inflation rate of 84 percent a month (yes, a month): he changed the currency, taxed financial transactions, froze prices and wages, and — most famously — blocked all withdrawals from savings accounts. With 80 percent of Brazilians’ money kept in these accounts, around USD 100 billion was frozen, or 30 percent of the country’s GDP at the time. Losses from the Collor Plan led to a slew of lawsuits, some of which are still running in Brazilian courts.
As president, Mr. Collor’s agenda included opening up the public sector to privatization, encouraging free trade, and modernizing industry. His reforms were unpopular among the public and eventually proved to be inefficient. As popular support dwindled, corruption accusations against his administration began to surface. Congress took the opportunity to oust him from office in 1992, when he was formally charged by the Supreme Court with corruption and leading a criminal organization. He was later found not guilty on all counts.
“I made the mistake of not paying due attention to building my coalition in Congress — and developing a more fluid dialogue with politicians and parties. The result was my downfall. I see the same situation happening now,” he said, in an exclusive interview with The Brazilian Report.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.