Pro-democracy letter is not just about a coup, election and short term, says former BNDES president

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Former president of institutions such as BNDES, Goldman Sachs Brasil and CSN, Maria Silvia Bastos Marques considers it simplistic to reduce the moment in which Brazil is facing the risk of a coup, elections and short-term impacts.

“We’re talking about the future. I’m talking about my 25-year-old children being happy in this country,” he says in an interview with Sheet.

She says she is wary of young people’s lack of interest in Brazil and that, by signing pro-democracy manifestos, she is thinking about future generations. “I am very concerned about a country where young people want to live in other countries, where we have no reason to be proud. Brazilians have low self-esteem”, she says.

In addition to the letter to be read at the USP Law School this Thursday (11), she signed a manifesto prepared in August 2021 also in defense of the elections, in response to other threats made by President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) to the polls at the time.

What motivated your subscription? Exactly what the manifesto states: our joint concern, regardless of party. There are representatives of all types of civil society there. It is our concern with the country, with the moment we are living, with the weakening of institutions, the constant attack on them. Finally, it is the concern that democracy be a pillar of the constitution of our society.

We do not believe that it is possible to have a successful country that is not based on strong institutions and a democratic pillar.

It’s not your first signature on a manifest of its kind. What was the trigger for your realization that this was necessary? Brazil has been in an unstable situation for some time. Since the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, we have been living complex moments.

I have worked more than half of my career in the public sector. I am a person who has roots in Brazil, I want to stay in Brazil and I will stay here. I am always engaged and concerned, especially with young people and future generations. I have two 25-year-old children and I am very concerned about a country where young people want to live in other countries, where we have no reason to be proud. The self-esteem of Brazilians is low.

Mainly, we see per capita income stagnant or falling in recent years. The country’s productivity decreasing. A meager, unstable growth.

More recently, we have seen all these questions about electronic voting machines, the issue of the Judiciary, a very troubled process from the public point of view and between institutions. None of this favors the country we need, which is a country that has rules and a stable environment, that is attractive for investments, that prioritizes education, equal opportunities, that has sustainable growth to include people.

The signatures have important business names, but there are many others who don’t. What is your assessment of the positioning of the private sector? Consensus is a difficult thing to get, but I see what is happening as extremely positive. I never believed in change coming autonomously. This is how it is with all changes.

To give you an example, my big banner when I joined the BNDES was the sanitation program, which started there. President Michel Temer bought this idea and included in the PPI [Programa de Parceria de Investimentos]. I left the BNDES, the program continued, it was embraced by society. The discussion of sanitation took place, people now understand the importance of this.

Changes are driven by the demands of society and I have always believed in engagement. I don’t see any other way to change things. It won’t change because a government decides to change. It will change because society wants this change. If she is not prepared, this change will not happen.

The clear, transparent participation of civil society is a recent phenomenon in Brazil, which I am very excited about. I’ll give an example: Renova, which is a private sector movement that has been preparing young leadership to renew politics in Brazil. This is transformative. It is one thing that drives change. I don’t remember seeing businessmen clearly demonstrating their dissatisfaction like that, their concern, and not just businessmen, civil society leaders, opinion makers.

We cannot ignore the moment when we feel and believe that our country may be at risk due to the reasons I have already mentioned.

Entrepreneurship is pragmatic. What, in his opinion, may have motivated the signatures? Have the conviction. I think these people have their principles and are defending them, they are businessmen committed to the country. If they weren’t, they’d just take their business, move their headquarters, and go somewhere else.

Pragmatism, in this sense, is extremely positive. They are entrepreneurs who do business in the country, want to stay here, bet on Brazil. And, above all, they have a long-term view. I think this is another evil that we have in the country, we are always thinking about today. In many cases, thinking about today can be destroying tomorrow.

I consider this engagement of businessmen, civil society, from whatever area, jurists, professors, as extremely new, positive, transformative. It is understanding that the country’s future may be at risk. And this future of the country encompasses all of us.

How do you assess the market’s perception of a possible risk of coup? Golpe is a very Latin American name. I also don’t see it as a ‘market’. This term always comes in a derogatory way. We’re talking about a business environment. Market sounds short term. We are talking about the future of the country here.

I will remind you that a little over a year ago, in the United States, there was an invasion of the Capitol. Would you call that a coup attempt? A country that has an enormous democratic tradition suffered an attack on democracy in that way.

So, yes, I think we are concerned here. I don’t like the word [golpe]but that there may be riots, issues that further turmoil the country at a time when it really needs to resume growth, generate employment, attract investment.

I think it’s simplistic to reduce [a questão das cartas pró-democracia] if they are afraid of a blow. Not. We are seeing institutions constantly being challenged. This is certainly not positive.

Whether Brazilian or foreign businessmen, who have a minimum of commitment to the country in the sense of making investments, generating jobs, they obviously feel little attracted. There is an alternative in the world.

On the other hand, Brazil can play a leading role in so many issues. Perhaps we are missing out on these opportunities, in terms of food, climate change, the energy transition. I didn’t want to boil this down to a coup, short-term, election thing today. We are talking about the future. I’m talking about my 25 year olds being happy in this country.​


X-ray | Maria Silvia Bastos Marques, 65

PhD in economics from FGV, she was president of the BNDES during the term of Michel Temer (MDB). She also held presidencies at companies such as Goldman Sachs Brasil, CSN and Icatu Seguros, as well as seats on boards such as Petrobras, Vale and others.

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