Who is Fernando Haddad?

The Workers’ Party’s presidential candidate stands between Brazil and fascism. Fernando Haddad’s time as both Education Minister and mayor of São Paulo attests to the kinds of progressive policies he would promote as president

October 22, 2018

Fernando Haddad meets with activists and supporters about his campaign on July 20, 2012. (Circuito Fora do Eixo/Flickr)

In the first round of Brazil’s presidential election on October 7, Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, finished in second place, securing a spot in the October 28 runoff. A difficult task falls to him: preventing the disaster of a victory of front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, who combines a neoliberal economic project with a messianic discourse in which he frames himself as the country’s savior, accompanied by hatred for the country’s social and political minorities. In the four days that remain before the runoff, Haddad and his campaign have before them the great challenge of earning the trust of an electorate that divided its vote among the other 11 candidates who competed for Brazil’s highest office.

Haddad, who is running with Manuela D’Avila of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) as his vice president, wasn’t even supposed to be the PT candidate. Originally tabbed as the running-mate for imprisoned former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Haddad became the presidential candidate on September 11, ten days after the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) rejected Lula’s candidacy on the grounds of the Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal of his conviction on trumped-up corruption charges. In less than a month, Lula’s endorsement propelled Haddad from 3% in the polls to the 28% he received on October 7.

But who is Fernando Haddad? How did he go from soft-spoken university professor to presidential candidate? His time as Minister of Education (2005-2012), during which he facilitated successful programs to expand college access to working class and Afro-Brazilians, and as mayor of the world’s third-largest city, São Paulo (2013-2016), where he oversaw reforms in transportation infrastructure and supported harm-reduction programs, lend clues as to what kinds of projects he would support as president. But can he stop the wave of fear, hatred, and misinformation fueling Bolsonaro’s campaign?

Who is Haddad?

Haddad, the son of first- and second-generation Lebanese immigrants, is an intellectual who spent his early academic career at the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil’s top university. A long-time member of the PT, Haddad is emblematic of the party’s tradition of bringing together progressive academics with the vibrant social movements that founded the party, particularly labor. As Lula’s handpicked candidate in 2018, he represents the continuity and enhancement of the economic and social development achieved during his party’s time in power. He counts his paternal grandfather, Habib Haddad, as one of his greatest sources of inspiration in his political career. Habib was a political militant and Eastern Orthodox priest who developed a profound relationship with the local community and became a political militant during the struggle against French rule after World War I.

Fernando Haddad’s education was not so different from that of the children of many Lebanese immigrants, who, working as peddlers or shop owners, invested their savings in obtaining first-rate education for their children. After graduating from the prestigious private Bandeirantes high school, alma mater of generations of prominent paulista politicians and intellectuals, Haddad received his Bachelor’s from the law school of the equally prestigious University of São Paulo, a traditional training ground for future politicians, where he went on to build an academic career with research focused on the Soviet Union and Marxism. He earned his M.A. in Economics in 1990 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1996, both from USP, where he also became a political science professor.

When he arrived at USP in the early 1980s, USP and Brazil were engaged in an intense political and social mobilization against the civilian-military dictatorship that had ruled the country since 1964. Amidst this struggle, Haddad took his first steps toward a career in politics as president of the law school’s militant student organization just after the Diretas Já mass demonstrations that heralded the end of the dictatorship. His involvement with both the student movement and other groups that fought against the regime, like the Unified Workers’ Central (CUT), led Haddad to join the PT in 1983, only three years after its founding.

In 2000, newly-elected PT mayor Marta Suplicy appointed Haddad as São Paulo’s deputy secretary of finance. He then spent two years as an aide to federal finance minister Guido Mantega. In 2005, Lula nominated Haddad to be Minister of Education. In this position, he began to gain visibility on the national stage for ambitious policies in Brazilian higher education, with unprecedented opportunities for working class, Afro-Brazilian, and Indigenous students.

Education Progress

In 2005, Haddad implemented the University for All Program (ProUni), a project designed in part by his wife Ana Estela, a professor at USP’s dental school. ProUni offers full and half scholarships to private universities for low-income students, with a quota of fellowships reserved for Indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, and students with disabilities. On the one hand, an expansion of private universities, which are far less prestigious in Brazil than the free federal and state universities, may not have been what some people expected from the leftist PT. Yet it is important to note that the scholarships were funded by the private universities themselves, in exchange for the government forgiving tax debts they owed. And between 2005 and 2014, 2.2 million students enrolled in universities with ProUni scholarships.

In 2007, Brazil launched the Support Program for Plans of Reorganization and Expansion of Federal Universities (REUNI), which applied to the country’s public universities. REUNI sought to double the number of admission slots in federal universities, in part by expanding existing universities, and in part by creating 14 new federal universities, concentrated in the poorer Northeast, by 2010. Under the program, the number of available slots in federal universities grew by nearly 100,000 students.

Together, ProUni and REUNI constituted, by any measure, the largest expansion of higher education in Brazil’s history. These efforts to expand higher education had concrete effects. According to the 2010 census, over the course of a decade, the percentage of students who went to college grew from 4.4% to 7.9%.

Another successful project instituted under Haddad was the expansion of the Financing Fund for Higher Education Students, which, through a partnership with the state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal, offered college loans with lower interest rates and extended repayment periods without requiring a co-signer.

Over the same period, Haddad facilitated the growth of the use of a unified entrance exam by federal universities, the National High School Exam (ENEM), beginning in 2009. Previously, every Brazilian university—and in some cases, every degree program—designed and administered its own entrance exams, which made it difficult for students to apply to more than one program or school, especially if they were working while they studied. ENEM also waived registration fees for public high school students. An important effect of creating a unified exam across disciplines was a shift from questions that required students to regurgitate knowledge to multidisciplinary questions that focused on reading comprehension and reasoning.

Haddad also began to address chronic underfunding in Brazilian primary and secondary education. The previous system for transferring federal funds to state and municipal public schools had only covered elementary school. The PT government extended federal funding to daycares, preschools, and secondary schools and increased the amount passed on to local authorities tenfold. In 2007, Haddad launched a nationwide education strategy to reform and improve education “from daycare to graduate school,” in collaboration with civil society, teachers, and education experts. The program increased required primary school education from eight to nine years, standardized measures to evaluate teaching and school performance, expanded of trade schools, youth, and adult literacy programs, instated a national minimum wage for teachers, and spent 700 million reais to purchase 118 million new textbooks for use in public schools across the country.

Yet it wasn’t just access to and funding for education that changed under the PT, but also instructional content. For example, Haddad’s Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, carried out one of the largest educational campaigns against homophobia that Brazil has ever seen. Broadly, their “Brazil without Homophobia” (Brasil sem Homofobia) program, developed in collaboration with a variety of LGBT rights organizations and NGOS, focused on deepening citizenship for LGBT people by combating violence and discrimination. In schools, the program sought to reduce bullying, truancy, and dropout rates for LGBT students, with a focus on training teachers. Although the United Nations endorsed the program, at home it became the target of virulent criticism from social conservatives, particularly evangelical Protestants.

All told, during Haddad’s nearly seven years (2005-2012) in the Ministry of Education, first under Lula and later under Rousseff, Brazil had the world’s third-highest increase in student scores on standardized international assessments, trailing only Chile and Luxembourg, according to the Program for International Student Assessment.

Mayor of São Paulo

In 2012, Haddad left the Ministry of Education to run for mayor of São Paulo. He was elected with 55% of the votes in a runoff, becoming São Paulo’s third mayor from the PT. Administratively, his four years in office were marked by fiscal discipline and increased transparency, but it was his innovative urban planning policies that gained him worldwide acclaim. One of Haddad’s top priorities as mayor was improving urban mobility by rethinking São Paulo’s reliance on cars—São Paulo has one car for every 2.2 inhabitants, or a total of about six million cars. His government reduced speed limits on the city’s major highways to as low as 30 miles an hour, resulting in reducing traffic fatalities 57% on two main highways from 2015 to 2016. Haddad also emphasized the construction of dedicated bus lanes and corridors; in four years, the number of dedicated bus lanes skyrocketed. His government also created 151 new bus lines, and for the first time, city buses began to operate 24 hours a day.

In addition, his administration worked to make public transportation more affordable for the working class, implementing monthly unlimited passes for the city’s buses, trains, and subways for the first time, while unemployed people and public school students gained the right to ride free of charge. Under his leadership, São Paulo increased bike lane mileage six-fold. Between 2013 and 2015, the city’s ranking in traffic congestion improved from seventh-worst in the world to 58th-worst.

Haddad’s time as mayor also witnessed the installation of Wifi in public spaces, the construction of two hospitals and numerous schools, and the creation of a fund to support cultural and artistic projects in the city. He also developed a treatment program based on harm reduction approaches in the infamous Cracolândia (Crackland) neighborhood, located adjacent to the city’s historic downtown. In contrast to his successor, João Dória, who has focused on demolishing users’ makeshift housing and evicting them from abandoned buildings, Haddad’s Open Arms program offered jobs, food, and housing to users without requiring that they stop using drugs. The program operated under the theory that addiction is fueled not only by the chemical nature of the drugs themselves, but also by poverty, precarious employment, and a lack of healthy social interactions. By 2015, 67% of the program’s beneficiaries reported that the program had helped them reduce their use of crack.

What was especially unique about all these efforts was the extent to which they solicited and incorporated popular input. Haddad created participatory citizens’ councils to help develop public policies and allocate the city’s budget. In early 2017, just after Haddad left office, the city was one of four Latin American cities (out of 146 candidates) recognized by the United Nations Human Settlements Program for its inclusive urban planning strategies.

Yet even as Haddad’s efforts were praised abroad, they encountered ever stronger opposition in São Paulo itself, due above all to the resistance of the state’s historically reactionary elites and middle class to projects to reduce inequality and promote social inclusion. Resistance to the bike lanes was particularly vitriolic, as spaces for street parking were often eliminated to make room for them. Others scornfully referred to the addiction treatment initiative as the “Crack Scholarship.”

The combination of elite and middle-class resistance to social inclusion and the backlash against the PT that culminated in the 2016 impeachment of Rousseff in a parliamentary coup led to Haddad’s defeat in his 2016 reelection campaign, when he received only 16.7% of the vote. At the same time, it would be a mistake to conclude that Haddad’s poor showing constituted a wholesale repudiation of his measures as mayor—after all, in the 2016 municipal elections, the PT did not win the mayorship of any state capital, and nationwide the top-performing parties came from the center-right. 

False Equivalencies

Some recent characterizations in the media have sought to downplay Bolsonaro’s racist, sexist, and homophobic vitriol, praise his market-friendly economic proposals, and highlight the PT’s “radical” leftist policies. Yet Haddad’s time in the Ministry of Education and mayorship of São Paulo show that he can only be called “radical” if expanding access to higher education, fighting homophobia, building bike lanes, and applying harm reduction approaches to addiction are viewed as extreme ideas. Haddad is not an extremist in any sense. Yet his accomplishments as mayor made significant progressive inroads in expanding opportunity and equality in one of the world’s largest cities, an unthinkable prospect in many other parts of the world, including the United States.

Brazil’s choice in Sunday’s second-round vote is a stark one. Bolsonaro openly defends expanding access to firearms, condemns poor people as lazy, normalizes violence against women, applauds discrimination against LGBT people, proposes seizing Indigenous lands, and was recently accused of using illegal contributions from wealthy businessmen to fund a fake news campaign via WhatsApp to defame Haddad and the PT. On the other hand, there is Haddad, a progressive center-leftist, who proposes reversing the extreme neoliberal economic and social policies implemented under de facto president Michel Temer.

If he wins, Haddad will face the task not only of recovering the economic and political project that, little by little, was improving the lives of Brazilians, but just as importantly, of restoring happiness to a country that, only a few years ago, was on the path to a free and pluralistic democracy for all.

Philippe Arthur dos Reis is a doctoral student in History at the State University of Campinas and a high school history teacher in the state public school system. His research focuses on the intersection between urban policy and the middle class in early 20th-century São Paulo. He is also developing research projects related to urban historical preservation.

Translated by Bryan Pitts.

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