"The Elders believe that what is important is not to continue to do something for himself, but to serve others."

Fernando Henrique Cardoso


Former President of Brazil

“Citizens have in themselves the inherent right to participate in civic life. It is this right which the government should enshrine, by providing both the structure (rule of law, elections, rights) and the democratic space for people to participate."


Acclaimed sociologist and political scientist

“You cannot say ‘women have to struggle for their rights’. No, it is a common struggle. Men have to understand that if you want democracy, the starting point is equality.”


UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Ending the war on drugs

“Prohibition is not the solution to the drug question. We are proposing a kind of paradigm change: instead of war, health."


Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform.
President of Brazil 1995-2002
Inaugural winner of the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development, 2002
Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science at the University of São Paulo
President of the Global Commission on Drug Policy

"The very nature of peace-making demands dealing with those you are fundamentally opposed to. We make peace with our enemies, not our friends."

Fernando Henrique Cardoso


Work with The Elders

Fernando Henrique Cardoso has been a member of The Elders since the group was founded in 2007. He joined the first Elders’ delegation to the Middle East in August 2009 to support efforts to advance an Arab-Israeli peace – paying particular attention to the concerns of ordinary people in the region.


A strong advocate for engaging youth in social and political change, in June 2012 he welcomed Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland as well as a group of young activists to Brazil for the Rio+20 summit as part of the Elders+Youngers initiative, a project promoting intergenerational dialogue on sustainable development issues.


In June 2016, Fernando Henrique Cardoso stepped down from his front-line role as a member of The Elders. Praised by Chair Kofi Annan for "commitment to dialogue, democracy and development”, he remains an Elder Emeritus.


Progressive president

Fernando Henrique Cardoso served two terms as President of Brazil from 1995 to 2002, having previously served as a senator, Minister of Foreign Relations and Minister of Finance. Under his leadership, Brazil recorded a decline in infant mortality rates, a fall in the number of child labourers, the attainment of nearly universal primary education, a reduction in poverty levels, a drop in the number of people dying from AIDS and the resettlement of over 500,000 landless families.


In October 2002, the United Nations Development Program named Fernando H Cardoso the inaugural winner of the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development. Then UN Secretary-General and fellow Elder, Kofi Annan, welcomed the decision, declaring: "President Cardoso’s longstanding dedication to human progress and his democratic leadership of Brazil have raised the standard by which governance can be judged throughout Latin America."


In May 2004 he founded the Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paolo. Bringing together politicians, intellectuals, civil society and young people, the Institute aims to produce and disseminate knowledge about the challenges of development and democracy in Brazil and the wider world.


Sociologist and political scientist

Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s political activity is informed by his academic work. He has a PhD in Sociology and was a long time professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of São Paulo, where he is now Professor Emeritus.


He was president of the International Sociological Association from 1982 to 1986 and continues to lecture at universities around the world. He has been visiting professor at the universities of California, Berkeley, Collège de France, Paris, Stanford, Cambridge, Paris-Nanterre, FLACSO, ILPES and CEPAL at Santiago, Chile.


In July 2012 he was awarded the John W Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.


Ending the war on drugs

From 2011-2016, Fernando H Cardoso was Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The group released a groundbreaking report in June 2011 calling for the current ‘war on drugs’ to be replaced by a public health approach to drugs policy.


At the report’s launch, President Cardoso said: “Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalising.”

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