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A foreign minister as FAPESP president

Former minister Celso Lafer took office on September 26


Celso Lafer, former  Foreign Minister on two occasions and former Development Minister, is the new president of FAPESP, replacing poet and linguist Carlos Vogt, who left the Foundation to become the Higher Education Secretary of the State of São Paulo. Lafer took office on September 26, at a ceremony attended by governor José Serra and several of the São Paulo State secretaries. The event was held at FAPESP’s head office.

Lafer, a member of the Foundation’s Advisory Board since 2003, believes that the solution to the challenges and problems we face nowadays demands communication between literary and humanistic cultures, and the culture of science. “If it is true that in the contemporary world one cannot create, within an integrated vision, a common culture, it is no less true that our times demand the capacity to translate competently and thus foster communication between the two cultures”, he said in his inaugural speech. Thus, he thinks of FAPESP as a center, par excellence, for the bringing together of these two cultures. “Indeed,  the aim of its work is the strict advance of knowledge in all fields: science, technology, the arts, literature, philosophy and the humanities”.

He cited Pasteur in order to explain that he cannot see a border between basic science and applied science: “there is no applied science but, rather, application of science”. Thus it is up to FAPESP to create opportunities to provide support for scientific investigation. “I also believe that good partnership arrangements between FAPESP and firms working in the field of innovation and research can provide society with benefits and that they are a relevant factor for the Brazil’s development”, he stresses. “I will pursue convergence in favor of research and development”.

Governor José Serra, in his first visit to the FAPESP, recalled prior contact with it at four points in time during his life. The first was in 1960. He was the head of the State Student Union (União Estadual dos Estudantes – UEE) and supported Governor Carvalho Pinto’s initiative to create a development agency. Years later, in exile, Governor Serra got a doctorate scholarship from Cornell University, which he eventually gave up when the research subject changed. His third contact with FAPESP occurred in 1983. Serra was the São Paulo State Secretary for Economics and Planning and was responsible for changing the criteria of the distribution of funds for the Foundation as proposed in the Leça amendment, put forth by Fernando Leça, then a state congressman, which established that the flow of funds for FAPESP should be calculated based on the previous year and transferred at the rate of one twelfth per month. “The money was tied to the approved budget and not to what had been executed, and was eaten up by annual inflation  as high as three digits”, recalled the governor. The fourth encounter took place in 1986, at the National Constituent Congress, when Serra advocated the pledging of budgetary resources for scientific research.

In the governor’s opinion, FAPESP goes against the norm  that unfortunately seems to govern the performance of Brazil’s public sector: “When one establishes a new institution, it works well for the first five to ten years but falls into decline after that. However, FAPESP, now 45, has got better and better.” He reiterated Lafer’s views on science. “A major challenge to be faced by the Foundation, based on its autonomy and experience, will be to simultaneously emphasize basic research, which builds the future by exploring and developing possibilities, and applied research, which should have a greater and greater social and economic impact.”

A student of Hanna Arendt ( head professor at the Department of Philosophy and General Theory of Law at the University of São Paulo Law School), Lafer headed the  list of three chosen by the members of the FAPESP Advisory Board and submitted to governor José Serra, who appointed Lafer on August 31. “I thank the Board and the governor for their trust. I bring my set of experiences to the exercise of this function and I plan to ensure the ongoing nature of the work of excellent quality that has transformed FAPESP into an exemplary institution”, said its new president.

Lafer’s relation with FAPESP began in the 70’s, after he completed his doctorate, when the Foundation invited him to issue opinions about research projects financed by the institution. “At the time, I also collaborated with professors Oscar Sala and Paulo Vanzolini on discussions about priority research areas. It’s a relationship that has become even closer since 2003, when I joined the FAPESP Advisory Board”, he said. “In today’s world, which operates via networks, one of the most important dimensions of FAPESP activity has been the construction of such networks. It is also necessary to highlight the Foundation’s role in the scientific and technological development of the state and the country, given that a society’s control over its own destiny passes through its scientific and technological capabilities”, he stated.

Born in São Paulo 66 years ago, Lafer graduated from the USP Law School, where he has taught since 1971. He obtained his Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University in the United States, in 1970, and his post-doctoral degree (livre-docência) in international public law from USP, in 1977. He became head professor of Philosophy of Law in 1988 and chaired the Department of Philosophy and General Theory of Law at the USP Law School. He has also held the positions of chairman of the Board of Directors of Metal Leve, chairman of the  Solution to Controversies Organ of the World Trade Organization (WTO), chairman of the General Council of the WTO, Minister of Development, Industry and Trade (1999) and Minister of Foreign Relations in 1992 and from 2001 to 2002. Lafer has also been Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO and to the United Nations. He currently coordinates the Human Rights area of the USP Law School, chairs the Lasar Segall Museum’s Board of Governors, and is co-editor of the journal Política Externa (Foreign Policy). He is also on Klabin’s Board of Directors, besides being a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the Brazilian Academy of Science and of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

A student of the legacy of political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), Lafer has written several books about her work, such as A reconstrução dos direitos humanos, um diálogo com o pensamento de Hannah Arendt (1988) and Hannah Arendt – Pensamento, persuasão e poder (2nd edition, reviewed and expanded, 2003). He is also the author of Desafios: ética e política (1995), A OMC e a regulamentação do comércio internacional: uma visão brasileira (1998), Comércio, desarmamento, direitos humanos – Reflexões sobre uma experiência diplomática (1999), Mudam-se os tempos – Diplomacia brasileira 2001-2002, vol. 1 and vol. 2 (2002), JK e o programa de metas (1956-1961) – Processo de planejamento e sistema político no Brasil (2002), A identidade internacional do Brasil e a política externa brasileira (2nd edition, reviewed and expanded, 2004) and A presença de Bobbio – América espanhola, Brasil, península Ibérica (2004), among other books.