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The discrete artificer of society

Vilmar Faria, who died at the age of 59, was responsible for FHC's public policies

In an article for the daily paper Folha de S.Paulo, José Arthur Giannotti gave the best definition for the recent loss of a friend who had been, as he too had, the president of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap): “Vilmar Faria departed as he had lived: discretely, a fish from the bottom of the sea.” The sociologist, who died in November 2001 at the age of 59 as a result of an aneurysm, was indeed a discrete man who preferred to go unnoticed.

This characteristic, though, hid one of the most important operators of the public and social policies of the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso since 1995, when he was called to Brasilia to make up the basic team of the recently elected president. “I am just a consultant to the government”, he used to say, modestly. But until 1999, Faria was the Secretary for Coordination of Social Policy of the Presidency and was the intellectual author behind the main projects of Fernando Henrique in the area.

It was Faria who was responsible for drawing up the so-called “social protection net of the government”, which included the Alvorada Project, which intended to fight poverty in cities with a low Human Development Index (HDI). Besides being an official adviser, Faria was a friend of the couple Fernando Henrique and Ruth Cardoso. “He was a discrete and competent man, an intellectual committed to change in the country. Brazil has lost a potential minister of education”, the president lamented.

Faria’s death was also much felt in the academic community. “Apart from the loss of a person with whom I had a great personal friendship, I have to say that the Brazilian scientific community has lost an important intermediary with the federal government”, says José Fernando Perez, FAPESP’s scientific director. “Vilmar had a modern view of the country’s research system, and played a decisive role, for example, in the preparation of the provisional measures referring to Law 8666, eliminating the need for tendering for research goods financed by funds from the development agencies. He also worked on the question of how the tax due from foundations should be calculated. He was a direct channel from the research system to the president.”

Vilmar took his doctor’s degree at Harvard University (with his thesis on Occupational Displacement, Employment and Poverty in Urban Brazil ), and, after Cebrap, he also helped to found the Social Sciences Department of the University of Brasilia. His most important area of study was the analysis of the problems of the big cities and the complex problematic issues of poverty and employment.

He paid special attention to the difficulties of scientific research in Brazil, helped the development of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, and, during his term of office at the head of Cebrap, Faria managed to build a bridge between the old and the new generations of researchers. He did the same during his spell in Brasilia, as an important link between government and the academic world. He was an optimist. “Brazil’s social problems are like a glass of water: you can see how much is needed to fill it, but I prefer to see how far it has been filled”, he would say.