Fernando Gasparian

Publisher and industrialist


Fernando Gasparian, industrialist and publisher: born São Paulo, Brazil 27 January 1930; married (three sons, one daughter); died São Paulo 7 October 2006.

The industrialist Fernando Gasparian was a defender of democracy and the most distinguished publisher Brazil produced in the late 20th century.

He was born in 1930 to parents of Armenian extraction and to the considerable prosperity the family textile business ensured. After studying engineering, he and his friends Rubens Paiva (who became a federal deputy and was later assassinated by the military), Almino Afonso and Marcos Pereira took over the periodical Jornal de Debates in 1953. It pursued a Brazil-centred line opposing much foreign investment and the privatisation of the state oil company Petrobras.

Early in 1964 Gasparian bought America Textil, a substantial Rio de Janeiro textile company, which had got into difficulties and was being supported by the Banco do Brasil. After the US-supported military putsch against the civilian government of President João Goulart later that year, he was a target for the new dictatorship as a founder of the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement, the MDB. The military cut off bank funding for his company. After the dictatorship lurched further to the right in 1969 Gasparian found it politic to leave Brazil, for exile, eventually finding a teaching post at St Antony's College, Oxford.

He returned to Brazil in 1972 to found Opinião, a hard-hitting magazine which upset the dictatorship, also acquiring the publishing house Paz e Terra. Over the years this became a powerhouse of political and social thought and liberation theology. Alceu Amoroso Lima, Celso Furtado, Helio Jaguaribe, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Octavio Paz, Torcuato di Tella, Alain Touraine, Brian Van Arkadie, Dudley Seers and Paulo Freire were among the imprint's authors.

Gasparian returned to Oxford for a few months in 1973 before going home to launch the monthly Cadernos de Opinião. Its second number enraged the military by carrying the text of a lecture by Hélder Câmara, the irrepressible archbishop of Olinda and Recife. Gasparian was charged with offences against "national security" by a regime which was obsessed by that slippery concept. In the event he was acquitted. Unabashed, the dictatorship had a bomb placed in his editorial offices in 1976.

When dictatorship gave way to constitutional government Gasparian devoted more time to politics, in 1985 becoming treasurer for the campaign of his friend Fernando Henrique Cardoso for the mayoralty of São Paulo. In 1986 he was elected to the constituent assembly framing a new constitution, on which he served until 1988. There he pushed for a limit of 12 per cent on bank lending rates, financial support for agrarian reform, limitations on foreign investment in mining and a ban on capital punishment.

From 1993 to 1995 he was active in the Latin American Parliament. He was increasingly at odds with Cardoso after the latter won the presidency and in 1995 publicly criticised what he saw as Cardoso's excessive reliance on foreign banks attracted to Brazil by high interest rates.

Talking to Fernando Gasparian last month, I found him as eager for new projects and ideas as when I first met him in 1970. With his death, comments Bernardo Kucinski, "it can be said that a generation of patriotic businessmen committed to a scheme of national development has become extinct".

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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