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Buarque graduated in mechanical engineering from the Federal University of Pernambuco (1966). At that time he engaged in student politics becoming a militant of the AÃ§Ã£o Popular, a group of the Leftist Progressive Church. After the 1964 coup, he was persecuted and took exile in France, where he earned a PhD in economics from Sorbonne (Paris), in 1973. He worked at Inter-American Bank of Development (IDB) in Ecuador, Honduras and the United States from 1973 to 79. He was the first elected rector, by direct vote, of the University of Brasilia in the wake of the military regime, governor of Distrito Federal, Minister of Education and currently senator, elected in a historic landslide. Author of ten books with several published articles. He worked as a consultant for several national and international bodies under the United Nations (UN). Presided over the UN University for Peace Council and participated on Food Presidential Commission, formerly directed by late Sociologist Herbert "Betinho" de Souza.
Buarque is a member of Institute of Education of UNESCO. He created a NGO Mission Child, which sponsors an income transfer program for thousands of families and is funded by private enterprises. He was awarded the Jabuti prize of Literature in 1995, in the â€œHumanitiesâ€ category. He is a staunch defender of the â€œrevolutionâ€¦ through educationâ€, a line of thought touted by important Brazilian intellectuals, as AnÃsio Teixeira, Darcy Ribeiro and Paulo Freire. However, his stance on this subject should not be confused with that of those other thinkers, who â€“ especially Freire â€“ also envisioned a "revolution in education". Buarqueâ€™s approach is much more conventional, uncritical of traditional education.
Buarque is also a proposer of an alternative class analysis of modern capitalist societies. According to him, in modern capitalism, the increasing substitution of human labour for automated machines tends to make employed workers a privileged caste, while a new layer of â€œexcludedâ€ people â€“ those who have no jobs, no insurance, no health care â€“ is formed, whose members are the real victims of social inequality. As this new underclass, however, does not have the ability to effectively counter its exploitation by capitalism, Buarqueâ€™s thought constantly tends towards some kind of substitutionism, in which political action by wide masses is replaced by government or institutional action on their behalf.