António Guterres, a 'blue helmet' who irritates Israel | International

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António Guterres (Lisbon, 74 years old) is a man of causes, as Bill Clinton knows well. In the midst of the conflict in East Timor, occupied by Indonesia, one of those allies to whom the United States allowed undemocratic whims, the then Prime Minister of Portugal telephoned the American president to tell him two strong things in a soft voice. That Clinton was not choosing between Indonesia and Timor, but between Indonesia and Portugal, founder of NATO. And that if the United States did not support sending an international force to Timor, Portugal would withdraw its soldiers from Kosovo. He got his way and Bill Clinton would end up attending the independence ceremony of the small Asian country in 2002.

In some way, this episode, which is recounted in the biography The World Doesn't Have to Be This Way (The World Doesn't Have to Be Like This), published in Portugal in 2021 and written by Pedro Latoeiro and Filipe Domingues, can be considered the first mission in which Guterres worked for the UN although there were still three decades left before he was elected Secretary General in 2017. Now, after six years in office, it is likely that the Portuguese politician shares the vision of the Norwegian Labor Party Trygve Halvdan Lie, appointed first secretary general of the organization in 1946. “The most difficult job in the world,” said the Nordic when he handed over to him the bulky folder of territorial problems to his successor.

Israel was not yet a State when the Norwegian launched the UN, but it was already a cause that the world needed to repair after discovering the industrial extermination that the Jews had suffered at the hands of the Nazi apparatus during World War II. 75 years have passed since Israel's declaration of independence and the portfolio of international resolutions on that area of ​​the Middle East has grown fat with wars, intifadas, terrorist attacks, illegal colonies and walls. For decades it has been the great pending cause of the world and the great black hole of the UN leaders.

Following the October attacks by the Islamist group Hamas that left 1,400 dead and the kidnapping of more than 240 people in Israel, António Guterres intervened in the Security Council. He condemned what happened and recalled the story. What he said was this: “The Hamas attacks have not come out of nowhere. The Palestinians have lived under a suffocating occupation for 56 years, their land has been gradually devoured by settlements, and their hopes for a political solution have faded, but their demands cannot justify the attacks by Hamas or the collective punishment of the population. Palestine". His words so angered Israel that they demanded his resignation and announced that they would deny visas to the organization's staff in retaliation. Guterres continues to demand a ceasefire in tweets and condemns both the “terror” of Hamas and the Israeli attacks against civilians imprisoned in Gaza.

Say strong things in a soft voice

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Saying strong things in a soft voice is becoming a specialty of the Portuguese, who every year moves further away from the figure of the general secretary paralyzed by the politics that is brewing behind the scenes. His role was crucial in reaching an agreement with Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to allow grain exports despite the war. His interventions on climate risks bring him closer to the apocalyptic oratory of activists than to the diplomatic restraint of the UN. “Humanity has opened the doors to hell,” he warned last September. He also does not shy away from direct attacks on the chin of large corporations that he accuses of using money and influence to “delay, distract and mislead” the transition to decarbonization.

“He is one of the few moral voices that is heard in the world along with that of Francisco. He says what many citizens think,” says Pilar del Río, journalist and president of the José Saramago Foundation. Guterres, then prime minister, went to the Lisbon airport to receive the writer in 1998 after his Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, the first in literature in Portuguese. Del Río believes that she fits into the reflection that Saramago once made about himself: “The older, the wiser; the wiser, the more radical.” “I would apply it to him in the sense that he is freer. “He knows the misery and pain of refugees, if you are not a cynic you cannot stay the same after going through that,” she recalls, alluding to Guterres' decade as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015). ).

Timor and Palestine are not the same cause, but they pierce the Portuguese emotional epidermis in a similar way. After the words of António Guterres, the former director of the newspaper PublicBárbara Reis, observes “a long tradition of Portuguese policy of “everything for Palestine, nothing against Israel.” “In these 50 years [de democracia] There were 29 governments, further to the left, further to the center and further to the right, supported by communists, blocists or centrists, but Portugal's position remained unchanged. In essence it is this: defend and consider as legitimate the rights of the Palestinian people to have a State, condemn Israel's occupation of the Arab territories and defend the existence of the State of Israel.

Not only the political tradition of his country explains António Guterres. He has been a man of causes since he was young. Although he did not get into politics until the dictatorship fell in 1975, he participated as a student in Catholic groups with social concerns and was involved in volunteer campaigns in slum neighborhoods. The first known cause that mobilized him was the floods that destroyed 20,000 homes and caused nearly 700 deaths in 1967 in the Lisbon region, which the Salazar regime tried to hide. During his time as prime minister, his flagship cause was education and the moralization of public life. “No jobs for the boys (“There are no positions for ours”)”, his biographers remember that he told the socialist militants who aspired to occupy positions.

He was the most brilliant student of Electrotechnical Engineering when he founded, with the most brilliant student of Law, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the Group of Light, which brought together Christians dazzled by the rupture of the Second Vatican Council. They held domestic Eucharists, they wanted to change society and politics from within the regime. On April 25, 1974, Marcelo, son of a minister of the dictatorship's government, notified his friend of the captains' coup d'état. They met for lunch a few days later. Marcelo goes to that meeting with the intention of convincing him to join Francisco Sá Carneiro's center-right party. António Guterres informs him that he plans to join the Socialist Party, created in exile in 1973 by Mário Soares and a hundred members.

Both friends would go far. One in the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right) and another in the PS. When António Guterres was Prime Minister of Portugal between 1995 and 2002, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was his main opponent as opposition leader. At that stage disagreements arose, but they also resorted to their old friendship to make common cause against abortion and blow up the law approved by the Assembly of the Republic. The prime minister called a referendum in 1998 where the it's not were imposed on the if it is (51% vs. 49%).

“The best of us all”

From that rejection of abortion, conditioned by his Catholicism, he has evolved towards more tolerant positions. At the head of the UN, he has defended the sexual and reproductive rights of women in the face of the setbacks experienced in countries like the United States under Donald Trump. The old friends met again last May, when António Guterres received the Carlos V European Prize in Yuste (Cáceres), and Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa came to honor him as president of the Republic of Portugal: “He was the best of all of us.”

At the same time that Guterres joined the PS in Lisbon, so did João Soares, former mayor of Lisbon and son of the party's founders, Mário Soares and Maria Barroso. João Soares campaigned for Guterres when he challenged Jorge Sampaio for leadership of the party, who then presided over the Lisbon Municipal Chamber with Soares as number two. “I met with Sampaio and explained why I would support Guterres. He had fantastic qualities, he knew the whole country and got along with everyone. He is a classic social democrat, cultured, intelligent, with brilliant and decent oratory. He never got into business like others did,” he describes by phone.

João Soares rejected the offer to join António Guterres' team when he won the elections in 1995. Saying no is an exercise that Guterres himself also cultivates, who refused to join Mário Soares' Government in 1976 and preside over the European Commission some time later. . Despite the admiration he feels for him, João Soares believes that his words about Israel were wrong. “After the Hamas attacks there can be no buts,” he says before remembering that it was the Secretary General of the UN who recommended that he visit Masada, the archaeological site where the Jews decided to undergo collective suicide before surrendering to the Hamas troops. Rome.

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