“Big, big day for Portugal” as Guterres sworn in as UN secretary general

Monday December 12 was described as a “big, big day for Portugal” by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at he stepped out into the New York chill, accompanying former PS prime minister António Guterres on his way to being sworn into the United Nations’ top job.

In customary style, President Marcelo quipped: “Who would have thought that when we both dreamed of changing the world 46 years ago one of us would end up as secretary general of the United Nations and the other President of Portugal?”

But the real news of the day followed shortly afterwards when Guterres took his oath of office and gave a speech in which he promised what tabloid Correio da Manhã described as “a revolution at the UN”: “management reform” so that the massive organisation that employs more than 85,000 staff can become “more nimble and efficient”, and much more proactive in response to conflicts.

“Our most serious failing”, Guterres told the audience representing 180 countries “is in the incapacity to prevent conflicts. The United Nations was born from war, but from today we should take care of peace”.

Intervention should involve “mediation, arbitration and creative diplomacy”, and the former UN commissioner for refugees said he was “personally prepared” to find solutions for ongoing problems in the Yemen, Syria, the Sudan and Palestine/ Israel.

It was a speech full of hope and good intentions, overshadowed only by the fact that perhaps the greatest challenge lies far closer to home.

As newspapers here and in the US explain, the success of Guterres’ mandate depends very much on how he “deals with the Trump administration”.

In his speech on Monday, he signaled he would be gentle, for now, wrote the New York Times.

But as national tabloid Correio da Manhã was quick to point out, the “greatest power in the world has a man at the helm who thinks little of the UN and probably even less of the good intentions profferred by the man substituting Ban ki-Moon”.

With the refugee crisis still at biblical proportions and the threats from terrorism constant, the world needs what Guterres’ friend and priest Vítor Melícias dubs as “a kind of civilian Pope Francis”.

The hope, says CM, is that he can deliver all that he promises.

Guterres’ officially takes up his position on January 1, 2017, and will be announcing his ‘team’ of men and women in the next few days.

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