Portugal’s UN hope fails to deliver

Six months into his tenure as UN secretary general, Portugal’s ‘great white hope’ António Guterres has failed to deliver.

This is the “general perception” among foreign correspondents, reports former RTP journalist and war correspondent Carlos Fino.

Writing for Brazil’s O Globo, Fino refers to remarks by South African reporter Sherwin Brice-Pease who told Lusa that the former Portuguese Socialist prime minister “has still not found the right balance between the description of and the necessity to assume a more active role”.

In other words, Guterres has talked of the “need to deal with crises”, but there has been scant follow-through.

Former journalist Sherine Tadros, now a director of Amnesty International, has said that Guterres was “inexplicably omissive in the first months of the war in Yemen: What is he waiting for to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop this war? What is he doing to mediate between the Huthi rebels and the Saudis? We don’t see any efforts.

Tadros has also criticised Guterres’ “lack of assertiveness” over the matter of Israeli settlements in Gaza.

“Instead of presenting a written reports on the lack of application of the UN’s resolution for Israel, the secretary-general has limited himself to sending one of his envoys to give an oral update, with nothing in writing, to members of the Security Council”.

This omission in “hot topics and controversies” explains what Fino calls the “generalised feeling” that Guterres’ performance is below expectations.

Another issue is his ‘relatively reduced press presence’, which correspondents find puzzling, as he has good relationship with them on the whole, is profoundly knowledgeable of all the dossiers and in a perfect position to take on a far more active role on the international scene.

According to Fino, the “Trump factor” could be behind Guterres’ caution in coming forwards.

“When, right at the start of the year, the new secretary general tried to nominate a Palestinian to a post at one of the UN’s agencies, the proposal was rejected out of hand by the American ambassador to the United Nations.

“This first negative experience for Guterres, who is a man of consensus, seems to have provoked a shock from which he has not recovered”, and this, says Fino, could be the reason for “the idea that his performance is below expectations”.

Rooting for his countryman, Fino suggests Guterres’ should be given the “benefit of the doubt”.

He could still be “the right man for the job”, he just has to accept that he will have to face “some criticism and pressures”.

According to Fino, Guterres’ concerns could be to “avoid negative consequences for the United Nations in political and budgetary terms”.

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