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“Soares Is Dead: Long Live Soares!” Cries Portugal

Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS) - The death of Mario Soares, former Portuguese prime-minister, president, and historic leader of Lusitanian socialism, demonstrated just how united the Portuguese are with regards to his past and his historical projection.

Analysts, politicians and foreign journalists have also pointed out that the degree of Soares’ international reputation and prestige was never matched by any other Portuguese public figure.

Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

Even his most ardent political opponents have paid homage to him, naming Soares as the undisputed patriarch of democracy. For his role during the democratization process up until his death last Saturday at age 92, Soares was considered a kind of “Father of the Nation”, in its 1974 democratic-constitutional incarnation.

With his death, Europe says goodbye to the last of the great leaders that marked the second half of the twentieth century, a condition he shares with figures of the caliber of Willy Brandt, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monet, Jacques Delors, Olof Palme, Helmuth Kohl, François Mitterrand and Helmuth Schmidt.

During the 1950s the young Lisbon lawyer began to distinguish himself, as noted in a file of the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), the repressive arm of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist dictatorship. In the file, Soares is described as a “defender of communists and terrorists of the overseas provinces,” the official denomination for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and the Far East.

From defender to actor, Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

He went through PIDE concentration camps in the former African island colonies of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, right before heading for France in a long and forced exile. This was to be his last residence before his return to Portugal with the triumph of the “Captain’s Revolution” on April 25th 1974.

During the ensuing revolutionary period pro-communist and radical military sectors took center stage, allowing Soares to side with the moderate left.

The political battle was settled by late 1975, as Soares defeated the most revolutionary sectors of the Armed Forces. The latter lacked external support in a Europe where Conservatives, Socialists and Social Democrats shared fears of Portugal becoming communist.

When PS won the 1976 elections, Soares became the first head of a democratically-elected government, famously admitting his tenure “for some time, will put socialism in the drawer.”

It was his role in the Portuguese democratization process that earned him the title of “father of the nation”.

Until the death of his wife Maria de Jesus Barroso in July 2015, Soares was lucid and in good physical shape. He was frequently spotted climbing the many stairs and alleys of Lisbon with admirable agility.

Over the years, he increasingly shifted leftwards and became critical of neoliberal globalization, while also taking part in public demonstrations against the Iraq invasion or previously against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its attack on Serbia.

He never forgave Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder for promoting the so-called “Third Way”, which according to Soares dealt a fatal blow to the socialist and social democratic project for Europe.

His opinion articles, published weekly in various Portuguese media, were translated into Spanish by IPS columnist service and published in several countries.

The death of his lifelong companion was unbearable to him, sending him on a steady path of deterioration that increased on a day to day basis.

In a message addressed to the Portuguese government and Soares’ family, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Portugal “owes its democracy, freedom and respect for fundamental rights to Mario Soares.”

His legacy, concluded the UN head, “far exceeds Portugal’s borders,” describing Soares as “one of the few political leaders of true European and world stature.”

Analysts agree Soares’ main trait, which accompanied him throughout his life, was the he never shied away from a political battle. And in that battle, he always stood on the same side of the trench: that of democracy, freedom, and unconditional support for human rights.

 
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