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LISBON, Jan 19 2010 (IPS) - I have been a sincere admirer of yours since I started following your writing and speaking about your plans during the presidential campaign. I admire your humanism, your culture, your valour, and your style. Unlike you, I am not a believer. I am agnostic and have a certain amount of experience in public life. However, I said to many friends that your victory constituted an authentic miracle for the United States and for the world, however little I believe in miracles.

I know that once you became president, the weight of the world was dropped onto your shoulders. Literally. You gave remarkable and innovative speeches that helped change America’s image in the world and particularly in Europe. You gave new momentum to the United Nations, which had been completely scorned by your predecessor, recognising that the planet is too vast and varied for it to be governed by a single superpower. You opened the door to a multilateral world of dialogue and peace.

With great intelligence, you extended your hand to the Islamic world in the speech you gave in Cairo. Concerned about the global crisis and world peace, you spoke directly with the Russians and the Chinese. You reached out to the peoples of Africa, promising them help, and to your neighbours to the South, especially to Cuba. You have fended off aggressive adversaries with determination and bravery, particularly in the domestic arena, the Republicans and certain Democrats, as well as lobbies, which cause considerable damage. Your victory in achieving health care reform, despite the concessions made, represents a historic milestone and an important example.

For all these reasons, I applauded enthusiastically when you were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite certain protests, it was a very just and apt decision. No one in the annus horribilis of 2009 deserved it more.

However, two of your actions I did not approve of. The first was the decision to send more 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, which, forgive my frankness, is a lost war, like that in Iraq, if not

worse. I know that the invasion of Afghanistan had the backing of the UN and involved NATO, which was transformed from an organisation that was defensive since its founding during the Cold War into an offensive one operating outside of its normal sphere of involvement. This was a fatal error of realpolitik that discredited the body and that I feel will carry a very large price.

The second reason for my disappointment was the way you behaved at the Copenhagen Climate Summit. You went right over the UN and nearly bypassed the EU entirely, preferring to seek an agreement with China, which refuses to external supervision -with reason- and to meet with certain other countries, including Brazil, perhaps for more than a mere photo op.

Allow me to say, Mr. President, that your speech at the summit was on of the most listless and sad that you have given up to now. Only one sentence stays with me: "I didn’t come here to speak but to act." Indeed. As far as the environment is concerned, time is of the essence and action is needed immediately. It is necessary to fight against the powerful range of egotistical human crimes that are threatening our planet. Is any issue more crucial to the survival of humanity?

Let’s hope that the summit scheduled for the end of 2010 in Mexico can produce concrete results, whether or not China agrees.

And allow me one final observation. Being Portuguese, I feel both Iberian and European. This is something that is usually difficult for an American to understand. I also am a federalist and a supporter, like Jean Monnet, of the United States of Europe. I am worried about Latin America, which has been able to expel military dictatorships shaped in mould of the Chicago School. Today almost all of the countries in the area are, or are trying to be, democracies. Latin America is rich in natural resources, with cultural, scientific and technical elites of undisputable quality. Traditionally distrustful of their powerful neighbour to the North -and for good reason- they were very receptive to your first messages as president, above all when you extended your hand to Cuba.

Presently Cuba is passing through a very difficult moment, as a result of both the global crisis and domestic structural problems. The naturally dynamic and happy people are beginning to feel suffocated, as made clear in a recent speech by Raul Castro.

Mr. President, in a single unilateral move, you could end the blockade, which is a source of hardship and nothing else. There is no doubt the world would applaud you for it. This would renew hope in what you represent and are capable of achieving, not only for the people of the US but all the peoples of the world. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal.

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