Former UN Secretary General

Born: January 19, 1920;

Died: March 4, 2020.

JAVIER Perez de Cuéllar, who has died aged 100, was a Peruvian politician who served as the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations, between 1982 and 1991, and later as the Prime Minister of his native land between November 2000 and July 2001.

A career diplomat who participated in the first-ever UN General Assembly in 1946 as a junior member of the Peruvian team, his tenure as Secretary-General came at a turbulent time in world politics, yet ended amidst the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

One of his first tasks on assuming the Secretary-General’s role was to broker negotiations between the UK and Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, a process during which his phrase “the patient is in intensive care, but still alive” – in relation to the peace talks – was widely transmitted in the international media.

He was also involved in mediation and peace settlements around the independence of Namibia, and in Morocco and Cyprus.

During his tenure, peace was brokered in Cambodia, El Salvador and in the Iran-Iraq War, while the Lebanese hostage crisis continued throughout de Cuéllar’s time at the UN, with many Americans and Europeans set free during this period thanks to Middle Eastern powers’ personal belief in de Cuéllar’s honesty. Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan also occurred during the latter stages of his Secretary-Generalship, a precursor to the Cold War’s end, while the first Iraq War pointed to the world’s future concerns.

In all of these matters, de Cuéllar’s leadership of the international institution at the forefront of world affairs brought him into the orbit of global leaders and earned him a lasting reputation as a cool and impressive figure. “You cannot be a Secretary-General of the United Nations if you are not serene and patient,” he said in an interview marking his departure. “I think serenity is an indispensable gift… you cannot decide to be serene, it is something in your nature to be patient, to listen to everybody.”

De Cuéllar stood for a second term as Secretary-General in 1986, despite recent heart surgery, as the organisation was in the midst of a funding crisis; he did not put himself forward for a shortened third term, despite being requested to by the members of the Security Council, and was succeeded by the Egyptian, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Despite the UN’s lack of political power, the esteem in which it was held blossomed in his decade in office, a period during which the organisation arguably faced its greatest challenges.

In 1989 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN Peacekeeping Operations in Angola and Mozambique, and de Cuéllar accepted the award. Among his many other awards were the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the promotion of Ibero-American co-operation in 1987, and a number of honorary degrees.

Javier Felipe Ricardo Pérez de Cuéllar y de la Guerra was born in Lima, Peru, in 1920, to a well-off family, and studied law at the Universidad Católica de Lima. In 1940 he joined his home country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and four years later the diplomatic service; he held various positions with embassies in France, the United Kingdom, Bolivia and Brazil, being promoted to Ambassador in 1961 and subsequently serving in Switzerland, the Soviet Union, Poland and Venezuela.

Until his fiftieth year, his career in domestic diplomacy was hugely impressive, and the decade-long route to becoming Secretary-General even more so. Between 1971 and 1982 he was selected as the Peruvian Permanent Representative to the UN; he sat at the UN Security Council and was briefly its President; and he served as the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in both Cyprus and Afghanistan.

In 1995 de Cuéllar failed to win the Presidency of Peru from the autocratic Albert Fujimora, although in 2000 President Valentin Paniagua appointed him as Prime Minister and foreign minister. After serving for several months, he became Peru’s Ambassador to France, as well as professor of diplomatic law at the Academia Diplomatica del Peru and of international relations at the Peruvian Academy for Air Warfare.

Married twice – most recently to Marcela Temple Seminario, who died in 2013 – he had two children from his first marriage.