Fidel Castro gives George McGovern a spin in his Jeep, during the
senator's 1975 visit to Cuba.
George McGovern: 'The World was his Country' (El Tiempo,
hawks based almost all of U.S. policy on the hegemony of the country, starting
with the military, McGovern was a lone voice. His voice against the war, in
favor of a more egalitarian society and his battle against hunger, which led to
the creation of the U.N.'s World Food Program, drove him to become the Democratic
candidate opposing Nixon in 1972. ... He lost outright because his sincerity
and good intentions failed to reach voters, who reelected a president who was irresponsible,
deceptive, a liar."
George McGovern was a U.S. leader in some of his
country's most confounding and sensitive years in the last century, from the
Kennedy assassination in 1963, to the shameful defeat in Vietnam in 1975, through
the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon.
When conservative hawks based almost all of U.S. policy
on the hegemony of the country, starting with the military, McGovern was a lone
voice. He spoke up against the war and in favor of a more egalitarian society, and his
battle against hunger, which led to the creation of the U.N.'s World Food
Program (WFP), drove him to become the Democratic candidate
opposing Nixon in 1972.
He lost outright because his sincerity and good
intentions failed to reach voters, who reelected a president who was irresponsible,
deceptive, a liar.
Fast forward to the end of the century, and McGovern was ambassador
to UN agencies in Rome - the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the WFP, and was recognized by
Bill Clinton for a life spent fighting hunger and malnutrition. At the time, he advocated
the sustainable redirection of emergency aid to the neediest countries in an
effort to address disasters in a timely fashion - often opposing the interests
of the leading powers, which sought to feed those displaced by war in the old
Yugoslavia, but at the expense of regions like Darfur or Somalia.
He and I were colleagues on Rome and met often. We discussed
issues like the post-Soviet world, which left the United States the "sole
superpower," and which, according to him, was dangerous and frightening.
“It fell into our laps by surprise, and to this day, we don’t know what to do
with the situation,” he said, convinced that in the context of the Cold War,
international politics were much more predictable.
At the farewell dinner I hosted for my friend and
colleague, [Argentine Ambassador] Roberto Villambrosa,
where only Latin American and Caribbean ambassadors were present, George was
the exception, and showed great joy at being able to meet with us. I raised a
toast to Robert, who thanked me. Then suddenly George stood up and asked to
speak so he could personally greet each of us, recalling his own experiences in
the countries we represented. He spoke of three friends from Brazil: Bishop HélderCâmara, sociologist Gilberto Freyre and economist CelsoFurtado, who were all persecuted by their
country's military dictatorship, which was backed by the U.S. government, except
under Jimmy Carter. To conclude, he sympathetically addressed the Cuban ambassador,
Juan Nuiry, and said: “Everyone knows I oppose my
country's policies toward Cuba,” and he gave his opinion on the subject.
On September 11th 2001, I paid him a solidarity visit and
I heard him say this: “My worst fear is that we don't understand the face of
this new form of combat, and that we will start waging wars against countries indiscriminately
rather than addressing the problem at its core: a fanaticism that involves
cultural traits we don’t understand, and won't even try to understand. Such was
the case when Japanese pilots crashed into our warships; when monks from Asia
were self-immolating [during the Vietnam War]; when a woman who had bombs
strapped to her body blew herself up along with the ruler of India [Rajiv Gandhi], and now
Muslim extremists. In the United States, they are saying that those who demolished
the towers are cowards. Whatever they are - they are not cowards."
Shortly after that, he left Rome at almost 80 years of
age. The last book he wrote was against the war in Iraq [Out
of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now], at the beginning of what
he feared was the U.S. response to terrorism. And now, on this 21st day October,
George McGovern is gone forever. He was way ahead of his time, and the world
was his country.
*Julio César Gomes Dos Santos is currently Colombia's ambassador to Brazil