Former UN chief Javier Perez de Cuellar dead at 100

Javier Perez de Cuellar served as UN secretary general from 1981 to 1991 and helped broker a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war (AFP Photo/Pierre VERDY)

Former UN chief Javier Perez de Cuellar, who was known for his peace-making efforts including brokering a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war, died Wednesday in his native Peru, aged 100, his son said.

Perez de Cuellar served as UN secretary general from 1981 to 1991, when he was often described as a “pacifist by vocation and nature.”

Lauded by his countrymen as one of the most illustrious Peruvians of his era, Perez de Cuellar led the United Nations through a period marked by the fight against world hunger, the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, as well as the civil war in US-supported El Salvador which led to UN-mediated peace talks.

“My dad died after a complicated week. He died at 8:09 pm tonight (0109 GMT Thursday) and is resting in peace,” his son Francisco Perez de Cuellar told RPP radio.-

Perez de Cuellar was known for his efforts to reconcile warring parties.

He played a crucial role in ending the Iran-Iraq war, securing the release of American hostages held in Lebanon and in peace agreements in Cambodia and El Salvador, the UN said.

Perez de Cuellar considered the 1990 independence of Namibia, one of the last colonial enclaves on the African continent, his greatest accomplishment as secretary general.

Current UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “profoundly saddened” at the passing of his predecessor.

“I extend my deepest condolences to Mr. Perez de Cuellar’s family, the Peruvian people and so many others around the world whose lives were touched by a remarkable and compassionate global leader who left our world a far better place,” he said.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra expressed deep regrets on Twitter over the death of “a distinguished Peruvian, a democrat through-and-through, who dedicated his entire life to working to improve our country.”

Perez de Cuellar’s popularity prompted him to accept the presidential nomination from one of Peru’s leading political parties — the Union for Peru — in 1995, which pitted him against then-incumbent president Alberto Fujimori.

– An ‘inspiration’ –

The unifying force behind the Union for Peru, Perez de Cuellar won only 21.8 percent of the vote, coming in second behind Fujimori who got 64.4 percent.

In 1997, informants revealed that Perez de Cuellar had been subject to systematic surveillance and phone tapping during the campaign, ordered by the head of Fujimori’s intelligence services, Vladimiro Montesinos.

Following the collapse of the Fujimori regime in November 2000, Perez de Cuellar was appointed head of a government of “unity and national reconciliation.”

As prime minister, he helped expose a web of corruption woven by Montesinos over the course of Fujimori’s 10-year rule.

After the election of president Alejandro Toledo in 2001, Perez de Cuellar was appointed ambassador to France.

Born into an upper middle-class family in Lima and educated in Catholic schools, Perez de Cuellar spent most of his professional life outside his homeland, in diplomatic posts in Britain, Bolivia, Poland, the former Soviet Union, Switzerland and Venezuela.

He was president of the UN Security Council from 1973 to 1974 and was UN permanent representative in Cyprus from 1975 to 1977.

The career diplomat’s son and daughter are from his first marriage, along with six grandchildren. He and his second wife, Marcela Temple, had no children.

A lawyer by education, Perez de Cuellar received honorary doctorates from nearly 40 universities around the world.

UN Secretary General Guterres wished him “with pride & joy” a happy 100th birthday on January 19.

“On this momentous occasion, we at the UN draw on his example for inspiration & are deeply grateful for his many contributions and achievements as Secretary-General,” Guterres wrote on Twitter.

In his statement Wednesday, Guterres described Perez de Cuellar as “an accomplished statesman, a committed diplomat and a personal inspiration who left a profound impact on the United Nations and our world.”

“Mr. Perez de Cuellar’s life spanned not only a century but also the entire history of the United Nations, dating back to his participation in the first meeting of the General Assembly in 1946,” he said.

His tenure as head of the UN coincided with “some of the iciest years of the Cold War, and then, with the ideological confrontation at an end, a time when the United Nations began to play more fully the role envisaged by the founders.”

Perez de Cuellar’s remains will lie at the Peruvian foreign ministry before burial on Friday, his son said.


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