Soares, Who Helped Forge Portugal’s Democracy, Dies at 92

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  • He was nation’s first freely elected leader after dictatorship
  • Government declares three days of mourning starting Monday

Mario Soares, the prime minister who helped consolidate Portugal’s transition to democracy and became the first freely elected premier after a revolution ended almost five decades of dictatorship, has died. He was 92.

Soares died Saturday, said Jose Barata, a spokesman for the Red Cross Hospital in Lisbon. Portugal’s former prime minister and president entered the hospital on Dec. 13, 2016, according to Barata.

“The loss of Soares is the loss of someone who is irreplaceable in our recent history, we owe him a lot,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said from New Delhi, where he is on a state visit. The government declared three days of mourning starting Monday, with a state funeral planned, Costa said in comments broadcast by television station SIC Noticias.

Soares, who was arrested a dozen times in his fight against Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship, returned from exile in Paris after the 1974 Carnation Revolution. That year, he was appointed foreign minister in a provisional government and was in charge of negotiating the independence of Portugal’s overseas colonies. A co-founder of the moderate Socialist Party, Soares is also credited with helping counter the Communist Party’s attempt to win more power after the almost bloodless revolution.

“I certainly don’t want to be a Kerensky,” Soares said in a discussion with Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, referring to the moderate Russian socialist Alexander Kerensky who had to flee after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917.

“Neither did Kerensky,” replied Kissinger, who was concerned that the communists would take power, according to an account of the conversation published in 1997 in the Journal of Democracy.

In 1976, Soares’s Socialist Party won the country’s first free elections after the revolution and he became prime minister. In 1983, he was elected premier again and helped negotiate Portugal’s entry into the European Economic Community, a predecessor of the European Union. He served as president from 1986 to 1996.

‘Historical Role’

“Mario Soares challenged all the big proposals and power situations of his time,” Rui Ramos, a Portuguese historian, said. “That was the historical role of this man of letters and lawyer from downtown Lisbon.”

Soares remained an active voice in Portuguese politics after leaving office, often critical of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund and European Union after Portugal sought a bailout in 2011.

“The troika doesn’t give us anything. It grants loans with very high interest rates,” Soares, who also requested aid from the IMF after becoming prime minister in 1983, said in a an article published on his foundation’s website.

Mario Alberto Nobre Lopes Soares was born Dec. 7, 1924, in Lisbon, the son of Joao Soares and Elisa Nobre Baptista. His father, the founder of a school and a former minister, endured periods of imprisonment and exile under the Salazar dictatorship, according to a New York Times profile in 1983.

Soares obtained a degree in history and philosophy and a law degree at the University of Lisbon before founding the Socialist Party.

While in prison in 1949, he married Maria Barroso, a leading actress, according to the Times profile. She died in 2015. They had a son, Joao Soares, a former minister of culture and Lisbon mayor, and a daughter, Isabel Soares, a psychologist and school director.

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