Few people make an impact on the world without humble pretensions to personal fame. My friend Miguel was one of those persons who lived his life for others. Although born into a upper-middle class family he gave up the a more comfortable life to become a priest, a labor he saw as his calling. But when injustice beset his people in Nicaragua Miguel did what he thought justice required, he stood by his people despite the condemnation of his beloved Catholic Church.
Miguel understood the real meaning of his calling. To serve others was to serve to the fullest without reserve even for one’s own well-being. Despite the objections of the Church hierarchy he became a leader in the Sandinista government, its foreign minister, after they ended decades of dictatorship and suffering for the Nicaraguan people.
Although Miguel had no formal legal training he had great respect for the rule of law and believed that all nations must respect international law. This led him to initiate a case on behalf of Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice, the principle judicial body of the United Nations. The case today still stands as one of the most important cases in international legal history concerning the United States deadly meddling in the internal affairs of another State.
I visited Miguel many of times in Nicaragua. I saw his love and passion for his people, and how they gave back in return. Nicaraguans from the President of the country and its most prominent philosophers, to his friends from the neighborhood and the most rural areas of the country would come to visit him. He truly loved his fellow Nicaraguans and they loved him. There may not have been an individual in Nicaragua who was so respected and loved by his own people.
When Miguel came to New York City to be President of the United Nations General Assembly in 2008-2009, it was a pleasure to be not only one of his friends, but also one of his advisors. His commitment to improving the world was as generous as his love for all Nicaraguans. Confronted by a world financial and economic crisis, he led the UN through those hard times by moving it closer to the ideals embedded in the Charter of the United Nations. And as usual for him, he went even further, he was the only President of the General Assembly in recent times to propose significant reforms to the United Nations. He wanted the United Nations to live up to its mandate and the promise of a peaceful world in which all people enjoyed the benefits of development and our shared natural resources.
Some called Miguel an idealist and some belittled his criticism of the United States, the country I love and of which I know a thing or two about having been an American lawyer for more than 60 years and the United States 66th Attorney General. As someone who knows the United States and Miguel, I know his concern for the United States was not one of hostility, but one of love. He desperately wanted to see the United States become a valuable contributing equal among sovereign States in the international community. He wanted to see the United States work with other States to achieve common goals that have been agreed among all States. He wanted to see the United States become great because of its cooperation based on the rule of international law and the morality of justice, equality, and equity.
Miguel’s strong faith in God, which Pope Francis acknowledged when he restored his full privileges as a priest just a few years ago, was a faith in a better way: he believed in a world based on solidarity, not merely competition.
In so many ways, Miguel was an unique role model. A person who committed his life to helping others without the limitations of personal benefit. Today the world so badly needs such people. Many might call such people unabashed and unrealistic idealists, I like to think of them as valuable, hard-working, and contributing citizens who understand the importance of respect for the rule of law.