Now a Netflix biopic, Sergio, with Narcos star Wagner Moura playing diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello.
"The best way to understand today's messy world is to read about the inspiring life and diplomatic genius of Sergio Vieira de Mello." –Walter Isaacson
Before his death in 2003 in Iraq's first major suicide bomb attack, Sergio Vieira de Mello--a humanitarian and peacemaker with the United Nations--placed himself at the center of the most significant geopolitical crises of the last half-century. He cut deals with the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, forcibly confronted genocidal killers from Rwanda, and used his intellect and charisma to try to tame militant extremists in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Known as a "cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy," Vieira de Mello managed to save lives in the world's most dangerous places, while also pressing the world's most powerful countries to join him in grappling with such urgent dilemmas as: When should killers be engaged, and when should they be shunned? When is military force justified? How can outsiders play a role in healing broken people and broken places? He did not have the luxury of merely posing these questions; Vieira de Mello had to find answers, apply them, and live with the consequences.
With Chasing the Flame, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Education of an Idealist Samantha Power offers a profile in courage and humanity--and an unforgettable meditation on how best to manage the deadly challenges of the twenty-first century.
The death of the charismatic Brazilian chief of the U.N. Mission to Iraq in a 2003 terrorist bombing symbolized both the U.N.'s haplessness he died because rescuers lacked the training and equipment to free him from the rubble and its idealism. In this sprawling biography, Vieira de Mello's life symbolizes the tragic contradictions of coping with humanitarian crises. Journalist Power, author of the Pulitzer-winning The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, follows Vieira de Mello through a U.N. career spent in hot spots like Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. His tasks were many: implementing peace accords, settling refugees, overseeing elections, running the government of East Timor. In each posting, he confronts a hydra-headed monster of communal violence and poverty, plus difficulties compounded by U.N. red tape, miserly budgets and uncaring Western governments. Agonizing dilemmas abound. Should refugees be fed or sent home? Should U.N. peacekeepers observe or intervene? Should past atrocities be prosecuted or overlooked? Playing by ear, Vieira de Mello charts an erratic course through these conundrums. Sometimes he's a human rights zealot, sometimes he cozies up to the Khmer Rouge; sometimes he negotiates with the Serbs, sometimes he wants to bomb them. Vieira de Mello comes off as a charming diplomat, a canny politician and an inspiring leader, and the author celebrates his flexibility and pragmatism (while criticizing his failures). Power wants to extract lasting lessons for the international community's efforts to head off humanitarian catastrophes and mend failed states from his experience. Unfortunately, it's hard to discern through his improvisations any systematic approach to nation building or to such vexed issues as humanitarian military intervention and regime change. The lack of perspective isn't helped by the biographical format, as the peripatetic Vieira de Mello jets from one conflagration to the next, then on to a romantic getaway with a mistress or to give a murky speech on Kant. We get the impression that U.N. missions are inevitably a hopeless muddle unless Sergio, with his unique talents, parachutes in to fix things; the book may thus inadvertently encourage critics of the U.N.-style interventionism that Power supports. Readers will gain an appreciation of Vieira de Mello's gifts, but not the method to his magic. B&w photos.