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New leadership
Jean Milligan

Juan Manuel Suárez

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro Rivero, president of the Federation, outlines his priorities for the organization. He also looks back on his 30-year career with the Spanish Red Cross.

What motivated you to become a candidate for the presidency of the Federation?

I became a candidate at the request of other National Societies. They were anxious for me to extend my efforts, undertaken during my current tenure as president of the Spanish Red Cross, to strengthen Movement cooperation throughout the Federation.

On a personal level, the support of my family was an important factor in my decision to take on a job that I consider both an honour and an enormous responsibility.

In your speech to the General Assembly, you explained that your vision is for "a Federation that thinks, conceptualizes and acts in consequence". Can you explain what you mean by this?

The current complexity and scope of our humanitarian mission requires ongoing analysis and reflection of the situations facing us. The agility and, above all, the efficiency and effectiveness of our work demands a rigorous assessment of our skills, capacities and available resources.

Being the president of a large, high-profile organization will be challenging. What do you expect to be the greatest personal challenges for you during your presidency? What qualities do you have that will enable you to face these challenges?

My candidature programme highlighted the need to strengthen those National Societies with the least resources and to promote cooperation among all the National Societies belonging to our Federation.

I also intend to focus efforts on ensuring that the Federation continues to be a leading voice of authority and a world advocate at all gatherings, whether they are addressing general or sectorial humanitarian issues. The Federation must make its opinions heard, presenting itself as an alternative promoter of development and spreading our ideals of solidarity.

In addition to any personal qualities I may have, I am sure that I am going to need the help of everybody in the Red Cross and Red Crescent in order to progress towards achieving this general objective.

What are your priorities for the Federation's secretariat and will you be considering any further changes to its structure?

I would like to see the synchronization of the respective responsibilities of the secretariat, the regional delegations and the governing bodies. My intention is that we should put well-oiled machinery into gear to carry out the mandate expressed by the National Societies at the General Assembly.

I would like to thank all the staff at our headquarters for their cooperation from the very first moment and to express my appreciation of the work they do, which is often very difficult and complex.



One of your first missions as president of the Federation was to Israel and the Occupied Territories following the events in April. Can you give us your impressions?

First of all, I believe solutions have to be sought through dialogue. In such a dramatic situation, I, of course, wanted to be with our volunteers and to offer them all my personal support and the backing of the whole Federation. I told both the Palestine Red Crescent and the Magen David Adom in Israel that they needed to cooperate closely, based on our shared fundamental principles. I believe our main priority is, obviously, to care for the victims and I offered my full cooperation to the ICRC.

Most of the readers of Red Cross, Red Crescent magazine are volunteers. What is your message to them?

I would like to say that it is a great honour for me to represent people who give their best to help those in need, people who embody all that is good in human beings.

I would also like to tell them that it is my intention to realize their humanitarian aspirations, that the Red Cross and Red Crescent cannot do without them. I would invite you all to be ambitious when setting humanitarian goals.

Will promoting volunteers be a priority for you as president of the Federation?

I believe that the Red Cross and Red Crescent is all about the commitment of its volunteers to humanitarian endeavour. Both in the Federation and in each National Society we must work for the volunteers and their involvement in all we do when addressing the present and planning the future.

To this end, we must open up channels to allow the effective involvement of volunteers, so that their concerns and expectations are addressed and considered accordingly. At the same time, we must make an effort to share the universal humanitarian project of the Red Cross and Red Crescent with all those individuals who regard solidarity as the path to a peaceful and prosperous world.

Apart from the obvious tenet of everybody having a place in the Red Cross and Red Crescent, regardless of age, we must promote our principles and values among young people, simply to extend the culture of tolerance that we have adopted as one of our objectives, but also to ensure the continuity of the humanitarian work of the Movement.

You began your career at the Spanish Red Cross as a volunteer. What motivated you to join the organization?

When I was 18, I joined the Red Cross because I saw it as a way of redressing injustices. I soon realized that being a volunteer enabled me to help people directly and see the immediate result of my efforts.



What memory stands out for you from your work as a volunteer?

Over the years, many people and situations have had an enormous impact on me, but what I remember most are examples of individual and collective courage in dealing with and overcoming situations of incredible adversity.
My first experiences of international cooperation in Senegal and Equatorial Guinea greatly influenced me. I became aware during those trips of the universal appeal of the Movement, and the impact people from different cultures, religious beliefs and political opinions working with shared principles and objectives, can have on efforts to relieve human suffering.

What have been your main achievements during your career with the Spanish Red Cross?

I would say that my most important achievement over the years has been to win the trust of the Spanish people and to inspire their interest in our work. The direct effect of this is that they have provided effective support for our humanitarian endeavours. The credit for these achievements belongs to the volunteers, because it is their efforts and dedication that people see and appreciate.

Can you describe the kind of person you are? What motivates you and what values do you consider the most important for you?

I strongly believe that something can always be done to improve things. I know that many people share this conviction in the Red Cross. I dislike resignation and admire an ability to see the positive side of things. I believe the solution to any conflict can be found through dialogue. I also greatly value sincerity. On a personal level, the family is very important to me as a space in which to share feelings and hopes and dreams, and I value close friendships.

As we stand at the beginning of this new century, what do you think are the main issues facing the Federation and what should its priorities be?

Its overriding priority, as always, is to ensure that it has the operational capacity and resources to meet ever-growing humanitarian demands. It is our duty to do the impossible to prevent people from suffering and to work to achieve a world in which everyone enjoys a dignified existence.

Profile of a volunteer

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro Rivero has been active in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement since he joined his local youth branch in Gran Canaria in 1971. He rose through the ranks of the Spanish Red Cross to become its president in June 1994.

An industrial engineer by profession, he is a professor at the University of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, and is the director of a public transport company. All his public activities have been within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, holding the post of youth director, vice president and president of the Las Palmas Provincial Assembly, president of the Canary Islands branch of the Spanish Red Cross, member of the National Committee, national vice president and president.

Married with two daughters, Mr Suárez del Toro is a holder of the Spanish Red Cross Gold Medal and the Grand Cross of the Ministry of Defence for his contribution to humanitarian operations.

Interview by Jean Milligan.

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