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
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
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
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
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
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
Interview by Jean Milligan.
Top | Contact
Us | Credits | Current
issue | Webmaster
© 2002 | Copyright