LISBON, Portugal — Mario Soares, a former prime minister and president of Portugal who helped steer his country toward democracy after a 1974 military coup and grew into a global statesman through his work with the Socialist International movement, has died. He was 92.
Lisbon’s Red Cross Hospital said in a statement he died there on Saturday afternoon with his son and his daughter at his bedside. The hospital did not provide a cause of death, but Soares had been a patient since Dec. 13 and in a coma for the past two weeks.
Soares, a moderate Socialist, returned from 12 years of political exile after the almost bloodless Carnation Revolution toppled Portugal’s four-decade dictatorship in 1974. As a lawyer, he had used peaceful means to fight the country’s regime, which eventually banished him.
Soares was elected Portugal’s first post-coup prime minister in 1976 and thwarted Portuguese Communist Party attempts to bring the NATO member under Soviet influence during the Cold War. He helped guide his country from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy and a place in the European Union.
Soares’ role as an international statesman was solidified through his work with the International Socialist movement. As a vice president from 1976, he led diplomatic missions that sought to help resolve conflicts in the Middle East and Latin and Central America.
Soares was visiting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv in 1995. Both Arafat and Rabin were longtime friends of Soares.
In 1986, Soares became Portugal’s first civilian president in 60 years. His broad popularity brought him two consecutive five-year terms.
During terms as prime minister and foreign minister, Soares helped rehabilitate Portugal on the international stage after decades of isolation under the dictatorship established by Antonio Salazar in the 1930s.
Soares was a fierce critic of the economic liberalism embraced by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British leader Margaret Thatcher which was alien to his Socialist convictions about the benefits of welfare capitalism.
As president, Soares established a professional, if cool, relationship with center-right Social Democratic Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, who admired Thatcher. Though an unlikely team, Soares and Cavaco Silva together oversaw the shedding of many left-inspired economic structures, such as the nationalization of banks, adopted after the coup.
After winning a thumping re-election victory to serve a second five-year term in 1991, Soares retired from politics to set up a cultural foundation. At the request of the United Nations, he became head of the Independent World Commission of the Oceans. He also led a UN fact-finding mission on human rights to Algeria in 1998.
He returned to politics in 1999, winning a seat in the European parliament as the main candidate of the Socialist Party but then failing to be elected head of the assembly.
He also ran again for Portugal’s presidency in 2006, at the age of 82. Younger voters had little grasp of his historic achievements and he finished third.