Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Farewell ambassador Hugo

Peruvian ambassador to Egypt Hugo Portugal won the love of all Egyptians during his time in Egypt, writes Zahi Hawass


Hugo César Protugal
Hugo César Protugal

As I always say, we have many ambassadors who well represent their countries in Egypt. Many of them fall in love with Egypt and Egyptians and enter the hearts of people here. When they leave, you can see the tears in the eyes of all their friends. However, we also have another kind of ambassador, one who never understands Egyptians and never tries to help. The task of such people is only to write reports and get information from some Egyptians who do not really represent the people because they do not love their country.

Ambassador Hugo Portugal is one of the first kind of ambassadors. He is a decent and very kind man, and he has a smile on his face all the time. He loves Egypt, and he has spent his time working for the benefit of his country, Peru, and Egypt. He always looks for an opportunity to help all Egyptians.

He supported Moushira Khattab for the position of director-general of UNESCO, for example, inviting most Latin American ambassadors to meet and support her because he believed that the position should go to an Arab and she was the best placed to represent the Arabs. He believed that Moushira was the best candidate for the position.

During his term as ambassador in Egypt, Hugo used to travel all over the country and enjoyed visiting archaeological sites. As he told me once, “we have pyramids in Peru, but Khufu’s Pyramid captures my heart because of its magic and mystery.” When I met Hugo, we became good friends at the very first moment. I discovered that he knew about my relations with Peru and about how I had become a good friend of the country and had received the highest award from the president of Peru, the Order of the Sun.

The story began, as Hugo and I remember, when the Peruvian minister of foreign affairs came to see me when I was head of antiquities in Egypt. The minister said that he had a problem and that the National Geographic magazine had told him that I was the only one who could help him to solve it.

Yale University in the US had borrowed thousands of artefacts from Peru from the excavation of the site of Machu Picchu dating back some 100 years. The Peruvian authorities had many times asked for the return of these artefacts, but had kept on receiving negative responses. “What can we do,” he asked.

“Mr minister,” I said, “if you do what I tell you, you will receive all the artefacts back within hours of your speech and not even days. Go back to Lima and tell your office to announce that you will hold a press conference concerning the loans to Yale University. In the press conference, you should explain the story and read the contract signed between the Peruvian government and Yale University. Then, say that you have decided to take the president of Yale University to court.”

“It is important to mention the name of the president because university presidents in the United States like to keep their names clean.”

The minister went back to Lima to do exactly what I told him. A few hours after the press conference, he received a telephone call from the president of Yale University to say that he would return all the objects to Peru. Alan Garcia, the then president of Peru, invited me to Peru and held a great celebration in one of the squares of the capital Lima near the president’s palace and awarded me the Order of the Sun as the country’s highest honour.

Hugo Portugal also noted that people in Egypt had been very happy that Peru had attended the first conference for the repatriation of stolen artefacts in Cairo. Peru signed a protocol along with a further 19 countries guaranteeing cooperation on the repatriation of stolen artefacts. I told Hugo that I had been responsible for choosing Lima to host the second conference for the repatriation of artefacts in 2011.

The second story about my relationship with Peru shows how much Hugo loves both his own country and Egypt. He called me one day to tell me that I had been invited to visit Peru. The visit came at the same time as his vacation during the summer, but he would break his vacation to accompany me to Peru. I met him the day following my arrival in Lima and he accompanied me to meet the president.

We arrived at the palace before the arrival of the then president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and met the ministers of foreign affairs, culture and information. We discussed many topics and the minister of foreign affairs said he was a very good friend of former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa. He said that whenever he asked Moussa how he was doing, he would reply “so far so good.” They had been colleagues as ambassadors at the United Nations.

The president then arrived, and we continued our discussion about the management of archaeological sites and how it was important for Peru to set up a travelling archaeological exhibition because the country had discoveries as important as those made in the tomb of Tutankhamun. This site we discussed was called Sipan, and all the beautiful artefacts that had been found there were exhibited inside a beautiful museum. I told the president that travelling exhibitions could bring Peru a great deal of publicity and even funds to help in the construction of new museums.

I gave a signed book of mine to the president as a gift, along with a replica of my hat. He recognised that it was similar to that worn by the fictional US archaeologist Indiana Jones. I told the president that Hugo Portugal was a great ambassador and that he was doing great service to Peru and had won the hearts of all Egyptians.

Hugo, in cooperation with my friend Jose Koechlin, then arranged for me to give a lecture at the University of Loyola in Lima with over 500 people in attendance and Hugo and his wife sitting in the front row. The second great honour that Peru awarded me was an honorary doctorate from this University. Hugo and Jose arranged for me to visit most of the archaeological sites in the country, and I was accompanied by Jose who introduced me to the Sipan Museum and the Mummy of Cao inside it.

I will never forget the moment I received the Order of the Sun in Peru, being the only Arab who had ever received it. It is the oldest order in South and North America, dating back to 1821. The other great moment was when I received the honorary doctorate and saw the smiles on the faces of Hugo and Jose.

Many ambassadors held great farewell gatherings for Hugo in Egypt, including the ambassador of Greece, Michael Christos Diamessis, and the ambassador of Chile, Fernando Zalaquett, two other great ambassadors. But the largest farewell party was the one arranged by Enas Abdel-Dayem, head of the Cairo Opera House. Many people who love Hugo came to the event. Enas and I gave speeches, as did Hugo himself.

We are now saying goodbye to Hugo Portugal, but he should know that we will never forget him. He has been transferred to another position in the Peruvian consulate in Los Angeles, but hopefully we will be able to see him again. Hugo Portugal is one ambassador who won the love of all the Egyptians who met him during his time in Egypt.

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