The First Day. January 7, 1985.
Edited October 13, 2015.
On Necktie times
On the morning of January 7, 1985, in New York, when I got dressed to attend my first day in the UNCITRAL, I was enthusiastic because it would be a very special day, but I could never imagine that it would be a turning point in my life.
It was Monday and I had to be in the United Nations at 10 o’clock, but I could not find my ties; we had forgotten them in Mexico. Worried about making my debut tieless, I left in a hurry. A store in Grand Central station was opening and I quickly bought a tie for a dollar. When I got to the United Nations, Professor Andy Spanogle, then the U.S. expert delegate, kindly greeted me with a compliment on my tie; the UNCITRAL, as well as Andy, are always in fashion on commercial law, but not so much in fashion dressing.
That day I met Willem Vis, who I admired since his very first intervention. A Dutch Quijote, wise, polyglot, not only in languages but in law. Stern, but only in a first glance, because he had the hearth of a giant. His illusion, he told me once, was to be like the great humanists of the Renaissance; surely he was one.
He was appointed Chairman of the Working Group, and he did it spectacularly. The Working Group's mandate was the making the draft of the project that has taken the greatests efforts on time and negotiations in the history of UNCITRAL: the United Nations Convention on International Bills of Exchange and International Promissory Notes.
Willem managed the project with virtuosity. He dominated the negotiable instruments’ system of the convention, of the countries of Geneva system and of the common law. He spoke little and listened to all; when the intervention of a delegate ended, without a comment, as if he had not even listened, he gave the floor to the next in the list. Only when necessary for the order of the debate he would make some comment. At the end, when he summarized the debate and suggested the decisions, he remembered all interventions, comments and proposals. One had to have attended these meetings to know that it’s all about putting in order such Babel. I simply could not imagine how he did it; later on he gave me the formula, which I will comment in the future.
He performed in English and French; later on I found out that he spoke eight languages. Among them was not Spanish, however he could read it. His, Dutch, he did not like.
From that day on Willem became one of my paradigms and, in the same way that many years before that happened to me with Roberto L. Mantilla Molina, my dream was to be like him; of course, as much as possible. Both Roberto and Willem, together with another of my giants, Jorge Barrera Graf, distinguished me, showed me great appreciation and I cannot say how much they taught me. There will be many ocassions to speak of those three them in the future; they were, and are, influences that mark life, they were gifts from God.
Uniform law and certitude
That day, too, I had my first encounter in flesh and blood with uniform or international trade law, which I knew of academically.
In all aspects of life it is needed a previously established and known order, whose rules we respect and perform. They are the rules of our homes, communities, cities, estate and country. When travelling or entering into transactions with foreigners, if we do not know a minimum of their rules, we are domed to failure.
We depend on the legal certitude and predictablity that provide us the rule of law; we live within a pre-established, known, order whose regulations we respect and comply with, without realizing the extent on which we depend on such regularity. As individuals as well as countries, we progress on the uniformity. However, it is absurd the pride and tenacity with which some battle for nationalism and the vanity of having peculiar laws. How could we play soccer if we would not have the uniform regulation of the FIFA?
That day, too, I entered the universe of the diversity of ideas, customs, legal traditions and the ability to construct uniform and harmonic systems thanks to flexibility and negotiation. We are all citizens of the world. As human beings we have differences, but we are equal.
The final conclusion is that what varies are the nomenclatura, proceedings and details, the philosophers name them "phenomena", buth the substance is the same in all the people of the world.
The Legendary ones
That day also began my involvement with great personalities in the international world. It is impossible to remember and mention so many, but I cannot forget Eric G. Bergsten and Herrmann. Both, as Willem, were Secretaries of UNCITRAL. They gave me their friendship, advice and support. They, in a somewhat different way that Roberto, Jorge and Willem, are an important part of my life.
That day began my life with the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.
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