June 22, 2009

Latin radicals take centre stage at UN summit snubbed by the West

A former Nicaraguan revolutionary and his nephew are trying to reshape the world financial system at a UN summit this week.

Western leaders are snubbing the three-day meeting starting on Wednesday in New York, which is designed to counter the G20 summit in London in April.

The Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development is expected to be dominated by fiery anti-capitalist rhetoric from left-wing Latin American leaders.

Western diplomats say that radicals in the Group of 77 (G77) developing nations, chaired by Sudan’s deputy ambassador to the UN, have hijacked negotiations.

The summit was postponed from June 1 so that it did not clash with the inauguration of the former Marxist guerrilla Mauricio Funes as President of El Salvador, officials say. Left-wing presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are due to attend. Only 14 heads of state and government plan to travel to New York — ten of them from Latin America or the Caribbean. The rest of the 192 UN member states will be represented at a lower level. Britain is sending a junior Foreign Office Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown.

Despite his country’s leading role President al-Bashir of Sudan cannot make the trip because he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur and would risk arrest.

The summit is the brainchild of Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, 76, this year’s president of the UN General Assembly, and a former Sandinista revolutionary and Nicaraguan Foreign Minister who once went on hunger strike to protest against “Yankee imperialism” in his country.

Mr d’Escoto says that the full UN membership should be given a voice in reforming the financial system, not just the G20 — the 19 countries and the EU — which account for 85 per cent of global economic activity.

To help to organise the summit Mr d’Escoto, who was a radical priest before entering politics and is known as Father Miguel, picked Michael Clark, his American nephew, as a senior adviser. Mr d’Escoto also gave Mr Clark’s sister, Sophia, a job as his deputy chief of staff.

UN officials defend the nepotism saying that the president of the General Assembly can choose his staff even though their salaries are paid with UN money. Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly spokesman, said that only two of Mr d’Escoto’s 22 staff were relatives.

Not so united nations

At a UN General Assembly meeting in 1973 Idi Amin praised Edward Heath by comparing him to Adolf Hitler. He later said: “Not Hitler, I meant Winston Churchill”.

On his first day as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told staff that capital punishment should be “for every member state to decide”, despite the UN’s ban on the death penalty.

In 2006 President Chávez told the General Assembly that George Bush, who had spoken earlier, was “the devil” and complained of a stench of sulphur.

Thirty diplomats walked out of a UN conference on racism in April when President Ahmadinejad of Iran singled out Israel as the “most cruel and racist regime”.