- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | Getting the U.N. General Assembly to agree on anything is, at best, a difficult job — one that usually requires tact and persuasiveness, rather than muscle and bluster.

The unofficial protocol for General Assembly (GA) presidents has, for years upon years, been one of public politeness and backroom arm-twisting and candor.

But GA president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who ends his one-year term Sept. 15, has ignored decades of tradition: The Catholic priest and former Nicaraguan foreign minister has never met an injustice he could not renounce, nor championed a cause without vigor and plain-spoken indignation.

“I believe in speaking frankly, especially to power,” Mr. d’Escoto told The Washington Times. “It serves no purpose to [sugarcoat] things.”

Generally speaking, developing nations have considered this a refreshing change, but the U.S. and many Western governments and nongovernment organizations say the president sometimes “abused” the GA podium.

The U.S. Mission forwarded a statement attributed to Alejandro Wolff, the deputy ambassador to Susan Rice, the U.S. representative at the United Nations.

Mr. d’Escoto “has repeatedly abused his position to pursue his personal agenda, and in doing so he diminishes the office and harms the General Assembly. He is doing the United Nations a disservice by dividing the membership at a time when he should be a unifying force,” the statement said.

The GA president said he and Mr. Wolff are friends, and shrugged off the condemnation. “Some may criticize me,” he said. “They are welcome to disagree, speaking frankly is what this is all about.”

Mr. d’Escoto has repeatedly singled out the United States for failing to support the Palestinians, criticizing Iran’s nuclear agenda and triggering the global credit crisis with its “moral and ethical failure.”

He also says Washington uses its influence to unfairly dictate U.N. priorities, and he accused the United States and other industrialized nations of starving the world with their hunger for natural resources such as oil.

In early August, the priest begged forgiveness from the Japanese people because the pilot of the Enola Gay — the plane that dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War II — was a Catholic.

Many diplomats — who don’t want to be identified as publicly disrespecting the GA president — say Mr. d’Escoto has at times run the 192-member world body based on his own passions, convening meetings to denounce Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip and the summer coup in Honduras.

Mr. d’Escoto’s staff said he got a bad rap for being so outspoken and that he succeeded in creating a consensus for most GA resolutions.

“He managed to have consensus among all countries to agree to the [economic and finance resolution] despite the odds,” said GA spokesman Enrique Yeves. “He has always worked for consensus and, what is more, he has been very successful in very delicate issues.”

But Mr. d’Escoto, 76, often went it alone.

He is an advocate of liberation theology — a leftist worldview that draws on Catholicism and Marxism in an attempt to elevate the poor and pursue social justice against a world dominated by class warfare and rampant capitalism. The ideology has taken root primarily in Latin America.

The priest, who addresses diplomats as “brothers and sisters,” says he is looking forward to going back to Nicaragua, where he may take an adviser position with the government.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann was born in Los Angeles, reared in Nicaragua, and educated in New York by the Maryknoll missionaries and, later, Columbia University’s journalism school. He was ordained a priest in the early 1960s but took a leave from the Church in 1979 to serve in the Sandinista government.

Despite his criticism of the U.S., President Obama’s iconic campaign poster hangs in the GA president’s reception area. He has also hung Latin American art throughout his suite of offices.

Mr. d’Escoto’s unabashedly leftist remarks throughout the 63rd General Assembly session have focused on social problems rather than policy.

“The hallmark work of the U.N. is to eliminate poverty and ensure human rights,” he said.

Many diplomats from developing nations praised Mr. d’Escoto for devoting more time than previous GA presidents to the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2001 by the world body to eradicate extreme poverty around the world.

In the recent past, diplomats say, the assembly more frequently discussed counterterrorism and U.N. management — issues the West generally favors.

“The view from developing countries is that he has been helpful to restore some balance” to the world body’s agenda, said Tanzanian Ambassador Augustine Mahiga. “He is a champion of Third World issues — the development and social justice agendas and the structural deficiencies in the international financial system.”

The U.N. diplomatic soundtrack is generally one of cottony consensus, the gentle rejection of a divisive resolution, a measured exhortation to do what is right, and drafting deliberate ambiguity into documents to mask differences of opinion.

Under the U.N. Charter, the GA president is more important than the secretary-general and the Security Council.

But the Security Council — which, unlike the General Assembly, issues legally binding resolutions — has over the last few years dipped into the world body’s usual areas of concern, including HIV/AIDS, women’s protection and empowerment, the use of child soldiers and the drug trade, among others.

“I know something about the U.N., and I know there has been a progressive, gradual diminishing of GA power,” he said.

However, Mr. d’Escoto said he was delighted with the outcome of a two-day conference he convened last spring to explore the causes and conclusions of the global financial crisis — a “preventable catastrophe,” he said, in another dig at the United States.

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