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Even Chavez and Ortega Send Underlings to UN Summit, Sources Say, D'Escoto Wastes Moment on Nepotism

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- Even two of Latin America's leaders furthest to the left have decided not to attend UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's summit on the global financial crisis. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has decided to send only his finance minister, Ali Rodriguez Araque. D'Escoto's own president, Daniel Ortega, has sent his finance minister, Alberto Jose Guevara Obregon.

   The subprime meltdown hurt people worldwide, but presented an opportunity for the UN General Assembly and its one-year president d'Escoto Brockmann to be relevant. This chance was quickly squandered.

  D'Escoto issued his own "outcome" document that set forth a UN taxation authority to impose fees on cyberspace. More quietly, he decided to use his UN budget of at least $280,000 to hire two of his own relatives, as his deputy chief of staff and economic adviser, Michael Clark.

   When asked about it by Inner City Press, d'Escoto encouraged further "speculation" and said he found it entertaining. Hence this: uncontested nepotism undermines credibility, particularly when one is pontificating about the lack of transparency of the Group of 20.

D'Escoto with Zimbabwe VP Mujuru, Chavez and Ortega not shown

While d'Escoto and his team complained about press coverage of their increasing erratic tenure, they made covering the first day of the summit needlessly difficult. At first metal detectors were installed, but since so few heads of state came, they were not used on June 24. Still, the press was barred from entering the UN's second floor unescorted, and barred from the UN bar even as it sat empty. A reception for the summit was closed to the press.

D'Escoto showed his hand early in his presidency, when in a press conference he explicitly refused to answer a question from a reporter he didn't like. There was no push back, and soon he took to making light of questions about his own use of UN funds. Then he discouraged the press from covering his summit. Somewhere the banks were laughing, at a potential overseer laid low by arrogance. This will be continued: watch this site.

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UN Crisis Summit Begins with a Whimper and US Threat, Absent Are Chavez, Consumer Protection

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- The green carpeted lobby outside the UN General Assembly chamber was criss crossed Wednesday morning by a procession of diplomats, mostly lower level ministers on their way to GA President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's summit on the global financial crisis.

  At a press conference on Tuesday, d'Escoto had joked among other things about "white smoke" being issued to signal that an outcome document had been agreed to even before the conference began. The only leverage, then, that delegations have is to threaten to reopen the agreed on compromise text. And the U.S. has threatened just that, Inner City Press is told by a well placed Latin diplomat.

A paragraph in the outcome document concerning immigration triggered the U.S. threat, reminiscent of the Bush Administration. Call it the Lou Dobbs CNN effect. No U.S. administration can be seen agreeing to a text promoting open borders.

  Amazingly, given that the crisis began with predatory lending to lower income people, mostly of color, the conference and outcome document deal hardly at all with consumer protection. When Inner City Press on Tuesday after four NGOs about this lack, their answers conflated the high and low of finance, babbling that hedge funds had sold products -- mortgages? -- to unsuspecting people.

   The financial regulatory proposals have been watered down so much that banking industry sources consulted by Inner City Press, to the degree they were even aware of d'Escoto and his shifting cyber-tax proposals, said in essence that they could casually declare victory even in the flag-draped dream world of Latin leftist multilateralism.

    But where was Hugo Chavez? Where was Daniel Ortega? Was it that the sense of crisis passed? Or that d'Escoto's conference became too much of a joke even for grandstanders like Chavez? D'Escoto hired his nephew with UN money to advise about the crisis, then Tuesday refused to even explain the nepotism which left Latin diplomats, even leftists, shaking their heads.

UN PGA d'Escoto, white smoke not shown

   Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his advisors strode in formation into the GA chamber. UN Communications staff came and erected a blue General Assembly backdrop so that the UN TV camera could no longer film into the chamber. Many backdrops at the UN, but who would speak in front of them? Mexico, for example, has a minister said to be ready for press encounters. The UK has Mark Malloch Brown, but where it is not clear. Sir John Sawers was spotted Tuesday afternoon -- looking for intelligence, someone quipped.

   Croatia's permanent representative Neven Jurica, it was confirmed to Inner City Press, is no longer in charge of the mission. The financial irregularities Inner City Press reported on Monday have been further specified: gambling losses in Las Vegas, charged to the mission, according to the Zagreb press. It is the national day there, the mission says, there will be no more statements. Others note that Croatia is downsizing the mission by a full nine staffers. Why run for the Security Council if you're only going to downsize? The financial crisis is everywhere. Watch this space: this will be updated.

Update of 2:22 p.m. -- at the UN's noon press briefing, Inner City Press asked d'Escoto's spokesman about the immigration paragraph and about the U.S. being represented by its UN Ambassador Susan E. Rice, no one from the Treasury Department or financial regulatory or even development agency.

  He gave a count that of 142 delegations "inscribed," 67 are represented by their Ambassadors. Responding to the immigration questions, he called it a negotiation. Prior to the briefing, on why d'Escoto did not provide his reasons for hiring two relatives with UN money, he said that many people want to talk about many things and d'Escoto is not going to fall into the trap. 
  Whether while berating the G-20 for example as non transparent and the UN GA as a better alternative it is a good idea to refuse to answer questions about the use of UN funds to hire relatives is a good idea will, one supposes, be subject to objective assessment through time....

Update of 3:24 p.m. -- the panel discussion with Joseph Stiglitz is kicked off, under the watchful eye, on the podium, of President d'Escoto's nephew, an advisor on the summit paid with UN funds. The Press has been confined to the cheap seats, where most seats don't have ear pieces (and some that do, have Stiglitz blaring in Russian). Also on the panel are mid-level managing directors of the IMF and World Bank. There will be something "interactive," but the Press, in the cheap seats, will not be able to participate. Ironically, the UN's in-house media, UN Radio, was down by the podium interviewing Stiglitz. It's like state owned media giving itself a scoop. Only at the UN....

Update of 3:54 p.m. -- Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank, mentions the good deeds of the head of the World Bank (who is not here). Head of ECLAC in Chile Alicia Barcena talks about the UN's "transparency and accountability" and the shift from an oil to a carbon free economy. Why did Chilean president Bachelet cancel her appearance here?

 Meanwhile Ms. Barcena's successor as UN Under Secretary General for Management Angela Kane held a "town hall" meeting earlier this afternoon in the UN basement. Security Officers outside said, only for staff. Shouldn't the sign say closed meeting, then? Yes," the guard acknowledged. Even staff were not allowed to tape record the meeting. Can you say, paranoid? So how much more transparent than the G-20 is the UN?

Nepotism May Threaten UN Economic Crisis Summit, Role of Nephew of GA President d'Escoto Questioned

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- As industrialized countries' public skepticism has grown at the UN General Assembly's summit on the global economic crisis, postponed until later this month, analysts have focused on General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's refusal to simply accept the proposed outcome document drafted by member states.

  Inner City Press is told by well-placed sources that a major reason for the so-called Draft-Gate which threatens to undermine the crisis summit is the presence among the PGA's paid staff of at least two d'Escoto relatives, and the freedom that he gives them.

   Michael Clark is an American staff member who has given numerous lengthly press conferences about the summit, most recently speaking so extensively about his views of a world without money that Inner City Press was not permitted a single question, about some countries' critique of the draft. At the time, Inner City Press reported that Michael Clark previously served with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and trying to open India to U.S. commercial firms.

    Now it can be told, confirmed by d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman to his credit on June 9: Michael Clark is d'Escoto Brockmann's nephew. Another niece, Sophia Clark, is d'Escoto Brockmann's Deputy Chief of Staff.

  These two family connections were confirmed by spokesman Enrique Yeves on Tuesday. He noted that out of twenty cabinet members, only two are relatives of the President, and that these are "freely designated posts" not subject to competition or qualifications. They are, however, paid from the UN budget.

Chilean president Michele Bachelet, previously scheduled to attend the summit, has as Inner City Press heard recently canceled, Yeves confirmed on Tuesday. Few high level officials from industrialized countries are slated to come.

   It is becoming, as one well placed source put it, a wasted opportunity. When the UN General Assembly had a chance to come out with innovative ideas to regulate the global financial system, he asked, "who did they turn to? Father Miguel's nephew."

Michael Clark, with UNPGA one of two Clarks -- or three?

   Within those parts of the General Assembly not related to Escoto Brockmann by blood or marriage, one can find dissatisfaction with Michael Clark and the way d'Escoto has "let him run wild," as one source put it. This source states that Clark has been trying to find this next job after d'Escoto Brockmann's year as PGA expires, and that this has included trying to find some European jobs.

   The source traces changes that Clark made to what was ostensibly d'Escoto Brockmann's personal draft to subsequent criticism of the draft. "Father Miguel is taking heat for a problem Michael created," the source says, calling it misplaced loyalty.

    Yeves said for the record that Michael Clark is by no means the only adviser on the summit, and argued that Clark's appearance at three press conferences in a row about the summit was not, as one source put it, a "try out," but simply a product of the travel schedule of d'Escoto Brockmann and his other advisers. Inner City Press asked to interview Michael Clark for this story.

   Yeves said all such requests to the PGA's advisers go through him, and that answer would be given by Tuesday at 5 p.m.. Inner City Press hours before that time also made the request directly to Mr. Clark. After that deadline, this story is being published, and will be updated. Watch this site.

UN's $8.2 Billion Peace Budget Faces 2.5% Cut, S. Korea Puts Congo Drones on Block?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- Anyone can call for peace, but who will pay for it? That question was being debate, or at least discussed, in the basement of the UN past 10 p.m. on Monday night. The UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee had passed its end of May deadline and still the $8.2 billion peacekeeeping budget was in dispute.

  The U.S, Japan, European Union and surprise Westerner South Korea are proposing a 2.5 percent across the board reduction in all peacekeeping missions' budgets. The phrase, taken from the Western Sahara draft of June 6, was a decision "to reduce the Mission's overall operational costs by a further 2.5 per cent to be accommodated through efficiency savings." The Group of 77 and China are resisting.

  Take for example the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC. The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions' "recommendations on the financing of MONUC would entail an overall reduction of $66,818,200 or some 4.7 percent of the Mission's overall budget," mostly due to the local elections MONUC will support being put back into 2010.

  The African Group, on the other hand, "is concerned that the cuts proposed by the ACABQ could negatively impact on the effective functioning of the Mission."

  These quotes are from public speeches. Consider, however, the confidential presentation of the Secretariat to ACABQ, the slide script of which Inner City Press has been given by a well-placed source. The Secretariat argued that "the budget before you is not a maintenance budget based on routine operations." Instead the Secretariat proposed "an increase of $235 million compare to 2008/09... 168 new posts and positions directly related to the surge in troops."

This "surge" is the 3,000 additional personnel called for the Security Council during the CNDP fighting in the Kivus, before the house arrest and Nkunda and incorporation of indicted war criminal Jean-Bosco Ntanganda into the Congolese Army, where he has worked in connection with UN-supported operations according to Congolese records. While troubling, this should at least save money, no? No. The Secretariat still proposed ever-increased spending.

  The surge will come, the document says, from "troops from Bangladesh, Egypt and Jordan... The new Egyptian battalion will be deployed to South Kivu and the Bangladeshi will be deployed to Ituri... while the Jordan Special Forces company will be positioned in North Kivu."

  Interestingly, the budget includes "$18 million additional requirements for 2 UAVs" -- unmanned aerial vehicles, the drones MONUC chief Alan Doss requested at the turn of the year.

UN's Ban and Doss (not Mountain) in DRC, budget cuts not shown

  Several Fifth Committee sources emphasized to Inner City Press the news value of South Korea's position. Here you have Ban Ki-moon, one source spun, putting his name on proposals to increase peacekeeping budgets by almost five percent, while his home country South Korea has joined the push to instead cut the budgets by 2.5 percent.

   The source asked, "who's kidding who?" All we could say is "whom." (On this front it must be said that the Secretariat's presentation to ACABQ has some laughable typos. It refers for example to "the Pakistanese battalion." But we digress.)

   Upstairs in the Delegates' Lounge, a proponent of the Haiti mission's budget told Inner City Press that MINUSTAH, as it's known, spends 100% or more of its budget. Mission head Hedi Annabi is called Napoleonic. Other missions, in their start up phase or even earlier, like Somalia, might face even steeper cuts.

   During all of this, the chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy is slated to travel from June 9 to 23 to West Africa. He will stop first in Nigeria, where 27 peacekeepers have been sentence to jail for life for protesting not being paid after a UN mission. Another peacekeeper, female, says she was pressured for sex while on mission. As a now-dead rapper sang, More money, more problems.

   Le Roy will head to Cote d'Ivoire, where Laurent Gbagbo keeps putting off the promised election. When will the mission draw down? The force in Liberia, too, is called larger than needs be. In the basement, however, it is a question of whose ox is gored. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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