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Zelaya and d'Escoto Flew in Chavez' Plane, Some Questions UNanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 6 -- Venezuela's Hugo Chavez provided the plane on which Manuel Zelaya and UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann flew July 5 over Tegucigalpa, d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman Enrique Yeves confirmed to Inner City Press on July 6.

   Brockmann's return from his native Nicaragua to brief the General Assembly in New York will be paid "from the President's budget," Yeves said, adding that the PGA's budget is "audited by external and internal auditors like everything else at the UN." Video here, from Minute 17:44.

    Now that it is confirmed that Chavez provided the plane to Zelaya and presumably paid for jet fuel, the extent of his support and control in Honduras is worth re-examining. As noted, Zelaya refused to provide the Honduran parliament with his budget in September 2008.

   After the Honduras Supreme Court ruled that Zelaya could not hold a flash referendum removing presidential term limits, it has been reported that the referendum -- or "opinion poll" -- materials were prepared and paid for by Chavez.

    On July 5, Nicaragua's ambassador to the Organization of American States predicted that Honduras will say that it and Venezuela are behind and funding protests in Tegucigalpa, in an echo of Iranian claims that the UK is behind the protests in Tehran. Sticking with that comparison, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked by the Los Angeles Times

LAT: If President Ahmadinejad comes to the U.N. General Assembly in September as the elected president of Iran, will you acknowledge his election as legitimate?

BKM: It's up to the member states who should represent their country. If he comes as president of Iran, I'm ready to meet with him again and discuss all matters.

   By that logic, once Honduras' Supreme Court ruled it legal that Zelaya be replaced by Micheletti, Ban and the UN Secretariat would have deferred to the country's highest court. But getting a sense of the political winds, Ban applied a different test. Either test can be defended, but a double standard can't. Or hasn't.

Hugo Chavez at UN, 2006 -- he did not attend d'Escoto's 2009 summit

    Back at the UN, D'Escoto Brockmann refused to defend his use of UN funds to hire two relatives. After that, his spokesman Enrique Yeves refused to answer, or even listen to, Inner City Press' question about how much of the PGA's Office's $280,000 budget from the UN has been spent. Several correspondents at the UN say the amount has nearly or entirely all been spent. Has it been replenished?

UN General Assembly Resolution 53/214

13. Requests the Secretary-General to enhance the Office of the President of the General Assembly by taking all the necessary steps to ensure the full implementation of paragraph 1B.10 of the report of the Secretary-General entitled “United Nations reform: measures and proposals”,6 [A/52/303] as adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 52/220, so as to provide transparency and accountability and thereby strengthen the ability of the President of the General Assembly effectively and efficiently to discharge the responsibilities of the Office as deemed appropriate;

14. Decides that the President of the General Assembly, consistent with the approved programme budget, should have full authority to use the funds provided in the budget for the Office, including hospitality and travel and any other requirements for the accomplishment of the official responsibilities;

Paragraph 1B.10 of S-G report [A/52/303] provides

1B.10 In order to enhance further the ability of the President of the General Assembly to discharge his responsibilities, it is proposed that the budget include a sum of $250,000 for each year of the biennium to supplement the level of support currently provided. Consultations would be held with each President of the Assembly to determine the way in which these funds would be used to enhance support for his/her Office.

   Given this, can the funds be used without explanation to hire relatives? Are the funds in fact subject to audit by the UN Board of Auditors and investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services? These are transparency and accountability questions, like the "how much has been spent" question which has still not been answered. Watch this site.

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Duo Without Budgets, Zelaya and d'Escoto, Fly Toward Honduras, Questions Proliferate

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 5 -- Two Central American figures, each with problems with public disclosure of their budgets and spending, sped toward Tegucigalpa on Sunday. Manuel Zelaya, ousted as Honduras' president after among other things failing to file the required budget in September 2008, was joined only by this year's President of the UN General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who used UN funds to hire two relatives and then refused to answer questions about it. Click here for Inner City Press' story on the matter.

   Ecuador's President Correa and thers who'd said they would join the quixotic flight went instead to El Salvador to wait to see what happened in the skies over Tegucigalpa. These more cautious leaders flew of the Argentine President's plane, Tango One. But it was difficult to determine on what plane the budgeting challenged duo was flying. One wag dubbed it "Loco One, the airline without budget." Who would rent or give a plane for such a venture?

   Since d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman Enrique Yeves pointedly refused to answer any question about budgets or spending on or since June 29, it is impossible to shoot down rumors, probably false, that a UN plane was involved. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, notably said that UN peacekeepers should get involved in returning Zelaya to power.

   Honduras was raised in the UN Security Council on the morning of July 2, albeit only as a briefing by Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller in a consultation on the Council's program of work for July.

Flames in Honduras, budgetless duo in the air

   Sources in the closed door meeting told Inner City Press that Heller said that the Organization of American States process would have to play out first.

  The OAS Secretary General was among those who changed his destination from Tegucigalpa to San Salvador in light of the orders of Roberto Micheletti to stop any attempted landing. The applicability of international (and UN) law and rules regarding flights was also in question at Press time. Watch this site.

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At UN, Honduras Zeal Changes Ban's Rules, Overshadows $8 Billion Budget

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- With Manuel Zelaya's planned return to Honduras delayed at least two day to Saturday, at the UN on July 1 the question arose of who the UN recognizes as the current head of state. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas was first asked about Iraq, whether Ban has written to Ahmadinejad to "congratulate" him on his election.

  Ms. Montas said not yet, but he will at the end of July when this term term begins. "We congratulate a government when it comes into place," she said. Who is the head of state is a "matter for the country to decide."

   But in Honduras, the Supreme Court has ruled that the ouster of Zelaya was legal. Montas recalled that Ban "asked for a return to the Constitutional order." Video here, from Minute 18:34. A country's Supreme Court enunciates its Constitution. In fact, to some it seems that the test Ban's UN applies to "who is the leader" is the finger in the wind test or, more specifically this year, the follow Barack Obama test.

   In the real world of diplomacy, the Permanent Representative to the UN of one of the Security Council's five Permanent Members on July 1 told the press of "skepticism" about Zelaya being able to return. Reportedly, he was to fly from Washington, accompanied by General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, to a U.S. base to pick up Ecuador's President Correa and, some said, some U.S. soldiers, and thence on to Honduras.

   The idea was that he would serve out his term and then return to his "ranch" - his money comes from timber exploitation. One wag joked that while the U.S. would like to use economic sanctions as a tool to pressure the current government to let Zelaya back in, his role in hardwood would make sanctions somehow ironic.

Zelaya and d'Escoto, UN budget and use of funds not shown

  The World Bank has put loans on hold. On July 1, the Inter-American Development Bank announced it will not be providing any new credit to Honduras. Obama has proposed over $60 million in development and military aid. Inner City Press would have asked about it on June 30, but d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman Enrique Yeves did not allow the question.

   Strangely, while Yeves' job is ostensible to report about the General Assembly, and not Central American politics, he has yet to come and brief the Press about the over $8 billion peacekeeping budgets adopted Monday by the General Assembly. Could it be that in trying to avoid questions about d'Escoto Brockmann using smaller amounts of UN funds to hire two relatives, basic timely disclosure is now lacking about $8 billion in new spending? Watch this site.

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As Deposed Honduran Zelaya Rallies at UN, Questions Multiply, About Thursday Return with d'Escoto and Finances

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 30, updated -- Honduras' deposed president Manuel Zelaya's arrival in New York from Managua was the buzz at the UN on Tuesday morning. In front of the Security Council, diplomats made predictions about Security Council action depending on outcomes at the Organization of American States. In the General Assembly, less than an hour before Zelaya's speech was to begin, the hall was less than one third full as a speaker droned on about the UN's $8 billion peacekeeping budget.

  The first money question of the day, at least for Inner City Press, was who paid for Zelaya's flight to New York? Some suggested Air Chavez; others noted that Bolivia's Evo Morales skipped last week's UN summit on the global financial crisis due he said to a broken aircraft. Zelaya, of course, has amassed his own wealth.

  In Monday's GA session, Peru's representative joined others in denouncing the military coup in Honduras. He pointed out, however, that changes to how many terms a president can get should be processed according to the Constitution. While this was the backdrop to Zelaya's ouster from the country -- sanctioned by the Honduras Supreme Court -- the current President of the GA Miguel d"Escoto Brockmann concluded that one delegation had been "ambiguous."

  Actually several diplomats noted that Peru had been quite clear; it simply didn't jump on the cartoon-like bandwagon that even the U.S. did. What remained unclear after Monday, because d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman refused to answer, was how much of the $280,000 that the UN and global taxpayers give to d'Escoto Brockmann's office for the year has already been spent, and how.

Zelaya and Daniel Ortega, fist raised, d'Escoto questions unanswered

  Half an hour before Zelaya's slated appearance, a speaker on the budget relayed what he called an ancient Chinese proverb: by both scrambling for the same thing, both parties look bad. By giving up something, both parties win. One wondered how that might apply to the situation in Honduras. Watch this space -- we will live blog Zelaya's speech and aftermath here.

Update of 11:22 a.m. -- the budget session has been suspended, awaiting Zelaya's speech. On one vote about the UN Mission in Lebanon, only the U.S. and Israel voted no. "What happened with Obama?" The Ambassador of Haiti's to be seen glad handing other diplomats, China's deputy Liu walking jauntily up the aisle. The GA hall is more full now.  The moment is near. And Zelaya's slated to hold a press conference at 12:45.

Update of 12:53 p.m. -- in the GA Hall, amendments are being proposed to the draft resolution on Honduras. Zelaya is seated in the Honduras seat. D'Escoto's and Zelaya's joint press conference has been postponed to, they say, 1:30 p.m..Outside the briefing room, a dozen Spanish-speaking journalists not usually at the UN mill around, asking "who is that Ambassador?" 

   In the midst of this, UN envoy to the Great Lakes of Africa, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, takes questions from the Press about the Congo. One wag notes that Obasanjo is a man who never let himself be overthrown.

Update of 1:02 p.m. -- D'Escoto announces that the following have joined as co-sponsors: the United States (camera cut to Amb. Rosemary DiCarlo, who d'Escoto yesterday called his sister), Canada and Colombia... There is applause... Rules are being waved in order to approve the just-suggested changes... d"Escoto bangs down the absurd wooden axe. And now the speech of the "Excelentisimo" Senor Zelaya...

Update of 1:17 p.m. -- Zelaya is saying the names of leaders who called him; he lays it on thick for Costa Rica, where he was "dumped" at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 28, for "Raul Castro" for repudiating a "grosero cuerpo militar." Zelaya is expected in Washington for an OAS meeting later on Tuesday...

Update of 1:25 p.m. -- Zelaya says he fought for freedom of information, and freedom of the press. He said he offended those who made money off the poor.

Update of 1:35 p.m. -- Zelaya argues that no court can diminish the natural rights of the people: the right to a referendum to allow him more than one term.

Update of 1:37 p.m. -- Zelaya says that in Honduras after the coup, the radio played only music and other "banal things." He says today's meeting makes him feel ever more committed to humanity.

Update of 1:40 p.m. -- Zelaya is narrating his Saturday before the coup: he led a march of 1000 to an army base to get the materials for the referendum, they let him in as Commander in Chief. The materials were distributed and elections observers began to arrive.

Update of 1:50 p.m. -- Zeleya relates how he was in his house outside of town -- he has cattle, he says -- and woke up in early in the morning and found a battalion outside, with rifles. His 21 year old daughter was in another building. He was in pajamas. They broke the doors. Zelaya had his cell phone out, calling a journalist. Then rifles pointed at him and, screaming, ordered him to drop the cell phone. Blow by blow, indeed.

Update of 1:51 p.m. -- speaking about his daughter, his voice crackes and he stops, dramatically. The audience claps. Unreal.

Update of 1:53 p.m. -- the pause is over, the voice is steady, Zelaya says that in the 1980s he fought for the return of Constitutional order.

Update of 1:57 p.m. -- the speech is over, the race is on: of the press for Zelaya and the briefing room.

Update of 2:49 p.m. -- Zelaya emerged from the GA Hall to a media scrum. In Spanish, he was asked, "What is your message for the aggressors?" He proceeded to the media briefing room. The press conference was run by d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman Enrique Yeves, who at the previously day's ill-attended noon briefing refused to answer any questions about how d'Escoto Brockmann spends the funds given by the UN and taxpayers, and who has provided no information since.

  A series of generally lame or unanswered questions followed. Is he afraid? Of course not. Is he offended that he will not meet with either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton? No, the trip was hastily put together. Zelaya says he will be flying to Tegucigalpa on Thursday, accompanied among others by... d'Escoto Brockmann, who sat motionless throughout the press conference, declining to answer the few questions directed his way.

  Inner City Press had a question to ask, but a raised hand throughout the press conference was ignored by d'Escoto Brockmann's spokesman, who called on numerous Mexican outlets and several reporters he could not identify.
   With all the flowery talk about transparency and freedom of information, it is amazing that a few questions about d'Escoto Brockmann using public funds to hire his nephew and niece leads Team Brockmann to disallow any further questions. Watch this site.

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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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