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Rain Barrel remembers Miguel d’Escoto

As the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly prepares to open on September 12, fireworks are expected around the controversial reform agenda.  But it will be hard to beat the 63rd Session in 2008-9 for controversy. President Miguel d’Escoto invited Rain Barrel director Paul Hoeffel to join his cabinet as his speechwriter, aware of his career in journalism and work with the UN. After Paul toned down the president’s fiery introductory broadside to the General Assembly into acceptable UN-ese, Miguel admonished, “That’s not me. Write with fire in the belly. We want to wake people up, not lull them to sleep.” 
Paul’s remembrance of Father Miguel first appeared on the UN staff website, Iseek, in August.

Revolutionary, foreign minister, priest, Sandinista – Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, elected President of the 63rd General Assembly session (2008-9), was fond of responding to incredulous interviewers: “Yes, but not necessarily in that order.” The controversial former Nicaraguan foreign minister died in Nicaragua on 8 June at the age of 84. D’Escoto‘s stormy GA presidency coincided with the 2008 financial crisis that provoked panic and suffering around the globe. For him, it provided a remarkable opportunity for a bold critique of the neoliberal economic policies he felt had prompted the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Much of his presidency was consumed by his campaign to democratise the international financial framework dominated by Western banks, the IMF, the World Bank and the so-called Washington Consensus. Their policies, he believed, distort the accelerating process of globalization to the disadvantage of developing nations and required more oversight by the General Assembly.

D’Escoto mobilized summits on the issues in New York and Doha, commissioning a report led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz entitled: Report of the Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System.

A disarmingly kindly elder statesman, d’Escoto’s message was loud and clear – restore the credibility and the authority of the General Assembly as outlined in the UN Charter to counter the dominance of the Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions. Global decisions being made by the P5 and the G7 and G20, he argued, would have more legitimacy if they were made by the G193.

His presidency was punctuated by the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009, which he vehemently denounced, seeking action by the General Assembly when the Security Council stalled in efforts to end the conflict.

D’Escoto’s style regularly provoked heart-stopping alarm among protocol officers (he sometimes presided over GA meetings with a large bust of Gandhi on the dias) and fury and disdain among certain diplomats. He often said he had to carry an oxygen tank when he entered the UN building. But there is no doubt that his presidency brought fresh air to the debates around many issues on the GA agenda.

For a review of his presidency, watch the documentary The Troublemaker, by Roberto Salinas.

Posted in Rain Barrel.

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