Editor’s Note: Nick Buxton covered the June 24-26 United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development for the Guardian.
Shuffling into the room, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, informally known as Father Miguel, is every bit the avuncular priest squinting through his glasses, saying we all need to take Jesus’ message of love more seriously.
At 76, the U.S.-born naturualized Nicuarguan citizen doesn’t look like a major threat to the established economic order. But as the elected president of the United Nations General Assembly, d’Escoto has touched a raw nerve among the world’s most powerful nations.
Since late May, European Union and U.S. negotiators have accused him of putting the entire U.N.’s credibility at stake. In the May 24 New York Times article "At U.N., a Sandinista’s Plan for Recovery," reporter Neil MacFarquhar accused Father Miguel of "serious delusions of grandeur." At the end of June, the criticisms reached a loud crescendo as the whole United Nations met for a summit on the global economic crisis.
Last September, d’Escoto was unanimously elected to the one-year presidency. Typically seen as a low-profile convener, d’Escoto, a former foreign minister for Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government, soon showed his colors when he openly condemned U.S. "acts of aggression" in Iraq. When the financial meltdown occurred in October 2008, d’Escoto convened a high-level commission chaired by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and started to organize a U.N. conference on the global economic crisis.
He also started to deliver presentations, more like priestly homilies, that challenged the "pandemic selfishness and egotism" that led to the economic crisis and warned of ecological collapse and the need for a renewed veneration for "Mother Earth."
Yet despite the rich nations’ best attempts to isolate him politically, many of d’Escoto’s reform proposals received support from the misnamed Group of 77 nations which actually represents more than 130 developing nations. D’Escoto made clear his decision to side with the majority against a false unity with a powerful minority: "The U.N. is made up of 192 countries …. I criticize the rich countries, made up of about 25 countries, because they don’t represent the majority but pretend they do…. We must ensure those countries most affected by the crisis have a voice in resolving the crisis."
D’Escoto’s role reflects the emergence of a more confident and powerful southern hemisphere, with nations like India and China presenting an economic challenge to traditional powers in the northern hemisphere and with Latin America posing a vocal political challenge through the likes of presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.
Many point out that the United Nations charter (drawn up in San Francisco in 1945) gives the job of global economic coordination to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Yet this job was usurped by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are largely controlled by the U.S. Treasury. The Obama administration’s U.N. representative John Sammis’ assertion at the recent U.N. Conference that it believes "any decisions on reform of the international financial institutions or the manner in which they conduct their business are the prerogative of their shareholders and their respective boards of governors" is clearly a blatant rear guard attack on d’Escoto’s efforts to bring democratization to the global economic system.
Beyond the geopolitics, d’Escoto’s probing challenge to the world’s economic powers also gives voice to a breakdown of faith in the credos of free markets, unlimited economic growth, and living to consume. His homilies may occasionally be esoteric, but when d’Escoto proposes the creation of a Global Economic Council or speaks to the importance of values such as solidarity, compassion, and cooperation, they seem much more lucid than the U.S. determination to continue with "business as usual."