“The United Nations Is Beyond Reform…It Has to Be Reinvented”–Fmr. UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto
One of the higher-profile participants at the Cochabamba climate conference was the former president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto. A Roman Catholic priest from Nicaragua, d’Escoto served as foreign minister in Daniel Ortega’s government from 1979 to 1990. He joins us to talk about the failures of the UN, the importance of the Bolivia climate summit, why Latin America doesn’t need the United States, and much more.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re back in New York, broadcasting from our Democracy Now! studios after a week in Bolivia, where we brought you on-the-ground coverage of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Thousands of indigenous leaders, environmental activists and grassroots organizers met for three days of talks in Cochabamba. Working groups on seventeen topics discussed a variety of issues, and a summary of their conclusions was put into a six-page Agreement of the People.
The agreement calls on developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020, recommends the creation of an international climate tribunal, and calls for an international referendum on the environment to coincide with the next Earth Day on April 22nd, 2011. The government of Bolivia has pledged to bring the results of the World Peoples’ Conference into the negotiating halls of the United Nations and to highlight the demands at the next UN climate meeting in Mexico in December.
One of the higher-profile participants at the Cochabamba conference was the former president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto. A Roman Catholic priest from Nicaragua, d’Escoto served as foreign minister in Daniel Ortega’s government from 1979 to 1990. In September of 2008, he was elected to serve as president of the UN General Assembly. A year later, he held a ceremony at the presidential palace in La Paz honoring Bolivian President Evo Morales, naming him World Hero of Mother Earth.
On the last of the summit, I had a chance to sit down with Father Miguel d’Escoto on Earth Day for an extended conversation. I began by asking him for his thoughts on the Bolivia climate summit.
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: You know, I think it was a really great inspiration. This was as a response to the farce of Copenhagen by President Evo Morales. When he realized that the developed countries were up to no good and that they couldn’t care less about what is happening to Mother Earth, he said, “This cannot stand this way. We are going to have a summit of the people.” And, you know, I think the time has come. Remember that the United Nations does not belong to the few who think that they own it. The United Nations was created in the name of we the people. And I think it’s about time that we the people take over. The United Nations is a dictatorship from which nothing good comes, because they find a million ways to prevent anything from happening.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s amazing that you, as the former president of the United Nations General Assembly, would call the UN a dictatorship.
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: It is what I called it always, and I always spoke about the need to democratize the United Nations. And I remember, prior to my becoming president, many representatives of different countries wanted to meet with me. And I can never forget Lord Sawers, the permanent representative from the United Kingdom. He came over to my office, and he says, “Father, I would like to know what is on your agenda, what are some of the main things that you would like to promote.” I said, “I would like the democratization to work for the democratization of the UN.” “Well,” he says, “how much more democratic can it be? After all, one country, one vote.” “You have a very little understanding of democracy, Lord Sawers, because a vote that is not taken into account doesn’t mean anything. Democracy means having the possibility to join in the decision-making process.”
And even if you want to reform the United Nations, then the Charter tells you how you can proceed to reform it. They say you have to call a general conference and how you have to call it and the approval that you have to have from the Security Council. But at the end, when all is said and done, when you have decided what reforms you want to make, they have a veto power over it. So it’s a farce. It’s a fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they—
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: The United Nations is a fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they have veto power over it? Who’s “they”?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: The Security Council.
AMY GOODMAN: And the countries, in particular, on the Security Council?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Within the Security Council, there are five countries that have veto power. But without a doubt, the most influential country in the United Nations is the United States. And it’s really, really amazing the most warmongering country in the history of mankind is put there in charge to make sure that there is peace. And then they go ahead and launch one of the most atrocious—they call it war, this aggression against Iraq, for the only purpose of obtaining the petroleum of that country. It is hard to say how many people have died, but it’s over 1,300,000 now. If you ask people in the United States—I did many times—I said, “How many people do you think have died in Iraq by now?” And they say, “Well, Father, I’m not sure, but I have an idea that it’s coming close to 4,000.” And what is the rest? Cockroaches? They have been—it has been ingrained in their heads that the rest of human beings don’t count, they’re not people. They have been trained to think that if you invent a name for whatever crime you are making, then that’s OK. The crime has been baptized. And so, Madeleine Albright would say, for example, “Oh, that’s collateral damage.” So, you say, “Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was that. So that’s OK. Let’s go to the next one.”
No, it’s really something terrible, what is happening in the world. We need a United nations. They are killing it. They are killing it because it’s not united. It’s a subjugated nations. And they’re killing it. It’s easy to see. For example, here in Cochabamba, I think it was yesterday or the day before, this very, very nice lady who has very wonderful ideals and who is very competent, head of CEPAL, the Latin America—the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America that is in Chile, when she spoke, thousands of people manifested repudiation through different sounds. Terrible. They were manifesting repudiation to the UN. The level of approval of the United Nations by the man in the street is at the lowest level ever, only comparable to the level of approval of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Miguel d’Escoto. He’s the former president of the UN General Assembly and former foreign minister of Nicaragua. We’ll continue our conversation that we had on Earth Day in Cochabamba in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Salon, is delivering the resolutions of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change to the UN to have them incorporated into the UN climate summit planned in Cancun in December.
On the last day of the Bolivia summit, on Earth Day, I sat with Father Miguel d’Escoto in Cochabamba. We return to the interview with the former foreign minister of Nicaragua and the former president of the UN General Assembly, Father d’Escoto.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the British Environment Secretary calling Morales’s activism “watermelon activism”—green on the outside, red on the inside?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Yeah, they think that by making a joke that they can—again, we are back into what I was just saying. You give it a name; it sounds funny. This is, by the way, not an original. I have heard that millions of times, in different languages, that very same thing. ¿Cómo se llama “watermelon”? Sandía. Verde por fuera, rojo por dentro. I have been hearing that for thirty years.
So, the British official that you refer to now saying that, with that, he can take care and diminish the prestige, the immense prestige, that Evo Morales is having, not only within his own country, but within our continent and throughout the world. He has become sort of a prophet, really speaking out on the rights of Mother Earth.
The Europeans were giving me—many of them, not all of them, but many of them—a hard time at the United Nations, when one year ago today we were involved in trying to give the earth that designation, and today is the International Day. To them, that sounded something primitive, something like Indian, not sophisticated enough.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk about Mother Earth?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Yeah, to talk to—to designate the earth with the name Mother Earth. But she’s our mother. You are earth. I am earth. Through you, the earth thinks, invents, cries, laughs, loves, venerates the Creator. They were saying—this morning I heard the foreign minister from Ecuador saying that some legislators in his country were saying that Mother Earth could not be the subject of rights. They were saying that she could not be subject of rights, because she could not demand rights. That’s like saying that you can be hurt in your elbow, smashed, but since your elbow cannot speak out, it doesn’t matter. You speak for your elbow. We are part, integral part of Mother Earth. We are the ones who speak.
AMY GOODMAN: So how do you think this peoples’ summit called by President Evo Morales can influence the UN climate change summit that will be taking place in Cancun in December?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: I don’t want to be cynical and to say that I don’t expect much. I was saying that about Copenhagen. The way that the United Nations is now, it won’t produce too much. There are too many obstacles. The United Nations, I said, when I was leaving my post as president of the General Assembly, at the end I said, I want to share with you the insights that I take with me as I leave. The United Nations is beyond reform. It’s beyond patchwork. It’s the most important organization in the world to help save the human species and Mother Earth, but it has to be reinvented, and not include all kinds of little tricks, a few people to make sure that the imperial clause, and deep within it, so—
AMY GOODMAN: How much power do corporations have on the United Nations, over the United Nations? Or do they at all?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: The question is this way: how much power do corporations, the whole industrial-military complex, have on the United States? And there you have the answer. The United States is not what people think it is. I don’t think it’s what President Obama thought it was. I thought that being president—I think that he meant, really—I liked him. And I thank God for his coming to that high office in the United States, and I prayed that he would be elected. And I know that he was sincere. And in my waiting room, in my office at the United States, I had a great big picture of him, with—it’s like a poster with “hope” written underneath. And I wrote him a letter saying how much—how glad I was to hear him. But it has remained promises, because I think now he realizes that he is only the president in a country where the industrial-military complex decides what has to be done, and you cannot go beyond the parameters of what they decide. It would be dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the US has changed its policy at all towards Latin America right now?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: There’s no change whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: From Bush to Obama?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: From Bush to Obama, no change. No, no. It’s—with Obama, no change. There’s a change in rhetoric, but no change, no.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what characterizes the relationship?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: A desire of domination and control. And now, you know, this putting up of—the plan to put up seven military bases in, what do you call, in Colombia. They have a military base in Honduras. We know—I know, from firsthand experience, what is the purpose of such bases. My country was invaded. Every day there was military incursions from that base, with American camouflage. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Your country being Nicaragua.
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: My country being Nicaragua, yes. And so, it’s a very sad thing. One day, we were hoping—really, I was really hoping always that the day will come when the United States would become a democracy. But we need democracy now! Right now, not God knows how many centuries. We don’t have that much time. It’s democracy now. But it’s very difficult because of the grip they have on the mind of the people. This mind control is very, very deep.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of your president, Nicaraguan President Ortega?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now you have this conflict going on where the opposition lawmakers are challenging Ortega and the courts for extending the term of justices, and they have led a major protest outside opposition legislators meeting.
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Yeah, yeah, it’s very typical. And of course, it’s not only the opposition; it’s the United States with the opposition.
What is happening in Nicaragua? The term of some of the magistrates in the court has ended. You cannot paralyze the country. You have to have the General Assembly. Our Parliament has the obligation to name the new judges. This is their right and their duty. They want to paralyze the country. And so they are not naming them. And the same goes—
AMY GOODMAN: Who is they?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: The legislators. They have a majority. The opposition, that is very much in coordination with the United States embassy in Washington, so they have said, OK, we’re going to bring this country to a halt by not naming members to the Supreme Court and also magistrates to the Supreme Electoral Council. But there’s a part of the Constitution that says that the president is in charge to make sure that the country moves. And he has said, “We are not taking away your right to name them, but if you fail to do your duty, I will have to put out this decree that the ones that were elected are going to continue until you elect the new ones, because we’re not going to close shop.” The [inaudible] goes down.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Ortega will try to extend his own term?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Will try to extend—I don’t know if he will try, but the people would like for him to extend it. And I certainly would like for him to extend his term.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Because this is not a government like in the United States, where it doesn’t really matter, or like in England, where it doesn’t matter whether you have Thatcher or Tony Blair, one being Conservative, the other Labor—six of one and half a dozen of the other. We, in many countries in Latin America, are in revolution—that is to say, in transformation. And we need this kind of guidance. And the people want it.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s a piece on the Washington Post website that calls the Ortega government a leftist “thugocracy.” What’s your response to that?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Well, yeah, that’s, again, the United States. Our Lord used to say, “By their fruits, you shall know them.” So, see what is happening in Nicaragua, and then judge. But they will always be calling names.
And they started a campaign, for example, that I was against Jewish people and that I should be killed. It’s in the internet. And I’m not against Jewish people. In fact, I have great love for Jewish people. And as a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus, who was a Jew. But being a Jew is one thing, and being a Zionist outreach of the empire is something else.
AMY GOODMAN: Your view on the Israel-Palestine conflict, what you think needs to happen?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: My view?
AMY GOODMAN: What is your view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, what you think needs to happen? And why do you think it’s not happening?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: I think what needs to happen, the biggest single tragic fault in the United Nations is that after sixty-four years, Israel has not been given a statehood. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Israel?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: I meant to say Palestine. Palestine has not been given statehood. And when the split of Palestine for a Jewish state and an Arab state, when that was decided upon—not really decided upon, when that decision was imposed, with all kinds of arm-twisting and the threats and the intimidations that the United States calls “negotiations”—you have to change your lexicon. When they say “democracy,” it usually means somebody who is very obedient to whatever they say. Then they give you the good housekeeping of approval, and they put “democracy.” If they don’t like you, then they say you are radical, and then they escalate the term to show—so it’s very difficult.
The United States claims that it has the right to rule the world, because it did so much to save the world from—in the Second World War. I don’t know how many Americans died in that war, but I imagine it’s infinitely, infinitely less than the 20 million people of the Soviet Union who died, more than 20 million. But regardless of that, the war was a great economic boom for the United States. The New Deal did not pull the United States out of its economic crisis; it was the war. And war has been, on many occasions, a business. They are very much into the business of death.
And that’s why, one time, when you talked to me over the phone many years ago, and President Reagan had died, and I never will forget that you said to me, “What do you think?” Well, you know, President Reagan is a human being. He’s got his wife, and he’s got his people who love him. And I feel sorry when people die, no matter who they are. And I pray to God that he receives them, in spite of the fact, I said, that he was the butcher of my people, a pathological killer. But in the United States, they are accustomed not to recognize their killers.
You must have heard the name of Curtis LeMay, one of the sickest minds. Curtis LeMay, in a conversation with McNamara—
AMY GOODMAN: This was the General.
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Si, it was Robert McNamara, said, “You know, if we lose this war, we will be accused of crimes, of war crimes.” But you don’t have to lose it to commit war crimes. They committed war crimes.
They talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Curtis LeMay, the most decorated ever military officer of the United States, the one who served the longest period of time as general, seventeen years, he was in charge of their operation. But they never mentioned the Holocaust that went before it. And sometimes when they mention it, they say the Tokyo firebombing. Sixty cities of Japan were subjected to bombing with incendiary cylinders. Some counts put it in the millions, the number of people who were turned into charcoal, the number of people who were incinerated. And—¿Como se llama? Se llama Enola Gay, the plane, the B-62, the airplane that was used to throw the atom bomb, is put in display as a magnificent thing for people to go and take their picture next to it. It’s sick. It’s a sick society.
I love the United States, and I have great pain when I see that that is happening. And, you know, and this is happening with a very sophisticated system of control of the mind of the Americans. They are good people. And you talk to very good people and tell them about these things, they get angry. They think it didn’t happen. They think that you are inventing. Like the United States invents all kinds of things, they think that you’re inventing them, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Miguel d’Escoto, former president of the UN General Assembly. We’ll return to the conclusion of my interview with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the conclusion of my interview with Father Miguel d’Escoto, the former president of the UN General Assembly.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned that the US hasn’t changed its policy to Latin America, but how has Latin America changed?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: Very much. For the first time—you see, I often make a comparison between what you witness happening in some couples, marriage, let’s say, where you have a monster of a man who beats and physically hurts his wife, and this is very painful, and she at first doesn’t even want to say this. And then he has instilled in her head that she is very stupid, that she cannot live without him, and that she better take whatever he does, because otherwise—he threatens.
We need the United States as much as we need arsenic, and that is the fact. We don’t need it. We would need it, if they wanted to join the rest of humanity and together work for a better future for all of us, but they are not doing that. They are instilling, they have instilled, a culture of death, of greed, of selfishness. And this is killing the world.
The world is now coming to a point where the very continuation of the human species is endangered. And the continuation of Mother Earth, her capacity to sustain life, is being hurt very gravely. And it is this religion that the United States is imposing on people. Its name is capitalism. It’s like a religion. They dedicate their whole military and every kind of power that they have to make sure that you do not use alternative means of development. If you dare to show that maybe there’s another way to develop, not necessarily to live better, but to live well, which is our ideal—to live well means to live in harmony with nature and with one another—they instill a culture of keeping up with the Joneses, of being better than the other. This is deadly, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the major proposals to come out of the Bolivia Peoples’ Summit is a climate change tribunal, a climate change crimes tribunal. What do you think of this?
FATHER MIGUEL D’ESCOTO: I think it’s indispensable, because some of the biggest crimes are being committed today by people who do things knowing what the consequences are going to be. I think it was a shame, I think it was really unbelievable, the proposal that the United States came to present at Copenhagen. And I think there has to be—I have written a proposal of how to do it and what that tribunal should do, like—and it’s indispensable. And it doesn’t matter, it should not matter, whether or not you are a party to a protocol, like [Kyoto] Protocol, or to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, to a treaty that is meant to prevent the commission of certain crimes. It doesn’t matter whether you are a party to it or not, because not signing such a protocol or treaty does not give you the right to commit crime. And so, the tribunal will have the right to prosecute and to enforce.
The only thing is, that contrary to the United States, I am totally against the use of force. I’m totally committed to the Gandhian ideal of satyagraha, Gandhian nonviolence, which is not to be confused with passive resistance. There’s nothing passive about satyagraha. It’s dynamic. We have to begin to see how to implement it. Imagine the world tomorrow, saying that, in passing a resolution at the General Assembly, no member states of the inner assembly can, from now on, have any dealings with Coca-Cola. It’s not that big a deal. It’s a big symbol. Coca-Cola has become almost a symbol of the United States, and I drink it, but if there were such a resolution, there can be others. You have to find—we don’t need them. We can make a mutual cooperation. We must.
You know, there is a great African intellectual. He’s today teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. His name is Ngugi wa Thiong’o. One of his books, The Decolonization of the Mind [Decolonising the Mind], The Decolonization of the Intellect. We’ve got to speed up the decolonization and realize that what we need is solidarity among those who love life.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Miguel d’Escoto, former president of the UN General Assembly and former foreign minister of Nicaragua. I spoke with him in Cochabamba, just outside the Earth Day closing rally of the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth.
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