Remarks by Sofía M. Clark
This is a talk given at the memorial ceremony held at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua-Managua (UNAN), 8 June 2020. Sofia M. Clark, Master of International Law, was Deputy Chief of Staff for Fr. Miguel d’Escoto during the 63rd session of the UNGA, and currently at the Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann Center for Development Studies at UNAN Managua.
Good morning and warm greetings to all who are here—either in person, virtually, or spiritually.
I must first express my condolences to the UNAN university community on the loss of some of our brothers and sisters, which brings us great sorrow. To those who are sick in our country and beyond, we wish you a speedy recovery. I also wish to acknowledge that since Holy Week, the religious order in which Father Miguel d’Escoto served, Maryknoll, has lost more than 40 members. My condolences to Maryknoll as well.
I will keep my remarks short since we have had so many speakers today, but I wish to highlight two things.
We know that three years ago Nicaragua lost one of her greatest national heroes, and for many of you here, we lost a brother, a colleague, a mentor, a friend. And humanity lost one of its greatest defenders.
Also today, June 8, exactly 12 years ago our beloved Father Miguel was elected President of the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This is why I think this is a good opportunity to reflect a bit on his period at the UN.
Like every task Father Miguel performed, he took great pains to prepare himself, and rightly so. He devoured books, sought advice, and practically memorized verbatim Paul Kennedy’s book The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations. Father Miguel was more aware than anyone else that the UN’s prestige was at an all-time low. Though he was always one of the UN’s harshest critics, he never stopped being its most ardent defender.
I wish to tell you a brief but illustrative anecdote. Several people today have mentioned Father Miguel’s message of international solidarity, of loving one’s neighbor, and of evolving from a logic of “me and mine” to one of “we and ours.” He had a meeting in the early days, before his presidential term formally started when he was meeting with various regional groups. One group is called GRULAC which includes Latin America and the Caribbean; another oddly named group is called Western Europe et al. Those “et al” are quite interesting, but that’s another story.
So when Father Miguel gave his spiel about how he sought to democratize the United Nations he also spoke of the need for Supreme Love to characterize interactions between people and between countries. It was then that the dean of the group spoke—a large, strong, very self-assured man from Iceland. He said, “What I just heard sounds more like a sermon than a political message… [pause] but perhaps that is exactly what we need.”
And I am telling you this because Father Miguel never stopped being Father. It was impossible to meet him and not realize this. He never wanted to do what was politically correct, but what, as a priest, he considered to be religiously correct.
So, as Paul Oquist just told you, when Father Miguel arrived at the UN he was already quite aware… he said that 16 major world crises were converging at that time, including a food crisis, a poverty crisis, the climate crisis, the nuclear weapons crisis. He spoke of all that and started his term with an ambitious proposal to democratize the United Nations. In his mind that meant organizing a series of special assemblies to discuss: What is the role of the General Assembly? Why aren’t its decisions binding? What should the role of the Security Council be? What should the role of the Bretton Woods institutions be?
The financial crisis that shook the world erupted right as he was assuming his post as President, and it totally displaced his agenda. But Father Miguel did not resent that.
On the contrary, he was able to see a great opportunity in that moment, an opportunity to involve all the world’s nations—the G192 at that time—in a global conversation and an opportunity to reposition the General Assembly.
I must confess that not everyone was able to make that leap.
His fight to obtain international support for the Summit on the Global Financial and Economic Crisis would leave a lasting impression. It was an experience that showed Father Miguel what little hope and expectations people had for the global organization. They were determined to go back to their regional blocks, in lieu of the United Nations, to address their concerns—even to help them survive.
But Father Miguel also understood that no matter how important and necessary the regional blocks were—and he did embrace them, promote them, and encourage them—they were not a substitute for worldwide action.
After his year as President of the UNGA he served on the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where he worked on the People’s Right to Peace. There he met privately with some friends, ambassadors from ALBA countries, who asked him about the Summit on the World Financial and Economic Crisis from the previous year. He told them, “I must confess, in all honesty, that we missed the boat on that one.”
I am telling you this because I think that right now we are again facing what could be a turning point. The pandemic has shown everyone just how inter-connected and interdependent we are. It touches us all, no matter who we are or where we live. And we could see this as an opportunity to take collective action, if only we can muster the resolve.
But here, today, I wish to point something else out. In this very venue on one of Father Miguel’s last visits to this university he said, “To tell you the truth, the UN is no longer just useless, it is no longer just dysfunctional—that is, incapable of achieving the purposes for which it was created—now it is also the main instrument of death at the service of genocidal imperialism.”
I am telling you this because you must understand his enormous frustration. This was in a speech Father Miguel gave in May of 2011. He had just launched his proposal Reinventing the UN and he had [recently] been sent by President Daniel Ortega to New York to help, that is, to try to avoid a further escalation and intervention by the United States and NATO, with the blessing of the United Nations, in Libya.
This greatly impacted Father Miguel’s decision to include one of the most innovative aspects of his Proposal for Reinventing the United Nations, and that was to include, as an integral part of the Charter, the absolute abolition of war as a means to resolve conflicts [between nations].
His work for the People’s Right to Peace with the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council made a deep impression on him. We make a point of often mentioning the suit Nicaragua brought before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. We stress how important it was to lay the foundation for non-aggression, [the proscription of the use of force]. But I tell you that today we need to study how these core concepts of international law are being rolled back more and more every day.
We have all become, each one of us, accustomed to war. We do not question it and we do not stop it. Even today we see meetings of the UN Security Council to discuss aggression and threats of the use of force against Venezuela. And the whole world holds its breath to see whether oil tankers coming from Iran will be able to reach and enter Venezuela’s territorial waters to bring aid to a people in dire need, a nation that has friendly relations with Iran and has the right to conduct trade with that country.
When it comes before the Security Council and attempts to simply reaffirm basic principles of the UN Charter, the United States will not allow it. It uses its veto. There is no relief, there is no one who can defend Venezuela there (not that there is no one), but the Council as such is not capable of providing real support or protection.
This is interesting because Nicaragua did the same thing after the ruling by the World Court. We also went to the Security Council. In fact, we went repeatedly. And we not only proposed resolutions to make the U.S. abide by the ruling of the Court, but also to uphold the principles of the UN Charter.
So now the world is worse off. When Father Miguel spoke of the abolition of war, he was not the first to do so. This concept had been discussed long before the founding of the United Nations. But Father Miguel’s view was quite innovative in that it was all-encompassing because he also spoke of the demilitarization of the UN. He said, “If we are going to overcome violence, let’s start with the Organization itself.”
As long as we lend any ambiguity or some sort of [justification of war as] a tool, they will persist, and we will never break the addiction of certain Member States of this Organization to war. They devote hours to this, and they allocate resources, and they discuss it, and it is even a business for them. Because those same warlords sell all the equipment used by United Nations peacekeeping missions, which are usually sent to clean up the disasters they have created with their wars of aggression.
I stress this because it is fundamental. These are not the harebrained digressions of an old man, nor were they altruistic thoughts. It was a recognition that as long as the UN allowed this to happen, the agenda of the world’s people would be held hostage to these warlords.
And finally, when Father Miguel discussed the need to take back and democratize the United Nations, he said “We must act—not tomorrow or sometime in the future. We must act right now. Today.”
If you would like to donate in memory of Padre Miguel, please use the following link to the newly created Nicaragua Project Fund “Padre Miguel d’Escoto Brockman” to help the country with the pandemic. Because of US sanctions, it is impossible for Nicaragua to access emergency funds and debt relief available to other countries from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF.
By Nan McCurdy
New Cases and Deaths of Covid-19 Down
The numbers of new cases and deaths over the last week (June 2 to 9) are much lower than the previous week signifying that Nicaragua may be past its peak of Covid-19 infections. Health Ministry authorities reported that from March 18 to date, 1,464 people have been treated for Covid-19 and 953 Nicaraguans have managed to recover from Covid-19 and 456 people are still fighting it. In total there have been 55 deaths, 9 in the last week. Those who have died with Covid-19 have a number of underlying conditions including: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, immunodeficiency, chronic renal failure, history of stroke, pulmonary tuberculosis and chronic lung disease.
Opposition Busy Creating Fake Deaths like in 2018
The opposition continues to manipulate and misrepresent information as part of a sustained campaign to promote panic among the population about the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic. Opposition members post on social media that people have died when they haven’t and family members of many people who died of other causes complain that the opposition has posted that they died with Covid. It is a strong campaign to try to discredit the government. Recently a new ‘Nicaraguan Medical Association’ was created that is making much of the fake news. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/7/20)
$32 Million in Loans for Health Care
The government signed loans worth nearly US$32 million with an Indian bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). The Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) granted the country a credit of US$20.1 million for the reconstruction of the Aldo Chavarria National Rehabilitation Hospital. The CABEI loan of US$11.7 million will be used in the Emergency, Prevention and Containment Program of Covid-19. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/4/20) http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/284659/nicaragua-obtiene-recursos-para-fortalecer-sector-salud/
Two Billion People Affected by Sanctions
Nicaraguan Minister Adviser for National Policies Paul Oquist in a videoconference of Foreign Affairs Ministers convened to evaluate the countries’ needs and to identify avenues for financial cooperation to fight Covid-19 and its economic effects in the region stated that “the Pandemic and its effects on the global economy are increasing economic inequality. It is urgent that the distribution of medical supplies and equipment be equitable and that developing countries have unimpeded access to financing to strengthen their economies.” He lamented that unilateral coercive measures have been maintained and intensified against thirty countries affecting the capacity to respond to the pandemic for more than two billion people. He emphasized the importance of multilateralism to guarantee peace, development, and human rights so as to restore the hope of our peoples. (Nicaragua News, 6/5/20)
Access to Housing Considered a Right
The Sandinista government has built 118,450 houses throughout the country from 2007 to 2018, reported the head of INVUR, Olivia Cano, on June 8. “In 2020 we are building 2,592 homes. These houses are given to people with low wages, a population that for this reason had not been able to own a home. Access to housing is a fundamental right. The government of Reconciliation and National Unity has incorporated into the human development plan the housing policy that prioritizes restoration of the human right to decent, safe housing to families with scarce resources to achieve an adequate standard of living,” said Cano. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/8/20)
Estelí Women’s Police Station Relaunched and San Carlos Station Opened
On June 4th, the Police re-launched the Estelí Women’s Police Station which will serve more than 60,000 citizens. Police Commissioner Vilma Reyes said that this strengthens the timely support and access to justice for people who suffer violence in its various manifestations. “This helps protect the lives of women, children and our adolescents,” she said. A new women’s police station will be inaugurated in San Carlos, Rio San Juan, on June 11. More than 20,000 women will have access to this women’s police station and the services offered to guarantee respect and dignity. On June 18, the women’s station will reopen in Granada and on June 19, the new Women’s Police Station will be inaugurated in Bluefields. “We are working to guarantee these projects that transform life with citizen security for women and for families,” said Vice President Rosario Murillo. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/4/20, 19Digital, 6/8/20) http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/284641/policia-relanza-comisaria-de-la-mujer-en-esteli/
Nicaragua Applied Reciprocity to Costa Rican Transport
The Inter-Institutional Agreement entitled Reciprocity Measures in the Face of Intra-regional Transport Restrictions Established by Costa Rica was adopted by Nicaragua on May 29 in response to how Costa Rica is treating Nicaraguan transporters, making the treatment reciprocal. [As reported last week, the Central American countries reached an agreement to solve the crisis that occurred when Costa Rica closed its borders to truckers and traffic has restarted.]The temporary measures for the entry of Costa Rican drivers and their cargo specifies that the procedures for clearance of goods will be carried out exclusively in the warehouses designated by the General Directorate of Customs Services of Nicaragua. There is an exception for special goods such as refrigerated goods and live animals in which case customs clearance may be carried out at border control posts authorized by Nicaragua. The transit of Costa Rican transport through Nicaragua will be carried out in a caravan under the custody of the Police. The time spent by Costa Rican drivers and their trucks in Nicaraguan territory after customs clearance of goods in designated warehouses will be a maximum of five days. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/4/20) http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/284660/modifican-acuerdo-de-reciprocidad-con-ticos-sobre-transporte-regional/
Financing for Small Farmers Prioritized
The Ministry of Family Economy issued a report which stated that 218,170 small farmers received technical training between January and May of 2020 and were provided US$4.5 million in financing. MEFCCA Minister Justa Perez said that “in the first five months of 2020, small agricultural ventures have been prioritized in order to diversify and increase local production, improving the standard of living of families and to contribute to food security of the country”. (Nicaragua News, 6/8/20)
Life of Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Celebrated
The National Autonomous University, together with the friends and family of Father Miguel D’Escoto, commemorated the third anniversary of his transition to immortality. D’Escoto was Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister and served as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations during the 2008-2009 period. D’Escoto played an important role in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship, and is also recognized for his dedication to the poor and for the social struggles he defended during his diplomatic life. The Center for Development Studies was recently launched in his name to maintain his legacy. During the ceremony Dr. Paul Oquist presented his new book about Father d’Escoto, “Equilibra”, which follows his life and thought towards a movement for the survival of human beings and mother earth. (19Digital, 6/9/20)
Great Advances in Potable Water and Sewage
The Executive President of the Nicaraguan Company of Aqueducts and Sewers, Ervin Barreda, presented Work Plans on water and sanitation ensuring greater coverage during 2020. This year ten water projects will be completed in Bilwi, Bluefields, Acoyapa, Santo Tomás, el Rama, la Esperanza, Rivas, Catarina, Niquinohomo and San Juan de Oriente. Sewage projects will be completed in Bilwi, Acoyapa, Santo Tomás, Masaya, Juigalpa, La Primavera, Condega and Totogalpa. In 2007 Nicaragua had only 65% coverage in potable water; in 2019 it reached 90.9%, and it is estimated that by 2023 Nicaragua will have 95.0% water coverage. Sewage coverage increased from 30% in 2007 to 51.5% in 2019. By 2023 it should reach 80% under the Sandinista government. (19Digital, 6/8/20)