AP PHOTO/RICHARD DREW
The revolutionary priest now wears muted diplomatic pinstripes. But Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the Maryknoll father who defied the Vatican to serve the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua in the 1970s, has never lost his passion for righting wrongs or his unshakable Christian faith. He has brought both to an unexpected role this year: president of the United Nations General Assembly.
His hopes for the year ahead are large. He wants to democratize the Security Council to make it more reflective of the world, a goal that has eluded his predecessors. Handed the global financial crisis as the perfect prop, he also aims to keep a light shining on the most dispossessed nations and people through the General Assembly, including a special panel on October 30 to discuss fixing the world economy. “The future will be better,” he said, “because to a certain extent, this idolatry of the market was a false god.” His mantra: “The way to help each other is to move from the logic of I and mine to the logic of we and ours.”
D’Escoto, 75, is by no means a diplomatic novice or a newcomer to the UN or New York. From 1979 to ’90 he was the international face of the first Sandinista government, in which he served as foreign minister under President Daniel Ortega Saavedra after the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty. It was a tumultuous time of civil wars across Central America, and the Sandinistas were hounded relentlessly by a US-backed armed “counterrevolution”–the Contras. D’Escoto took the United States to the International Court of Justice–the World Court–charging Washington with aggression by land and with a sea blockade, and won. The Reagan administration did not participate in hearings, ignored the ruling and declared that the court had no jurisdiction. After Ortega was defeated in 1990 by a center-right party, d’Escoto remained loyal to the movement, and when the Sandinistas returned to power in 2006, he became President Ortega’s foreign policy adviser.
In an early October interview in his UN office, d’Escoto said he was more than surprised when he began hearing rumors this spring that his name was in play as the candidate of Latin America for the General Assembly presidency, a one-year appointment rotated around the regions of the world. “My candidature was launched without my knowing it,” he said. “I knew that President Ortega didn’t want to ask me, because he thought that I would say no, because I have said no to many things.” But when the offer was made, d’Escoto told the government to go ahead, “because I won’t be elected anyway.”
“I said, if it does happen, I do it for the more than half of the men and women of this world who are living in destitution, in hunger,” d’Escoto said. “I’ll go there to speak on their behalf–and to promote the cause of peace. And then I said, if I am elected, Lord, help me to be prepared.” A carved wooden bust of Jesus dominates his desk, a novel touch in this UN setting.