Washington Babylon — June 14, 2010, 11:12 am

Will UNESCO hop in bed with dictator for $3 million? Obama administration comes out against award

Tomorrow UNESCO will decide if it has any shred of dignity or if it will allow itself to be used by a corrupt African dictator for PR purposes. As I’ve been covering here, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979, wants to give UNESCO $3 million to create the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.” Only a growing global protest against the idea has prompted UNESCO to rethink this harebrained scheme.

Here’s the latest update, courtesy of Lisa Misol at Human Rights Watch:

Seven recipients of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize sent a letter to UNESCO opposing the prize. The Cano prize laureates cited “severe repression in Equatorial Guinea.”

A global coalition of more than 170 organizations wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding that he cancel the UNESCO-Obiang award.

Desmond Tutu issued a statement saying, “The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization is a beacon for hope and development around the world. I am appalled that this organization, which holds such promise, is allowing itself to burnish the unsavory reputation of a dictator.”

The European Union sent a letter to UNESCO expressing “serious concern” about the award. Government officials in Canada, France and the United Kingdom have made statements opposing the award.

Incidentally, the Obama administration (representing American oil companies with billions invested in Equatorial Guinea) has not taken a public stand as of yet.

Here is the official statement of the government of Equatorial Guinea, crafted by its Washington lobbying firm, Qorvis Communications:

“The Government of Equatorial Guinea deeply regrets the controversy currently taking place in the international community regarding the UNESCO Prize—particularly among friendly nations such as France, which have even recently praised us for our progress. There exists a great deal of misperception about Equatorial Guinea, an issue that is partly our fault since we have not always responded to inaccuracies that have appeared in the international press or have been perpetuated by our critics. This will now change.”

It appears that Qorvis has convinced Obiang to stop branding critics of the award as racist, which was not a brilliant move given that so many of the critics were Africans, like Desmond Tutu. And there are no “misperceptions” about Equatorial Guinea. Other than Obiang and Qorvis, there’s universal condemnation of the horrible regime there.

Update: This afternoon David Killion, the U.S. representative to UNESCO, wrote a letter to the organization asking it to suspend the prize. “The United States supports a strong and effective UNESCO,” he wrote. “To carry out its mandate UNESCO must maintain public support, but I fear it is now in danger of losing it.

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