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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.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Rank of Detroit among major U.S. cities whose residents give the largest portion of their income to charity:
A South Dakota researcher concluded that only scant blood spatter results when chain saws are used to dismember pigs.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature