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Mexico’s President Says the UN Should ‘Wake Up From Its Slumber’ to End Global Poverty

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico and rotating president of the United Nations Security Council for November, chairing a Security Council open debate on “exclusion, inequality and conflict.” He called on the UN to create a plan to end poverty for the world’s 750 million destitute. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as Amlo for his initials, called on the United Nations to “wake up from its slumber” and support the creation of a mechanism to end poverty for 750 million people worldwide. In his first visit to the UN, on Nov. 9, López Obrador said the proposal could be paid through voluntary contributions from the wealthiest people on earth, the largest corporations and the 20 countries with the biggest economies. He did not name the richest people or the countries.

Mexico will soon detail to the UN General Assembly its plan to benefit the 750 million people who survive on less than $2 a day, López Obrador said, reading a statement as chair of an open debate in the Security Council on the theme of “exclusion, inequality and conflicts,” under the rubric of the maintenance of peace and security. Mexico is holding the rotating Security Council presidency for November, and Amlo’s appearance marked his second trip abroad as Mexico’s president. The first was to Washington, D.C., to meet with then-President Trump, in July 2020.

Mexico’s plan for the poor, López Obrador explained, would be funded by an annual contribution of four percent from the fortunes of the world’s richest people and the thousand largest corporations, according to their market value. It would also be financed by a contribution of 0.2 percent of the gross domestic product of the 20-largest economies, or the G20, of which Mexico is a member. López Obrador estimated that the fund could raise around a trillion dollars annually.

“It is necessary that the most important organization of the international community should wake up from its slumber and break out of routine, of the formalism in order to reform and denounce, to fight corruption in the world, to fight inequality and social unrest,” López Obrador said at the debate, staying for several hours. He did not speak to the media waiting outside the Security Council.

“Never in the history of this organization has anything truly substantial been done to benefit the poor, but it is never too late to do justice,” he said. “Today is the time to act against marginalization, addressing the causes and not just the consequences.”

The plan outlined by López Obrador, which may have seemed far-fetched just a couple of years ago, seems to align with the sweeping, trillion-dollar Democratic economic proposals offered by President Joe Biden for the United States. As part of his Build Back Better plan, Biden has proposed to finance with a tax on the wealthy what experts have deemed the most ambitious investment to eradicate poverty in the US in decades. Perhaps coincidentally, Biden is scheduling an in-person meeting with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, the first of its kind in more than five years, some media reported on Nov. 9. It would most likely occur during the week of Nov. 15, in Washington.

López Obrador’s poverty-ending idea is also in sync with the G20 efforts to create a tax floor that aims to decrease the funneling of money to tax havens. These have mainly affected the poorest people in the world as they deprive countries of revenue that could be used to combat economic inequality and other social problems.

According to the UN, even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the world’s billionaires held more wealth than 60 percent of the global population. In the last 18 months, that gap has widened considerably as the world is facing its deepest recession since World War II.

In this context, the call to end poverty and inequality may seem more urgent than in the last several decades. In his statement to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that around 120 million more people have been pushed into poverty due to the pandemic. “You rightly said: ‘Wealth isn’t contagious,'” Guterres said, referring to López Obrador.

Guterres also said that the economic recovery would be lopsided because while advanced economies are investing 28 percent of their GDPs into the recovery, the least-developed countries are investing only 1.8 percent. Another sign of the inequities, Guterres said, is that while the richest countries are getting third doses of Covid-19 vaccines for their populations, only five percent of Africans — among a population of about 1.1 billion — are fully vaccinated.

Before the debate, Guterres and López Obrador met in Guterres’s office in the UN to talk about the effect of economic inequality and corruption on development and peace, as well as efforts to address climate change and the global financial recovery from the pandemic, according to Guterres’s office.

On the pandemic, López Obrador also criticized the UN. He said that the UN-created mechanism to distribute Covid-19 vaccines worldwide, known as Covax, has barely delivered six percent of the vaccines worldwide, which amounted to “a painful and resounding failure.”

He cited the vastly uneven vaccine distribution as an example of corruption in its broader sense. According to López Obrador, “corruption is the main problem of the planet.” It is, he said, the “main cause of inequality, poverty, frustration, violence, migration and serious social conflicts.”

Mexico has registered almost 290,000 deaths from Covid-19, which makes it the fourth-highest death toll internationally; approximately 128 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country, with almost half of the population of 129 million now fully vaccinated.

Protesters gathering to demonstrate across the street from UN headquarters. They said they represented an opposition party to Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was speaking at the UN, Nov. 9, 2021. 

The president also described his goal to end “forced migration,” he said, from Central America by launching a reforestation program that would employ farmers to plant fruit and timber trees and that, according to his estimates, would ensure that 330,000 people remain in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the countries that are the source of mass migration from the region to the north, with the US as the main destination.

Partly because of his leftist, populist rhetoric, López Obrador remains widely revered in his country, with an approval rating of 62 percent, halfway through his six-year-term presidency. However, Mexico is still the most dangerous country in the world for journalists; and after Colombia, the second-most dangerous for land and environmental defenders.

Mexico is also poorer now since López Obrador took office in December 2018, although the impact of the pandemic could explain the decline. According to government figures, poverty rates in Mexico increased from 41.9 percent in 2018 to 43.9 percent in 2020, while extreme poverty grew from 7.0 percent to 8.5 percent of the population in the same period.

But the president did not mention the increase in poverty in his own country in his remarks at the UN.

 

Maurizio Guerrero was the bureau chief in New York City and the United Nations for 10 years of the largest news-wire service in Latin America, the Mexican-based Notimex. He now covers immigration, social justice movements and multilateral negotiations for several media outlets in the United States, Europe and Mexico. A graduate journalist of the Escuela de Periodismo Carlos Septién in Mexico City, he holds an M.A. in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies from the City University of New York (CUNY).

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