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Send Out the Clowns

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

From the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Hugo Chávez declared that Bush is the devil. The lectern still smelled like sulfur, the odor left by the U.S. president, he observed.

He accused Bush of being a terrorist, of harboring terrorists and of hatching a coup d'état against him in 2002. Chávez spouted other nonsense, too: the United States and savage capitalism exploit the poor nations of the South and aggravate their misery. He insulted the Israelis and, to be consistent, backed the Iranians in their unflagging scientific effort to harness nuclear energy. If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wishes to erase Israel from the map, he will have -- in due course -- the right instruments to carry out his devastating butchery.

Chávez lit into globalization, the International Monetary Fund and the structure of the United Nations, and he congratulated his friend Fidel Castro.

When Chávez ended, the assembly gave him a long round of applause. Longer than to any other speaker. About four minutes.

Not everything that Chávez said should be dismissed, however. Surprisingly, amid that torrent of claptrap, he proposed a luminous initiative that should be immediately considered: Take the United Nations out of New York and move it to the Third World. Bravo! He offered Caracas as the new site but left open the possibility of Havana. Could be. Havana deserves it. It's in ruins, but it's a city with a climate that socialism has been unable to destroy.

Another interesting site might be Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. After all, most of the nations that form the world body are in the Third World, and Africa is the continent with the largest number of member nations.

The United Nations is a costly, clumsy and corrupt bureaucracy that has not achieved any of the objectives entrusted to it at the time of its creation. The idea of establishing the principle of a majority -- one vote to every nation -- to settle the international clashes and crashes was foolish. How can Brazil's vote have the same value as the vote of the Seychelle Islands?

The United Nations neither preserves international concord, nor solves conflicts peaceably, nor protects the human rights of individuals, even though all countries say they obey the universal declaration solemnly signed for that purpose.

It can't even ask Secretary General Kofi Annan to explain convincingly his opaque personal finances or the delinquencies committed by his son and other European accomplices during the ''oil-for-food'' program in Iraq during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

When a crisis occurs in the world, the principal actors solve, alleviate or deflect it by holding conversations in the corridors or negotiations behind closed doors, and then taking the outcome to the plenum of the assembly so that it may be approved. And if not even this can be accomplished -- as happened during the civil war in the Balkans in former Yugoslavia -- the organization is bypassed, and the actors turn to the more expeditious and forceful NATO.

Objectively speaking, what good is the United Nations?

To serve as a worldwide stage for a clown like Chávez, so that 100 characters blinded by ignorance and corroded by hatred may applaud him enthusiastically? Perhaps those spectacles should continue to exist, because there is a need for a world forum. But the sensible thing to do is to remove the stage from the focus of the news and place it where it deserves to be: in a remote and sweaty corner where the speakers' drone blends with the humming of mosquitoes and the tired blades of an old fan.

And what should be done with the New York headquarters? Maybe house an organization that brings together those 40 truly serene and democratic countries that are governed with common sense. Maybe house the G-8 and expand it to G-20, i.e., the 20 most prosperous nations, which happen to be free both politically and economically.

What's most important is to swiftly move the circus out of the city. That would make Chávez very happy.

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 Carlos Alberto Montaner
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