15 MAY 2014


Photo by UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Photo by UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Anyone with elementary knowledge of Latin countries would know what "Semana Santa" means. That week before Easter is considered a general holiday. No government business, no substantive meetings, no outside visits except tourists, family and friends.

That's why a one day visit by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Mexico City on Monday 14 April was an awkward failure.

Obviously, Mexican officials made a special effort to climb down to the unusual occasion. A Protocol official, not the Foreign Minister, certainly not the President, was at the airport with a red carpet and honour guards. Ban Ki-moon looked happy enough; even happier giggling across the tarmac was ECLAC's Alicia Bárcena arriving home upon instructions at U.N. expense for the holiday week. What more would a senior U.N. official ask for these days?

The President found time eventually to welcome the distinguished visitor at the pine tree-covered Presidential residence. The Minister of Foreign Affairs showed up at the so-called "High-Level" seminar.

Otherwise, nothing. Nada. The Mexican public did not even realize that the U.N. Secretary General visited, nor what it was all about. It is not clear to what extent the U.N. offices -- like the U.N. Information Centre in Mexico City -- were at all involved. His call -- dutifully reproduced by a press release -- "for a renewed global partnership to advance sustainable development" went generally unnoticed.

The "High-Level of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Collaboration" (did you catch your breath?!) had really no serious High-Level attendance, except of course for our devoted leader and his obliging host (together with the ever-willing Alicia). It was announced to involve "over 1,500 participants -- including heads of State and governments, ministers, parliamentarians and leaders from international organizations, business, civil society and foundations."

Nonsense, to use a very polite term. No head of state was there, not even the head of the host country. As to the 1,500 etc., etc., etc., they were NOT THERE. The nicely decorated hall was, as a Mexican sarcastically sighed "whistling with emptiness."

Even U.N. photos designed to inflate the unimpressive, untimely visit indicated otherwise.

"Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico" was repeated in at least 5 circulated photos while others who appeared to be present were not mentioned, like a photo where someone was vividly shaking hands with the Mexican President while Mr. Ban looked on. A photo of an address by the Secretary General showed him alone. No general view of audience appeared, because there was indeed NO REAL AUDIENCE. Around a table where coffee (and refreshments) were being served, with the label of the meeting in the background, only Ban Ki-moon and Foreign Minister Meade Kuribrena were mentioned together with a Mexican citizen (ECLAC Executive Secretary Barcena). The other 3 who appeared seated were not identified. Where they not "high-level" enough? And where are those 1,500 high-levels from around the world?!

It gets worse when a photo of the Secretary General at the airport referring to him above as "centre right," as if he needed identification by his own organization, while the Mexican official accompanying him on the red carpet was not even mentioned; Alicia Barcena is shown in the background (nameless, this time) jovially hugging another woman while an unidentified male, most likely Protocol, is smiling in stride. Considering that Mexico was just starting a long holiday season before Easter, there could have been a more professional and less bungled effort to reach out to the general public -- and government -- during the first visit of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Mexico.

Those who pushed him to go at that time either had no sense of the situation or didn't care. Whatever it is, they could have done their homework much better.