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22 Sep, 2010 05:48

Global problems create local ones for New Yorkers

The security crackdown during the UN meeting means closed streets and traffic mayhem for New Yorkers - the realities of having the world's VIPs checking into town.

Police-escorted motorcades, police ID checkpoints, entire blocks of streets closed to traffic, black limos double-parked up and down the open streets. In New York City, this can only mean one thing: there is something big going on at the United Nations and there are many dignitaries coming in from all over the world.

The 65th General Assembly of the United Nations. Dignitaries are bringing gridlock and commotion to the city for this reason and citizens sometimes have to show their ID to get to their own apartment blocks.

Aside from a few cheerleaders from different nations and activists rallying for their cause, for New Yorkers living in the neighborhood near UN headquarters and for nearly anyone trying to get around the East Side of town, it amounts to the most annoying time of the year and a terrible inconvenience.

With delegates from 192 countries for the annual meeting, Manhattan hotels are barricaded by secret service.

“Different organizations and agencies of US and foreign governments set up security at the hotel for their delegations,” says Daniel Silva, Director Sales and Marketing at Hilton Manhattan Hotel, adding that inside, beyond any of the guarded doors “We have over seven heads of states, we have assorted ambassadors and foreign ministers.”

Nearby restaurants are flooded with reservations from countries never heard of before by their owners.

Antonio Cerra, owner of Padre Figlio restaurant, says, “Yesterday we did Timor East – didn’t even know what country that was.”

After a day of talking about how to end world hunger, delegates indulge in the finest cuisine New York has to offer.

“For this time of year we have fresh French black truffles, and we serve truffles tableside,” Cerra says.

The restaurateur reveals that even the most war-torn, strapped-for-cash countries spare no expense.

While out on the streets, it is the US police presence projecting power for all to see.

All the police barricades eventually end at the United Nations, where some argue inside, a different US contingency inside tries to take over control when it comes to world diplomacy.

Matthew Lee, investigative journalist of the Inner City Press, knows well that “Every country has an interest it seeks to advance. I guess the difference with the US is it sees the whole world as its oyster.”

Matthew Lee covers the UN. He says that, though the Obama administration has tried to cast the US as now being a team player, that is not the case.

“They seek to have a say in every single issue and with issues like Sudan – they’re basically taking the ball and running home with it and saying ‘this is our issue’, while they say publicly that they want to work with everyone,” Lee says.

For their part, New Yorkers are perplexed about “What the UN is doing at all except causing chaos.”

Aside from the dominant mainstream press headlines, they probably know the president of Iran is coming in.

The reality is an average New Yorker absolutely does not care about the UN, except for those who are working there and the best thing to do for them would be to move it to Switzerland or Seattle so that it ties up traffic over there all day long.

Journalist Matthew Lee of Inner City Press covers the UN and said the confusion and gridlock in New York City is not the biggest problem, however the inefficiency of the UN is.

He explained that most New Yorkers know something is going on due to the traffic, but they have no idea what specifically takes place at the UN. Similarly, the UN has many goals, but the attending delegates spend their time spending money at expensive restaurants and living the high life.

It allows leaders of relatively poor countries to ship out hundreds of billions of dollars so that the amount of aid that goes in is miniscule compared to what’s being stiffened off by corrupt leaders or in many cases totally legally,” said Lee.

This while the conversation inside the UN focuses on poverty reduction goals, but little is being done to ensure solutions are put in place and maintained.

Lee also said the international body is less international than it should be. The Security Council for example is confined to a select handful of global nations, heavily dominated by the US and other veto wielding nations that serve as permanent members.

You end up with a lot of hypocrisy,” he said. “You have these five countries kind of micromanaging largely African states.”

There is some talk of expanding the Security Council, said Lee; however he does not believe it will ever take place.

He explained that each nation with a veto power uses the power to protect its own interest, even to the extent of preventing Security Council reforms.