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U.N. debates conflict linked to corruption

The U.N. Security Council held its first meeting devoted to the ties between corruption, peace and security, focusing especially on Venezuela.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. Security Council held its first meeting devoted to the ties between corruption, peace and security, focusing especially on Venezuela's dangerous instability and humanitarian crisis.

The United States, which holds the council's monthly rotating presidency, convened the meeting as U.S. President Donald Trump's administration weighs options for addressing Venezuela’s severe corruption-fueled political and economic crisis.

"Corruption is present in all countries, rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing. Numbers show the startling scope of the challenge," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the 15-nation council, the world body's most powerful arm.

"Corruption robs schools, hospitals and others of vitally needed funds," he said. "It rots institutions, as public officials enrich themselves or turn a blind eye to criminality. It deprives people of their rights, drives away foreign investment and despoils the environment."

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, presided over the session, saying it was an issue that has gone unaddressed for too long.

"For all the time we spend here discussing conflict, we hardly ever talk about how corruption fuels the instability, violence, and criminal activity that put countries on our agenda," she told the council.

"We pour billions and billions of dollars into trying to fix these problems," said Haley. "We deploy blue helmets, we set up massive assistance missions. We send experts to all corners of the globe. But we fail to recognize the issue that is staring us in the face — corruption."

Haley said corruption, at its core, is the transfer of wealth from the powerless to the powerful.

"Bribes, insider deals, skimming of public funds, and diversion of humanitarian aid — these are all forms of the involuntary tribute the poorest pay to the powerful in corrupt regimes," she said. "When the weight of this burden becomes too much for the people to endure, they inevitably react."

Venezuela and the United States

One of the chief U.S. goals for the U.S.-led Security Council session was to examine how — in the words of a U.N. description of the event — President Nicolas Maduro's widespread theft of state resources and establishment of kleptocratic networks have been at the root of Venezuela’s challenges.

Trump has led the United States, Canada and European Union in levying sanctions on political strongman Maduro and dozens of other top Venezuelan officials, based on allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

Last year, Trump even asked some of his top aides about the possibility of invading Venezuela at an Oval Office meeting and posed the question to leaders from Latin American allies on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, according to Associated Press and Politico reports.

The United States, one of the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, provided more than US$30 million in aid to Venezuela’s neighbors, who have taken in more than 1 million people fleeing the country after a crackdown last year led to dozens of deaths and forced opposition leaders into exile.

Each of the council's permanent members — the other four are Britain, China, France and Russia — hold veto power. The arrangement amounts to a frozen reflection of the world's power structure just after the end of World War II — and a perennial sore topic among U.N. members.

Corruption breeds disillusion with government and governance, Guterres said, and it often is at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity, causing disproportionate suffering to poor people.

"Impunity compounds the problem. Corruption can be a trigger for conflict," he said. "As conflict rages, corruption prospers. And even if conflict ebbs, corruption can impede recovery. Corruption drives and thrives on the breakdown of political and social institutions."

Large-scale corruption surveys conducted by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime found bribery of public officials was particularly high in areas affected by conflict, Guterres noted.

Fighting the endemic corruption that deters Africa’s development is a major focus for international organizations in 2018 seeking to improve governance and business. The African Union’s theme this year is “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.”