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ARGENTINA | 23-11-2023 18:37

Argentina drops bid for key UNESCO post after controversy

Argentina dropped out of a race for a key UNESCO post after libertarian outsider Javier Milei's election as the South American country's president created controversy, and Brazil has now jumped into the fray.

The UN's cultural agency will on Friday choose the new chairperson of its 58-nation executive board, one of the most important jobs at the Paris-based organisation.

Two diplomats were in the running to head the executive board: Vera El-Khoury Lacoeuilhe, backed by the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia, works for a billionaire with a money-laundering conviction while the other, Marcela Losardo, is from politically volatile Argentina.

Both candidacies have generated controversy, creating a "climate of anxiety" ahead of the vote, one diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

After hard-right libertarian Milei was elected president in Argentina on Sunday, some ambassadors said the South American country's UNESCO representative Losardo no longer stood a chance. 

Several insiders have said Milei -- who is in favour of cutting spending on education and science and says people should be allowed to sell their organs freely -- is the antithesis of UNESCO's values.

Argentina defused the crisis by withdrawing Losardo's candidacy in a letter to member states, which was seen by AFP on Wednesday.

Brazil said at the same time it was nominating its representative, according to another letter seen by AFP.

The chairmanship of the executive board rotates on a regional basis and is due to go to a Latin American or Caribbean country.

One diplomat had earlier told AFP on condition of anonymity that the Argentine election result had boosted Lacoeuilhe's chances, adding that her installation could lead to "reputational damage" for the UN agency.

Critics have pointed to the 64-year-old's work for Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire. Chagoury's past includes a money-laundering conviction in Switzerland in 2000 and other controversial cases.

Chagoury is Saint Lucia's ambassador to UNESCO, and Lacoeuilhe serves as his deputy.

Following Losardo's departure, France has expressed its "unreserved support" for Brazil's bid, according to a diplomatic note seen by AFP.

 

-- TIMES/AFP

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