The Latest: Honduras president, virus survivor, urges equity

Eufemia Didonato

UNITED NATIONS — The Latest from the U.N. General Assembly (all times EDT): 2:30 p.m. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández says that as a COVID-19 survivor, he’s worried about health and social inequities heightened by the pandemic. The Central American leader was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 in July. […]

UNITED NATIONS — The Latest from the U.N. General Assembly (all times EDT):

2:30 p.m.

The Central American leader was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 in July.

In a prerecorded video aired Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly, Hernández said that in the global rush to stock up on medicines and hospital equipment during the early months of the pandemic, “only a few countries were able to get ample access.”

He added, “It wasn’t those who are the most in need.”

Nations that produce supplies frequently held on to them for their own population. Hernández asked, “What about the rest of the countries? People die?”

Hernández likewise questioned who will get access to a vaccine.

He concluded by noting that, “The virus has reminded us in the most difficult way that in the end we are all humans — vulnerable, members of the same species.”

Honduras has diagnosed over 72,000 cases in the nation of 9.5 million.


1:20 p.m.

Lebanon’s president called for the international community’s support to rebuild the country’s main port and destroyed neighborhoods after last month’s catastrophic explosion that decimated the facility.

President Michel Aoun spoke Wednesday in a prerecorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s virtual summit, telling world leaders that Lebanon is facing multiple crises that pose an unprecedented threat to the small country’s existence.

Most urgently, he said the country needs the international community’s support to rebuild its economy and its destroyed port. He suggested breaking up the damaged parts of the city into separate areas and so that countries that wish to help can each commit to rebuilding one.

The Aug. 4 explosion was the result of nearly 3,000 tons of improperly stored and rotting ammonium nitrates igniting at the port. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 6,500, and left a quarter of a million with homes unfit to live in.

An investigation is underway, but no one has been held accountable so far. Aoun, in his speech, said Lebanon had requested assistance from certain countries, particularly for soil samples and satellite images, and was still waiting for their results.


11:35 a.m.

Kazakhstan’s president says the world has witnessed collapse of international cooperation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is close to a state of “global disfunction.”

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a prerecorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s first high-level virtual meeting that the post-Cold War world largely missed the chance to build a truly just system.

He said this is a “make-or-break moment” for humankind.

Tokayev suggested establishing a network of regional disease centers under U.N. auspices, and a new “International Agency for Biological Safety” based on the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and accountable to the U.N. Security Council.


11:29 a.m.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh is asking for international assistance to cope with the many crises facing Iraq amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite limited resources resulting from years of wars, blockades and violence, Iraq has implement some measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Saleh said in his prerecorded address to the U.N. General Assembly. But the “journey has been long and arduous.”

Weak infrastructure in the face of rising case numbers is a constant challenge, Saleh added.

“Developed nations must provide assistance to developing nations to create an environment to fight the pandemic and limit its harmful effects,” he said.

A severe drop in oil prices has compounded economic woes brought on by the pandemic, he said. He also renewed calls for the international community to put in place an coalition to fight corruption, saying mismanagement was a “scourge” in his country that enables terrorist financing.

“Indeed we cannot eradicate terrorism, if we do not dry up its financing,” he said.


11:17 a.m.

K-pop superstars BTS are sending a message of encouragement to young people worldwide via a video released in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly meeting of global leaders.

Members of the South Korean band discuss how they coped with feeling isolated during the coronavirus pandemic in the video released Wednesday by UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

The pandemic forced the seven-member boy band to cancel concerts this spring. The members said in the video that the sudden slowdown in their busy lives was tough but productive.

“COVID-19 was beyond my imagination,” said RM, the band leader. “All our plans went away, and I became alone.”

Other BTS members said they also felt adrift at first, but they ultimately used the time to reflect and turn their feelings into music.

“Our songs became the stories we wanted to tell each other. We live in uncertainty, but really, nothing’s changed,” band member Jung Kook said. “If there’s something I can do, if our voices can give strength to people, then that’s what we want, and that’s what we’ll keep on doing.”

The group encouraged people to take care of themselves and, in RM’s words, to “dream about a future when our worlds can break out of our small rooms again.”

BTS has engaged with the U.N. before, appearing at a UNICEF event during the General Assembly meeting in 2018.


10:45 a.m.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman used his speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday to stress his country’s Islamic roots and slam rival, Iran.

Reading from a piece of paper and seated at a desk under a large portrait of his father, King Abdulaziz, the monarch reiterated the sacred role of Islam in Saudi Arabia, which Muslims believe was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago in the mountainous caves of Mecca.

He touted the kingdom’s role as president of the G-20 this year, and the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid Saudi Arabia gave to countries around the world in past decades.

He refrained from criticizing the recent deals struck by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish ties with Israel, but stressed the kingdom remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative that offers Israel full ties with Arab states in exchange for concessions that lead to a Palestinian state. He also said Saudi Arabia welcomes U.S. efforts at resolving the crisis.

He said the Middle East has been suffering from major political and security challenges, blaming Iran for much of the region’s instability. He accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon of sowing the political disarray that has been ultimately blamed for the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port last month.

He said Saudi Arabia has tried to extend its hand over the years to Iran, “but to no avail.” He blamed Iran for targeting Saudi oil facilities last year, saying: “It demonstrated that this regime has total disregard for the stability of the global economy or stability of oil supplies to international markets.”

The 84-year-old monarch’s prerecorded remarks make him only the second Saudi king to deliver a speech to the world assembly. The only other Saudi monarch to do so was his late brother, King Saud, in 1957 at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The rule of King Salman, who ascended to the throne in early 2015, has been marked by sweeping domestic reforms and heightened regional tensions with rival, Iran. He has also elevated from near obscurity and emboldened his favored 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and handed him day-to-day decision making powers over the world’s largest oil exporter.


10 a.m.

Ghana’s president has given the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders one of the frankest assessments of the chaos that COVID-19 has caused, saying that “all our best-laid plans have turned out to be of no use when faced with the ravages of an unknown virus.”

President Nana Akufo-Addo made a forceful plea for equitable access to any vaccine, saying that “the virus has taught us that we are all at risk, and there is no special protection for the rich or a particular class.”

Any medical solutions, he said, should be made available for all “in aid of our common humanity.”

The West African leader also took aim at the fractured geopolitical landscape, saying that the pandemic’s lesson has been clear: “Even as we closed our borders and shut airports, the reality dawned on all of us that we had to rely on each other to be able to get out of the trouble we were in. We have all gone down together. We should all rise together.”

For many, he added, the most difficult part of lockdowns has been “the silence forced on churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship.”

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