With selfie, El Salvador’s leader urges UN to embrace tech

Science and Technology

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele takes a selfie portrait during his addresses to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen).

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The way El Salvador’s president sees it, he just snapped a selfie worth a thousand words at the U.N. General Assembly.

Nayib Bukele opened his speech to the assembly Thursday by taking a cell-phone picture of himself grinning at the podium — and casting the photo as a portrait of a global gathering that has gotten out of touch.

“Believe me, many more people will see that selfie, once I share it, than will hear this speech,” the 38-year-old, social-media-adept president said.

If Bukele’s photo seemed to echo celebrity-circles selfies like Ellen DeGeneres’ famous pic with fellow stars at the 2014 Oscars or Kylie Jenner’s similar Instagram shot at the Met Gala in 2017, it’s not the first time a country’s leader has snapped a selfie in an august setting. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a selfie together at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013.

Bukele said his photo was made to prove a point: “This format of gathering in person is becoming increasingly obsolete.”

While saying the U.N. and the General Assembly themselves aren’t outdated, he argued they need to embrace change and technology to stay relevant.

Bukele suggested the assembly could meet by video conference, or send videos to an online platform where other countries’ leaders could watch without having to leave their duties at home.

“One week in the U.N., when we could be resolving issues that are important to our countries, is a waste of time if we keep working in this format,” said Bukele, who took office in June.

“Our smartphones,” he said, “are the future of the General Assembly.”

He also proposed the U.N. invite ordinary people to propose solutions to climate change, poverty, hunger and other global problems, and award a prize of perhaps $10,000 to young people who come up with inspiring, “genuine” proposals.

While the General Assembly chamber is seen as the diplomatic world’s most prominent stage, many leaders also use the opportunity to interact with their counterparts one-on-one and face-to-face on the sidelines. Bukele met Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump, for example.

El Salvador struggles with extreme poverty and violence, with murderous gangs operating in many parts of the country — conditions that have spurred many Salvadorans to try to migrate to the U.S.

Asked after his speech why he hadn’t spoken about his country’s problems, Bukele said he had discussed them in other forums and it wouldn’t make a difference to do so again at the General Assembly. And he said he didn’t want to “tell fairy tales” portraying an overly rosy picture of the country.

Instead, he said, “I told myself: Why don’t we present El Salvador as a voice for change in the world?”

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Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report. Follow Jennifer Peltz on Twitter at @jennpeltz.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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