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G20: the secrets of the bunker where the presidents will debate

Martín Rodríguez Yebra
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29 de noviembre de 2018  • 13:37

It smells like new. There are boxes stacked in a corner, black nylon on a freshly glued carpet, a vacuum cleaner disconnected and 22 black chairs arranged in an oval shape, with no table in the middle. That room with the atmosphere of a functional office, where workers enter and leave today, seems everything but the armored bunker where the most important rulers of the world will face each other, without a single intruder, on Friday morning.

The "retreat" room, in the Costa Salguero pavilion that will house the G20 summit , will be the meeting place for the leaders of the 19 countries of the forum, plus the two representatives of the European Union (EU) and the President of Spain (permanent guest). Nobody but them - owners of the pin that opens all the doors- will be able to participate in that first official activity. The closest thing to an intimate chat that can be imagined among figures of such weight.

Each chair has a wooden table and a microphone. The organization prepared themes for the talk, with the pretense that a dialogue flows in these circumstances. They have an hour and a half that can anticipate the tone for what will come next. In an angle of the room without windows, a lectern is placed, which they ordered urgently: it is for the Mexican Enrique Peña Nieto, who will give a farewell speech there before going back to his country and handing over power to his successor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador

The retirement room is in a corner of the so-called "red zone" of Costa Salguero, the most closed of all the spaces where the Forum will take place on Friday and Saturday. Only the presidents and the eight officials they have chosen as their "shadows" can move around, as well as custodians and operational employees who have passed dozens of security checks.

In those spaces is where the summit will be develop as a play. Instead of a script, there is a protocol that will leave leaders with very brief spaces for surprise. The presidents will arrive at Costa Salguero on Costanera Avenue from 10am on Friday and will go through a red carpet that after 150 meters will take them to the lounge where Mauricio Macri will wait for them. Only two collaborators of each -owners of a golden pass- will avoid security controls. The rest will have to enter through a side door and pass their stuff through a scanner, which they where still assembling.

The reception room is an immense space, with a stage to pose in the family photo and a staircase for the pool of photographers and cameramen with authorization to register the moment. Macri has to give his hand for 30 seconds (timed) to each leader. From there, they have to follow the red carpet to the retirement room, where they will lose contact with the outside world. To their intimate advisers they have to wait for them in a living room full of LED screens, where they will be served coffee and sandwiches.

The pavilion of the summit vibrates like a work in construction. Dozens of workers move bulbs, build walls, finish carpet, accommodate the masts still without flags. In many rooms, such as the 17 reserved for bilateral meetings, the tables and chairs are still stacked, waiting to be ordered. They are furniture designed especially for the summit, but rented. Modern, functional, unpretentious.

These spaces are reserved by each retinue according to their bilateral contact agenda. Macri will have an exclusive for him, in which he already plans to meet with the British premier, Theresa May, and the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez. They will be express meetings, during the coffee breaks of the general sessions. Enter 4 + 1, that is, the leaders and four companions.

The epicenter of the summit is the plenary hall, dominated by a round table with 40 seats for heads of government and directors of international organizations. The G-20 mandala that occupies the interior space of the circle remained covered by white nylon this afternoon.

Each president has three desks behind him, in a row, where he can sit his "shadows", the only ones with access to the deliberations, whose content will be kept secret, except for Macri's welcoming words. The President will have the privilege that his eight "shades" will have a seat behind him. There will be seated Marcos Peña, Fulvio Pompeo, Jorge Faurie, Iván Pavlovsky and people in charge of ceremonial.

Access is so strict that no exceptions are allowed. They say in the organization that one of the presidents is ill and needs to have a doctor nearby he had to resign the pass of one of his ministers.

The plenary sessions will deal with previously agreed topics, but the urgent issues of the global agenda usually jump to the table. Macri will have the delicate role of managing that debate. In front of the chair that he has to use, a laptop with a Japanese brand is installed with a monitor from which he sees the word requests and manages the opening of microphones. Privacy requires not adding a computer for these tasks.

The order of the seats is already assigned. Macri will have on his right the german Angela Merkel and on his left the japanese Shinzo Abe. A seat further, Donald Trump and May will be located.

The agenda is very tight, to the point that it was decided that the presidents have lunch at the same table in the plenary. There were several delegations that spent security passes in charge of overseeing the cooking process and ensuring a primitive rule of diplomacy: that no one should poison the boss.

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