SOUTH SUMMIT: A DEFINING MOMENT IN G77 HISTORY
The first-ever South Summit, bringing together the heads of government or state of the Group of 77 developing countries, which was held in Cuba on 10-14 April, concluded on a note of confidence and determination by the leaders to work together to bring about a new world order based on equity and fairness.
By Martin Khor
Havana: The first-ever Summit of the Group of 77 ended here on a note of confidence and determination from the leaders to work together to bring about a new world order based on equity and fairness.
The Summit adopted a declaration and plan of action, three resolutions on follow-up and the establishment of a South Coordination Commission, and concluded with closing statements from various heads of government.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, representing the Organisation of African Unity, said he was pleased with the high level of debate which brought up the serious dysfunction of international economic institutions that divides humanity and undermines human dignity. Globalisation has been conceived by the North for their own interests.
‘For example,’ he asked, ‘how could they justify the exclusion of Southern products where we have comparative advantage?’
He said the global inequality is shown in the fall in the South’s terms of trade, the destabilising capital flows, the high debt and restrictions on technology transfer especially in health care, all of which have such negative impacts on the South. The Summit’s Declaration is a sign of the South’s collective awareness of the unjust realities of the world economy.
Bouteflika added that ‘we need a democratisation of the global system, a redefinition of the world financial system and its institutions.’
‘We have the right and the need to demand of the North, through their attitudes we can judge their willingness to be partners... They must see they have a special responsibility, in the interests of everyone.’
The OAU chairman said that Africa had undergone injustices and inequality, with raw material prices devalued, and structural adjustment programmes causing the decline in social programmes, affecting hundreds of millions of people.
‘Africa is pleased with the results of this summit, results which show the need for collective action.’
He also thanked President Castro for being present throughout the Summit and Cuba for inspiring African through its assistance technically and politically.
Jamaican Prime Minister P J Paterson, in offering a vote of thanks, said, ‘The Summit is a turning point for the South’s striving for a fairer share in global governance, a turning point to better equip ourselves at a technical level as well as decisions taken to coordinate efforts in discussions with the North.’
He noted as important ‘our decision as heads of government and state to intensify efforts to review the WTO regime to be more fair and equitable’.
Paterson said: ‘We should insist on this demand in any research to remove the deadlock that developed at Seattle. A system that is inclusive is important to us... There is now a great responsibility on our shoulders as leaders. Plans and Declarations (made at the Summit) must be implemented. If we do not ensure effective follow-through, all our efforts will come to nought.’
The Jamaican leader added: ‘As we leave, we are bound by this spirit that we are collectively endangered. This has given rise to a determination to better coordinate our efforts.’
President Castro, speaking as the host country, thanked the leaders for the resolution on Cuba, which was a generous gesture.
He said he had taken part in many meetings but never before had he seen such unity of mind of Third World leaders. It showed the leaders’ skill and clarity to express ideas gained through the experience accumulated through 40 years of Non-Aligned Movement and the G77.
‘The Summit had brought up the extent of the crisis we face, the growing inequality and discrimination we suffered. Not a single speaker failed to mention the debt that afflicts our development in a thousand ways.’
Castro said globalisation benefited only 20% of the world’s people as against 80% of others. There was unanimity in the Summit that the UN and the international financial institutions must undergo major change. In different ways, every delegation had said that the trade system is unfair - it burdens the Third World export incomes through a variety of barriers which deprive the Third World of the minimal needed to pay its debt and get development going.
He added that ‘scientific development is out of our reach since the North controls research centres, and owns almost all patents. A few of the leaders had reminded us of something not in the neo-liberal textbooks - the theft of brains from the Third World which the North takes from us, since the South does not have enough research centres and high salaries.’
Castro said the Summit had heard that only four least developed countries (LDCs) had succeeded in getting debt relief. ‘We heard the clamour that the debt of the South must be greatly reduced or wiped out. People in the South have repaid that debt many times over. There is a need to tax speculative activities to finance development. Cuba believes that charging 1% for speculation activities would be enough to finance development. With technical resources, such a tax is entirely possible.’
‘One might think there’s no humanity when we hear of billions of people getting less than a dollar a day to survive. We now hear of millions of hungry, illiterate and ill people and children underweight or lacking schools or health care. Let our memory retain the figure of 36 million AIDS-infected people, 23 million of them in Africa.
‘Almost everyone spoke of great expectations of this summit. I have never seen such a great level of awareness. We must be aware of our united strength. The future will speak of periods “before and after” the first South Summit. There is an apartheid in the world where over four billion people don’t have the right to life, health, education, water, housing, jobs and hope.
‘At this rate we will also be left deprived of the air we breathe. Look at the natural disasters in Central America, Mozambique, Venezuela, all within 18 months. This never happened before, and are consequences of climate change and destruction of nature.
‘We gathered to struggle to achieve justice and preservation of life on the planet. The rich world wants us to forget slavery, colonialism and plunder that we were subjected to for centuries. They see us as inferior people, with some inability of the Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, blacks, Indians, people of yellow skin, mestizos, who lack the ability to govern ourselves, as if they were not the ones who brought the vices.’
Castro said they forget that in China and other places of the South there were civilisations that developed the written language long before the Europeans could read. The Mayas and Incas had achieved knowledge long ago that today still astonishes the world.
Castro said the present economic order is not only cruel and inhuman but contained a racist view of the world - views similar to the ones that once inspired the Nazis and their concentration camps. The same views inspired apartheid.
‘In this summit we went on a quest for unity and tactics to coordinate our efforts. This summit means we are duty-bound to fight for our rights to be treated as equals. In the past we fought for independence, and recently we fought to crush apartheid, we can now also show we are not inferior in our courage and skill to fight, for the sacred right of poor countries but also to fight for the rich countries which can’t protect nature or govern itself.
‘We are struggling to preserve life on this planet, that the ship does not hit that iceberg and we all sink in it. Only thus can we expect to live.’
In a closing statement as Chair of the Summit, Nigerian President Obasanjo reminded the participants of Castro’s opening speech in which he described globalisation as a vessel of inequity with too much injustice on board, and that he had said the South had to unite or face death.
The Summit had brought out the glaring paradox - that despite the North’s prosperity and the great needs of our countries, there is a slackening in multilateral cooperation, for example, the decline in ODA (official development assistance). This had made it more difficult for us to tackle the problems of improving our lives. There was also increased instability as seen in the Asian financial crisis. He added that the views and proposals at this Summit had illuminated the way forward.
Obasanjo then presented conclusions from the Interactive Debate among the heads of state and government, including the agreement that a high-level forum be convened on a regular basis.
He also read out the substance of three motions that had been presented earlier (on the need for the South to be represented at global meetings, on the institutional decision, and on the South-South health programme).
On the institutional decision, Obasanjo said that to enhance South-South cooperation ‘we agreed to strengthen our capacity including the implementation of policies.
‘To this end we decided to establish a coordinating commission with a coordinator and the G77 president, the chairmen of ASEAN, the Arab League, CARICOM, OAU, NAM and similar regional organisations.’
He said the Commission will also coordinate the implementation of the Summit’s programme of action as well as South-South cooperation decisions. The chair of the G77 Summit, the chair of NAM, the chair of OAU, and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Jamaica are charged with the responsibility for setting up the Commission.
He also appealed for adequate funding. Each member should pay US$5,000 to strengthen the operational base. The Commission is also to be appropriately located.
In conclusion, Obasanjo said that this Summit is a defining moment in the history of the G77.
‘We have reached a point of no return. From here we go forward to make a difference in the world order. From now on we play our part in building the world order. It is time to recover our fighting spirit, to infuse cohesion, to fulfil our people’s expectations, to turn South-South cooperation into a potent instrument of progress in all our countries.’ - Third World Network Features
About the writer: Martin Khor is Director of the Third World Network.