The recent South Summit in Havana made an important decision to set up a coordinating council of political leaders from existing institutions and regional groupings of developing countries. Its aims are to prepare the South better for negotiations, and to follow up on the Summit’s action plans. At the closing ceremony, some of these leaders spoke with enthusiasm about the South’s future activities.

By Martin Khor


May 2000

Political heads of the developing countries have decided to establish a coordinating group from among themselves to plan negotiations that involve the South and the North, and to improve South-South cooperation.

This decision was taken at an eventful closing session of the first-ever South Summit of the Group of 77 held in Havana on the night of 14 April. The Summit was attended by 67 developing countries at the level of heads or deputy heads of government and state, and by many more countries at the level of ministers and senior officials.

The new grouping, called the South Coordination Commission, will be chaired by the Chairman of the South Summit (Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo) and will include the chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (South African President Thabo Mbeki) and the chairpersons of some South-based regional organisations.

It is unclear how many and which of the regional groupings are to be included but ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations), the Caribbean-based CARICOM and the Organisation of African Unity were named at the session.

Further, President Obasanjo announced that he himself, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and Jamaica (P J Paterson), and the chairmen of NAM (President Mbeki) and the OAU (Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika) would take responsibility for establishing the Commission.

At the Summit session, it was also proposed that the Commission would also have an executive Coordinator. Subsequently, at a press conference on 15 April, President Obasanjo announced that Sir Sridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary-General and now attached to the CARICOM as chairman of its Regional Negotiating Machinery, would be the Coordinator.

Further details about this high-level Commission are not available, and participants were wondering about its location and the scope of its work.

President Obasanjo had remarked that the Commission would coordinate the implementation of the Summit’s Programme of Action and the decisions on South-South cooperation. That would give the Commission already a very wide scope, as the Programme of Action covers a wide range of issues and proposed actions on the themes of globalisation, knowledge and technology, North-South relations and South-South cooperation.

Although many questions of detail remained unanswered as the Summit closed, participants in general felt that the concrete initiative taken by some of the political leaders in getting the wheels in motion to set up a high-level Commission comprising heads of state or government was a much welcomed move.

‘It indicates that some political leaders are showing personal commitment to inject high-level political will into getting the South’s act together,’ said one participant.

As the Summit ended, expectations had been generated that these political leaders would themselves take the lead in getting an implementation mechanism going.

There is no doubt, however, that the decision on the establishment of this high-level Commission was the highlight of the South Summit.How the Commission will be set up, and how much will be done to translate the Summit’s action plan into action, will be closely watched in the weeks ahead.

Three other resolutions were also adopted at the closing session.

Ambassador Hasmy Agam of Malaysia presented a motion that the Summit mandate the Summit president and the NAM president to transmit to the next G8 Summit and other fora (including international financial and trade institutions) the concerns of developing countries as reflected in the deliberations. They should convey the firm conviction that the South must be represented in any forum deliberating and deciding on social, economic or political matters which can adversely or otherwise affect South countries.

The motion added that the Group of 77 will not consider any social, economic, financial or political architecture decided without any representation. Notwithstanding such representation, such fora have no authority under international law to take binding decisions that affect the South.

Another motion stated that the leaders agreed to establish a South-South health delivery programme, and welcomed Cuba’s offer to provide 3,000 doctors to it.

Following this, President Rawlings of Ghana moved a resolution in the form of an appeal from the Summit to the US to end its embargo on Cuba. The resolution stated it was the moral and fraternal duty of the heads of G77 countries to appeal to the US to immediately lift the embargo on Cuba imposed since 1960 and that the replacement of the embargo with dialogue will lead to partnership between the two countries that are linked by geography and history.

The Summit also adopted two lengthy documents, a Declaration and a Havana Plan of Action. Finally the meeting heard closing statements from various heads of government.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, representing the OAU, 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 had been conceived by the North for their own interests.

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, 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 the South needs 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... They must see they have a special responsibility, in the interests of everyone.’

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 itself 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’ and added: ‘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.’

Cuban President Fidel Castro, speaking for the host country, said he had taken part in many meetings but never before had he seen such unity of mind of Third World leaders. The Summit had brought up ‘the extent of the crisis we face, the growing inequity and discrimination we suffered’.

Castro said the benefits of globalisation benefit 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.

The Summit leaders had brought out that the trade system is unfair, it burdens the Third World exports through many barriers which deprive the countries of the minimal needed to pay their debt and get development going.The Summit also heard the clamour for the debt of the South to be greatly reduced or wiped out as people in the South had repaid that debt many times over.

‘One might think there’s no humanity when we hear of billions of people getting less than a dollar 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.

‘In this summit we went on a quest for unity 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.’

In a closing statement as chair of the Summit, President Obasanjo reminded the participants of  Castro’s opening speech in which he described globalisation as  a  ship 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 South countries, there is a slackening in multilateral cooperation, for example the decline in ODA. This had made it more difficult for the South to tackle the problems of improving the lives of its people. There was also increased instability as seen in the Asian financial crisis. He added that the views and proposals at the meeting had illuminated the way forward.

This Summit, he said, was 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.