Castro, Chavez decry inequalities, condemn IMF

by Diego Cevallos

MONTERREY: Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba urged the international community on 21 March to straighten out the path of the global economy and harshly criticized multilateral financial organizations in speeches addressing more than 50 heads of state and government gathered in this northern Mexican city.

“The current world order constitutes a system of plunder and exploitation like never before in history. The people believe less and less in declarations and promises. The prestige of the international financial institutions has fallen below zero,” said Castro.

The heads of state and government met on 21-22 March, the last two days of the five-day International Conference on Financing for Development convened by the UN.

Also in attendance were executives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization, and leaders of pro-development NGOs, with many of the latter supporting the arguments of Castro and Chavez.

The world is living “a true genocide” and one cannot blame “this strategy on the poor countries. They are not the ones who conquered and pillaged entire continents over the centuries, nor did they establish colonialism, implant slavery, or create modern-day imperialism,” said the Cuban leader in a speech that won enthusiastic applause from NGO delegates at the conference.

According to Chavez in his address on behalf of the Group of 77 plus China, the world “is not only twisted” but it is “backwards,” and the leaders of the world must straighten it out. “In [the] name of all the poor of the planet,” the Venezuelan president called upon governments “to act, and not just speak,” and urged them to save the world, which, he said, suffers a grave “social crisis.” He also demanded that the role of the IMF be revised because its “recipes” for development have been “venom” for poor countries.

According to Castro, the final document to be signed by the government officials in Monterrey was “a project of consensus that has been imposed upon us by the masters of the world ... in which we resign ourselves to humiliating, conditional and interventionist handouts.”

“It is time for calm reflection among politicians and national leaders. The belief that an economic and social order that has proven to be unsustainable can be imposed by force is a crazy idea,” he said.

The discourse laid out by Castro and Chavez was among the only ones that the NGO leaders said they supported.

“Finally someone stated the truth to the powerful,” commented one activist.

The presence of the Cuban president at international conferences tends to attract a great deal of attention, and Monterrey was no exception, as the media waited for a possible encounter between Castro and US President George W. Bush. According to unofficial reports, the Mexican government took care, at Washington’s request, to organize the meeting in such a way that the two leaders would not meet face to face.

Cuba accuses the US government of engaging in terrorism against the socialist-run island and of unfairly and illegitimately assuming world leadership, and demands an end to the economic embargo imposed against the Caribbean nation since the 1960s.

The “Monterrey Consensus”, the final document signed by the official delegates, will not alleviate the problems related to poverty as it proposes to do, because it prescribes the same free-market strategy that created them, according to the NGO delegates.

The Cuban president commented that “the world economy today is a gigantic casino,” and, like Chavez, said he is in favour of creating a tax on speculative international transactions in order to create a fund for development assistance (known as the “Tobin Tax”, proposed by US economist James Tobin).

Castro stressed that the fund must be managed by UN agencies “and not by ruinous institutions like the IMF.”

The tone and direction of Castro’s and Chavez’s speeches contrasted with those made by most of the other national leaders who participated in the conference on 21 March.

For Mexico’s President Vicente Fox, the meeting “marks the beginning of a new kind of development,” a notion echoing the statements of many of his colleagues.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that developing countries have come to Monterrey not to seek handouts but to be heard.

The contributions made by wealthy nations for financing development, some $50 billion annually, must at least be doubled in order to attend to the needs of the world’s poor, said Annan.

The UN official defended the content of the Monterrey Consensus. It is not weak, as some claim, he said, but it will be if it is not implemented.

The heads of the IMF and the World Bank also addressed the conference, defending the market strategies as they are included in the conference’s final document, but they did not recognize errors, nor did they make reference to the criticisms they have received.

IMF managing director Horst Kohler maintained that trade is the most important path for self-help and creates a situation in which everyone wins, rich and poor alike. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, agreed, adding that developing countries “don’t need charity but opportunities.” (IPS)            

From TWE No 277 (16-31 March 2002)