by Martin Khor

Havana, 12 April 2000 -- Cuban President Fidel Castro today called on the leaders of the G77 developing countries to rescue their fighting spirit to make demands in fighting against the present globalisation that had made poverty global but not development.

In a rousing speech at the inaugural session of the Group of 77 South Summit, Castro attacked the neo-liberal policies promoted by globalisation, called for the closure of the International Monetary Fund and proposed a Nuremberg-type court to be set up to put on trial the economic order that had killed millions of people. "We cannot simply enter the next century as the backward, poor and exploited rearguard, the victim of racism and xenophobia," said the Cuban President. "As for the Group of 77, this is not the time for begging from the developed countries or for submission, defeatism or internecine divisions.

"This is the time to rescue back our fighting spirit, our unity and cohesion in defending our demands...In Cuba, we usually say "Homeland or Death!" At this Summit of Third World countries we would have to say: We either unite and establish close cooperation, or we die!"

Castro was making his welcoming speech at the South Summit in a panel that included the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Nigerian President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (chairman of the G77) and South African President Thabo Mbeki (chairman of the Non Aligned Movement).

The first-ever G77 Summit is being attended by 42 heads of state or government, 67 foreign ministers and senior officials from the 133 member countries plus China. After the opening session, leaders of the Member countries began to make their formal presentations.

Castro's speech electrified the packed auditorium. He started by comparing the planet to a ship with passengers of different classes. Never before had mankind such technological potential to produce riches but never before were disparity and inequity so profound, he said.

"Globalisation is an objective reality, that we are all passengers on the same ship, this planet, but the passengers travel under very different conditions. A small minority is in deluxe cabins with internet access, enjoying abundant diet and medical care. The majority travel in conditions resembling the slave trade from Africa to America in our colonial past.

"That is, 85% are crowded in its dirty hold suffering in hunger and despair. This ship is carrying too much injustice to remain afloat and is on such an irrational route it cannot reach a safe port. The ship seems fated to clash with an iceberg and we may all sink with it.

"The Heads of state and governments meeting here, representing the hurting majorities, have the right and obligation to take the helm and correct the disastrous course. It is our duty to take our rightful place at the helm so all passengers can travel in solidarity, justice and equity."

Castro said that for two decades the Third World had been listening to only one simplistic discourse and one policy prevailed. We are told that deregulated markets, maximum privatisation and state withdrawal from the economy were infallible principles.

"The developed countries and the TNCs and the IMF have in the past two decades designed a world economic order most hostile to the progress of our countries, and least environmentally sustainable.

"Globalisation has been locked into the straitjacket of neo-liberalism. Thus it is not development but poverty that is going global. It is not respect for states but violation of that respect. It is not solidarity but every man for himself in the unequal competition in the market."

Castro added that two decades of neo-liberal structural adjustment had caused economic failure and social disaster. It is the duty of politicians to rescue the Third World from this blind alley. He pointed to reduced world growth under neo-liberalism, more instability, speculation, debt and unequal exchange.

The Third World is forced to immobilise financial resources and increase their debt to keep currency reserves for use to resist currency attacks, but even this was not enough as the Asian crisis showed. Castro said US$727 billion from world central banks' reserves are in the US, causing a paradox where poor countries are lending cheap to the richest country.

If Cuba had succeeded in education, health, culture, and science despite the economic blockade and revalued its currency seven times in the last five years in relation to the US dollar, it has been thanks to its "privileged position as a non member of the IMF."

The IMF is the emblematic organisation of the existing monetary system, with the US having veto power. It showed a lack of foresight and clumsy handling in the latest financial crisis, imposing conditions that paralysed governments.

"It is high time for the Third World to strongly demand the removal of an institution that neither provides stability to the world economy nor works to deliver funds to debtors to avoid their liquidity crises; it rather protects and rescues the creditors.

"How can an international monetary order like this be considered rational which allows a few technocrats sitting in Washington to design identical programmes to a wide variety of countries to cope with specific Third World problems? Who takes responsibility when the structural adjustment programmes bring about social chaos?

"It is of crucial importance for the Third World to work for the removal of that sinister institution and philosophy it sustains and-replace it with a financial regulatory body with democratic principles, that won't have interfering conditions but regulate financial markets and end speculation."

Castro added that debt is not an economic but a political issue and thus demands a political solution. He criticised the HIPC initiative as long in name but short in results, a "ridiculous attempt to alleviate 8.3% of the South's total debt. But four years after implementation, only 4 of the poorest 33 countries that went through the complicated process simply to get US$2.7 billion of debt forgiven, which is 33% of what is spent each year in the US on cosmetics. It should be recognised instead that Third World debt is unpayable and uncollectible.

On trade, Castro said that in the hands of rich countries it had become an instrument of domination. Under globalisation, trade will sharpen inequalities and be an arena for infighting among developed countries for future markets. While neo-liberalism repeats the claim of efficiency for trade liberalisation, in reality developing countries' participation in world trade had fallen.

"Trade liberalisation has essentially consisted in unilateral removal of protection instruments by the South. Meanwhile, the developed nations have failed to do the same to allow Third World exports to enter their markets."

Castro said the rich nations had fostered liberalisation in high-tech sectors where they enjoy advantages (services, information technology, biotech and telecoms) but refused to remove their restrictions in agriculture ad textiles.

In the OECD, the average tariff applied on manufactured exports from developing countries is 4 times higher than that applied to the OECD members. A great wall of non tariff barriers is being built up that leaves out the South. The special and differential treatment to poor countries is considered not an elementary act of justice and necessity but as a temporary act of charity.

"The failed Seattle meeting shows that public opinion is tired of and opposed to neo-liberal policies in both North and South. In Seattle there was an uprising against neo-liberalism. Before that there was a refusal to accept MAI. This shows that aggressive market fundamentalism that has damaged our countries is facing strong worldwide and well deserved rejection."

The Cuban President said that this was not the time for the G77 to beg from developed countries, but the time to get back its fighting spirit, unity and cohesion in defending its demands. "Fifty years ago, we were promised bread and justice but today we have less bread and more injustice.

"The world can be globalised under neo-liberalism but it is impossible to rule over billions of people hungry for bread and justice." The pictures of mothers and children under the scourge of drought in Africa remind us of concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

"Another Nuremberg is required to put on trial the economic order imposed on us, the same that is killing through hunger and diseases, more men, women and children every three years than all those killed by World War II in six years." (SUNS4648)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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