The Southern Summit
Gar Smith

Cuba--In April, the Group of 77, the largest coalition of Third World counties in the United Nations, held its South Summit in Havana. It was the largest gathering of Third World leaders in history. The major topics were globalization, North-South relations, South-South cooperation, and knowledge and technology. The delegates called for "democratizing" the UN by extending membership on the Permanent Security Council to developing countries, eliminating the veto power (which allows the US to block any Security Council action it opposes) and ending military "humanitarian interventions" by UN forces.

The South Summit agreed that the UN should address the growing wealth and technology gaps between North and South, due "in large part to economic globalization and liberalization." The summit called on the developed economies to honor the "broken promise" to allocate .7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid.

Group of 77 Chair, Nigeria's UN Representative Arthur C. I. Mbanefo, noted that the policies of the global financial institutions are having a "debilitating effect" on the countries of the South while the global debt burden has caused a "reversal of development."

"We are all passengers on the same vessel, this planet where we all live," President Fidel Castro declared in the summit's keynote speech. But, he added, "passengers on this vessel are traveling in very different conditions. Trifling minorities are traveling in luxurious cabins furnished with Internet, cell phones and access to global communication networks. They enjoy a nutritional, abundant and balanced diet as well as clean water supplies."

In contrast, Castro continued, "overwhelming and hurting majorities are traveling in conditions that resemble the terrible slave trade from Africa to America in our colonial past. That is, 85 percent of the passengers on this ship are crowded together in its dirty hold suffering hunger, disease and helplessness."

The Earth "is carrying too much injustice to remain afloat," Castro warned. "For two decades, the Third World... has been told that deregulated markets, maximum privatization and the state's withdrawal from the economic activity were the infallible principles conducive to economic and social development." Instead, "it is not development that goes global but poverty; it is not respect for the national sovereignty of our states but the violation of that respect; it is not solidarity amongst our peoples but... the unequal competition prevailing in the marketplace.

"The wealthy nations can afford to pay any price for the energy they waste to sustain luxurious consumption levels and destroy the environment," Castro stated. "The US [consumes] 8.1 tons of oil equivalent per capita while the Third World consumes an average of 0.8 tons, and the poorest among them, only 0.3.

"After WWII, Latin America had no debt but today we owe almost one trillion dollars. This is the highest per-capita debt in the world," Castro stated. "There are more poor, unemployed and hungry people in Latin America now than at any other hard time in its history.

The Third World's $2.5 trillion debt "is not an economic but a political issue," Castro said, "therefore it demands a political solution." And the solution must come from "those with resources and power, that is, the wealthy countries." Castro called the debt "a bomb ready to blow up the foundations of the world economy at any time during an economic crisis.

"Under neoliberalism," Castro continued, "there is more instability, speculation, external debt and unequal exchange. Likewise, there is a greater tendency to financial crisis occurring more often, while poverty, inequality and the gap between the wealthy North and the dispossessed South continues to widen."

Today, some $727 billion from the world's capital reserves are held by the US and much of this consolidated treasure represents the debt-payment transfer of wealth from impoverished Third World countries. "This leads to the paradox that with their reserves, the poor countries are offering cheap long-term financing to the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world," Castro noted.

"If Cuba has successfully carried out education, health care, culture, science, sports, and other programs--which nobody in the world would question--despite four decades of economic blockade," Castro joked, "it has been thanks to its privileged position as a non-member of the International Monetary Fund."

Castro spoke for many delegates at the summit when he called the IMF a system that "makes the poor finance the wealthy." Noting that the US enjoys a veto over the actions of the IMF, Castro proclaimed: "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 preventative funds to the debtors... It rather protects and rescues the creditors."

Castro joined other Third World leaders in calling for the regulation of "unrestrained speculation" in the world's financial markets. Castro proposed placing a minimum one percent tax on speculative financial transactions. The tax would create a fund of "one trillion dollars every year to promote real, sustainable and comprehensible development in the Third World."

There is enough money to rescue the Third World, Castro noted. "Every year, $800 billion are used to finance weapons and troops" while $400 billion are spent on narcotics and another $1 billion spent on commercial advertising which, Castro added, "is as alienating as narcotics."

"The murky social results of this neoliberal race to catastrophe are in sight. In over 100 countries, the per-capita income is lower than 15 years ago. At the moment, 1.6 billion people are faring worse than at the beginning of the 1980s.... It is estimated that 507 million people living in the South today will not live to see their 40th birthday.

"The world economic order works for 20 per cent of the population but leaves out, demeans and degrades the remaining 80 percent," Castro said. "Fifty years ago, we were promised that one day there would no longer be a gap between developed and underdeveloped countries. We were promised bread and justice, but today we have less bread and more injustice.

"The pictures of mothers and children under the scourge of droughts and other catastrophes in whole regions of Africa remind us of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany--they bring back to us memories of stacks of corpses or of moribund men, women and children," Castro stated.

Noting that impacts of globalization kill more men, women and children every three years than all those killed by World War II in six years," Castro concluded with this grim observation: "Another Nuremberg [war crimes tribunal] is required to put to trial the economic order imposed on us."

President Castro's impassioned speech was greeted with thunderous applause by hundreds of Third World leaders in Havana. Owing to the saturation coverage of the Elian Gonzales saga, the Southern Summit went virtually unreported in the US. The complete text of Castro's speech and news of the South Summit is available at

© Earth Island Journal, Autumn 2000