DISAPPOINTING UN SUMMIT ON POVERTY

jacdon at earthlink.net jacdon at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 1 15:46:20 MST 2002


The following article and sidebar appeared in the April 1, 2002, issue
of the Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, N.Y.

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DISAPPOINTING UN SUMMIT ON POVERTY

By Jack A. Smith 

Before President Bush attended the UN conference on global aid to the
developing world, held March 18-22 in Monterrey, Mexico,  the United
States ranked last among the wealthy countries in terms of foreign aid
to the world’s  billions of poor people.

Speaking to a meeting attended by over 50 presidents and prime
ministers, Bush pledged amid considerable fanfare to increase U.S. aid
by 50%.  But after the conference ended, Washington still ranked as the
most miserly of the rich governments.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan scheduled the conference to pressure the
developed capitalist states to increase their aid to the poor in order
to reach the goals set by the 2000 Millennium Summit meeting, when 189
world nations agreed to cut in half by the year 2015 the number of human
beings (presently 1.2 billion) living on less than $1 a day.  Other
goals included providing universal primary school education, reversing
the AIDS epidemic, and halting the spread of infectious diseases.  

Annan calculated that attaining these objectives would require the
developed nations to  annually contribute the equivalent of 0.7% of
their gross domestic product (GDP -- all goods and services produced by
a country) to alleviate world poverty.  All but a few of the rich
countries, however, have failed to meet this goal.

Washington’s foreign aid bequests in recent years amounted to 0.1% ($10
billion a year); second lowest Britain was 0.23%.  The most generous of
the developed nations are Denmark at 1.01% and Norway  at 0.91%.  

The U.S. in particular, which accounts for over 40% of world military
spending, has been the object of increasing criticism for its
indifference to global poverty.  It is estimated that 80% of the world
population of 6.2 billion people would be considered poor compared to
the wealth accumulated in the rich countries.

Bush’s pledge to increase aid by 50% over the next three years amounts
to spending $15 billion a year by 2006.   This $5 billion annual
increase is chicken feed for Washington.  It amounts to only one-tenth
of the proposed increase of nearly $50 billion in the 2003 military
budget of almost $400 billion.  Bush accompanied his announcement with a
call for more free market neoliberalism, privatization, and corporate
capitalist globalization, which are among the causes of growing world
inequality to begin with.  He also demanded that foreign aid be tied to
“political, legal and economic reforms,” similar to those insisted upon
by the World Bank and IMF.

Secretary-General Annan had sought an increase of $50 billion a year
from the developed countries at the Monterrey conference, but the
pledges fell far short.  The European Union, which already contributes a
considerably higher percentage of its GDP than the U.S., agreed to spend
only an additional $4 billion annually.

>From a progressive point of view, the highlight of the meeting was a
six-minute address from Cuban President Fidel Castro (see below).  The
U.S. delegation followed Bush administration instructions to leave their
seats when he spoke.   The Cuban leader told the rest of the delegates
that “the existing world economic order constitutes a system of
plundering and exploitation like no other in history.”  Fidel left the
conference immediately after he spoke.  Later it was revealed that the
Mexican government of conservative President Vicente Fox had pressured
the Cuban leader to depart before Bush’s arrival.  This has cast a
serious chill over traditionally friendly Cuban-Mexican relations.  “It
is painful that this happened in Mexico,” said an editorial in a leading
Cuban newspaper, “because if there was at least one thing you could say
about the country in the past, it was that [Mexico] had an independent
foreign policy.”

Many delegates from the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin
America, joined by progressives in the developed world plus
representatives from over 250 NGOs (non-government organizations) in
Monterrey for the sessions deplored the outcome of the conference.  The
main objections were the absence of debt relief, the small increase in
contributions and the lack of a concerted timetable for delivering aid. 
As with all such meetings these days, thousands of protesters were in
the streets focusing a critical spotlight on the meeting.

Despite disappointment over the inadequate funding , UN officials tried
to put the best face possible on the international conrference in hopes
of obtaining some concessions at the next major meeting, the World
Summit on Sustainable Development, taking place in Johannesburg in
August.  At the current rate of concern manifested by the world’s
richest capitalist countries, the UN’s modest anti-poverty goal to ease
the dreadful plight of billions amounts to little more than pipe dreams.

------------------

A BETTER WORLD IS POSSIBLE

Following is a major excerpt from the speech by Cuban President Fidel
Castro to the International Conference on Financing for Development (see
above), in Monterrey, Mexico, March 21, 2002:

Not everyone here will share my thoughts.  Still, I will respectfully
say what I think. The existing world economic order constitutes a system
of plundering and exploitation like no other in history. Thus, the
peoples believe less and less in statements and promises.

The prestige of the international financial institutions rates less than
zero.  The world economy is today a huge casino. Recent analyses
indicate that for every dollar that goes into trade, over 100 end up in
speculative operations completely disconnected from the real economy. 
As a result of this economic order, over 75% of the world population
lives in underdevelopment, and extreme poverty has already afflicted 1.2
billion people in the Third World.  Far from narrowing, the gap is
widening.

The revenue of the richest nations in 1960 was 37 times larger than that
of the poorest.   Now it is 74 times larger. The situation has reached
such extremes that the assets of the three wealthiest persons in the
world amount to the GDP of the 48 poorest countries combined.

The number of people actually starving was 826 million last year.  There
are at the moment 854 million illiterate adults, while 325 million
children do not attend school. There are 2 billion people who have no
access to low cost medications and 2.4 billion lack basic sanitation. No
less than 11 million children under the age of five perish every year
from preventable causes, while half a million go blind for lack of
vitamin A.

The life span of the population in the developed world is 30 years
higher than that of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. A true
genocide!  The poor countries should not be blamed for this tragedy.
They neither conquered nor plundered entire continents for centuries;
they did not establish colonialism, or re-establish slavery; and, modern
imperialism is not of their making. Actually, they have been its
victims. Therefore, the main responsibility for financing their
development lies with those states that, for obvious historical reasons,
enjoy today the benefits of those atrocities.

The rich world should condone their foreign debt and grant them fresh
soft credits to finance their development. The traditional offers of
assistance, always scant and often ridiculous, are either inadequate or
unfulfilled....The consensus draft [of action], which the masters of the
world are imposing on this conference, posits that we accept
humiliating, conditioned and interfering alms.
Everything created since Bretton Woods [the post-war economic
arrangement for the capitalist world] should be reconsidered.... The
privileges and interests of the most powerful prevailed [at that time].
In the face of the present deep crisis, a still worse future is offered
where the ... number of poor and starving would grow worse....

Ever more sophisticated weapons are piling up in the arsenals of the
wealthiest [that] can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the
hungry but cannot kill ignorance, illnesses, poverty or hunger. It
should definitely be said -- Farewell to arms.  Something must be done
to save humanity. A better world is possible!
(end)

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