Cuba at the Earth Summit

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

‘The world is more unequal than ten years ago’

A decade ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio, Fidel Castro warned that ‘an important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: humankind.’ With the ‘alleged threat of the Cold War over’, Cuba proposed that the resources spent on the arms race and war should be diverted to the development of the third world and to fight ecological destruction. ‘Let us pay the ecological debt and not the foreign debt; let hunger disappear and not humankind.’ Famously, he warned: ‘Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.’

This year, the World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in South Africa. After what Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque called ‘Ten years of new follies and more squandering for some – the minority – and more impoverishment, disease and death for others – the majority – those words echo in this hall on the conscience of quite a few.’ Almost nothing has been achieved since the Rio Summit.

The environment is more threatened than ever. For example, as Roque pointed out:
• emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 9% – in the USA, by 18%
• seas and rivers are today more poisoned than in 1992, the air is more polluted
• 15 million hectares of forest are decimated every year

‘The world is more unfair and more unequal than ten years ago. The gap has widened instead of decreasing. The difference in income between the richest and the poorest countries was 37 times in 1960, around 60 when we met in Rio – and now it stands at 74 times.’ The results are that, in the world today:

• 815 million people go hungry every day
• 1.2 billion live in abject poverty
• 854 million adults are illiterate
• 2.4 billion people lack basic sanitation
• 40 million people have contracted the AIDS virus
• 2 million people die of tuberculosis and 1 million of malaria every year
• 11 million children under five will die this year of preventable causes

Who is responsible for this growing inequality? Roque points the finger firmly at the economic and political order imposed by imperialism, its international financial institutions and the IMF in particular. ‘These serve the interests of the governments of a few developed countries, predominantly those of the most powerful among them, those of several hundreds of transnational companies and those of a group of politicians whose electoral campaigns have been financed by such companies. In order to defend those illegitimate and minority interests, most of the world population is subjected to poverty and hopelessness’.

Once again, Cuba offers concrete proposals to enable the developing countries to survive, including:

• a development tax of barely 0.1% on international financial transactions, amounting to nearly $400bn per year
• immediate cancellation of the foreign debt of underdeveloped countries, saving those countries $300bn per year in debt service repayments (a quarter of their earnings through the export of goods and services)
• agreeing, as an immediate step, that 50% of what is currently earmarked for military spending be channelled to a UN fund for sustainable development – an instant $400bn ‘half of which would be contributed by a single country...the one ultimately responsible for the decimation of the environment’

And, to oversee and carry out the change, a whole new ‘financial architecture’, replacing the IMF by an ‘international public institution serving everyone’s interests – the development of a fair and equitable trading system that guarantees special and differentiated treatment for underdeveloped countries’, the strengthening of multilateralism and the role of the UN.’ But, as the Cubans well know, such measures are impossible under the brutal imperialist system that exists. What Roque’s speech did was expose the hypocrisy of a Summit that has achieved nothing for the poor of the world and done nothing to slow, in his words, the sinking of a Titanic in which we must all perish.