Published on Saturday, April 15, 2000 in the Boston Globe
Poor Nations Send A United Message:
Rich Getting Richer
by Richard Chacón
HAVANA - They came from countries as different as China and Equatorial Guinea, and from governments as varied as democratic Nigeria and Communist Cuba.
But the 133 nations that participated in the largest gathering ever of Third World leaders, which concluded here yesterday, had a uniform message: the global economy that has helped boost the world's richest countries has left them poorer.
As the four-day meeting showed this week, however, coming up with a plan to fix the imbalance is the hard part.
In many ways, the stage for this week's debates was set by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who on Wednesday called for closer cooperation between developing and industrialized nations.
Annan also urged leaders to enact good government practices and to eliminate corruption within their own countries, a recommendation that was not universally well received.
''Mr. Annan reflects some ideas from the north,'' Win Aung, foreign minister of military-run Burma, said yesterday in a meeting with US reporters. ''We can't say he's wrong, but it's not complete.''
Cuban President Fidel Castro took a tougher stand. In his own welcoming speech, he called for a ''Nuremberg trial'' for international financiers and others responsible for today's global economy. Breaking with more moderate members, he also proposed abolishing the International Monetary Fund.
Castro himself found it hard to concentrate on the summit because it in many ways has been dwarfed by the fate of a 6-year-old boy. Castro, like most everyone else in Cuba, has been wrapped up in the latest developments involving Elian Gonzalez, the shipwreck survivor who is in the middle of an international tug-of-war between his Cuban father and anti-Castro relatives in Miami.
The Cuban leader abruptly left Wednesday's summit opening to rush to a Havana television studio to attend that day's nationally broadcast recap of international news surrounding Gonzalez. TV sets broadcasting cable news updates, which were set up throughout the convention center, were popular among delegates, journalists, and Cuban organizers.
Cuban officials were also hoping the group would issue a statement calling for the boy's return to Cuba as part of its final decree.
For the first time since The Group of 77 organization was founded in 1964, the leaders representing 80 percent of the world's population assembled to create a united agenda. About 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day, according a recent UN report.
The list of summit participants read like a Who's Who of intriguing characters: Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf; Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe; Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat; Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad; and Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong.
Many of the leaders have found consensus on calls for debt relief, better access to financial markets and help in building more advanced computer and technological systems. The summit precedes Sunday's meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. Both organizations were heavily criticized by Third World leaders here this week for the austere requirements often attached to loans and aid packages and for not doing enough to increase export opportunities with wealthier nations, especially in agriculture and textiles.
''The neoliberal economy is a savage one,'' said Venezuela's Chavez. ''We need an economy based on humanity, not one built by technocrats.''
Nevertheless, advisers and specialists attending the summit said that future aid programs to developing countries would have to include more partnerships with private sector investors and broad incentives to build stronger justice systems and more transparent and democratic governments.
''Growth and good government is not a Western agenda,'' said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UN Development Program, which has released a plan to reduce worldwide poverty by 50 percent by 2015. ''These are the necessary changes for the world today.''
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company