Capitalism’s “chickens come home to roost” at the UN
Representatives of the world’s poorest countries joined other U.N. member states in New York this week at a three-day meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the global financial crisis and its impact on the developing world.
Many delegates from “the South” blasted capitalism and the wealthy Western powers for the crisis. For once they could say they did not cause it though they are the biggest victims. Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz told the delegations — roughly three quarters of the General Assembly’s 192 member states are participating — that retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro had foreseen the current crisis nearly three decades go.
During a conference of nonaligned countries in 1983, Castro said in a speech that “declining foreign trade, hunger and unemployment” would eventually take their toll on the global economy,” Malmierca Diaz said.
“The current state of the world economy and its gloomy outlook should lead to a profound reflection in governments and in the most lucid minds of the developed world,” the minister said, adding that Castro’s analysis was “still valid.”
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister and finance minister of the Caribbean island nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the world economy is in “the worst crisis of international capitalism since 1929.”
“The chickens have come home to roost as the poor and the working people suffer consequentially,” Gonsalves said.
Ecuador’s fiery leftist President Rafael Correa agreed. He also joined the chorus of voices calling for the abolition of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which Cuba’s Malmierca Diaz said have “impoverished” the developing world.
There were other critical voices. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chided the world’s wealthy nations for reneging on pledges to boost aid to Africa. “Surely if the world can mobilize more than $18 trillion to keep the financial sector afloat, it can find more than $18 billion to keep commitments to Africa,” he said.
Turnout of world leaders has been low. Fewer than a dozen have shown up at what was billed as a summit meeting. Diplomats said that was partly due to the fact that the conference, originally scheduled for June 1-3, was postponed to this week by General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a leftist former foreign minister of Nicaragua, due to the lack of agreement on a set of draft proposals on reforming the global financial system. Presidents Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, leftist firebrands and critics of the United States from Bolivia and Venezuela, were supposed to attend but failed to appear.
The conference is set to adopt its financial reform proposals on Friday. The final draft was watered down from an earlier version prepared by D’Escoto that Western delegations complained was too radical for them. (One sentence in it read: “Mother Earth can live without human beings but we cannot live without Mother Earth.”)
Among the proposals in the final draft document are calls for greater supervision over hedge funds and the use of derivatives, gender and geographic equality at the IMF and World Bank and increased aid and debt relief for developed countries.
Diplomats from developing countries complained that the final draft was disappointing since it was thin on specifics and contained no concrete promises of new aid. Western diplomats said it was imperfect but a vast improvement over D’Escoto’s initial version.
The draft also calls for the United Nations to play a greater role in global financial matters. The poor nations outside the Group of 20 club of big developed and developing nations — India, China and Brazil are members — think that is a good thing. But big developed powers like the United States have traditionally opposed the idea of letting the other 191 U.N. member states tell it what to do with its money. (Diplomats said the United States, European Union and other Western participants would issue statements after the proposals’ adoption distancing themselves from some of language in the final document.)
Rene Grotenhuis, head of the Catholic development aid alliance CIDSE and director of the Dutch organization Cordaid, welcomed the idea of letting the U.N. play a bigger role: “Global economic policy should be like the World Cup, with every nation playing — not a tournament for rich countries and their invited guests.”
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