The UNCTAD, an organization founded 40 years ago, was a noble attempt by the underdeveloped world to create in the United Nations, through fair and rational international trade, an instrument to serve its aspirations of progress and development. There were lots of hopes then and the naive idea that the former metropolises were aware of the duty and the necessity to share that goal.
Raul Prebisch was the main promoter of that idea. He had characterized the phenomenon of the unequal terms of reference as one of the great tragedies hindering the economic development of the peoples in the Third World. This was one of his most important contributions to the economic culture of our times. In recognition of his relevant qualities, he was elected the first Secretary General of this United Nations agency for trade and development.
Today, the terrible scourge of the unequal terms of reference is barely mentioned in speeches and conferences.
International trade has not been an instrument for the development of the poor countries that today make up the overwhelming majority of mankind. For 86 of them, basic commodities account for over half of their export revenues. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of such products, except oil, is now less than one third of what it was at the time of UNCTAD’s inception.
Although figures tend to be repetitive and boring, oftentimes it becomes unavoidable to use their eloquent and irreplaceable language.
-85% of the world population lives in the poor countries but their share of international trade is only 25%.
-These countries’ external debt was close to 50 billion USD in 1964, the year this United Nations agency was born, while today it is 2.6 trillion.
-Between 1982 and 2003, that is, in 21 years the poor world paid 5.4 trillion USD in debt service, which means that its present sum has been paid to the rich countries more than twice.
The poor countries were promised development aid and the steady reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor; they were even promised that it would reach 0.7% of the so-called GDP of those economically developed, a figure that if true would amount today to no less than 175 billion USD annually.
What the Third World received as official development aid in 2003 was only 54 billion USD. That same year, the poor paid to the rich 436 billion in debt service and the richest of them all, the United States of America, was the one farther from meeting the set goal, as it allocated only 0.1% of its GDP to that aid. And this leaves out the enormous amounts taken away as a result of the unequal terms of trade.
In addition, the rich countries spend every year 300 billion USD on subsidies that prevent the poor countries’ access to their markets.
On the other hand, it is practically impossible to measure the damage brought upon those countries by the kind of trade relations that, through the sinuous roads of the WTO and the Free Trade Agreements, are imposed on the poor countries, which are unable to compete with the sophisticated technology, the almost absolute monopoly over intellectual property and the immense financial resources of the rich countries.
Other forms of plundering that add to this are the gross exploitation of the cheap labor force in assembly plants that come and go at light speed; the currency speculation in the range of trillion dollars every day; arms trade; the seizure of goods belonging to the national cultural heritage; the cultural invasion as well as other actions related to theft and pillage that it would be impossible to list here. The classic books on economics do not show the most brutal transference of financial resources from the poor to the rich countries, as it has not been studied yet, that is, the flight of capital which is a must that characterizes the prevailing world order.
Everybody’s money escapes to the United States to protect itself from the monetary instability and the speculative frenzy brought about by the same economic order. Without this gift that the rest of the world, mostly the poor, makes to the United States, it would be impossible for the present administration to withstand its enormous fiscal and trade deficits that in the year 2004 amount to no less than 1 trillion dollars.
Would anyone dare to deny the social and human consequences of the neoliberal globalization imposed on the world?
- If 25 years ago five hundred million people were going hungry, today over 800 million are starving.
-In the poor countries, 150 million children are born underweight, which raises their risks of death as well as of mental and physical underdevelopment.
-325 million children do not attend school.
-Infant mortality rate under one year is 12 times higher than it is in the rich countries.
-33 thousand children die every day in the Third World of curable illnesses.
-Two million girls are forced into prostitution.
-85 percent of the world population made up by poor countries consumes only 30 percent of the energy, 25 percent of the metals and 15 percent of the timber.
-There are billions of full illiterates or functional illiterates on the planet.
How can the imperialist leaders and those who share in the plundering of the world speak of human rights and even use such words as freedom and democracy in this brutally exploited world?
A permanent crime of genocide is being committed against mankind. The number of children, mothers, adolescents, youths and adults who could be saved and die every year for lack of food, medical care and medicines is similar to the tens of millions who perished in any of the two world wars. This is happening every day, every hour, while none of the great leaders of the developed and rich world say a single word about it.
Can this situation go on forever? Definitely not, and for purely objective reasons.
After tens of thousands of years, humanity has reached at this minute—and almost unexpectedly given the accelerated pace of the last 45 years when it more than doubled- a population of 6,350 millions and these people must be provided with dress, shoes, food, shelter and education. That figure will almost inevitably grow to 10 billion within hardly 50 more years. By then, both the proven and the unproven fuel reserves that it took the planet 300 million years to build will no longer exist as they will have been thrown to the atmosphere, the waters and the soils together with other chemical pollutants.
The imperialist system that prevails today, towards which the developed capitalist society unavoidably evolved, has already come to such a ruthlessly irrational and unfair world economic and neoliberal order that it is unsustainable. Many peoples will rebel against it. In fact, they have already begun to rebel. It is stupid to say that this is the work of parties, ideologies or subversive and destabilizing agents from Cuba and Venezuela.
Among other things, this evolution brought with it the so-called consumer societies, also an unavoidable process within the framework and norms that rule the system. In these societies, their irresponsible and spendthrift tendencies have poisoned the minds of large numbers of people in the world that amid generalized economic and political ignorance are manipulated by commercial and political publicity through the fabulous media created by science.
These conditions in the rich and powerful countries have not been particularly auspicious for the development of capable and responsible leaders gifted with the knowledge, the political principles and the ethics that such an extremely complex world demand. It is not their fault as they themselves are the result and the blind instruments of that evolution. Will they be able to handle with responsibility the extremely complicated political situations showing up in the world in growing numbers?
Soon it will be 60 years to the day that the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. There are tens of thousands of such weapons in the world today, which are scores of times more powerful and accurate; and they continue to be produced and perfected. There are even programs for nuclear missile bases in outer space. New more sophisticated and deadly arm systems are being produced.
For the first time in history man would have created the technical capacity for its own destruction. However, it has not been capable of creating a minimum of guarantees for the safety and integrity of every country, on equal footing. Theories are elaborated and even applied with respect to the pre-emptive and surprise use of the most sophisticated weapons, “in any dark corner of the world”, “in 60 or more countries”, that make the barbaric claims of the darkest days of Nazism go pale. We have already seen wars of conquests, and sadistic methods of torture that bring back to memory the images showed at the end of the II World War.
The United Nations prestige is being undermined to its very foundations. Far from being perfected and democratized, this institution has been left as an instrument that the superpower and its allies intend to use only to provide coverage to war adventures and appalling crimes against the most sacred rights of the peoples.
This is no fantasy or simply imagining things. It is a fact that in barely half a century two great mortal dangers have emerged that threaten the very survival of the species: one that derives from the technological development of weapons and the other coming from the systematic and accelerated destruction of natural conditions for life on the planet.
The dilemma into which humanity has been dragged by the system is such that there is no option now: either the present world situation changes or the species runs a real risk of extinction. You do not need to be a scientist or an expert in mathematics to understand this as the simple arithmetic taught to grammar school children would suffice.
The peoples will become ungovernable, and no repression, torture, disappearances or massive murders will stop them. Not only will the hungry of the Third World be in the struggle for their own survival and that of their children, but also the conscientious people from the rich world, both manual and intellectual workers.
It will be from the inevitable crisis that rather sooner than later thinkers, leaders, social and political organizations of all shades will emerge that will do their utmost to preserve the species. All the waters will converge in one direction sweeping away all obstacles.
Let’s plant ideas, and there will be no need for all the weapons created by this barbaric civilization; let’s plant ideas, and the irreparable destruction of our natural habitat will be prevented.
The question stands, is it not too late? I am an optimist, I say no, and I share the hope that a better world is possible.