Read My Lips

Fidel Castro on the World Economy

What does an aging revolutionary have to say about the state of the world?

Cuban President Fidel Castro

Takeaways


When Fidel Castro makes a rare visit to the United States, he tends to make it count. As the UN’s Millennium Assembly convened in New York City in September 2000, Mr. Castro spoke at the Riverside Church in Harlem and delivered a scathing assessment of how the global economy is failing the world’s poor and developing countries. We provide several short excerpts in this Read My Lips feature.

What happened to per capita income?

“I could say, for example, that in more than 100 countries, the per capita income is lower than it was 15 years ago.”

“In the third world, there are 1.3 billion poor people. In other words, one out of every three inhabitants lives in poverty.”

How many people go to bed hungry?

“More than 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger — and 790 million of them live in the third world.”

Is the number for illiterate people similar?

“More than 840 million adults are still illiterate—and the vast majority live in the third world.”

What does that mean for life expectancy?

“At the moment of birth, an inhabitant of the third world can expect to live 18 years less than another of the industrialized world.

“Life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is barely 48 years. That is 30 years less than in the developed countries.

“It is estimated that 654 million people living in countries of the South today will not live past 40 — almost half my age.”

Do children survive for long?

“More than 11 million boys and girls under five years of age die every year in the third world from diseases that are largely preventable. That means more than 30,000 every day, 21 every minute — and almost a thousand since this rally began, about 45 minutes ago.

“In the third world, 64 children out of every 1,000 born live die before reaching one year of age.”

Those who do, how do they live?

“Two out of every five children in the third world suffer from retarded growth, and one in every three is underweight for their age.

“I said 64 out of every 1,000 as an average for all the Third World countries, and that includes Cuba whose infant mortality rate is slightly under seven. But, there are numerous countries in Africa where more than 200 children out of every 1,000 live births die every year before the age of five.”

How do make some of the children a living?

“There are other terribly painful moral aspects such as the fact that two million girls are forced into prostitution and about 250 million children under the age of 15 are forced to work for a living.

“Ten of the 11 new HIV positives occurring in the world every minute take place in sub-Saharan Africa, where the total number of people infected is now over 25 million.”

How does this compare to money spent on other things?

“And all of this is happening at a time when, throughout the world, 800 billion dollars are put into military spending, 400 billion are spent on narcotic drugs, and a trillion dollars are invested in commercial advertising.

“By the end of 1998, the third world’s external debt amounted to 2.4 trillion dollars, that is, four times the total in 1982, only 18 years ago.”

What happened to all the debt payments — any relief yet?

“Between 1982 and 1998, these countries paid over 3.4 trillion dollars for debt servicing, in other words, almost a trillion dollars more than the current debt. Far from decreasing, the debt grew by 45% in those 16 years.

“Despite the neoliberal discourse on the opportunities created by the open-trading system the underdeveloped countries, with 85% of the world’s population, accounted for only 34.6% of world exports in 1998. That is less than in 1953, despite the fact that their population has more than doubled.”

So, how do the wealthy nations help the poor?

“While flows of official development assistance in 1992 represented 0.33% of the developed countries’ gross national product, by 1998, six years later, that percentage had dropped to 0.23%, far below the 0.7% goal set by the United Nations.

Therefore, while the wealthy world is becoming increasingly wealthy, contributions to the development of the large number of poor people decrease every year. Solidarity and responsibility shrink further by the year.”

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