Distinguished participants in the Group of 77 Ministerial Meeting:

Allow me to extend a fraternal greeting to all of you. I had very much hoped to be able to attend this meeting personally, but it was not possible.

This message is intended, above all, as an expression of Cuba’s deeply felt honor and responsibility as host of the South Summit to be held in Havana from April 10 to 14 next year.

This important high-level meeting is being convened by our country, in compliance with the decision reached at the Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77 and China just one year ago, in September of 1998. It will be taking place at a moment in history of crucial importance for the world, and particularly for the most disadvantaged part of the world, namely the countries represented here.

The Group of 77 needs to collectively reflect on ways to face the new world realities in order to achieve development, eradicate poverty, defend the cultures of its member states and occupy the place it deserves when it comes to making global decisions that affect everyone.

Since its inception in 1963, the Group of 77 has played a major role in representing the South and defending its interests in numerous negotiations. We make up a group of countries characterized by diversity as to geography, culture and degrees of economic development. Such diversity should be an asset not a liability.

Actually, only a calm reflection and an honest exchange of ideas will show us the way to better consider the legitimate interests of all member countries in the Group of 77 regardless of their size, region or culture, or whether they are continental or islands.

Over and above this diversity there is a common elements of unity and cohesion: we are a group of countries that benefit very little --and often not at all-- from the advantages of the current world order with its dazzling technology, market expansion and financial bubbles.

As we stand on the threshold of a new millenium, we face the enormous challenges arising from a unipolar world order and a globalization process that advances impetuously, shaping up a world with greater technological potential than ever before but also with greater inequalities and exclusions.

Globalization is the historical process that is defining the world scenario as this millennium draws to an end.

Globalization is an irreversible reality characterized by the growing interaction of all countries in the world, their economies and peoples. The major scientific and technical advances have shortened distances and allowed for direct communication and transmission of information among countries located anywhere on the planet.

With its impressive technological achievements, globalization holds tremendous potential for development, the eradication of poverty and fostering well being in conditions of social equality for all humanity. Never before had the world commanded today’s formidable technological resources.

However, the world is still very far from materializing the potentials of globalization. It develops today under the aegis of neoliberal policies that impose unregulated markets and unbridled privatization.

Far from promoting the expansion of development throughout an increasingly interdependent world badly in need of sharing the progresses achieved, neoliberal globalization has aggravated existing inequalities and raised to inordinate heights social inequities and the most irritating contrasts between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

In 1960, the difference of incomes between the wealthiest 20% of the world's population living in the developed countries and those of the poorest 20% living in the Third World was 30 to 1. By 1997, that ratio was 74 to 1.

The cult of deregulated markets had promised a progressive convergence of development levels. However, the last two decades have brought an even greater concentration of revenues and resources of all kinds and a wider gap between developed and underdeveloped nations.

The OECD member countries, with 19% of the world's population, account for 71% of the international trade in goods and services, 58% of direct foreign investment and 91% of all Internet users.

It is obvious that the opportunities offered by globalization are distributed very unevenly in the conditions created by the cult of market competitiveness and the reduction of the governments role to passive recipients of decisions taken by the financial power centers.

In order for globalization to realize its enormous potential to benefit humanity it must be accompanied by a just and sustainable new world order. This new order must include the participation of Third World countries in global decision making and a profound transformation of the international monetary system currently dominated by the privileges enjoyed by the United States national currency. Likewise, a comprehensive approach to development is required avoiding the separation of trade, investments and finance in independent spheres, thus facilitating control by the developed countries. It is essential to reduce the widening gap between the group of wealthiest countries and the large majority of poorest countries, as well as to bring an end to protectionist practices, which clearly contradict the often repeated rhetoric of liberalization.

Globalization's potential for progress and development for all, and not just for a privileged minority, will elude full realization in the absence of a dialogue between the developed countries and the Third World. This must be a wide-ranging and responsible dialogue based on a full understanding of the shared responsibilities imposed by globalization by itself of the different degrees of development that make it both unfair and absurd to demand equal contributions from such profoundly unequal parties.

Above all, it must be a dialogue on equal footing and not a monologue in which the Third World is assigned the role of listening to the discourse on what it should do to earn a certificate for good behavior.

Many items should be included on the agenda for this dialogue. New conflicts and growing inequalities create the need for negotiations, in which our capacity for concertation as Group of 77, combined with an intelligent, flexible and strongly principled stance are indispensable to achieve a renovated North-South dialogue. Such a dialogue should be capable of approaching the enormous global challenges facing humanity and, in particular, the need to globalize development on a sustainable bases through environmental preservation and social equity.

It is of prime importance for our countries to work out an agenda, define our priorities and concert our negotiating positions. A number of issues demand close study and coordination, such as the Third World external debt and the heavy burden imposed by interest payments, which are truly suffocating for many of our countries; the international monetary and financial system, frequently shaken by financial crises that destabilize the world economy and hit the poor countries with particularly brutal force; the multilateral trade system, currently dominated by extreme liberalization measures imposed by developed countries and which they themselves violate on a daily basis through selective protectionism; and the unfavorable trends in the price of commodities, in a world market increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations whose annual sales exceed the gross domestic product of many of our countries.

The inequalities and dangers contained in the prevailing rules for trade in services and intellectual property, as well as the reduction of official development assistance to levels that fall increasingly short of the commitments made by the developed countries are equally relevant issues that call for an analysis.

The South needs the South. Cooperation among our nations is one of the areas to which the Havana Summit should make the greatest contribution through concrete action and innovative mechanisms. The promotion of South-South cooperation is instrumental in sharing our experiences and capabilities.

The issue of technology and expertise should take a preferential place on our agenda since it touches upon the problems that will largely decide the future of our countries.

We urgently need to confront the extreme poverty of our group of countries concerning global information networks, Internet and all the state-of-the-art means for disseminating information and images. That shining world where knowledge and images are thus exchanged remains unfamiliar and out of reach to our countries.

To use Internet it is indispensable to be able to read. Then, have access to a telephone line and a computer, and be fluent in English, the language used in 80% of the material on the network. Anyone of these requirements and even more so all of them together, would be difficult to meet by many countries in the Group of 77.

The truth is that with less than 5% of the world's population the United States of America and Canada are home to over 50% of Internet users, and there are more computers in the United States than in the rest of the world.

This extreme inequality rests on the meager opportunities for development oriented research. A mere 10 countries account for 84% of worldwide spending on research and development.

The new communications technologies have divided the world into those who are, and those who are not connected to the global networks.

Being connected to this knowledge and participating in a true globalization of information that amounts to real sharing as opposed to exclusion, and that puts an end to the widespread ‘brain drain’, is a strategic imperative for the survival of our cultural identities in the coming century.

For Cuba, it is vitally important that the 133 countries that make up the Group of 77 discuss their views on these decisive issues and adopt common strategies to defend their interests in this unipolar world, characterized by increasingly obvious attempts by a small minority to wipe out the principles of International Law enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, which has presided over relations among all countries for over half a century. Actually, not only the principles of International Law are in jeopardy but also the very existence of small and medium-sized states. They are even demanded to stop breathing, so that huge transnational companies and a few overpowerful states under the aegis of one of them, can make all the decisions. Such a philosophy is inadmissible and unsustainable.

The South Summit in Havana will provide a favorable environment to coordinate our positions with a view to the Millenium Assembly and Summit and in defense of a world where social justice and real possibilities for development are available to all the peoples on Earth.

Cuba can offer the Group of 77 its experience in the area of cooperation. Just in health care, over 25,000 Cuban doctors have provided their services in dozens of Third World countries. There are currently over 1200 doctors and other health care specialists offering those services free of charge in Central America, Haiti, and northern sub-Saharan Africa. By the same token, several thousand more are ready to take on the same task. They do not work in national capitals or big cities but rather in villages, townships and isolated settlements, where they are needed most. Millions of lives can be saved with this modest yet sincere gesture of solidarity that contributing the necessary human resources.

At present, a total of 2000 students from 18 countries throughout the region are already studying in a Latin American Medical School recently established in Havana. That figure will grow to 3000 within a few months, and in three more years, the number of Caribbean and Latin American medical students in Cuba will reach 6000. In Africa, we are cooperating in the creation and development of higher education institutions in the medical field.

We are also working tirelessly in the development of vaccines against AIDS and a number of lethal tropical diseases. A new concept on the role of doctors in human society is developing with irrepressible force.

A similar plan to encourage the development of physical education and sports in the Third World is already in progress. It includes both sending highly specialized trainers to other countries and the establishment of a high level school in Cuba to train young people from other countries as physical education and sports instructors. Cooperation in the training of scientific and technical personnel is expanding to other sectors as well.

We have practically completed and will soon be trying out a system to teach reading and writing by radio. Thus, with an extremely small number of teachers and a low spending in financial and material resources, it would be possible to bring the gift of literacy to hundreds of millions of people in the Third World living in isolated areas. To do so in any other way would require millions of teachers and billions of dollars a year, something completely beyond reach.

I hope you will forgive me for referring to these data. I simply wanted to point out how infinite our possibilities are and how much can be achieved with a bit of international cooperation and a spirit of solidarity. Cuba is but a small country, which has endured 40 years of uninterrupted, rigorous and relentless economic warfare. What would we not be able to attain if our countries worked closely united? We would not only be able to preserve our current civilization, but also ensure the very survival of the species.

The only way to succeed in making ourselves heard, in fighting for our interests, and in defending our right to life, development and culture is to stand united.

We hope that along with my sincerest greetings and respect, each one of you will pass on to your Heads of State and Government these reflections, as well as Cuba's sincere wishes to welcome them all in Havana next April, as promised when we agreed to host that meeting.



Fidel Castro Ruz