Speech given by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the opening of the High-level Segment of the Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought. Havana, Cuba, 1st September 2003.

His Excellency Mr. Hama Arba Diallo, Executive Secretary;

His Excellency Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Sub-Secretary General;

Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government, Vice-Presidents, Presidents

of Parliaments and Chiefs of delegations;

Distinguished guests:

Hardly 30 years ago humanity was not in the least aware of this huge tragedy. Back then people thought that the only danger of extinction lay in the colossal number of nuclear weapons waiting to be fired at a moment’s notice. Although threats of that nature have by no means disappeared, an additional terrifying, Dantesque danger lies in wait for us. I do not hesitate to use this strong, seemingly melodramatic language. The real drama lies in ignoring the kind of risks we have lived with for so long.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War nobody capable of thought, nobody who knew how to read and write had ever heard a single word about humanity’s blind, inexorable and accelerated march towards the destruction of the natural bases of its own life. Not one of the thousands of generations that preceded this one knew about such a dire threat nor did such an enormous responsibility fall upon any of them.

These are facts: the fruit of humankind’s little known history, a result of the evolution of human society over five or six thousand years when that society did not have, nor could it have, any clear idea of where it came from nor where it was going. This amazing and distressing fact is now the deeply held conviction of an educated and concerned, growing and flourishing minority of humanity.

Today we know what is happening. Everyone here has access to the horrifying data and the irrefutable arguments, serenely presented and analyzed in the conferences that preceded this one.

My point of view is that there is no more urgent task than that of building a universal awareness, of taking the problem to the billions of men and women of all ages, including children, who inhabit this planet. The objective conditions and the sufferings of the overwhelming majority of them create the subjective conditions for this awareness-raising task.

Everything is connected. Illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, hunger, diseases; the lack of drinking water, of housing, of electricity; desertification, climatic variations, deforestation, floods, droughts, soil erosion, biodegradation, pests and other well known tragedies are inseparable.

Without education, we cannot achieve the urgent and much needed building of public awareness of which I spoke. A far-reaching educational revolution is, however, accessible to all the peoples in the world. This is the basic idea that I wish to address here today.

Cuba, whose modest success in this field go unquestioned, can assure you that with an initial $3 billion investment in a short period of time and $700 million in each of the following nine years in educational material and equipment, —this includes one and a half million solar panels for communities and villages which have no electricity— it is possible, in a period of twelve years, to teach 1.5 billion illiterate and semi-illiterate people to read and write and keep them at school up to sixth grade. This is a total expenditure of less that $10 billion, the equivalent of less than 0.004 per cent of one year’s Gross Domestic Product of the developed countries members of the OECD.

Teaching these people presupposes gradually setting up four million teaching locations with audiovisual equipment of proven efficacy as well as the cooperation of an extensive movement of 8 million volunteers with at least a six-grade-level education. At the same time, and with the same methods, these could teach and be progressively trained as educators of a good professional level.

If the decision were made to encourage those who have no jobs by paying them a modest monthly salary while they teach and learn, it would be possible to create between 4 and 8 million decent jobs, something that would be highly appreciated by millions of youths in the Third World countries, as they are the most affected by the scourge of unemployment. The cost to donor countries would be equally infinitesimal: if we estimate the aforementioned salary at $100 a month and a tentative figure of 6 million who would be involved in the program on this basis, the cost would be the equivalent of 0.003 of the OECD’s GDP, in this instance, every year.

If we were to take the two programs together, the cost in the first five years would be approximately equivalent to what the United States spends, at the current rate, on the occupying forces in Iraq in just 15 weeks.

An almost equal number of the world’s population could be taught, at a much lower cost, using medium or short wave radios, which cost no more than $15 and are powered by small photovoltaic cells attached to them. A primer would go with the radio.

Our country has donated this method of radio-based teaching, developed by Cuban educators, to several countries that are already using it and we would happily do the same for any other country that would request it.

Our country has used television to teach English, a language used all over the world, to more than 1 million Cubans at a cost of only $50,000 for the Cuban state.

If the rich group of countries were to donate only 0.01 per cent of the OECD’s GDP, a small portion of the 0.7 percent so often promised but never given —except for a few isolated cases— it would be possible in ten years to use solar panels to supply 30 kilowatts of electricity a month to 250 million families in the Third World. This would mean that about 1.5 billion more people, the poorest segment of the world population, would be able to enjoy several hours of electric light and entertaining, news and educational TV or radio broadcasts every day without using a single liter of fossil fuel.

After the demise of the socialist camp, when our country blockaded for more than four decades found itself obliged to deal with a highly difficult situation, it began to produce and it continues to do so, on sites available in the cities, more than 3 million tons of vegetables a year. This is done in hydroponics using straw and agricultural waste as organic matter, and dripping irrigation, which requires a minimum amount of water. Additionally, it has provided employment to almost 300,000 people while avoiding the emission of a single kilogram of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

I can say here that in a week’s time, all of the 505,000 Cuban teenagers attending junior high school —grades seven, eight and nine— will start the school year with new educational methods that will triple the amount of knowledge usually provided and there will be one teacher for every 15 students.

I beg you to forgive me for citing examples showing that, in spite of huge obstacles, it is still possible to do a great deal to ensure that the environment is preserved and that humanity survives.

However, all that I have said so far is incompatible with the atrocious economic system imposed on the world, the ruthless neoliberal globalization, the demands and conditions to which the IMF sacrifices health, education and social security for billions of people. It is incompatible with the cruel way in which, through uncontrolled buying and selling of hard currency between strong currencies and the weak currencies of the Third World, enormous sums of money are stolen from the latter every year. To sum up, it is incompatible with the policies of the WTO that seem to be designed to allow the rich countries to flood the world with their products unrestricted and to wipe out the industrial and agricultural development of the poor countries, leaving them no other future but to supply raw materials and cheap labor. It is incompatible with the FTAA and other free trade agreements between sharks and sardines. It is incompatible with the monstrous foreign debt, which is, in the current situation, completely unpayable. It is incompatible with brain drain, with the almost total monopoly on intellectual property and the abusive and disproportionate consumption of the planet’s natural and energy resources.

The list of injustices would be endless. The gap is growing wider and looting is getting worse.

Under the precepts and ideology of a diabolical and chaotic economic order, within five or six decades the consumer societies will have depleted the proven and unproven fossil fuel reserves and in a mere 150 years will have used what it took the planet 300 million years to create.

There is not even a clear and coherent idea about what energy will power the billions of motorized vehicles, which inundate the cities and highways of rich countries and even of many Third World countries. This is the ultimate expression of a completely irrational way of life and consumption that will never be useful as a model for the 10 billion people who will supposedly inhabit the Earth when the fateful petroleum era is over.

Such an economic order and such models of consumption are incompatible with the planet’s limited and non-renewable essential resources and with the laws that rule nature and life. They are also in conflict with the most basic ethical principles, with culture and with the moral values created by humankind.

We shall continue our combat without losing heart, without wavering, profoundly convinced that if human society has made colossal mistakes and even if it is still making them, human beings are capable of conceiving the noblest of ideas, of holding the most generous feelings and, convinced that by overcoming the powerful instincts with which nature has imbued them, they can give their lives for what they feel and believe in. This has been proven often times throughout history.

Let us cultivate these exceptional qualities and there will be no insurmountable obstacles and nothing that cannot be changed!

Thank you, very much. (Ovation)