By JAIME GONZALEZ
MEXICO CITY-Fidel’s sharp and short speech on March 21, at an international conference held in Monterrey, Mexico, was very far from the courtly hypocrisy accustomed at United Nations boondoggles.
“The current world economic order represents a system of plundering and exploitation like no other in history,” Castro said. He pointed out that this system “has pushed 75 per cent of the world population toward underdevelopment. Extreme poverty in the Third World has already reached 1.2 billion people. The gap is widening, not shrinking.”
The chairperson for the meeting, Mexico’s president, Vicente Fox, pretended not to listen. He should have, and very carefully, for Castro spelled the only way out for semi-colonial countries like Afghanistan, Mexico, and Argentina, as well as much more developed ones that are suffering in one degree to another from stagnation and high unemployment:
“Rich countries should condone foreign debt and concede new loans to finance development. Traditional aid offerings, always pitiful and often ridiculous, are insufficient or are not truly carried out. What is needed for a true economic and social development is oftentimes much more than what is announced.”
Then came the gesture worthy of the revolutionary leader we had missed for many years: he asked the chairman for a 20 second extension, in which he announced he was leaving the meeting because of a “special situation” created by his presence. He raised his fist into the air as he left the room, and clearly said “no” when asked whether Cuba was signing the “consensus” document for the “Monterrey Summit”.
The “special situation”, of course, was created by the U.S. government; it asked Mexico’s government to press Castro to leave before George Bush’s arrival. This was one of many conditions put forward by Washington before adding its signature to the meeting’s product, which is a practically useless document on “financing development.”
The case of Argentina should be clear enough to anybody who has any illusions on the “Monterrey consensus.” In dire need of coordinated help from the rest of the world, and in hope of turning the meeting’s stated intentions into something more substantial, Argentina’s president, Eduardo Duhalde, went through all the prescribed ceremony and courtesy.
But he left empty-handed, and upon his return found out that the International Monetary Fund had actually hardened the conditions for an “aid” package. (The IMF is supposedly a UN-controlled agency, but it is actually run by the world’s super-rich governments through secretive and very strict procedures, some of which go back to the Bretton Woods agreements between Great Britain and the United States when World War II was ending.)
Asking the “Monterrey consensus” to deliver is like asking Nobel Price winner and UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to actually stop a war, instead of giving his benediction every time the U.S. government decides to carry out a gross violations of international legal standards.
“Call us servile, even traitors”
The Mexican foreign affairs secretary, Jorge Castañeda, vigorously denied that Fox’s government had applied any pressure to Fidel. The issue is quite sensitive in Mexico, since for many years (long before Fox) relations with revolutionary Cuba have been portrayed by governments here as a sign of the country’s independence from the U.S. and the president-in-turn’s aloofness from the cold war.
Keeping this make-believe has been a very complicated game, and past governments have gone through all sorts of extremes to maintain it. For example, Philip Agee’s “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” (Bantam Books) was strictly forbidden in Mexico because it revealed a former president’s ties to the CIA, as well as the brutal and secret battle waged in the unions during the 1950s and ’60s to thoroughly oust Communist sympathizers.
In recent days, Fox has gone through the routine of denying he has bent to any U.S. pressure. But then, straight from the horse’s mouth, legislators for the PAN (the political party under whose ballot Fox ran for the presidency), called a press conference.
In their minds, the PAN statement must have been a brave showing: “They can call us servile and even traitors, but we are not going to sacrifice our relation with the United States” (see “Pide Cámara de Diputados informe sobre diferendo”, El Universal, March 27, 2002).
Supposedly, they have gone through the risk of being called “servile and even traitors” because “Mexico has 20 million compatriots that we must defend” in the United States.
Just how the PAN is going to defend our paisanos is not clear at all. What has been clear during the last months, however, is that the Bush administration has launched a vicious campaign against immigrants, who are automatically considered terrorist suspects. Mexican immigrants have lately been held without trial, and subjected to the most ridiculous suspicions of ties with terrorist organizations.
An average of one Mexican a day dies of exposure or dehydration while attempting to cross into the United States. PAN legislators and Fox have not only failed to defend these victims, but their discourse has been one of total support to Bush’s “war on terrorism.”
“Ninth economic power in the world”
Since his ascension to the presidency, Fox has tried to project to the world the image of a highly successful administration, transforming a Third World country into an advanced and rich one. The expensive show he threw at Monterrey, with support from the UN, was meant to consolidate his role as a world star.
Mexico, our president constantly remarks, is now the “ninth economic power in the world,” and well on the way to becoming the eighth one. But this is highly misleading; there is hardly any technological or industrial achievement that Mexico can brag about on the world market. Its main sources of foreign currency are crude oil and the earnings that our paisanos working in the U.S. send back to their families back home.
Mexico’s most dynamic industry for the past decades has not been a domestically owned one, but the foreign-owned maquiladoras built to serve the U.S. market. As a result of its complete dependency, the maquiladora industry is now undergoing an alarming negative growth (see Jeff Mackler’s article, “Capitalist Plunder and the World Economic Crisis, in the January 2002 Socialist Action.).
Officially, Mexico’s economy contracted at a rate of 0.3 percent during 2001. The figure for manufacturing, which contracted at 3.9 percent for the year, gives a much better idea of what is going on.
Even more revealing, however, was the overall human development evaluation that the UN released in 2001: in the composite index known as HDI, which comprises life expectancy, education, and per capita earnings, Mexico came out as number 51, way behind Barbados, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica. (The UN’s “Human Development Report 2001” can be unloaded from the internet at www. undp.org/hdr2001/.)
Cuba is quite a different story. In the UN’s HDI report, Cuba came out as number 4 for Human Poverty Index (HPI) in Latin America, behind Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Chile, and well ahead of Mexico (number 10). This is startling, considering the fact that Cuba suffers from a crippling embargo by the United States and many of its allies, while Mexico has been officially rated a darling of Wall Street’s financial agencies.
In such critical indexes as child mortality rate and education Cuba is a world superstar, with rates that exceed those of First World countries. (The achievements of Cuba’s education system were recently highlighted in the New York Times article, “Cuba Leads Latin America in Primary Education, Study Finds,” published Dec. 14, 2001.)
The Cuban Revolution and the on-going social process that was ignited by it is a much more serious and deep-going phenomenon than you would believe if you just follow the media’s account of what is going on in that country. And that is precisely why the world should pay attention when Fidel Castro refuses to sign something like the “Monterrey Consensus.”