Public discourse in the United States proceeds with unawareness of the colonial foundations of the world-system, and what is more, foreign policy debates in the United States are driven by the limited issue of U.S. geostrategic interests. In contrast, the discourse of Fidel was formulated from the vantage point of the colonized, and it includes a primary focus on the universal needs and aspirations of humanity in the development of relations among nations. For some U.S. citizens, the discourse of Fidel touches sentiments and attains credibility, particularly those who hope for social justice for all of humanity, and who thereby are alienated by the limited perspective and indifference toward humanity of U.S. politicians.
Fidel’s anti-neocolonial and anti-imperialist perspective emphasizes the principles of the self-determination of peoples, the sovereignty of nations, and non-interference in the affairs of states. These principles had been central to the Cuban revolutionary movement since the 1920s, and they are the foundational principles of the Non-Aligned Movement, in which revolutionary Cuba has been an active participant since its establishment in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1961. In his capacity as President of the Non-Aligned Movement, Fidel delivered historic addresses to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979 and at the 1983 Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, spoken as the world turned to neoliberalism. In a written report expanding the 1983 address, Fidel provided a thorough and informed analysis of the problems that the world-economy confronted, and he proposed an alternative to the neoliberal direction being implemented by the global powers. The report is at once a comprehensive historical, economic, and political analysis and a prophetic moral call, proclaimed on behalf of the colonized peoples of the world.
On November 25, 2019, in commemoration of the third anniversary of Fidel’s death, the Cuban evening news program La Mesa Redonda invited the distinguished Cuban economist Osvaldo Martínez to discuss the leadership of Fidel in promoting the Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order.
Martínez noted that in the 1970s the underdeveloped nations had exploded onto the international scene, demanding a more just world-economy. Oil producing and exporting countries had formed OPEC, and they had success in quadrupling the price of petroleum. There was the hope in the Third World that other associations of raw materials producers could be created, ending the unequal exchange between the prices of the raw materials exported by the underdeveloped countries and the prices of the manufactured goods that they imported. Reflecting the growing voice of the Third World at the time, the proposal of the Non-Aligned Movement for a New International Economic Order was supported by the socialist states and was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1974. Although the proposal contained many reformist characteristics and some deficiencies, it illustrated the capacity of the Third World to unite behind a demand for alternative principles that ought to guide international relations.
At the Sixth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana in 1979, Martínez recalled, Fidel assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, and at the end of that year, Fidel went to the United Nations to present his report as President of the Non-Aligned Movement. He pronounced a historic discourse, in which he forcefully declared, “the unequal exchange that is ruining our peoples ought to cease, the external debt ought to cease.” Declaring the developed countries responsible for the situation of global inequality and poverty, he demanded implementation of the UN declaration for a New International Economic Order. He ended with a great call to all of humanity to struggle for their just aspirations. In this important speech, Fidel was declaring that the unjust international economic order was central to the political struggle of the neocolonized peoples.
At that historic moment, Fidel was searching for a way to translate technical terminology into a mobilizing political discourse that could be understood by the people, converting structural change of the world-economy into a fundamental goal of political struggle. At that time, Fidel confronted tremendous obstacles in the task of understanding economic international relations, Martínez explained. Marxism did not have a coherent and profound interpretation of the problem of underdevelopment that the Third World confronted. Western academic thought not only did not explain the phenomenon, but in fact were accomplices in exploitation. The socialist countries, lamentably, did not understand the phenomenon of underdevelopment, and in some respects, although not in all, their conduct was similar to that of the developed capitalist countries. Moreover, the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, obviously were part of the problem, and they in no way had a solution. All of this Fidel confronted.
In this context, Fidel met for a period of three months for several hours each day with young economists of the Center for Research on the World Economy, which recently had been created, and the Center for Research on the International Economy of the University of Havana. Among them was Martínez, who reports that the members of the group came to appreciate the extraordinary discipline with which Fidel worked. “We produced papers,” he said, “and Fidel would read them carefully, and the following day he would bring questions and very relevant commentaries.” He further observed that “we were academic advisors, but what we learned was more than the advice that we gave, [because] Fidel always was bringing us to the point where we academics had not arrived, always looking for the point of contact between academic theory and concrete political reality.”
These meetings resulted in a book by Fidel, The Economic and Social Crisis of the World: Its repercussions for the underdeveloped countries, its dismal prospects, and the need to struggle if we are to survive, which was Fidel’s report to the Seventh Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi in 1983. It was the first time in the history of the Non-Aligned Movement that a president delivered an analysis of the world-economy. Martínez notes that with the passing of time, some things in the book are dated, but 80% of the book discusses themes that remain vibrant today.
The Economic and Social Crisis of the World understands the global crisis to be fundamentally rooted in the structures of a neocolonial world-system that are based on centuries of colonial and neocolonial exploitation. At the same time, it identifies particular steps taken during the 1960s and 1970s by the hegemonic power that sent the system spiraling toward crisis. In the view of the report, these steps were taken by the USA in an effort to preserve its hegemony in the system; the results were disastrous, because the preservation of U.S. hegemony was not possible, a fundamental fact never understood by U.S. leaders.
The 1983 Report on The Economic and Social Crisis of the World also describes the alarming increase in the influence of transnational corporations on the economic relations of the world. The spectacular growth and proliferation of transnational corporations began in the 1960s, but it particularly took off in the 1970s. The growing presence of transnational corporations in the underdeveloped countries constitutes a serious threat to the national sovereignty of these countries. Transnational corporations do not adjust their operations in accordance with the legislation of the countries in which they are located. They interfere directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of the countries in which they operate. They ask the governments of the countries from which they come to pressure the governments of the countries in which they are operating, in accordance with their particular interests. They attempt to obstruct governments of the underdeveloped countries from exercising control over their natural resources. The Report maintains that U.S. transnational corporations enjoy high profits from its Third World investments, but the principal profits from Third World investments have been in the form of loan interest payments to transnational banks.
Fidel’s 1983 report maintains that the transnational corporations have a perspective on the development of the Third World countries, which Fidel refers to as the “transnational ideology.” Said ideology proposes a model of development based on transforming underdeveloped countries into “exporting platforms.” This model of development, the Report maintains, does not respond to the basic requirements for the true economic development of the underdeveloped countries; rather, it responds to the needs of capital, and in particular, the need of capital for a cheap workforce that elevates profitability. The exporting platforms, although they in degree contribute to employment, are isolated from the rest of the economy in the countries where they are located. They therefore have a limited effect on the national economy, and they could not be considered as promoting independent economic development. In order to attract investments by international corporations in such exporting platforms, governments grant enormous liberties to foreign capital, including unlimited transfer of capital out of the country and exemptions from taxes, as well as unlimited access to cheap labor and to natural resources. By 1975, exporting platforms had been developed in seventeen countries in Asia, thirteen in Africa, and twenty-one in Latin America.
The 1983 Report also discusses the environment. It maintains that “human action on the natural environment is provoking in an accelerated manner changes without precedent in the stability, organization, equilibrium, interaction, and even the survival of the principal ecological systems of the planet.” Issues of concern include desertification, the accelerated erosion of agricultural soil, the increasing contamination of water and the exhaustion of its sources, and deforestation. The Report maintains that “the market economies of the developed countries are directly responsible for an important part of the degradation of the environment,” including contamination of the air, lakes, rivers, and oceans as well as an enormous quantity of chemical and nuclear residues that have been deposited in the atmosphere, the fresh waters, and the seas. It also maintains that transnational enterprises are responsible for the exhaustion of mineral, agricultural, and forest resources of numerous underdeveloped countries.
In The Economic and Social Crisis of the World, Fidel maintains that the maladies of the international financial system and the neocolonial world-system can be overcome through the mobilization of a global political will for the creation of a New International Economic Order, as proposed by the Non-Aligned Movement and adopted by the UN General Assembly. He maintains that the peoples of the Third World must struggle to create a more just world order, recognizing that the peoples of the Third World constitute the immense majority of humanity. He further maintains that the development of the Third World economies would be beneficial to the world-system as a whole, suggesting that the economic and social development of the Third World would enable the world-system to overcome its structural crisis. Accordingly, the peoples of the Third World must struggle: to transform the structures that promote unequal exchange and declining terms of exchange; for the cancellation of the Third World debt; for new and more equitable international monetary and financial systems; for a form of industrialization that responds to the interests of the Third World; for necessary socioeconomic structural changes, such as agrarian reform; for the adoption of measures by states that would control and limit the activities of transnational corporations; and for an elevation of the prestige of the United Nations. The struggle requires the unity of the peoples of the Third World, in spite of political and cultural differences, in recognition of their common experience of colonial domination.
In the 1983 Report, Fidel formulates a concept of development that is not based on the pattern of Western development, which Fidel considers impossible to repeat in present global conditions. The development model proposed by Fidel involves strong state action in order to break the core-peripheral relation, in which the underdeveloped countries export raw materials for the industrial production of the developed countries. To overcome core-peripheral structures, the underdeveloped countries must mobilize national resources for the development of technically advanced industries. In this vein, Fidel maintains that the forms of industry that have been developed recently in the underdeveloped world will not lead to their economic development. Recent industrial expansion in the Third World has been in labor-intensive industries that have low levels of technical development, such as textiles or manufactured food products, which have been attractive to transnational capital because of the Third World cheap labor supply. In contrast to emphasis on low-wage export-oriented manufacturing, Fidel advocates investment in the Third World in those branches with technological-industrial complexity, such as nuclear, chemical, or petrochemical energy, or the aerospace industry; this would stimulate the growth of Third World internal markets.
Fidel’s understanding of Third World development includes the concept of South-South cooperation. The 1983 Report notes that cooperation among the underdeveloped countries has been a historic objective of the Non-Aligned Movement, and it is an important component of the 1974 program for a New International Economic Order. Cooperation among the countries of the Third World would be a weapon of struggle against the neocolonial dependency that derives from the colonial empires and reinforces underdevelopment. Fidel maintains that South-South cooperation would be a powerful, dynamic factor contributing to autonomous development, and it is a real practical possibility. The Third World as a whole has ample petroleum and agricultural and mineral resources; and some of the Third World nations possess a certain level of industrial development as well as a sufficient supply of highly qualified specialists, technicians, and doctors. If developed with a strong political will to protect the sovereignty of the nation over its natural resources, South-South cooperation could be a mechanism for controlling the actions of transnational corporations. Fidel noted that the concept of cooperation among the nations of the Third World does not negate the possibility for North-South cooperation. The Third World continues to seek mutually beneficial commerce with developed countries; it seeks to put an end only to unequal exchange and exploitative trade with the developed capitalist countries.
Fidel concludes The Economic and Social Crisis of the World with a call for Third World unity, proclaiming that the Non-Aligned Movement has the objective: “To struggle with determination for the strongest unity of the Non-Aligned Movement and all the states of the Third World. To not permit anything or anyone to divide us. . . . Let us form an indestructible group of peoples in order to demand our noble aspirations, our legitimate interests, our irrefutable right to sovereignty as countries of the Third World and as an inseparable part of humanity.”
In the November 26, 2019 Mesa Redonda program, Osvaldo Martínez observes that subsequently, in the 1980s, Fidel launched a campaign against the Third World debt. During the 1960s and 1970s, with a problem of more available money than borrowers, the Northern banks aggressively looked for borrowers among the governments of the Third World, offering high amounts of low-interest loans, but with floating rates. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration unilaterally dictated measures that raised the rate of interest from 5 or 6 percent to 21 percent, which overnight multiplied the cost of the service of the debt and made impossible the payment of the debt. In response to this situation, Fidel declared the debt to be mathematically, politically, and morally unpayable, and he proposed a solution, which was to cancel the debt and compensate the financial institutions through the reduction of military costs, thus tying financial questions to global political and moral issues. This campaign did not reach its culmination, but not for the fault of Fidel, who sponsored a great number of symposia in Havana on the theme. But, Martínez maintains, the cowardly governments of Latin America at that moment were incapable of escaping from U.S. domination, and they accepted the plans of the United States and the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
But continuing the struggle, during the decade of the 1990s, Fidel launched the great campaign against neoliberalism and against the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In this struggle, Fidel would find allies in the twenty-first century, in the popular movements of Latin America, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the Citizen Revolution in Ecuador, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Movement toward Socialism in Bolivia, the Workers’ Party in Brazil, and progressive governments in Argentina. Fidel lived long enough to participate in the emergence of a new political reality of Latin America and the retaking of the global political struggle by the victims of imperialism against the increasingly aggressive and desperate imperialist policies of a hegemonic power in decline; a global struggle for the definitive transformation of the structures of the world-economy and for the creation of a sustainable world-system that respects the sovereignty of nations and the right of all peoples to development.
Many of us who are citizens of the United States have declared our support for Fidel, because we have read his discourses, and having done so, we are able to see that Fidel stood head and shoulders above the political leaders, academics, public intellectuals, analysts, and activists of our own nation. Lifted up by the colonized peoples to speak on their behalf, he pointed to the necessary road for humanity toward a more just and sustainable world-system that respects the sovereignty of nations and their right to fair trade with equitable terms of exchange. We believe that public discourse in the United States ought to focus on the most appropriate foreign policy course for the USA, taking into account the just aspirations of those who constitute the great majority of humanity, whose fate, in the final analysis, is inseparable from our own.
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