Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CUBA: All Set for Non-Aligned Summit – With or Without Fidel

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Aug 15 2006 (IPS) - The fourteenth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) could be the first major international meeting to be held in Havana without the active participation of President Fidel Castro, a staunch defender of this bloc of developing countries, which he presided over a quarter of a century ago.

The Cuban president underwent major intestinal surgery in late July which forced him to take “several weeks of rest.” The celebrations planned for his 80th birthday, on Sunday Aug. 13, involving prominent international figures, were postponed until Dec. 2..

The NAM summit “should receive the greatest attention from the Cuban state and nation, to take place with maximum shine on the agreed date,” Castro said in a communiqué when he announced that he was temporarily turning over power to his brother Raúl, 75, his designated successor.

The 116 non-aligned countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will be meeting in Havana on Sept. 11-16, at a time when the international context could not be more different than it was 25 years ago, when the sixth summit was also held in the Cuban capital.

“Like any international organisation, the NAM is merely a reflection of the real world, which logically is very different now than it was in 1979,” the last time Cuba hosted the summit, Cuban deputy foreign minister Abelardo Moreno said in an interview with IPS.

The deputy minister pointed out that “at that time, the world was bipolar; at least, we had two great powers that balanced each other” – a reference to the Cold War between the socialist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, and the western world, led by the United States and Europe.

In that context, the Non-Aligned Movement sought to mark an alternative, a “third position.”

The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disappearance of the socialist bloc brought that era to an end. “Now we live in a unipolar world, where the use of force prevails, and there is a lack of respect for sovereignty and the right of nations to independence,” Moreno said.

He said one of the challenges facing the NAM is to work with the “characteristics and positions that exist today” in that changed international context, and to become “a vital organisation, with clout, that really exercises the influence it should have.”

The non-aligned countries currently make up nearly two-thirds of the members of the United Nations, which in Moreno’s view makes them a force with real potential. “The U.N. is one of the NAM’s main forums of action, and this should continue to be the case,” he added.

The NAM’s membership includes 53 countries in Africa, 38 in Asia, 24 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Europe (Belarus). “So far, our overall impression is that at least 50 heads of state or government will be attending the summit,” he said.

Some observers say that one of the Movement’s weaknesses is the great diversity of cultures, beliefs and philosophical outlooks among its member countries. But according to Moreno, while “It’s true that (the NAM) brings together countries with different characteristics, the common problems facing the countries of the Third World definitely outweigh the differences.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that one of the main challenges facing the Movement over the next three years is to attempt “to put aside national idiosyncrasies and interests,” and to work with “a spirit of solidarity, unity and cohesion” for the benefit of all.

“For example, if the Movement were to take a common position with respect to foreign debt, would that not be beneficial for all Latin American countries, which have found the huge debt burden to be a major obstacle to their development?” he commented.

The NAM, created in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, flourished from the 1973 summit in Algiers, Algeria to the Belgrade summit in the former Yugoslavia in 1989, but then fell into decline.

“It is worthwhile to work resolutely to keep the Movement going, because it is the one political tool that we Third World countries have. We cannot, and must not, desert it,” said Moreno.

The Movement must have its own cooperation and development aid initiatives and mechanisms, because one of the main problems in the past has been the limited amount of autonomous action. “We believe the Movement must be more proactive in the future, rather than reactive; rich in initiatives, ideas and projects of its own,” he said.

Cuba, which will take over the presidency of the NAM for three years during next month’s summit, will bring to the meeting a number of concrete proposals for cooperation, including assistance for combating illiteracy and training health personnel, and the efficient use of energy.

The initiative includes creating a cooperation agency within the NAM, to be responsible for transforming ideas into concrete projects, and finding the funding and the ways and means to put them into practice. “We want to see a joint effort by the countries with greater capacity, to help those countries that are in difficulties,” the deputy foreign minister said.

Moreno said the main role of the NAM is to work and fight against any and everything that harms the interests of the Third World; to foment development; and to promote independence, sovereignty and equality. “That is its mission, its work. That is the reason for its existence, and that’s why it must continue to exist,” he said.

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