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Castro Addresses U.N. Summit

A Laughing Matter

09 September 2000
There are few surviving dictators around the globe whose tenure in power has been as long lasting and persistent as that of Fidel Castro Ruz, head of Cuba's ruling minority. Many of those who have met him in person agree that he comes across as a friendly and honest individual, a passionate believer in Communism and the emancipation of the poor and oppressed in all nations. The problem, of course, is that, even in socialist Cuba, few share his ideals. Consequently, his actual political identity today is that of a tyrant, an animate barrier standing in the way of true popular power on the island.

As has been the case with many passionate socialists who got involved with the nitty-gritty job of running a country, Castro's practices stink, yet his worlds are often remarkably powerful and, indeed, true. Take, for instance, his address delivered a few days ago at the United Nations summit in New York. "The 30 developed and wealthy nations of the world", he declared in Spanish, "which have the monopoly over economic, technological and political power are meeting here with us to offer us more of the same prescriptions that have only served to make us steadily poorer, more exploited and more dependent". And he went on to continue: "[t]he fundamental causes of current conflicts are to be found in the poverty and underdevelopment prevailing in the immense majority of countries, and in the unequal distribution of wealth and knowledge reigning in the world. It should not be forgotten that this underdevelopment and poverty are the direct consequence of the colonial powers' conquest, colonization, slavery and plunder of most of the earth, the emergence of imperialism and bloody wars fought in order to carve up the world again and again. Today they have the moral responsibility to compensate our countries for the damage they have inflicted on them over centuries".

There is nothing particularly communistic or radical in the above statement, which was delivered to the greatest gathering of world leaders in history. Since the end of direct colonialism, a few decades ago, the underdeveloped nations of the world have been growing steadily poorer, steadily miserable and steadily desperate to the point of no return. Their weakness and misery has prevented them from bringing to the table of negotiations the issue of the untold damages inflicted upon them by the colonial powers, and their post-colonial Cold War strategies. Some think it is strange that countries like Congo, India, or the Philippines, are so insistent on receiving compensation for pains inflicted upon them by the industrial powers 50, 60 or 100 years ago. Yet the same issue does not seem so strange when it comes to the case of Nazi Germany. The plight of the Jews is but the tip of the iceberg. During WWII, German soldiers fought and died in over 100 countries around the word, and there are today dozens of nations who still press Germany for adequate compensation. A couple of months ago, the Greek courts ordered the repossession by the Greek state of all German government property in Greece, in order to meet the financial cost of the damages inflicted upon the country by Nazi forces during the war. That is a rare, brave step in today's world.

Castro's speech continued: "[n]othing in the existing economic and political order is of service to humanity. It cannot be sustained. It has to be changed. It is enough to recall that we are now six billion inhabitants, 80% of whom are poor".

Again, there is nothing particularly radical in the above statement. It is largely a descriptive and logical proposition, which, even if it can be shown to be erroneous, requires a good deal of discussion: what are the moral and ethical reasons in insisting on the continuation of an economic and political system, which is unable (or, indeed, unwilling) to lift 80% of the world's population out of almost absolute poverty? Such statements do not even belong to Castro; before he expressed them, they were voiced repeatedly by visionaries such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., figures whom the world recognizes as national and international heroes.

It is regrettable that the above statements originate from the lips of a tyrant who, for the most part, operates without the consent of its subjects (note: wouldn't it be interesting to exercise upon our Western parliamentary systems the same degree of detailed, uncompromising criticism and dissent that we exercise upon those nations whose forms of government we disapprove of?). Yet these statements are real concerns, representative of the feelings of numerous U.N. members. It was interesting to note the sheer number of heads of state who walked up to Castro and shook his hand once he had delivered his speech.

It is even more regrettable that, in a fashion typical of the conglomerate media industry, Castro's address was under-reported or, when reported, ridiculed. Most of the world's wire services paid more attention to Castro's move of using his handkerchief to cover the speech indicator light next to his microphone, in an attempt to extend his speech time over the 5 minutes allocated to him by the summit's organizers. "Colorful Castro" was the headline of ABC's reporting of the speech, in which more words were devoted on Castro's handkerchief than to the content of his speech. Even the supposedly more serious BBC, reported sarcastically: "if the gathered monarchs, presidents and prime ministers cast a thought to their watches, they need not have worried. Exactly five minutes after he began speaking, President Castro stopped, removed his handkerchief and stepped down".

Evidently, the covering of the indicator was a symbolic move, expressing the Cuban ruler's dissatisfaction with the limited speech time allocated to the heads of less powerful nation states represented at the summit. But even that move failed to penetrate the minds of the editors-in-chief of the world's media oligopolies. They treated Castro' speech as a 'colorful' and 'picturesque' presentation that expressed views and opinions so untypical of our times that they cannot possibly be taken seriously. And, rather predictably, this is increasingly becoming a trend, a functioning principle, at the U.N. Criticism at the organization has been reduced to a laughing matter, and there is not much that one can do about it. As Castro himself keeps finding out lately, these are extremely hard times for revolutionaries.

© The News Insider 2000

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