Address by José Ramón Machado Ventura, vice president of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, to the high-level conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy
(English translation by Climate and Capitalism, from Juventud Rebelde, June 4, 2008)
Two years ago, in this very hall, the international community agreed to eradicate world hunger. It adopted a goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015. Today that modest and inadequate goal seems like a pipe-dream.
The world food crisis is not a circumstantial phenomenon. Its recent appearance in such serious form, in a world that produces enough food for all its inhabitants, clearly reveals that the crisis is systemic and structural.
Hunger and malnourishment are the result of an international economic order that maintains and deepens poverty, inequality and injustice.
It is undeniable that the countries of the North bear responsibility for the hunger and malnourishment of 854 million people. They imposed trade liberalization and financial rules that demanded structural adjustment, on a world composed of clearly unequal actors. They brought ruin to many small producers in the South and turned self-sufficient and even exporting nations into net importers of food products.
The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world. Their voracious transnational corporations set prices, monopolize technologies, impose unfair certification processes on trade, and manipulate distribution channels, sources of financing, trade and supplies for the production of food worldwide. They also control transportation, scientific research, gene banks and the production of fertilizers and pesticides.
The worst of it all is that, if things continue as they are, the crisis will become even more serious. The production and consumption patterns of developed countries are accelerating global climate change, threatening humanity’s very existence. These patterns must be changed. The irrational attempt to perpetuate these disastrous forms of consumerism is behind the sinister strategy of transforming grains and cereals into fuels.
The Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana called for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. This is the only way to an end to the food crisis.
The right to food is an inalienable human right. Since 1997, this has been confirmed on Cuba’s initiative by successive resolutions adopted by the former Commission on Human Rights and later by the Council and the UN General Assembly. Our country, representing the Non-Aligned Movement, and with the support of more than two thirds of UN member states, also proposed the calling of a seventh special session of the Human Rights Council, which has just called for concrete actions to address the world food crisis.
Hunger and malnourishment cannot be eradicated through palliatives, nor with symbolic donations which — let us be honest — will not satisfy peoples’ needs and will not be sustainable.
At the very least, agricultural production in South countries must first be rebuilt and developed. The developed countries have more than enough resources to do this. What’s required is the political will of their governments.
- If NATO’s military budget were reduced by a mere 10% a year, nearly 100 billion dollars would be freed up.
- If the foreign debt of developing countries, a debt they have paid several times over, were cancelled, the countries of the South would have at their disposal the 345 billion dollars now used for annual debt service payments.
- If the developed countries honoured their commitment to devote 0.7 % of the Gross Domestic Product to Official Development Aid, the countries of the South would have at least an additional 130 billion dollars a year.
- If only one fourth of the money squandered each year on commercial advertising were devoted to food production, nearly 250 billion dollars could be dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition.
- If the money devoted to agricultural subsidies in the North were directed to agricultural development in the South, our countries would have around a billion dollars a day to invest in food production.
I bring this message from Cuba, a country ferociously blockaded but standing proudly by its principles and the unity of its people: yes, we can successfully confront this food crisis, but only if we go to the root of the problem, address its real causes and reject demagogy, hypocrisy and false promises.
Allow me to conclude by recalling the words of Fidel Castro, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York in October 1979:
“The din of weapons, of threatening language, and of arrogance on the international scene must cease. Abandon the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the uneducated, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and illiteracy.”
Thank you very much.
Related Reading. For more information, see these Socialist Voice pamphlets. (PDF)
- Ian Angus. Food Crisis: World Hunger, Agribusiness and the Food Sovereignty Alternative
- Fidel Castro: Global Warming, Biofuels and World Hunger