Political leaders of developing countries gathered in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Group of 77, the main umbrella organisation of the South.
Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors from a hundred countries celebrated the event with speeches and a declaration that pledged their continued fight for a fairer world order, but also to improve the condition of life of their people.
President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who hosted this G77 summit gave a stirring speech enumerating nine key tasks that lie ahead for the developing world, and chaired the meeting of interesting reflections from leaders on what the South has achieved so far, the present crises and big challenges ahead.
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On June 15, 1964, when most developing countries had just emerged from colonial rule, the officials of 77 developing countries met and issued a joint statement announcing the birth of the G77, at the first ever meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva.
In that historic statement, the developing countries pledged to promote equality in the international economic and social order and promote the interests of the developing world, declared their unity under a common interest and defined the Group as “an instrument for enlarging the area of cooperative endeavour in the international field and for securing mutually beneficent relationships with the rest of the world”.
Fifty years later at Santa Cruz, on June 14 and 15, the leaders affirmed that the developing countries need to unite under the G77 even more than before, as the global economy is in turmoil and the world order remains still imbalanced against their interests.
“We emphasise that the rationale for the establishment of our Group 50 years ago remains actual and valid, and indeed more valid, than at that time,” said their declaration.
“We therefore rededicate ourselves and our countries to strengthening and expanding the unwavering efforts of the Group of 77 and China in all fields towards greater achievement and for the betterment of the lives of our people.”
Malaysia was represented by Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who pledged Malaysia’s continuing commitment to the G77.
Also present were the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President of the UN General Assembly John Ashe.
A highlight of the summit was the address by Bolivian President Evo Morales, the current chairman of the G77, who traced the political history of the G77 and China and the developing countries and elaborated on the current crises facing the world and the developing countries.
He then enumerated “several tasks” that needed to be done to “build another world and establish the living-well society”. These included:
- Living well in harmony with Mother Earth;
- Sovereignty over natural resources and other areas;
- Well-being of everyone and provision of basic needs as a human right;
- Emancipation from the existing international financial system and construction of a new financial architecture;
- Build a major economic, scientific, technological and cultural partnership among members of the G77 and China;
- Eradicate hunger from around the world;
- Strengthen the sovereignty of states from foreign interference, intervention and espionage;
- Democratic renewal of the states in developing countries; and
- A new world rising from the South for the whole of humankind.
“The time has come for the nations of the South,” Morales stated. “In the past we were colonised and enslaved. Today, with every step we take for our liberation, the empires grow decadent and begin to crumble.
“However, our liberation is not just the emancipation of the peoples of the South, it is also for the whole humanity.
“Only we can save the source of life and society, Mother Earth. Our planet is under a death threat … Today, another world is not only possible but indispensable. Today, another world is indispensable because otherwise no world will be possible.
“And that world of equality, complementarity and organic coexistence with Mother Earth can only emerge from the thousands of languages, colours and cultures existing in brotherhood among the peoples of the South.”
The summit adopted a 39-page declaration, a quite remarkable document which encompasses the current state of thinking of leaders of the South a half century after the founding of their group.
As can be expected, the declaration summarises the G77 leaders’ position on current international affairs, since the group’s main activity is to negotiate in multilateral and North-South settings in the United Nations.
This section sets out the developing countries’ latest views on current themes such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the global economic crisis, aid, debt, trade, reforming the international financial system, the role of the UN and increasing the South’s voice in global governance.
But the declaration also breaks new ground with a lengthy section on “development in the national context”, in which the political leaders pledged to improve the national development performance of their governments.
This is reflected in sections on economic issues (economic growth, industrialisation, infrastructure, agriculture), and the role of the state in ensuring basic services such as health and water for all citizens.
There are also sections on improving the practice of democracy, the environment including climate change, biodiversity and forests, and the need for the state to claim control and ensure the sovereignty of natural resources so that benefits can properly accrue to the national economy and society.
It was a fitting Summit to mark the half century of the Group’s battles. Chief among its achievements was the UN declarations on the New International Economic Order in 1974, on the Right to Development in the 1986, as well as other declarations in the many UN summits of the 1990s and after.
The battles ahead, both for national development and for a better world order, are even more important.