By Stephen Marks
HAVANA — Famous for its support of armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, the Organisation of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAAL) recently held an international meeting in Havana on the theme of "Peoples' Right to Social Development". After the meeting Ramon Pez Ferro, the general secretary of OSPAAAL, explained some of its history and work.
OSPAAAL was founded at the Tricontinental Conference held in Havana in January 1966, which was attended by more than 500 representatives of national liberation movements, guerilla organisations, socialist and communist parties and various other groups, mainly from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They formed a consensus on the need to promote mobilisation, unity and struggle against colonialism, racism and imperialism.
Pez explained that since then the former colonies have gained their independence and anti-racist struggles, such as that in South Africa, have won many victories. However, in recent times the socialist governments of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have also disappeared, and the struggle against imperialism hasn't ceased.
Taking into account these changes, and although the struggle is less confrontational, Pez insisted that the reasons for the creation of OSPAAAL still exist. "New urgencies again demand unity. Misery burdens the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
"Non-existent health services, illiteracy and unemployment are creating a spreading poverty that now grips more than a thousand million people. Terrible ecological damage is brought about by environmental practices which are carried out because people have no other means of subsistence and survival. This situation could be avoided and even overcome if better living conditions existed."
OSPAAAL has always supported and defended the right to social development. With the United Nations World Summit on this theme due to be held in Copenhagen in March, the Havana meeting was organised to emphasise the peoples' real aspirations for social development and to reaffirm their willingness to struggle to achieve them.
The meeting discussed poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, lack of basic health care and education services, the rights of marginalised and indigenous peoples, discrimination, independence, national sovereignty and many other social injustices.
Pez commented that the more than 40 organisations and 140 individuals who attended came not just from the Third World but also from Europe, the US and Canada. "This helped us realise that problems of social development posed in a Third World sense are also a great worry for peoples from the First World such as Western Europe. If yesterday was the day of national liberation and guerilla struggle, today the fight is in relation to poverty, misery and hunger."
Many of the groups that identified with OSPAAAL when it was founded were guerilla organisations. Pez explained that there was then "a great surge of guerilla struggle in the world because the armed struggle was considered a legitimate people's right to gain national liberation. The proof is demonstrated by the armed struggles of colonial Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the former Portuguese colonies.
"In Latin America the armed struggle was also recognised as legitimate, necessary, moral and legal. In their immense majority those countries that took up the armed struggle achieved independence and liberation from colonialism. However, today the armed struggle is not necessary. The right to social development must be won by the peaceful mobilisation of the workers, of the masses."
OSPAAAL also fights for these issues in international forums and is coordinating with other groups to raise the claims of the Third World at the Copenhagen summit. An alternative forum of non-government organisations (NGOs) is expected to involve more that 2000 organisations.
Pez said, "It is very important that pressure from the NGOs exists alongside the official forum, because government solutions to the problems of social development are often limited to very narrow predetermined schemas. Having more flexibility, the NGOs can make wider proposals truer to peoples necessities and aspirations.
"The alternative forum must be able to set its own agenda for proposing solutions without being under the pressure of governments. We want to have a space where we can openly and dynamically express our positions. We will try to have the conclusions, accords and demands coming out of our own meeting, along with the findings of other international forums, taken into account and accepted as part of the official summit."
NGOs have also presented their points of view and demands to the UN preparatory meetings. Pez believes that this will contribute to ensuring that the conclusions of the summit will better reflect the real necessities of the Third World.
OSPAAAL is also calling for all popular organisations to unite in the world campaign against the blockade of Cuba. OSPAAAL's international meeting took an accord to the Cuba Solidarity Conference in Havana, which condemned the blockade. Pez commented, "We are working with many organisations on this issue, and we think that the alternative forum in Copenhagen should also condemn the blockade".
Asked about OSPAAAL's view of socialism, Pez replied that this is "a complex issue". OSPAAAL isn't a political organisation with just one line. According to its general secretary, it is "very broad and open to work with all sectors, including religious congregations, ecologists, academics and groups that defend the rights of the marginalised. While we aren't fighting for any ideology, we must note that the spirit of socialism is present in all of the struggles against imperialism, racism and colonialism and for the peoples' right to social development.
"In the sense that socialism is no more than a political-ideological current in search of social justice, there is logically a clear identification between socialism and organisations like OSPAAAL which struggle against the acute injustices suffered by the poorest, those of the Third World."
OSPAAAL has an international secretariat which was established by the 1966 Tricontinental Conference. Africa is represented by delegates from Guinea, the Congo, South Africa and Angola, Asia by Vietnam, Syria, Korea and the PLO and Latin America by Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile and the Dominican Republic.
It is not necessary to affiliate to the organisation; its work, directed by Pez, is coordinating and communicating with numerous groups around the world. He emphasised, "We want to continue coordination with other organisations in Europe, North America and why not Australia as well, to jointly organise campaigns, activities, international meetings and other forms of struggle in favour of the Third World".
OSPAAAL has a monthly bulletin, and after a lapse the Tricontinental magazine is again being published in English, Spanish and French, with Arabic and Portuguese being planned. The famous OSPAAAL posters are also being printed again; one on the theme of social development is on the way.
These publishing activities had been suspended due to the economic situation in Cuba. The headquarters in Havana has had to rationalise and diversify its means of support. In light of this, Pez added, "We are hoping for the support and material assistance of popular organisations which share our principles so that we can be stronger and more aggressive in our work".
The organisation of solidarity is appealing for solidarity! OSPAAAL's address is Apartados 4226 & 6130, La Habana, Cuba. Fax: 537 333 985.