SOUTH AFRICA: Castro: West must pay reparations for racism

Issue 

Cuban President Fidel Castro delivered the following address to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban, September 1. It has been slightly abridged.

Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not naturally instinctive reactions of human beings but rather social, cultural and political phenomena born directly of wars, military conquests, slavery and the individual or collective exploitation of the weakest by the most powerful.

No one has the right to boycott this conference which tries to bring some sort of relief to the overwhelming majority of humankind afflicted by unbearable suffering and enormous injustice.

Neither has anyone the right to set preconditions on or urge it to avoid the discussion of historical responsibility, fair compensation or the way we decide to rate the dreadful genocide perpetrated, at this very moment, against our Palestinian brothers and sisters by extreme-right leaders who, in alliance with the hegemonic superpower, pretend to be acting on behalf of another people who, throughout almost 2000 years, was the victim of the most fierce persecution, discrimination and injustice that history has known.

Cuba supports reparations as an unavoidable moral duty to the victims of racism, based on the major precedent of the compensation being paid to the descendants of the Hebrew people who, in the very heart of Europe, suffered the brutal and loathsome racist Holocaust.

However, the intent is not to undertake an impossible search for the direct descendants, or the specific countries, of the victims of actions that occurred throughout past centuries. The irrefutable truth is that tens of millions of Africans were captured, sold like commodities and sent across the Atlantic to work as slaves, while 70 million indigenous people in that hemisphere perished as a result of the European conquest and colonisation.

The inhuman exploitation imposed on the peoples of three continents, including Asia, marked forever the destiny and lives of more than 4.5 billion people living in the Third World today whose poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and health rates as well as their infant mortality, life expectancy and other calamities — too many, in fact, to enumerate here — are certainly awesome and harrowing. They are the current victims of that atrocity which lasted centuries and the ones who clearly deserve compensation for the horrendous crimes perpetrated against their ancestors and peoples.

US racism

Actually, such a brutal exploitation did not end when many countries became independent, not even after the formal abolition of slavery. Right after independence, the main ideologists of the American Union that emerged when the 13 colonies got rid of the British domination at the end of the 18th century, advanced ideas and strategies unquestionably expansionist in nature.

It was based on such ideas that the white settlers of European descent, in their march to the West, forcibly occupied the lands on which Native Americans had lived for thousands of years, exterminating millions of them in the process.

But, they did not stop at the boundaries of the former Spanish possessions. Consequently Mexico, a Latin American country that had attained its independence in 1821, was stripped of millions of square kilometres of territory and invaluable natural resources.

Meanwhile, in the increasingly powerful and expansionist nation born in North America, the obnoxious and inhuman slave system stayed in place for almost a century after the famous Declaration of Independence of 1776 was issued, the same that proclaimed that all men were born free and equal.

After the purely formal slave emancipation, African Americans were subjected for 100 more years to the harshest racial discrimination. Many of its features and consequences still persist four decades after the heroic struggles by, and the achievements of, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, for which Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and other outstanding fighters gave their lives.

Based on a purely racist rationale, the longest and most severe legal sentences are passed against African Americans who in the wealthy US society are bound to live in dire poverty and with the lowest living standards.

Likewise, what is left of the Native-American peoples, who were the first to inhabit a large portion of the current territory of the United States, remain under even worse conditions of discrimination and neglect.

Third World

Needless to mention the data on the social and economic situation of Africa, where entire countries and even whole regions of Sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of extinction. This is the result of an extremely complex combination of economic backwardness, excruciating poverty and grave diseases, both old and new, that have become a true scourge. And the situation is no less dramatic in numerous Asian countries.

On top of all this, there are the huge and unpayable debts, the disparate terms of trade, the ruinous prices of basic commodities, the demographic explosion, the neoliberal globalisation and the climate changes that produce long draughts alternating with increasingly intensive rains and floods. It can be mathematically proven that such a predicament is unsustainable.

The developed countries and their consumer societies, presently responsible for the accelerated and almost unstoppable destruction of the environment, have been the main beneficiaries of the conquest and colonisation, of slavery, of the ruthless exploitation and the extermination of hundreds of millions of people born in the countries that today constitute the Third World.

They have also reaped the benefits of the economic order imposed on humanity after two atrocious and devastating wars for the division of the world and its markets, of the privileges granted to the United States and its allies in Bretton Woods, and of the International Monetary Fund and the international financial institutions exclusively created by and for them.

That rich and squandering part of the world is in possession of the technical and financial resources necessary to pay what is due to humanity. The hegemonic superpower should also pay back its special debt to African Americans, to Native Americans living in reservations, and to the tens of millions of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants as well as others from poor nations, all victims of vicious discrimination and scorn.

It is high time to put an end to the dramatic situation of the indigenous communities in our hemisphere. Their own awakening and struggles, and the universal admission of the monstrosity of the crime committed against them make it imperative.

There are enough funds to save the world from the tragedy. May the arms race and the trade in weapons that only bring devastation and death truly end and the billions of dollars be diverted for development.

A good part of the US$1 trillion spent each year on commercial advertising, which creates false illusions and inaccessible consumer habits, also releases the venom that destroys national cultures and identities.

May the modest 0.7% of the gross national product promised as official development assistance be finally delivered.

May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way on the current speculative financial operations accounting for trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the United Nations, which cannot go on depending on meagre, inadequate, and belated donations and charities, will have US$1 trillion annually to save and develop the world.

Mark my words! One-trillion US dollars every year! This is not an overstatement! Given the seriousness and urgency of the existing problems, which have become a real hazard for the very survival of our species on the planet, that is what would actually be needed before it is too late.

Palestine

Put an end to the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people that is taking place while the world stares in amazement. May the basic right to life of the Palestinian people, children and youth, be protected. May their right to peace and independence be respected; then, there will be nothing to fear from UN documents.

I am aware that the need for some relief from the awful situation their countries are facing has led many friends from Africa and other regions to suggest the need for prudence to allow something to come out of this conference.

I sympathise with them but I cannot renounce my convictions, as I feel that the more candid we are in telling the truth the more possibilities there will be for our views to be heeded and respected. There have been enough centuries of deception.

I have only three other short questions to ask, based on realities that cannot be ignored.

The developed and wealthy capitalist countries today participate in the imperialist system born of capitalism itself. The economic order imposed on the world is based on the philosophy of selfishness and the brutal competition between people, nations and groups of nations which is completely indifferent to any feelings of solidarity and honest international cooperation. They live under the misleading, irresponsible and hallucinating atmosphere of consumer societies.

Thus, regardless of the sincerity and convictions of their most serious statespeoples' blind faith in such a system, I wonder whether they will be able to understand the grave problems of today's world which, in its incoherent and uneven development, is ruled by blind laws, by the huge power and the interests of the ever growing and increasingly uncontrollable and independent transnational corporations?

Will they come to understand the impending universal chaos and rebellion? And, even if they wanted to, could they put an end to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related issues?

We are on the verge of a huge economic, social and political global crisis. Let's try to build an awareness about these realities and the alternatives. History has shown that it is only from deep crises that great solutions have emerged. The peoples' right to life and justice will definitely impose itself under a thousand different shapes.

I believe in the mobilisation and the struggle of the peoples! I believe in the idea of justice! I believe in truth! I believe in humanity!

Thank you.

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