Wealth gap threatens millennium goals

Issue 
Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Valero.

Ten years after the United Nations general assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals, “the fulfillment of these goals are under serious threat”, Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Valero told the general assembly on September 21.

The goals include cutting world hunger and the number of people living in extreme poverty by half

Bolivian President Evo Morales said they would not be reached unless “we put an end to the unjust distribution of wealth”. He noted that 40% of the world’s poorest people own 5% of the wealth, while the richest 20% control 75%.

Their comments were made as representatives from 140 countries gathered at the United Nations over September 20-22. They were evaluating progress made on the goals set by a UN Summit in 1999 attended by 191 governments.

Among those goals were the lowering of the infant mortality rate, provision of universal access to primary education, gender equality, reduction in the rate of HIV transmission and environmental sustainability.

Venezuela is well on its way to reaching the targets and has accomplished several of them, Valero said. However, he said the capitalist global economic crisis “has created more poverty, more inequality and injustice”.

He said this was why the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has rejected “market totalitarianism” and embarked on creating an alternative development model — a Venezuelan form of socialism.

This is based on “participatory democracy”, which focuses on “the interests, needs and hopes of the people”. explained Valero.

Since Chavez came to power in 1999, Venezuela has eradicated illiteracy and extreme poverty has dropped from 29.8% in 2003 to 7.2% in 2009.

Morales, whose government has also introduced policies to cut poverty and eradicate illiteracy, raised four proposals to tackle the challenges faced by world governments.

He called for a Bank of the South for developing countries to replace the neoliberal dictates of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, as well as for the nationalisation of natural resources and privatised companies, greater state intervention to ensure ordinary people are the main beneficiaries of foreign investment, and enshrining basic services as human rights.

Morales also said developed countries should pay their “debt to the south” and increase the aid given to underdeveloped countries.

Cuban Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez criticised the fact that many underdeveloped countries had already paid off their external debt several times over, yet still owe more than what they first borrowed.

He noted that only four developed countries are meeting their pledge of dedicating 0.7% of their GDP to foreign aid. Meanwhile, military spending had jumped to US$1.4 trillion, or 2.4% of global GDP, half of which is spent by the US government.

Morales said aid must come without strings attached and should not be used to blackmail or conspire against governments.

Morales noted the US had excluded Bolivia from a preferential trade agreement following his government’s decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

Similarly, funds from the US government-sponsored USAID have gone to opposition groups involved in coup attempts against elected governments in Latin America.

In 2008, Morales expelled US ambassador Phillip Goldberg for his involvement in an attempted right-wing coup.

US-Bolivia relations continue to remain fractured, despite attempts by Bolivia to re-establish full relations based on mutual respect for sovereignty.

“I cannot understand why an Afro-American would discriminate against a Bolivian Indian”, said Morales, who is Bolivia’s first president from its indigenous majority.

He also called on Obama to “halt policies that aim to deport Latin American people [from the US], because we all have the same rights”.

Morales also called on governments to defend Mother Earth and to live in harmony with nature.

Noting it was likely countries from the global North would reject proposals aimed at protecting the environment at the UN climate summit in Mexico in December, Morales said it was necessary to increase pressure on governments to adopt the outcomes of the 30,000 strong “people’s summit” on climate change held in Bolivia in April.

“This must be the millennium of the people and not of the governments”, he said.