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UNITED NATIONS - The speech by President Fidel Castro of Cuba was the center of attention at the United Nations General Assembly here October 22. In sharp contrast to the remarks of most other speakers, the world leader issued a ringing denunciation of exploitation, oppression, and war. He also scored the ruthless use of trade embargoes such as the 35-year-long effort by Washington to starve Cuba into submission (see full text of speech on this page).
The Cuban president spoke, along with some 140 government leaders, at a three-day special session of the General Assembly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. "Castro got the day's most enthusiastic ovation at the U.N.," the New York Post grudgingly acknowledged. "It was noticeably longer and louder than the applause for President Clinton."
Castro began his speech declaring, "Half a century ago, the United Nations Organization was born after the conclusion of a monstrous war where an average of 10 million lives were lost at its peak moments. Presently, 20 million men, women and children are dying every year of hunger and curable diseases. In some wealthy nations the life expectancy is 80 years while in others it is barely 40, so there are billions whose lives are cut off. How long shall we wait for this carnage to end?"
He pointed to the fight for "a world without hegemonism, without nuclear weapons, without interventionism, without racism, without national or religious hatred, without violations of the sovereignty of any country."
While not explicitly mentioning the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Castro stated, "We lay claim to a world without ruthless blockades that cause the death of men, women, and children, youths and elders, like noiseless atom bombs."
The Cuban president criticized the undemocratic setup in the United Nations. The Security Council, not the General Assembly, determines the major actions taken in the name of the UN including military interventions around the world.
From its inception there have been only five permanent members on the council - Britain, China, France, the United States, and now Russia, which holds the seat formerly held by the Soviet Union. Only these five have veto power in the body, which includes 10 other rotating members.
"The obsolete veto privilege and the misuse of the Security Council by the powerful are exalting a new colonialism within the very United Nations," Castro said to applause.
The United Nations was set up after World War II to codify and reinforce the domination of the imperialist powers that were victors in the war.
Since its founding by about 50 nations, more than 125 governments have been admitted but the powers of the General Assembly remain limited to passing resolutions that cannnot be enforced without agreement and action by the Security Council. General Assembly resolutions have been used to bring world attention to a number of fights. These have included ones for a Palestinian homeland, against the former apartheid regime in South Africa, and opposing the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
Clinton, who opened the UN proceedings, used his speech to attack revolutionary Cuba without mentioning it by name. "Throughout this hemisphere, every nation except one has chosen democracy," he claimed.
Clinton also called for more punitive actions and power to impose sanctions against governments Washington brands as rogue states, a terrorist threat, or responsible for drug trafficking, money laundering, or arms trafficking. Among other measures he proposed "effective police force partnership." Clinton held up as exemplary an international police academy set up in Budapest by the U.S. government.
Several government leaders echoed some of the positions stated by Castro.
South African president Nelson Mandela criticized the unequal representation of nations on the Security Council and called for expanding its membership. He was joined by the presidents of Zambia, El Salvador, and Sri Lanka.
Castro's UN visit followed a rousing reception for the Cuban leader on a visit to Uruguay, where he was cheered by tens of thousands of people who rallied in the streets of the capital, Montevideo.
Days later Castro attended the fifth Ibero-American summit in Bariloche, Argentina. The summit approved a text that condemned "coercive measures" and other economic pressures that limit free trade by Latin American countries. The text, viewed by many as condemnation of U.S. policy toward Cuba, was bolstered by a statement released by nearly two dozen heads of state that criticized the embargo-tightening Helms-Burton bill recently passed in the U.S. Congress.
The Ibero-American summit was followed by a meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, where the Cuban president was again the focus of public attention.
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