ROME, NOV.18 -- Appearing before the plenary of the U.N. World Food Summit [on November 18th], Cuban president Fidel Castro accused capitalism and neoliberalism of "killing so many people in the world," and described as "shameful" because of its modest scope the aim of reducing from 800 million to 400 million the number of poor in the world by the year 2015.
"Hunger, inseparable companion of the poor, is the daughter of the unequal distribution of wealth and of the injustices of this world. The rich do not know hunger," the Cuban leader said yesterday.
Dressed in a dark blue suit and a red tie with white spots, the five minute speech of the Cuban leader, one of the shortest at the Summit, won the longest applause from the delegates from the 174 countries of the United Nationas Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO).
The Cuban head of state asked more questions than he gave answers, with the clear intention of awakening the consciences of the 174 countries who form part of the FAO, who were present at the meeting.
"What cosmetic cures are we going to apply so that within 20 years there are 400 million instead of 800 million hungry? This goal is, just for its modesty, a shame," the president said in refererence to the goal of the summit.
And he said, accusingly, "It is capitalism, neoliberalism, the laws of a savage market, external debt, underdevelopment, unequal exchange, which are killing so many people in the world."
With a paused rythmn and low voice which was at times very emotional, before an audience over which total silence reigned, Fidel asked, "If thirty five thousand people die of hunger every day, half of them children, why in the developed countries do they uproot olive groves, sacrifice herds of animals and pay large sums for the earth not to produce?"
"If the world is rightly moved," he asked, "when accidents, natural or social catastrophes occur which kill thousands of people, why isn't it moved the same way in the face of this genocide which takes place very day in front of our eyes?"
Fidel, the only Latin American head of state to participate in the summit, added, "Efforts are being organized for intervening to prevent the death of thousands of people in Zaire. What are we doing to prevent the death by hunger of a million people each month in the rest of the world?"
He insisted that "it doesn't make sense to me that within twenty years there will stll be 400 million people in a state of malnutrition, because this means that at least 100 million of them will die of hunger."
"Why is there the production of more and more sophisticated weapons after the cold war has ended? And what is the reason for the ferocious competition to sell weapons to underdeveloped countries, weapons that will not give them more power to defend their independence and where what needs to be killed is hunger?" he proposed, and suggested allocating to the fight against hunger at least a part of the 700 billion dollars which are invested in military spending throughout the world.
And raising his voice he emphasized, "Why add to all this criminal policies, absurd blockades which include food and medicines to kill hunger and illnesses for entire peoples? Where are the ethics, the justification, the respect for the most basic human rights, the sense of such policies?"
"May the truth reign and not hypocrisy and lies," he exhorted. "Let us be aware that in this world hegemony, arrogance and egotism must end."
Cuba has been under an economic, financial and commercial blockade since 1962, imposed by the United States, which in march of this year was strengthened with the Helms-Burton Law.
At the end of his speech, paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, the U.S. writer who lived and died in Havana [sic; Hemingway died in the US -- NY Transfer], Fidel warned that "the bells that toll today for those who are dying of hunger every day, will toll tomorrow for all of humanity which did not want, did not know how, or could not be wise enough to save itself from itself."
The next speaker following the Cuban president had to wait, because of the long line of delegates, diplomats and FAO personnel which formed to ask for the autograph of Fidel, defined unanimously in the Italian press as the "star of the summit."
The summit ended with a press conference in which President Fidel Castro captured attention by affirming that "in Cuba we do not have to make another opening called counterrevolution," and gave assurances that the Pope "can come to my country whenever he wants."
The Cuban leader, who yesterday answered seven of the 14 questions asked of the five presidents present at the press conference, talked about the effects on the Cuban population of the U.S. commercial blockade.
"It is possible now, since the presidential campaign is concluded, and in spite of the fact that the Republicans have the majority in Congress, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, can respect the Food Summit agreement and do something against the blockades and embargos," Fidel said.
The Cuban lader described as "an attempt at genocide" the U.S. commerical blockade imposed 35 years ago, and said the next visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba "can have important repercussions on international public opinion, since the Pope has also condemned the embargo."
Regading his personal meeting with the Pope, scheduled for tomorrow, Fidel said it brings "a message of friendship" and joked, affirming that "I'm not going to involve myself in the area of theology."