Third World leaders call for North-South cooperation to ease poverty

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The Independent US

Mixing barely concealed anger with a conciliatory hand, dozens of Third World leaders were unveiling a strategy Friday to combat poverty enveloping half the globe's population and join the industrialized world in its technology revolution.

Concluding a three-day summit in Havana, leaders of the Group of 77 vowed to press for a greater say in multilateral lending institutions, the World Trade Organization and the U.N. Security Council.

All have one objective, the leaders said in draft summit proclamations issued Thursday: to give the majority of the world's poor a real stake in globalization - an economic order they say so far has entrapped millions in poverty and threatens the stability of developing nations.

"Nothing we say or do will have any true meaning for our people unless we can significantly and quickly reduce the shameful number of those who live in poverty, even as more people than ever become millionaires," declared Belizean Prime Minister Said Musa.

"One day, humankind will be called to account: How come you never made no connection between growing poverty for the many and booming wealth for a few?"

The G-77 - which since its founding in 1964 has grown to 133 member countries, representing 80 percent of the world's population - vowed to solidify its presence in international financial centers and institutions.

Its first summit preceded a meeting starting Sunday in Washington of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which faced problems of their own: the threat of disruptive demonstrations by protesters opposed to free-trade and lending practices. Violent protests marred a WTO gathering in Seattle last year.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said the protests are evidence of a rising consciousness in the developed world of Third World poverty. "The people who elect the governments are beginning to come back into the streets to say there is a problem," Mbeki said.

Inadvertently underscoring the G-77's point, the World Bank reported Thursday that the global financial crisis of 1997-98 had dealt a setback to efforts to relieve poverty. Some 1.2 billion people were forced to get by on less than dlrs 1 a day in 1998, it said. Fifty-seven percent of the world's population existed on just 6 percent of world income.

Said, echoing complaints by many fellow leaders in Havana, insisted that despite austerity measures imposed on Belize by the IMF and World Bank, a third of his nation's 200,000 people were destitute.

"They told us these measures would stabilize our economy. Instead, they have stabilized poverty," he insisted.

Yet the draft summit declaration called for close cooperation with the industrialized world.

"It is imperative to promote a North-South dialogue based on the spirit of partnership, mutual benefit and genuine interdependence," it said, citing the need to shrink foreign debts, transfer technologies and reverse declining aid levels.

"For most of us, agriculture remains the mainstay of our economies, and the majority of our population still lives in rural areas; globalization has passed them by," the declaration said.

Foreign ministers urged the United Nations to take a more active role in economic development and technology transfers to poorer nations. The ministers also demanded "democratization" and "transparency" for the U.N. Security Council - including opening permanent council seats to developing nations.