Did you know:
- Over 60 Heads of State attended a World Hunger Summit at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2004?
- That the idea of the summit arose from Latin America and was initiated by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva?
- That Da Silva and French President Jacques Chirac led the effort to successfully convince the 113 assembled world leaders and representatives to issue a new declaration to fight hunger and poverty and to increase funds for development?
- The United States was not among them?
Chances are good that you were unaware of most, if not all of this. Why? Because the major media simply did not report it.
Every year a number of media-watch organizations list the top so-many stories that went unreported or under- reported by the mass media over preceding months. So far, for 2004 this one has to take the cake.
It’s true that the activity that resulted in the Poverty Declaration coincided with the UN General Assembly session and attention was focused on the war in Iraq. And that the President of the United States was going to appear with his hand puppet from Baghdad. But still, it’s not like there weren’t other things going on in the world that did receive attention: the stupid fine over the Jackson-Timberlake wardrobe malfunction, Scott Peterson’s murder trial and the controversy over President George W. Bush’s still- missing accounting for his days in or out of the National Guard.
It’s a shame the Lula story was mostly passed over – even by the media outlets that claim to carry all that’s fit to print. This should have been a big story. It is inextricably linked to the “war on terrorism.”Although the neo-conservatives that led the nation into the illegal and disastrous war in Iraq have worked overtime to convince the public that there is no connection between terrorism and the appeal of religious fundamentalists on the one hand and the growing poverty and inequality in the world on the other, every rank- and-file anti-globalization and peace demonstrator in the world knows better. President da Silva spelled it out clearly at the UN.
‘Peace will never rise from poverty and hunger,’ Da Silva told the UN General Assembly.
President Jacques Chirac flew to the U.S. solely to attend the poverty and development summit. Although he traveled to New York for the General Assembly session President George W. Bush skipped the poverty meeting, sending instead U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.
“How many more times will it be necessary to repeat that the most destructive weapon of mass destruction in the world is poverty?” Lula asked. “Fair globalization must begin with the right of everyone to a job,” he said, adding that “dignified work, like the fight against hunger, cannot wait.”
Terrorism, the Latin American leader said, cannot be fought exclusively by military means. “We have to develop strategies combining solidarity and firmness that are rigidly within the rule of law,” adding that Brazil is opposed to “interfering in the affairs of other nations, but at the same time could not remain indifferent to problems that affect other nations.”
The French and Brazilian leaders, along with the others attending the summit, agreed that the problem of peace and security in today’s world cannot be divorced from the reality of hundreds of millions of peoples’ daily existence. For instance, that 800 million human beings in the world are undernourished, that some 334 million live in extreme poverty-a number which is expected to increase to 471 million over the next five years- and that 40 percent of the world population lack elementary conditions for health and most have no access to clean water.
“In 1820, the per capita income of the richest nation in the world was five times greater than that of the poorest,”said the Brazilian leader. “Today this disparity has reached 80 to 1. The perverse logic of draining the needy to irrigate the bountiful still stands. A powerful and all-encompassing invisible cog wheel runs the system from afar. It often revokes democratic decisions, shrivels the sovereignty of states and imposes itself to elected governments.”
Da Silva called for ‘an important shift in the financial flows from international multilateral organisms’ to foster “just and sustainable development.’ `
The summit was convened under UN sponsorship to “exchange and intensify ideas and cooperation for development and against hunger and poverty” within the framework of the 59th General Assembly session. It was hosted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who applauded the Brazilian initiative and criticized major industrialized countries for standing in the way of tariff reductions that would help underdeveloped countries to grow and enter new markets.
At the summit, Latin American leaders joined in calling attention to globalization’s failure to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and urged global lenders like the International Monetary Fund to allow them to spend more on social projects and infrastructure.
The summit also heard an appeal from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who gave support to Lula’s proposal to “increase the availability of resources to address those challenges,” to “examine alternative sources to finance development”and to come up with “innovative ways” to fund the struggle for development.
At the UN meetings, the leaders of France, Spain, Brazil, and Chile, appealed for new thinking on global financing. Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who co- chairs the International Labor Organization’s World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, and Finland’s President Tarja Halonen, called current disparities between the world’s rich and poor countries politically unsustainable. “For me and for the people of Africa, the status quo is not an option,” he said. Mkapa and Halonen hosted a separate, special event on “A Fair Globalization: Implementing the Millennium Declaration.”
The Summit was held in advance of a special General Assembly summit next year called to assess progress toward meeting the goals of the 2000 Millennium Summit. Those goals included halving the number of people living in dire poverty by 2015, and guaranteeing that all children in the world have an elementary school education, that all families have clean water and that the AIDS epidemic is arrested. “Progress in eradicating extreme poverty has been uneven,” Secretary-General Annan said. “With creativity and political will, we could do much better.”
Gabonese Foreign Minister Jean Ping, current President of the UN General Assembly, said he could envision the Assembly becoming “the crucible where we forge a universal consensus in favor of a more equitable globalization and the realization of the ideal of a world of peace, progress and justice.””It is, therefore, with particular interest that the General Assembly will examine the World Commission’s report, which offers an innovative and direct vision of the fears and aspirations of the majority of the peoples of the world,” he said.
The Poverty Declaration committed governments to take “resolute and urgent actions” to ensure the 2015 goals are met, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest. “The greatest scandal is not that hunger exists, but that it persists even when we have the means to eliminate it,” the declaration says. “It is time to take action. Hunger cannot wait.”
The U.S. delegation refused to support the declaration.
Also missing from the poverty summit deliberation was U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the person supposedly responsible for our country’s relations with the rest of the world. One big problem for Powell at this point is his legacy, which was surely tarnished by the Bush Administration’s performance at the poverty summit. ‘The White House criticizes Lula’s proposal against hunger,’ read a banner front page headline in Brazil’s influential O’Estado de Sao Paulo September 21. The headline on the Sydney Morning Herald read: ‘Missing signature mars launch of war on hunger.” The decision of most of the major U.S. media to not relay to the public the thinking and action of most of the rest of the world and the stance taken at the summit by the Administration doesn’t do much for its reputation either.
Carl Bloice is a freelance writer in San Francisco, California.