Cuba's vice-president: `We can confront the food crisis'

Address by José Ramón Machado Ventura, vice-president of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, to the high-level conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy.

(English translation by Climate and Capitalism, from Juventud Rebelde, June 4, 2008)

Two years ago, in this very hall, the international community agreed to eradicate world hunger. It adopted a goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015. Today that modest and inadequate goal seems like a pipe-dream.

The world food crisis is not a circumstantial phenomenon. Its recent appearance in such serious form, in a world that produces enough food for all its inhabitants, clearly reveals that the crisis is systemic and structural.

Hunger and malnourishment are the result of an international economic order that maintains and deepens poverty, inequality and injustice.

It is undeniable that the countries of the North bear responsibility for the hunger and malnourishment of 854 million people. They imposed trade liberalisation and financial rules that demanded structural adjustment, on a world composed of clearly unequal actors. They brought ruin to many small producers in the South and turned self-sufficient and even exporting nations into net importers of food products.

The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world. Their voracious transnational corporations set prices, monopolise technologies, impose unfair certification processes on trade, and manipulate distribution channels, sources of financing, trade and supplies for the production of food worldwide. They also control transportation, scientific research, gene banks and the production of fertilisers and pesticides.

The worst of it all is that, if things continue as they are, the crisis will become even more serious. The production and consumption patterns of developed countries are accelerating global climate change, threatening humanity’s very existence. These patterns must be changed. The irrational attempt to perpetuate these disastrous forms of consumerism is behind the sinister strategy of transforming grains and cereals into fuels.

The Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana called for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. This is the only way to an end to the food crisis.

The right to food is an inalienable human right. Since 1997, this has been confirmed on Cuba’s initiative by successive resolutions adopted by the former Commission on Human Rights and later by the Council and the UN General Assembly. Our country, representing the Non-Aligned Movement, and with the support of more than two thirds of UN member states, also proposed the calling of a seventh special session of the Human Rights Council, which has just called for concrete actions to address the world food crisis.

Hunger and malnourishment cannot be eradicated through palliatives, nor with symbolic donations which — let us be honest — will not satisfy peoples’ needs and will not be sustainable.

At the very least, agricultural production in South countries must first be rebuilt and developed. The developed countries have more than enough resources to do this. What’s required is the political will of their governments.

  • If NATO’s military budget were reduced by a mere 10% a year, nearly US$100 billion would be freed up.
  • If the foreign debt of developing countries, a debt they have paid several times over, were cancelled, the countries of the South would have at their disposal the $345 billion now used for annual debt service payments.
  • If the developed countries honoured their commitment to devote 0.7% of the gross domestic product to official development aid, the countries of the South would have at least an additional $130 billion a year.
  • If only one fourth of the money squandered each year on commercial advertising were devoted to food production, nearly $250 billion could be dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition.
  • If the money devoted to agricultural subsidies in the North were directed to agricultural development in the South, our countries would have around a billion dollars a day to invest in food production.

I bring this message from Cuba, a country ferociously blockaded but standing proudly by its principles and the unity of its people: yes, we can successfully confront this food crisis, but only if we go to the root of the problem, address its real causes and reject demagogy, hypocrisy and false promises.

Allow me to conclude by recalling the words of Fidel Castro, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York in October 1979:

“The din of weapons, of threatening language, and of arrogance on the international scene must cease. Abandon the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the uneducated, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and illiteracy.”

Thank you very much.

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For Immediate Release World Environment Day, 5 June 2008

A Black Day for the Environment: False Solutions to Food Crisis will Escalate
Starvation, Accelerate Climate Change and Devastate Biodiversity

Rome, Italy--The Global Forest Coalition, a worldwide coalition of
environmental NGOs and Indigenous Peoples' Organizations, has called World
Environment Day 2008 a black day for the environment, now that it appears the
FAO Summit on World Food Security will fail to agree on an immediate halt to
all forms of support for agrofuels. Instead, countries like the U.S. seem eager
to exploit the current human tragedy for the promotion of a new 'Green
Revolution,' which will have devastating impacts on both the climate and

"The rapid expansion of large-scale unsustainable agriculture that is being
promoted at this Summit will lead to massive deforestation, thus contributing
significantly to climate change," warns Dr. Miguel Lovera, the chairperson of
the Global Forest Coalition. "In a country like Paraguay we have seen how the
expansion of large-scale agro-industrial monocultures like soy has displaced
small farmers and Indigenous Peoples, destroyed their forests, and contaminated
their water resources with agro-chemicals, with devastating impacts on the
health, welfare, and nutrition of rural communities."

It is widely acknowledged that the current food crisis has been caused by a
combination of factors: climate change, a history of corporate-led
globalization of food production and trade, increased consumption of meat and
dairy products and the rapid expansion of agrofuels.

"Considering these factors, the one quick measure Heads of States could have
taken to save the lives of many of the thousands of people currently starving,
is to call for an immediate halt of all subsidies and other kinds of support to
agrofuel production," stated Dr. Rachel Smolker of Global Justice Ecology
Project, and the lead agrofuel researcher for the Global Forest Coalition. Dr.
Smolker concluded, "By failing to take this emergency measure, countries like
the U.S. have made it clear that their main allegiance is to the
agro-industrial interests that are capitalizing on the current crisis to
promote their biotechnology, agro-chemicals, artificial fertilizers and other
false solutions to the food crisis. This model of industrial agriculture is a
major contributor to climate change, deforestation, rural depopulation as well
as starvation. The 'solutions' being proposed by FAO will only worsen the
situation. Food production, land and water rights must be put back into the
hands of people, not corporations if we are to find a true solution to this

Climate change will have a particularly devastating effects in regions like
Africa and the Pacific, that are already suffering disproportionately from the
current food crisis. "By the end of this century 15 out of 27 nations in the
Pacific will either no longer exist or will be totally uninhabitable," alerts
Sandy Gauntlett, chairperson of the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment
Coalition. He ends, "The reality of agrofuels is that it is an economic measure
that allows big industry to peddle psychological relief to the European and
American consumer while the Pacific drowns and slowly starves."

For more information, please contact:

Orin Langelle, media coordinator, Global Forest Coalition, +1.802.482.2689
(office), +1.802.578.6980 (mobile)
In Rome, Italy: Dr. Rachel Smolker, tel:+39 333 211 8630 (English)
In Asunción, Paraguay: Dr Miguel Lovera, tel: +595-21-6636543 or
+595-971-201957 (English, Spanish, French, Portugese and Italian)


06/05/08 - Prensa Latina (Habana)
Cuba Rejects Rome Summit Declaration

Rome, June 5 (Prensa Latina) Cuba decried on Thursday the
Declaration of the Rome Summit on Food Security, describing
it as "the result of the lack of political will of the
countries of the North" to promote a fair, lasting solution
to the issue.

The United States, the only country opposing the right to
food, was the main responsible for dashing the hopes the
international community had harboured on this conference,
the Cuban delegation said.

Cuban Deputy Minister for Foreign Investment and Economic
Cooperation, Orlando Requeijo, stressed that the text lacks
a fairly objective diagnosis of essential causes of hunger
in the world.

"The responsibility of industrializad powers is evident in
this unacceptable state of things," he said, after
referring to the strategy of turning grains and cereals
into fuel and the impact of farm subsidies.

Requeijo also referred to the effect of production and
consumption patterns of the North on climate change and the
consequences of financial speculation on the increase of
food prices.

Cuba cannot be silent to become an accomplice of a
demagogical and opportunist representation such as this.
Lack of action and omission in the fulfilment of duty (?)
will not save the lives and dignity of 862 million hungry
people in the world, he stressed.

He affirmed, however, that the Caribbean island will not
reject consensus and at the same time he reiterated its
support to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
and to its director general, Jacques Diouf.

Venezuela: World Food Summit “A Missed Opportunity”

Caracas, June 6, 2008, ( – Venezuela, along with Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, criticised the final declaration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Summit in Rome on Thursday, arguing that the document failed to identify the true causes of rising food prices, such as agricultural subsidies and unequal trade policies imposed by developed countries.

The declaration at the summit, which saw some 6.5 billion dollars pledged to boost agricultural production in developing countries, vowed to cut “by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015.”

However, the Latin American nations objected to the lack of concrete measures within the document and its failure to mention the need to cut subsidies and tariffs in developed nations.

The Argentine government, which was the first to criticize the declaration, said in a statement: “Appropriate cures can’t result from mistaken diagnosis… Argentina is formally registering its dissatisfaction with a text that, while dealing with the question of food security, doesn’t include a single reference that uses the term ‘agricultural subsidies’.”

“The elevated production and exportation subsidies and the application of exorbitant trade barriers, as well as conditions imposed by international financial organisations on developing countries, are the principal reasons why the correct signals have not been sent so that farmers in the poor countries maintain their commitment to agricultural production,” the statement continued.

Venezuelan ambassador to the FAO, Gladys Urbaneja Duran, also objected to the document saying it lacked a “genuine humanitarian spirit,” and aimed to present world hunger as merely a circumstantial crisis, when in reality it reflects a structural problem linked to the capitalist system and its mode of production and consumption.

The current food crisis “is the biggest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model,” Urbaneja argued in the debate yesterday.

Urbaneja rejected the position of the US delegation, which claimed the reason for the current food crisis was rapidly increasing demand from India and China.

“The main reason for the rise in food prices isn’t growing demand from the Indian and Chinese markets, or the rise in petroleum prices,” she countered, “The main reason is that food has been turned into yet another object of market speculation.”

The key factors weakening local economics in developing countries are free trade treaties and the flooding of markets by US produce Urbaneja said.

According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, between $11 billion and $12 billion a year is spent on agriculture subsidies and restrictive tariff policies.

In the absence of “clear commitments” the Venezuelan delegate feared that the final declaration could become a “significant setback.”

“We missed an opportunity to take a firm and clear step in the struggle against the scourge of hunger,” Urbaneja concluded.

Since the beginning of 2007, world food prices have increased 60 percent, sparking riots in more than 30 countries, including Cameroon, Haiti, and Egypt that depend on imported food.

Another key debate at the summit was the question of bio-fuels. Bio-fuels are promoted by the US as an alternative to fossil fuels; however, others argued that bio-fuel production, as well as being environmentally damaging, diverts vast amounts of land and resources from food production and will exacerbate the food crisis.

The declaration simply stated that bio-fuels present both “challenges and opportunities” and called for further research.

Orlando Requeijo, Cuban vice-minister for foreign investment and economic cooperation, criticised the US’s “sinister bio-fuels policy” and said the outcome is the result of a “lack of political will from northern countries to promote a just and lasting solution to the world food crisis.”

While the Latin American countries did not block the adoption of the final text, they presented their criticisms and objections in a separate addendum.

In a further statement yesterday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said “concrete responses” were necessary “in order to obtain concrete results in the short, medium, and long term.”

“In the face of the international food crisis… the Bolivarian Government of President Hugo Chavez has advanced with concrete projects, both within our country and through the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas [a fair trade treaty initiated by Venezuela as an alternative to the US backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas],” he sustained.

The Venezuelan government has made efforts to minimize the impact of the world food crisis within the country through the government subsidized food chain, Mercal, and PDVAL, a state owned food distribution company, and two months ago signed a food security treaty with ALBA member nations.

Maduro assured that Venezuela would raise further concrete proposals at upcoming multilateral meetings, including the next PetroCaribe Summit and an Agro-Food Summit soon to take place in Venezuela.

“These series of proposals will allow the construction of a response to the agricultural and food crisis from the perspective of a new, advanced social model of solidarity, which will overcome the limitations of the international capitalist system of production and consumption that has brought humanity to the biggest food crisis known,” he said.

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Printed: June 11th 2008

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06/18/08 - Granma (Habana) - Cuba Says World Food Crisis Unjustifiable

GENEVA, June 17.— During a North-South Forum of the UN Human Rights Council
on Tuesday, Cuba stated that the global food crisis is unjustifiable in a
world able to satisfy the demand of humankind, and blamed the inequality of
the current world economic order, reported Prensa Latina.

Juan Antonio Fernandez, Cuba’s ambassador to international organizations in
Geneva, said the fact that there are more than 850 million hungry people in
the world is heard today with a lot of passivity, and that hunger had
disappeared from the conscience of many people, replaced by terrorism and
climate change, until the food crisis appeared.

HAMBURG, June 17.— The price of corn reached new record levels in recent
days and will also lead to higher prices of soy and other oil producing
grains in the medium run, reported Reuters on Tuesday quoting Oil World

Corn reached the unprecedented high of US $301 a ton. Four years ago the
price was $118.

Corn futures for delivery in December closed on the Chicago Commodities
Exchange at $311.59 a ton, indicating that speculators expect even higher
prices in the coming months.

A drop in US and world stocks of corn in the 2008/2009 cycle will lead to
higher prices on soy and its by-products and later on other oil producing
grains, reported Oil World.