Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Socialism or Death!

While the question of whether 300,000 people have died in Darfur in the last five years is being debated, 25,000 people a day (that's nine million a year) are dying the world over due to malnutrition.

"The world" has suddenly discovered the problem, which has, for sure, taken a significant turn for the worse. But there is one world leader, in my opinion the greatest political leader the world has ever known, who has been calling the world's attention to this problem, and to its cause, for nearly 30 years (and probably more).

Fidel Castro at the U.N., 1979:

Mr. President, distinguished representatives: Human rights are often spoken of, but we must also speak of humanity's rights. Why should some people walk around barefoot so that others may travel in expensive cars? Why should some live only 35 years so that others may live 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others may be exaggeratedly rich? I speak on behalf of the children in the world who do not even have a piece of bread. [applause] I speak on behalf of the sick who lack medicine. I speak on behalf of those who have been denied the right to life and human dignity.

Some countries are on the sea; others are not. [applause] Some have energy resources; others do not. Some possess abundant land on which to produce food; others do not. Some are so glutted with machinery and factories that even the air cannot be breathed because of the poisoned atmosphere; [applause] while others have nothing more than their emaciated arms with which to earn their daily bread. In short, some countries possess abundant resources; others have nothing.

What is their fate? To starve? To be eternally poor? Why then civilization? Why then the conscience of man? Why then the United Nations? [applause] Why then the world? One cannot speak of peace on behalf of tens of millions of human beings all over the world who are starving to death or dying of curable diseases. One cannot speak of peace on behalf of 900 million illiterates.

The exploitation of the poor countries by the rich countries must cease. I know that in many poor countries there are both exploiters and exploited. I address myself to the rich nations, asking them to contribute. And I address myself to the poor countries, asking them to distribute. Enough of words. We need deeds. [applause]

Enough of abstractions. We need concrete action. Enough of speaking about a speculative new international economic order that nobody understands. [applause] We must speak of a real, objective order that everybody understands.

I have not come here as a prophet of revolution. I have not come here to ask or to wish that the world be violently convulsed. I have come to speak of peace and cooperation among the peoples. And I have come to warn that if we do not peacefully and wisely resolve the present injustices and inequalities, the futurewill be apocalyptic. [applause] The sounds of weapons, of threatening language, and of prepotent behavior on the international arena must cease. [applause]

Enough of the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick, and the ignorant, but they cannot kill hunger, disease, and ignorance. Nor can they kill the righteous rebellion of the peoples. And in the holocaust, the rich -- who have the most to lose in this world -- will also die.
Fidel Castro at the WHO, 1998:
According to the calculations of renowned economists, the world economy grew six-fold and the production of wealth and services grew from less than five trillion to more than twenty-nine trillion dollars between 1950 and 1997. Why then is it still the case that each year, 12 million children under five years of age die -- that is to say 33,000 per day -- of whom the overwhelming majority could be saved?

Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet -- 53 years after the creation of the United Nations.

The children who die and could be saved are almost 100% poor and of those who survive, we must ask why 500,000 are left blind every year for lack of a simple vitamin which costs less than a pack of cigarettes per year? Why are 200 million children under five years of age undernourished? Why are there 250 million children and adolescents working? Why do 110 million not attend primary school and 275 million fail to attend secondary school? Why do two million girls become prostitutes each year? Why in this world -- which already produces almost 30 trillion dollars worth of goods and services per year -- do one billion 300 million human beings live in absolute poverty, receiving less than a dollar a day -- when there are those who receive more than a million dollars a day? Why do 800 million lack the most basic health services? Why is it that of the 50 million people who die each year in the world, whether adults or children, 17 million -- that is approximately 50,000 per day -- die of infectious diseases which could almost all be cured -- or, even better, be prevented -- at a cost which is sometimes no more than one dollar per person?

How much is a human life worth? What is the cost to humanity of the unjust and intolerable order which prevails in the world? 585,000 women died during pregnancy or in childbirth in 1996, 99% of them in the Third World, 70,000 due to abortions carried out in poor conditions, 69,000 of them in Latin America, Africa and Asia? Apart from the huge differences in the quality of life between rich and poor countries, people in rich countries live an average of 12 years longer than people in poor countries. And even within some nations, the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest is between 20 and 35 years. It is really sad to think that just in the area of maternal and post-natal services, in spite of the efforts of the WHO and UNICEF over the last 50 years, the number of deaths from lack of medical services has been 600 million children and 25 million mothers who could have survived. That would have required a more rational and more just world.

In that same post-war period, in the area of military expenditure, 30 trillion dollars were spent. According to UN estimates, the cost of providing universal access to basic health care services would be 25 billion dollars per year -- just three percent of the 800 billion dollars which are currently devoted to military expenditure -- and this after the end of the Cold War.
As a concrete example of what Fidel was talking about, the World Food Program urgently needs an additional $755 million to meet its needs, or even more people are going to die, without question. I'm sure I don't need to point out that that amount is what the U.S. (not including Britain and other "allies") spends in Iraq in two days.

By the way, in that second speech, Fidel also talked about another problem which no other world leader was talking about at the time...climate change:

The climate is changing. The seas and the atmosphere are heating up. The air and water are becoming contaminated. Soil is eroding, deserts are growing, forests are disappearing and water is becoming scarce. Who can save our species? The blind, uncontrollable law of the market? Neo-liberal globalization, alone and for its own sake, like a cancer which devours human beings and destroys nature? That cannot be the way forward or at least it can only last for a brief period in history.
Fidel and other Cuban leaders have long ended speeches with the phrase, "Socialism or Death!" One might have thought, and perhaps it was the case, that the phrase was the opposite of "Better dead than red," that is, the "death" in the phrase applied to the speaker, or at most to his or her countrymen. But in 2008, it becomes clear that the phrase "Socialism or Death!" really applies to the planet as a whole, and needs to replace "Socialism or barbarism" as the watchword of progressive people everywhere.

Why stop here? There's more...

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