Caracas, 16 October 2002
Hugo Chávez Frias
On this special day for the world, World Food Day, it is an honour for me to be in Rome, the eternal city to where all roads are said to lead - an inspiration for any human being of the globe. And being in Rome, how better than to begin with the words of a Spanish poet in his Cry to Rome: "We want to see fulfilled the will of the Earth that gives its fruits for all".
For a Latin American-Caribbean, coming to Rome in these times is also a fine opportunity to spend this special day here in this welcoming republic and to convey a message to Europe, to its leaders, to its institutions, to its people, from the men and women of the South whose desperate battles include the struggle for dignity, for truth, in the footsteps of Christ who more than 2000 years ago declared "I am the way, the truth and the life". So, a most respectful greeting to Europe and to all countries represented here today.
Also, coming to Rome, to Italy, to Europe in these days of October, in the second year of this new century, the 21st century, is also important because this year and this beginning of century is, as I see it brothers and sisters, the beginning not only of a new century but also of a new millennium, and indeed heralds the beginning of a new era.
Some years ago, a French scholar, also a friend of mine, published what I consider a fine book entitled The Economic Horror - I'm of course referring to Vivianne Forrester - and on the book's cover Vivianne states that the world is under profound change, universal profound change that. I believe that to be true, and travelling in Latin America, throughout America, in the Caribbean or in Africa or in Europe or in Asia or further afield in the Pacific, you can feel, you can sense, you can even see the early signs of this changing world.
Coming to celebrate the 57th anniversary of the foundation of FAO and the emergence of the United Nations system is also an appropriate moment to reflect on the road we have travelled this last half century since the Second World War, when we attacked each other with bombs or, rather, I should say when they attacked each other with bombs - in Latin America we didn't bomb each other although we were definitely included in the concept of a world war - that's how it became known as a world war even though it didn't cover the whole world. I think that this world war business can to some extent be related to the northern vision of the world, the vision that has been imposed for many centuries, so, what happens in the North happens in the world, as if the world were the North and as if the South didn't count for much. So they imposed war on us, they imposed history on us: universal history is the history of the North, while the history of the South is hidden between pages that sometimes do not even exist. The history of Africa, the history of America, exploited and colonized, the history of Asia, of the South, where is that history, our history? Where has it got to? We want to merge it with the history of the North, we want to share our analysis of the world, our vision of the world from the South, where we have lived for centuries as what Frank Fanon called the wretched of the Earth, although we know that there are no wretched on the Earth, because we are all children of God and God does not condemn his people.
This is a good time therefore to take stock, a good time to tell things as they really are, and that brings me back to Christ when he tells us "I am the way, the truth and the life". To achieve life, we have to spot the truth and see through all the lies that we tell ourselves. There is so much cynicism in the world of today! Such an inversion of values! We know this of course, but few of us will admit it - we continue going to all the summits where we applaud and are applauded, where we queue to give speeches, many of them fraught with lies that we all accept and applaud. Cynicism, while ethics have been banished to world's wildernesses. Now, I think, is the time to voice the truth, whatever the cost - otherwise we won't be able to find the way.
I love my fellow human beings, regardless of colour, social status, language, and everything I say is said with love for all of humanity, is said specifically out of love for all of humanity. Don't believe the developed countries when they say that the path we have travelled is the assured path to life in the future. No! Unless we return to the path of justice, the world will simply become unviable for rich and poor alike; unless we return to the path of life, of equality, of solidarity, the world in a hundred years' time will be unliveable. There can be no peace without justice, and peace cannot be founded on threats, invasions or bombs; peace is founded on justice, on love, on dignity and on respect for the human condition.
I think this is a good place to voice these reflections, reflections articulated from Venezuela for the benefit of the world and delivered with utmost respect but also total candour. Reflections of the people of Venezuela who four years ago decided to embark on a peaceful and democratic revolution that is still unfolding in our country.
For example, I believe that the United Nations system needs to be studied and revived, restructured. I believe that in its present form it serves no purpose with the aims set in the post-war period; I believe it has become an anachronism, designed for other times and incapable of reflecting modern needs. For example, taking the recent experience in Johannesburg, the World Summit, the so-called Earth Summit, the 'Summit of Summits', attended by heads of state from throughout the world and thousands of delegates to discuss sustainable development. But what actually occurs at these summits is highly irregular. The documents are prepared in advance by a group of technicians, country representatives and experts in many fields; then the heads of state, the heads of government arrive and sit at a round table to discuss the issues and put forward solutions, many solutions, and one of these solutions proposed by some head of state might in fact be acceptable to the vast majority of heads of state present, and although 90 percent or more of those heads of state raise their hands in favour, it turns out there's no way this majority opinion can be reflected in the Summit's conclusions. Which of course leads to the question: "What are we heads of state doing here?"
So, we have a world governed by technocrats and the heads of state, heads of government representing millions of people are subordinated to technocracy: hence the inversion of science and humanities in today's world, policy-making upside down, morality upside down, logic upside down. Because of our actions in past centuries, we now have the colossal task of having to turn the ship round and put it back on course if we want to save the world, not so much for ourselves, for our generation, but more for our children and our children's grandchildren, to whom we are bequeathing a world that we have turned upside down because we've been following the mistaken path of wanton self-interest, with no thought to human compassion or to the purest principles of the human condition.
For example, the United Nations convened the so-called Millennium Summit where the world's heads of state signed a declaration that could quite easily be viewed as the Universal Constitution - a charter and a pledge. Among other aspects, I remember with concern (because I was also there at the signing), we pledged - as the Honourable Mr Diouf reminded us - to reduce the level of poverty in the world by half by the year 2015. Now, two years down the road from that Summit, if we look at what we've done and project this over the next 13 years, we can see that we aren't even halfway towards our objective; in fact we're moving away from the objective of reducing poverty in the world, witnessing instead an explosion of poverty among the peoples of the Third World, causing ever greater inequality and ever more frequent collapse of entire populations.
We need to be more aware of this. We sometimes need to look death in the face to understand what it means. We have to be there when people bury their dead if we are to share their grief, people themselves languishing from hunger, right now as I speak. If we simply sit back in our comfortable offices as bureaucrats, if we limit our actions to making speeches to each other, to carrying out laboratory tests, to issuing documents without going any further, we run the serious risk of stating the truth but not sharing the reality.
A short time ago, I was in Mozambique and came into direct contact with Africa, with its stark reality that pierces the soul. We're all aware of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, but you have to actually see it to understand it. You have to see the people walking through their fields, you have to see the children running about in the midst of poverty. You have to see it to really understand it; it's difficult from a distance and can never be the same. There are countries in Africa where more than 50 percent of the population are infected with AIDS, for example, and not a drop of clean water to drink.
The latest report of the United Nations Development Programme indicated some progress - I even believe it dwells on the progress so as not to discourage us - but it also pointed out, objectively, clinically, that at the present rate it will take not 13 years - the time left since the Millennium Summit - but 150 years to achieve our target.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot go on like this. We have a relatively clear picture of the situation. The Director-General has given us some figures and I think there have been enough studies to give us a good idea of what is happening in the world. I even believe that plans and projects have been put into effect, in the face of many difficulties. I also think that we now have a strategic vision of change that is more or less clear; of course, it'll need to be refined, but in my opinion it's at least sufficiently clear for important decisions to be taken, so that we can avoid or halt the ongoing destruction of our planet. Desertification, for example, continues to advance throughout the world. Feverish consumption and blinkered development, now peppered with the poison of neoliberalism, have wiped out entire forests, some in Venezuela. I was born in the south of Venezuela, near to great rivers, forests and savannahs, and I saw in the 1970s, 80s and 90s how large tracts of forest were turned into virtual desert. Why? Because they were targeted by unfettered development and an irrational exploitation of natural resources, irrational because in the eloquent words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The Earth provides enough to satisfy every person's need but not every person's greed".
And that, I believe, is the crux of the matter. That's where the root of the problem lies. I also believe that a problem needs to be tackled at source. If, for example, we go to a school for firefighters, the firefighting school of Rome for example, any first-year student will tell us how to put out a fire, in theory at least, and he'll tell us to look for the source of the flames, he'll tell us that you can't put out a fire without considering how it started. The root of the world's problems, the root of world poverty, the fundamental reason why there are more polluted waters in the world each day, more deserts, more poverty, more hunger and more death is not because that is our destiny as that gentleman explained on that wonderful video we saw earlier. No, nobody was born wretched - that's a bit like what the 'conquistadores', the colonialists, sometimes said when they reached our lands in Africa and Latin America, using the glorious image of God to convince the slaves that they had been born to be slaves because they were black and that they shouldn't rebel against the authority of God because the King was God's emissary on Earth. No one is born wretched, we're all equal before God and we should all be equal before the laws of humanity.
So, what is the cause then? In my opinion, the root of the problem is the economic model that has been imposed on the world, the model of exploitation that has been imposed and that will go on being imposed, the model of ferocious capitalism, now further poisoned with the theory of unrestrained neoliberalism. And I have always been heartened by the criticisms of His Holiness the Pope and by the thinking of the Catholic Church against unrestrained neoliberalism. I think that Latin America has been prescribed one of the highest doses of unrestrained neoliberalism and therefore one of the highest doses of poison, causing us Latin Americans to lurch and muddle from crisis to crisis. Look at that fine country Argentina - my good friend President Duhalde was saying some months ago when taking up office, Argentina, he said - and it pains me to say this because Argentina is a great country of America, of the world, a brother country -"Argentina is bankrupt", he said. And why is Argentina bankrupt? In my opinion because it was given the highest of all doses of neoliberalism in Latin America - they privatized everything - in the belief that the market, the invisible hand of the market, would sort everything out. And what about the poor? Not to worry, the impact of the market will trickle down to the poor and gradually raise them from poverty. And what about education? Not to worry, education needs to be privatized, that is the magic solution to the problem, and so does social security. The market will take care of everything. And what about health? That too must be privatized. That is the ferocious thinking behind neoliberalism. And the state? No, the state should on no account intervene in the economy - intervention would be the work of the devil. And government? No, government must be kept well out of it. Long live the economy, down with government.
But political government has always had to be in control, had to take the decisions - good governance, good civil administration for all citizens of the state. The republic, the public body, everything must be subordinated to the republic, there are no private networks in traditional concepts of government. Where is the constitutional authority of the private network? What matters is the republic, has always been the republic, has always been political government, but what the neoliberals want to do is to throw out the concept of ethics and government, and as Goethe observed, war, commerce and piracy almost always walk together. And now they want to impose their rules on us, especially on the poorer countries, especially on the weaker countries, strict laws for the poorest countries - no subsidies. What? You're going to subsidize your farmers? That's violating the laws of the market, almost the laws of God. Are you going to subsidize your farmers? No, otherwise you'll be punished for violating international laws, but the powerful countries can of course subsidize their agriculture. The most developed countries subsidize their production to the tune of one thousand million dollars a day - those are figures from the World Bank - and some countries of the North recently increased this subsidy, while the small maize farmers of Africa, the small cotton growers of South America and cattle farmers of the poor countries are not allowed to be subsidized because that would be violating the sacred laws of the market.
What immorality! What lack of ethics: expecting from the weak what the strong ignore.
Is that the way? Yes, the way to Hell. If we continue in this direction, all the security measures that the developed countries might adopt in the coming years - anti-ballistic missile shields, sophisticated electronic security - will not be enough to prevent the violence that will surely erupt if we continue along this path, because, and again I turn to the Christian concept, to the Christian word, the only path to peace is justice, there is no other way. Either we regain the way of justice or the way ahead - and God forbid that this should happen - the way ahead will be that of violence, of war, of death, but that cannot be the way for the children of God, that cannot be the way for this world. Hence my unequivocal call for reflection, especially by the powerful of the world, so that we can tackle the root of the problem. In the words of our liberator Simon Bolivar, you cannot cure gangrene at skin level, you have to go to the heart of the problem if you're going to find a lasting solution.
We in Venezuela believe that we need a global revolution. It is for the people to carry this revolution forward and it is for the true leaders to interpret the concerns of the people. Revolution? We might well ask. What revolution? Well, in Venezuela, I think we can say in all modesty that we've started a revolution - and there have been many difficulties. Only six months ago I was overthrown by a coup d'état, a coup led by the domestic elite acting in concert with external factors, a coup carried out by the wealthy, the elite who had governed Venezuela for half a century, abusing their economic and political power and their control of the media, and allied with some of the military elite. But then, when I was already in custody, something almost miraculous happened. Millions of people took to the streets armed with the Constitution that the people had drawn up only three years earlier and which represents the fundamental, sovereign and legitimate mandate that carries our peaceful revolution forward, our democratic revolution. Millions of people without weapons, armed only with their courage, their love and their Constitution circled the barracks where the coup leaders were, circled the Government Palace where the self-proclaimed president was and where the elites had gone to toast their return to power with good whisky and good wine, and within 48 hours the people had brought me back, the long arm of the people had reached the island where I was being held and had put me back in my place where I was entrusted with the task of leading this process of change, this revolution that has its own Constitution, a revolution carried forward against all sorts of opposition, a revolution that is above all ethical, aimed at restoring a much-needed code of ethics: the ethics of brotherhood, love and solidarity.
In Venezuela we're practising a new code of civil ethics, trying to get this code to permeate all spheres of society, leaving behind individualism and selfishness, leaving behind the models of exclusion and alienation, and instead sowing and nurturing a concept of equality, of brotherhood, of solidarity, and I think that is where we have to begin, with the spiritual and moral revolution that the world lacks. We're humbly playing our part and I believe that our efforts are not only for Venezuela, I believe they could also serve to help the people of the world to change course and to tread a different path.
Yes, I was going to say, this blue book, the Constitution, which the Venezuelan people drafted and sanctioned by referendum three years ago, contains FAO's basic principles of food security, the need to ensure food security for all human beings, without exception, whether black, small, tall, white, with blue eyes, Indian or a mixture of black and Indian like your humble servant - none of that is important. From the moment they exist in their mother's belly, all human beings have the right to food. We know this, but we seem to lack the will to make it happen, and I believe that many people just cross their arms when faced with reality, whereas they could do many things. Acting that way is not morally honest. As the Cuban advocate José Martí once said: "Morally honest? You think you're honest? Perhaps you think you're morally honest because you've never robbed anyone or perhaps you think you're honest because you've never done anyone any harm". Then, with noble revolutionary vision, Martí went on to say: "It's not enough not to have hurt anyone to be morally honest. It's not enough not to have robbed anyone to be morally honest". And I agree with Martí. If you know that someone next to you is suffering and you do nothing to relieve that suffering, then you're not being honest, don't deceive yourself, look yourself in the mirror, do something for your brother in difficulty. And in this perspective, I think we need far more moral honesty in this world, because I believe that the world can do much more for those who are dying of hunger. One child dies of hunger every three seconds. Statistics for the year 2000, the latest I've seen, tell us that on our planet one child dies of hunger every three seconds.
As I was saying with regard to the democratic and peaceful revolution taking place in Venezuela, we have Article 2 of our Constitution that enshrines the supreme authority of the people: Venezuela is constituted as a democratic and social state according to law and to justice, because we believe that the state according to law is not sufficient - I'm sure that everyone here knows what an unjust law is. Rules imposed by the powerful to dominate the exploited constitute unjust law.
Take for example the Law of the Indies which the Spanish Empire of the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries imposed on the native peoples of America and which basically said "either you submit to the authority of the King or you'll be hanged", that was the law - and the blacks rising against the exploiter were hanged or beheaded, as were Indians going to their fields to fight against the law of the Spanish Empire. There is unjust law in the world and far more than would appear at first sight. Which is why we in Venezuela wanted to call our Republic, and the state we are building, a democratic and social state according to law and to justice, because law must only serve as an instrument of justice, otherwise it can have no sense.
And more appropriately, considering the theme of today's World Food Day dedicated to water as source of sustainable development and life, Article 305 of our Constitution states, and I quote: "The state shall promote sustainable agriculture as the strategic basis for integrated rural development in order to ensure the food security of the population, defined as the sufficient and stable availability of food within the national sphere and timely and uninterrupted access to this food for consumers". It then goes on to develop the constitutional principle.
What has the revolutionary government done in this regard, especially in the last two years? We've passed a law on land and rural development to guarantee peasant farmers and producers access to land and to eliminate Venezuela's gross concentration of landownership. There are still individual or family properties in Venezuela that cover more than 100 000 hectares - all that water and fertile land - but most are unproductive. Ah, but that's private property. Estates owned by large landowners, a concentration of wealth, while most peasant farmers do not even have the hectare they need to grow food for their families. So what happened? No sooner had the Law on Land Reform been approved, a constitutional law, than the large landowners of Venezuela banded together to overthrow the Government.
We passed a law on fisheries to limit the unregulated trawling that was destroying the seabed and depleting marine species in order to satisfy the insatiable appetite of capitalism and greed for profit. We passed a law on fisheries to protect and promote artisanal fisheries. So what did the industrial trawling sector do? It got together to incite destabilization, calling for stoppages and strikes, and then supporting the coup d'état last April.
We passed new laws on financing, for example a law requiring private banks to finance agricultural activity, because private banks are now mostly engaged in speculation. The bank has abandoned its basic and essential role within the capitalist model, but the purpose of a bank is to finance productive activities, not only to buy and sell papers, to speculate on currencies, to drain a country's economy and to shift capital to where profits are higher. That way a bank loses its intrinsic value, so we passed a new law on banks stipulating the mandatory financing of agriculture. So we have land, democracy in land tenure, democracy in capital.
We've set up a ministry of science and technology that has promoted an array of projects to support small producers. We've passed a law on aquatic areas to protect all Venezuelan river, lake and sea waters against pollution and the violations of industry and the unheedful contamination of individual citizens. Venezuela is an oil-producing country and we have a very large lake, Lake Maracaibo, which has been totally polluted. It was in fact polluted during the XX century. Why? Because under its waters, there were - and there still are - large reserves of oil which started to be pumped one century ago. The fish have died and the hundreds of thousands or millions of people living beside the lake can't use the water because it is contaminated with oil. Restoring the lake by halting its irrational exploitation will cost thousands of millions of dollars and will take ten years, but we've already embarked on a project to clean the lake based on this new law on aquatic areas. So you see, Venezuela is modestly pursuing this revolution with the framework of its new Constitution, enacting measures to democratize civil life.
We've said no to the privatization of education, we've forbidden payment in the public schooling system. They were even privatizing public education. We've managed to raise school enrolment by over 40 percent and we've doubled the education budget, which now stands at more than 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
We've doubled the health budget to more than 4.5 percent of GDP. We've forbidden the charging of fees to the sick and the poor in public hospitals. They were asking for payment under the neoliberal concept that everything that had to be privatized. And what have been the results? A reduction in child undernutrition of more than 10 percent; a reduction in child mortality from 21 per thousand live births to 17 per thousand live births in the last three years of democratic revolution; life expectancy up from 71 years to 71.9 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme; access to drinking water up 15 percent, which means that some 1.5 million people now have access to the drinking water they didn't have only three years ago, because we've been building water works to supply both small settlements of 500 people and large urban areas with 400 000 people.
Venezuela, then, has been making huge efforts to regain the path of equality, dignity and life. We've calculated that supplying clean water to a population living in poverty and in great difficulty, as in our country, has required an average investment of 1 000 dollars per person. The Director-General spoke of some 1 000 million people without access to drinking water in the world, so if we apply Venezuela's average cost, we would need one billion dollars, that is to say one million million dollars, to provide safe water to those 1 000 million people in the world that do not have it. And if we spread this expenditure over a period of ten years, then we would need 100 000 million dollars each year for the next ten years.
Now, where are we going to get that money from? Certainly not from the tiny amount of aid given to the poor countries. So, does the money exist for such an undertaking? Yes, it does exist. So, where is it? Venezuela has already proposed on two occasions, and I will again make the same proposal today to the leaders of the world, to the agencies of the United Nations - more a call of distress than a proposal, requiring truly momentous decisions, for we're not going to treat the gangrene or global cancer with warm swabs, we are going to have to cut down to the very root of the problem, to the tumour itself. I've proposed to the world, and the United Nations could be the driving force, that we create a Humanitarian Fund - I said humanitarian not monetary, because in Spanish they sound the same and I once said humanitarian and somebody said: "What? Another monetary fund?" No way, they said - International Humanitarian Fund. But how to achieve this? It's not a question of setting up a welfare fund, it's not a question of fobbing off the poor with superficial hand-outs. No. That's not enough - in fact it's sometimes indignant for the poor to be treated as beggars, their dignity worth so much more than their very hunger.
The External Debt. Now, that's an important possible source of funding, but nobody wants to talk about the External Debt. When we do, we're immediately put on the list of "bad boys of the world". Well, as far as I'm concerned they can go on putting me on the list of "bad boys", but sooner rather than later, if we really want to save the world, we're going to have to deal with the External Debt. In Latin America, for example - poor, exploited Latin America, battered, beaten and bullied for centuries, five hundred years of domination - supposedly generous hands granted loans 30 years ago that amounted to some 600 to 700 000 million dollars back in the 1970s, and extremely strict conditions were attached to these loans, and the upshot has been that the people of Latin America have repaid the original loan twice over in all these years, and we still owe it and much more.
The people of Latin America can't shoulder this burden any more: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, to mention those with the largest debts, but also Ecuador and many other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. A debt often contracted in violation of national laws, a loan that very often never even reached the national coffers but went to line the pockets of more than one politician and business operator.
I propose that the International Humanitarian Fund be financed from a significant proportion of the External Debt, and I mean significant, not just 0.01 percent, which the poor countries would stop paying the rich countries and which would be allocated to urgent problems of nutrition, food production, water supply, micro-enterprises, employment and industry.
I stand, for example, by the proposal of Mr Sigler, who I met last night in Paris, that a special tax be levied on major financial transactions in the world and that this levy be transferred to the International Humanitarian Fund to fight the poverty that is oppressing thousands of millions of people in the world.
We need a big reduction in military spending, a genuine reduction, with the money saved used to finance a world emergency fund for water, nutrition and life.
So, there you have a number of reflections, proposals that I put forward in all humility but in all sincerity, driven by my deep love of life and my profound concern for all of my fellow human beings; proposals that are made for all of us, not just for the poor, so that we may all live in peace on this planet for many centuries to come.
It has been scientifically shown that if a magician's wand were to grant the world's population - here, now, at 12.00 o'clock on this day of 16 October 2002 -the same quality of life that is enjoyed in the most advanced countries, we would need several, at least three, some say five, planets like planet Earth, but the problem is that we would still destroy those three, five or even ten planets because, instead of conserving, instead of piecing together, the models of existence that have been imposed on our planet are destroying life and are shattering all hope of achieving a happy world, hope of forming a happy global village, the hope of centuries, the hope of God and the hope that we cherish, as God's children.
From Rome, near to Monte Sacro, where Simon Bolivar, our liberator, our spiritual and ideological leader, vowed almost 200 years ago that he would liberate Venezuela and unite South America in order to help further world stability, world equilibrium; from Rome, I have taken the liberty, Dear Friends, to use this platform and the generosity of the Honourable Jacques Diouf and of you all, to share these reflections with you, so that we may not only bluntly examine the tragic state of the world, but also - and in particular - so that we may broaden the horizons of life for the future benefit of everyone living on this planet.
Thank you very much and a very good afternoon to you.