Sovereignty not subjugation

Sevim Dagdelen reports from the International Conference for World Balance in Havana where delegates from more than 80 countries, including many from the Global South, came together to participate in an extensive programme of presentations, discussions and workshops

“This gathering shows both that Cuba is not alone and that there is a vast reserve of people of goodwill in the world who are actually concerned at the international situation, the absence of dialogue, and the many problems within modern societies.”

Those were the words with which Hector Pardo-Hernández, head of the organisational committee, opened the International Conference for World Balance in Havana. Guided by the motto of Cuban independence fighter and national hero José Martí, “With all and for the good of all”, delegates from more than 80 countries, notably including many from the Global South, came together from 25 to 28 January [2023] to take part in an extensive programme of presentations, discussions, and workshops.

Despite the planning and travel difficulties which the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic crisis continue to present, the conference managed to set a new record of around 1,100 attendees. This was not surprising, given the high-calibre programme with speakers like Brazilian liberation theologian Frei Betto; former Secretary General of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) Sacha Llorenti Soliz; and Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Republic of Cuba. In my capacity as chairwoman for the Left Party parliamentary group in the German Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, I had the honour of also participating as a guest speaker and conversing with the delegates.

The International Conference for World Balance was first held in 2003, marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of José Martí. Every three years since then, this global forum organised by the UNESCO-funded José Martí Project for World Solidarity has provided the framework for hundreds of social activists, intellectuals, parliamentarians, artists, and academics to enter into dialogue about the most pressing problems of our time. The starting point and remit for this endeavour lies in the historical and intellectual heritage of José Martí, who is not only honoured in Cuba as a hero in the fight for the island’s independence but who also, through his philosophy, continues to shape the political and cultural integration of Latin America. For example, in his famous 1891 essay, Nuestra América, Martí called for the decolonisation of Latin America and emancipation from the US imperium. Martí’s stance, which today forms the basis of the Cuban and Bolivarian Revolutions in particular, as well as the efforts for Latin American integration, is diametrically opposed to the Monroe Doctrine, which relies on US subjugation and control of the Latin American states and shapes the United States’ policy of hegemony over the Americas to this very day.

Today, in the year marking 200 years of the Monroe Doctrine and the 170th anniversary of Martí’s birth, the conflict between democratic emancipation, sovereign development, and social justice on the one hand, and imperialistic subjugation and capitalist exploitation on the other, is as current as ever. The persistent brutal and inhumane US blockade against socialist Cuba, lately made vastly more severe by US President Donald Trump and upheld by his successor, Joe Biden, is symbolic of the attempt to place large swathes of the Global South under a neo-colonial yoke.

It was in this context that Frei Betto gave an interview in which he highlighted the significance of the conference in Cuba. The large number of participants, he said, was an expression of the amount of interest in Martí’s work and in everything Cuba stood for – namely “a sovereign, independent nation that is in a position to stand up to the American imperium”. Betto also voiced optimism with regard to political developments in Latin America, seeing them marked by successes for progressive movements, such as Lula da Silva’s election win in Brazil and deeper Latin American integration. Emancipatory organisations independent of the United States – like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which convened in Buenos Aires just a few days before the Cuba conference – could help, he said, “break down borders between our peoples and facilitate our integration”.

In this spirit, as the conference organisers note in their welcoming remarks, dialogue about building a world “in which balance, peace and education reign, in which diversity is respected, which is truly democratic, environmentally sustainable and socially just and in which the sovereignty of nations is reaffirmed” was at the heart of this year’s conference. That shared objective was also expressed by Pope Francis, in an address read by a representative of the Vatican as part of the opening ceremony, in which he called for greater cooperation and solidarity in the quest for peace and justice. Building bridges within society, he urged, would “help us find viable solutions together that exclude nobody”.

Building on the observation that the war in Ukraine has set humanity back by years, if not decades, on that road, I focused my guest presentation on the causes, the global effects, and possible prospects of a peaceful solution to the conflict. My thesis was based on three elements. First, the proxy war in Ukraine is an expression of the United States’ attempt to maintain its unrestricted global hegemony in a declining unipolar age. A fundamental component of this strategy is the ambition, which the United States has pursued since the end of the Cold War, to prevent a common security order in Europe that would include Russia. Second, the war against Russia, which is being waged in the economic arena as well, is also an inward assault at the social level. In Europe, the nonsensical economic war is tantamount to voluntarily amputating a limb from our own economy and is furthering the shift in favour of the US in the power balance within the Western alliance. Third, in the battle for hegemony it is fighting with Russia, the West is taking the countries of the Global South hostage and thereby demonstrably isolating itself, as the failure to make Russia a pariah state internationally is now manifest.

In light of the brutal collateral damage that war and economic sanctions are causing in the already vulnerable regions of this world, as well as the real danger of a nuclear escalation, I am convinced that ending it must be our top priority. The significant call from many countries of the South for a ceasefire and a swift end to the war by diplomatic resolution, as recently and prominently voiced by Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, is mirrored by the urgent desire of popular majorities in the West for peace, security, and stability.

The absence of military and economic violence is the precondition necessary for a fair world order and for socially and environmentally responsible development. While peace and security in Europe will only be possible in the long term with our own sovereign foreign and security policy that takes us beyond NATO’s policy of confrontation and armament, the important thing for the countries of the South is to make the current trend towards a multipolar order fruitful in order to renegotiate international economic relations and regain democratic sovereignty. In that connection, Cuba’s President Díaz-Canel’s closing address to the conference recalled Fidel Castro’s call for a “globalisation of solidarity” that should be characterised by dialogue, cooperation, and integration rather than hegemonic subjugation.

In the face of war, neo-colonial exploitation, growing inequality, and environmental destruction, the urgent duty shared by the progressive forces in the West and the South is to conceive of such a fair multilateral alternative for the balance of the world and to make it a reality. A different world is possible; the exchange of views that took place at this conference – inspiring and in solidarity – gives us cause for hope.

Sevim Dagdelen is a Member of the German parliament (Bundestag), spokeswoman for the Left Party parliamentary group on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, a deputy member of the Defence Committee and spokeswoman for international policy and disarmament.

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