Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, who passed away on 26th November 2016 not only shaped the contours of Cuban foreign policy, but also left an indelible mark towards the promotion of Global South solidarity and was a pioneering figure in the annals of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Cuba under Fidel Castro was the only Latin country that was the founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Castro attached great significance to the ideals of NAM in conducting Cuban foreign policy and this is evident from the fact that Cuba is only one of the three countries (the other two being Egypt and former Yugoslavia) that has twice hosted the Movement’s triennial summit of heads of state or government, chairing the Movement until the subsequent summits. Cuba assumed the Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983, and from 2006 to 2009.
Fidel Castro described the Non-Aligned Movement as a gathering of nations representing the vast majority of humanity, that are united by determination to defend cooperation amongst them, free national and social development, sovereignty, security, equality and self-determination, and were associated in the endeavour to change the system of international relations based on injustice, inequality and oppression. In his opening address delivered at the Sixth conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries held in Havana, Castro stressed the importance of Global South solidarity and remarked: “The combined experiences of all of us gathered here can produce tremendous results. We will work with all member countries without exception to achieve our aims and to implement the agreements that are adopted. We will be patient, prudent, flexible, calm. Cuba will observe these norms throughout the years in which it presides over the Movement. I declare this categorically”.
In his address to the UN General Assembly in October 1979 on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Castro stated the ideals of the Non-Aligned Movement as enshrined in the NAM Havana Declaration before a much wider global audience. It is also significant that Castro’s speech at the UNGA stressed more on economic inequality in the existing global order. To quote excerpts from his speech: “The non-aligned countries insist that it is necessary to eliminate the abysmal inequality that separates developed and developing countries. We therefore struggle to eliminate the poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy that hundreds of millions of human beings are still experiencing. We want a new world order based on justice, equality and peace to replace the unfair and unequal system that prevails today under which, according to the proclamation in the Havana declaration, wealth continues to be concentrated in the hands of a few powers whose economies, based on waste, are maintained thanks to the exploitation of workers and to the transfer and plundering of natural and other resources of countries in Africa, Latin American and other regions of the world … The struggle to eliminate the injustice of the existing international economic system and establish a new international economic order is an integral part of the struggle of the people for their political, economic, cultural and social struggle”.
The Cuban chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement also brought in structural reforms towards the working of the Non-Aligned Movement by laying down specific measures to help the Member States achieve consensus on contentious issues. It was thus under the leadership of Fidel Castro that Cuba reinforced the role of the NAM Chair as a mediator and consensus builder.
Cuba under Fidel Castro was also the NAM’s unofficial ambassador in the Caribbean and Latin America nations. Cuba played a vital role in the expansion of NAM in these regions by making specific efforts to include the countries of the Caribbean and South America within the ambit of Non-Aligned Movement and further strengthen the solidarity of the Global South.
The greatest contribution of Fidel Castro was his staunch advocacy of increasing cooperation of the countries of the Global South. Castro’ action in the domain of foreign policy echoed the same, Cuban developmental aid personnel in sub-Saharan Africa increased 12.5% between 1979 and 1981 and in the 1984-1985 academic years Cuba provided 22,000 scholarships to students from 82 Third World countries.
Castro did act on his pronouncement: “Enough of words! We need action. Enough of abstraction! We need concrete action”. He will be remembered as a pioneer figure who highlighted the collective power of the Global South.