This paper is not going to be academic or conceptual, but a long article. I thought that my best contribution would be to give a testimony I have lived through of the triple process of decolonisation, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, in which I actively participated. I believe that I am one of the few survivors left from the Bandung Conference (1955) and that communicating my experience of the process of the creation and development of the Third World, its vision and values, may be the most useful thing I can do.
The world that emerged from the Second World War had a large part of the South as colonies. One need only look at the creation of the United Nations which, it should be remembered, is a term coined by President Roosevelt when he convened a conference of 26 nations in January 1942 to reaffirm the commitment to fight the Axis -Germany, Italy, and Japan- to the bitter end.
The Allied countries (the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and China) met from August to October 1944 in Dumberton Oaks, USA to prepare the Charter and design of the future United Nations, which was presented at a conference in San Francisco in 1945, with 50 participating countries adopting the United Nations Charter. The organisation formally came into force on 24 October 1945, after France, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China ratified the treaty.
It is important to underline that only the victors of the World War were founding members; and the Big Five retained a veto power, as ‘super victors’.
It is also worthy of note that Asia had only two participating countries: China and India (the latter would actually gain its independence on 15 August 1947). Africa, two: South Africa and Ethiopia. Latin America had 19 countries, obviously allied with the United States and therefore considered winners.
Latin America had won its independence at the beginning of the 19th century, but most of Africa and Asia had been left out of the creation of the United Nations. The colonies had formed military units for the armies of the "mother country", whose men, once the conflict was over, became second-class citizens again. In the colonies, all positions of power in the economy, education, health and administration were occupied by white men who came from the colonial power.
But something new was developing, especially among the national elites, many of whom had had access to higher education, often in the major universities: a growing sense of dignity, frustration and injustice. Colonialism had avoided investing in education, especially higher education. It is estimated that when Libya gained its independence from Italy, the total number of university graduates was 28 men and no women. Studies, moreover, were a repetition of those in use in the metropolis, with no effort to include elements of the colony's cultural identity, geography or natural environment. The Senegalese Leopold Senghor, who created the magazine L'Etudiant Noir in 1934 together with the Aimé Cesar (Martinique) and the Léon Cartron Damas, Guyana), scoffed at the fact that French teachers taught children that "our ancestors, the Gauls, had blue eyes and were blond and tall", contrary to all evidence.
I think that in Latin America the traumatic process of decolonisation has not been understood. If we do not understand the sense of frustration and rebellion of the elites of the colonies, we cannot understand the birth of the non-aligned nations. Before the dimension of non-alignment, it was the North-South dimension that was fundamental, which created a sense of identity and common destiny among peoples who had had no relationship with each other, from realities as different as Africa and Asia and, it should be stressed, deeply divided on the same continent, according to the colonial system in which they found themselves. There was no communication between Francophone, Anglophone or Portuguese-speaking Africa. Communications were vertical with the metropolis. Latin America experienced this until the wars of independence, as the various viceroyalties and captaincies could not trade with each other and all trade had to be conducted through Spain.
The first flight between a French-speaking city, Dakar, and an English-speaking city, Nairobi, was by Air France in 1956, i.e. almost in contemporary times. It was in the metropolis that the architects of colonial independence were formed and met. I remember the emotion with which Lynden Pindling (who won independence for the Bahamas in 1973) recounted his student days at Oxford with many other fathers of independence for the British colonies. Between them they spoke of their countries as a fantastic world to others who had never left their colony, and they strove, with a great sense of solidarity, to win debates and competitions with the English, who treated them with a great sense of superiority. "We were few, but we discovered that we were not inferior. And there we all vowed that, on our return, we would bring our villages to the same level of freedom we saw in England."
But decolonisation was a long, conflictual and often bloody process. Several of its leaders were assassinated. Indeed, the loss of India and its partition with Pakistan in 1947 was the event that made Britain realise that the process was inevitable. France had very dramatic conflicts, such as those in Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962). Portugal resisted until the fall of the Oliveira Salazar regime (1974). The decolonisation process in Asia and Africa lasted from 1956 until the 1970s, followed by the Caribbean in the 1980s.
The Bandung conference, which ushered in a fundamental change in international relations, took place in April 1955, when the process of colonisation was still far from over. Bandung was attended by 29 countries, most of them newly independent, accounting for 54% of the world's population at the time (1.5 billion). The conference was one of Afro-Asian solidarity and the struggle against colonial rule. Bandung was not about the creation of non-alignment. The theme was about denouncing the colonial system and establishing how, for the first time, an alliance of countries that until recently did not exist could work together; this was something totally new in history. There was an awareness that they represented the majority of the human race and that this was only the beginning of a process of dignity and freedom which, however long it lasted, would change the world forever.
I arrived in Bandung on 10th April, eight days before the opening of the conference. I was registered as a journalist, at the age of 21, for the magazine of the National Union of Students (UNURI). My contact was the Indonesian Students' Union, which looked to the conference with pride as an affirmation of the international role their country was assuming, ten years after independence. In reality, hardly anyone knew anything about participating African countries such as the Gold Coast, Liberia or Sudan. Just as they had no idea about Indonesia, Nepal or Cambodia...
Security was tight at the conference, and the debates were free-flowing. Iraq and Saudi Arabia tabled a resolution to condemn the Soviet Union for its oppression of its Muslim populations, but this debate was avoided, not least because of the intervention of China, which maintained an alliance with the USSR until 1960. What finally was passed was a resolution "condemning colonialism in all its manifestations", which many consider to be the beginning of the non-aligned movement. In reality, Bandung was a meeting about colonialism. The absence of Latin American delegations probably made a more global view impossible. Personalities such as Tito, Ho Chi Minh, Sihanouk and U Thant were also present, but their speeches also focused on the issue of colonialism and imperialism. Nevertheless, Bandung was pivotal to the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), because it brought together leaders who had a vision that went beyond decolonisation. Zhou Enlai, in a press conference he gave to the journalists present, lumped colonialism with imperialism and the need to fight against both, forcing Nehru to do the same. There was open competition between the two. Nehru was suspicious of communism and saw himself as the symbol of decolonisation, because of India's size and its leading role in the process. Zhou Enlai was much more modest and there was great sympathy for him. He was alive only because he had changed his flight at the last minute, probably because of work commitments. The plane he was officially announced to be on exploded in the air due to CIA sabotage. One of the passengers on the flight was an Austrian journalist with whom we had planned to split expenses to visit the country after the conference died.
What really connects Bandung with the whole subsequent process is that a ten-point declaration for peace and cooperation, the Dasasila, was unanimously adopted. This declaration, based on the UN Charter, was later adopted by the NAM, and remains an identity document to this day. It was the first time that South-South cooperation, which was to be one of the strategic points of the Group of 77, was mentioned.
Two years later in Beijing, during the Great Leap Forward, a conference of the International Union of Students was held that brought together the student organisations of the socialist bloc and allies. Some European countries decided to take part. When I finished my speech, Zhou Enlai sent for me. I don't know if he recognised me, but he asked me what Italian students thought of China. I told him that nothing was known, as the country was not open to visitors. Then he offered me a trip across his country to tell what I had seen back in Italy. This is the reason why I am alive. All the other leaders took a plane to Phnom Pen, but it crashed as it left Chinese airspace.
When I returned to Beijing after a month's journey, I wanted to thank my fellow chancellor. He received me and asked me to give my impressions in very few words. A few words could not describe a huge country of working ants, all dressed alike, of 600 million people. I replied that it was a transforming experience to come from so far away and see a revolution like the Chinese one.
Zhou Enlai stared at me with his laser eyes under his thick eyebrows, without saying anything for an interminable period. And finally he said to me: "So far away from where?” This destroyed forever all my ethnocentrisms. Thanks to him, I am what I am today: a global citizen.
It is true that the Non-Aligned Movement emerged from the Bandung conference. But, as I understand it, this really took place a year later (1956), on the island of Brioni off the Dalmatian coast where Tito had his home. He invited Nehru and Nasser to a two-day meeting, where for the first time they moved from the issue of colonialism and imperialism to the broad design of creating a movement embracing the whole Third World, including Latin America. The meeting had a very personal character. The few journalists who were there had a tent in the garden, and at the end of their meetings the three leaders came for a conversation with us rather than a press conference. Tito was the most emphatic, Nehru the most conceptual and cautious, and Nasser the most radical. But the message was: there is no peace without global security, and this means an end to the domination of one country over the others.
Tito had broken with the USSR in 1948 and a colleague at the Tanjug agency commented to me, very privately, that Tito's Third World activism (he had made a long trip to India and Burma in 1954) was seen in Yugoslavia as a way out of the isolation into which his expulsion from the Comintern had placed him. His insistence on equating Moscow and Washington was very explicit, while Nehru was much more cautious. The most we could get out of him, among many diplomatic generalities, was when Claude Julien of Le Monde Diplomatique asked him whether they were equally dangerous to peace, and Nehru replied: whoever wants to dominate, puts himself in the same category. Nasser was very direct and the harshest critic of world domination, and gave the example of the Suez Canal, part of Egyptian territory exploited by France and Britain. There was no hint that he was going to nationalise it the following year... The meeting ended without a document and as a result the press coverage was shallow. The Brioni Declaration came out shortly afterwards and represents, in my view, the real moment of the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement, although it is often placed at the Belgrade conference in 1961.
Belgrade was the formal act of the birth of the NOALs. Twenty-four countries participated and the presence of a former European colony, Cyprus, and a Latin American country, Cuba, gave the movement a global dimension. Tito made every effort to ensure that the conference had logistical, protocol and security support for maximum success. All of us in Belgrade were conscious of participating in a historic moment in the march of humanity along a path of peace, the reduction of the nuclear threat and a fairer and freer world.
From there, the NAM took its long road to the present day. Despite having participated in several of its conferences, which more Latin American countries gradually joined, I think it is worth remembering the rise and fall of Cuba in the Movement in its effects on the region. Castro had become one of the leading figures in the Non-Aligned Movement, thanks to his role in defending Angola's independence against the South African invasion. At the NAM summit in Havana in September 1979, Castro had eclipsed all the other leaders. The historical figures were gone: Nehru had died in 1964 and Nasser in 1970. Tito was unable to participate because he was seriously ill (he would die in 1980). Castro was not considered by many to be aligned with Moscow. However, shortly after the Havana Conference the USSR invaded Afghanistan, which was a member country of the movement. The UN General Assembly condemned the invasion. A large majority, 59 non-aligned countries, voted against the USSR and only nine in favour (with 29 abstentions). Among the nine was Cuba. From then on Castro lost much of his prestige and a catalytic figure never reappeared in the movement. It is also worth noting that the NAM was not a particularly mobilising path in Latin America; the Afro-Asian component was always its historical backbone.
The Group of 77 (G77) had a much more Latin American identity. Not only because the delegations from those countries played a founding role in Geneva in 1964, but also because Raúl Prébisch took the organisation in hand after his great experience at ECLAC. I remember that the countries that no longer wanted to join the Western group or the Soviet camp were counted: there were 77 of them.
Nor were there many at that meeting who thought they were participating in a historic moment. I, for my part, came away convinced that it was time for this new world to have its own voice, since the international news system was concentrated in the hands of the North, which had neither an interest in nor an understanding of the development of the Third World. Four news agencies, the two American ones, UPI and AP, the French AFP and the English Reuters, controlled 92% of international news traffic. So, Inter Press Service was born as a non-profit international cooperative of journalists where by statute the members had to be two-thirds from the South, and those from the North could not work outside the North. IPS grew progressively and became the carrier of the Pool of Non-Aligned agencies. It was the secretariat of ASIN, the regional exchange system for Latin American and Caribbean countries, with services in seven languages, almost three thousand users, and created an analytical service that the other agencies did not have, as they competed on news. Its message was to give a voice to the voiceless and the efforts of the transnational system to silence it did not succeed.
It is due to the G77 that a long-standing aspiration stemming from the decolonisation process was realised: the idea of rebalancing the international economic system, which was entirely vertical between North and South, to have a horizontal dimension for the first time: the idea of a New Economic Order, based on greater international justice, peace, cooperation and respect for the rights of developing countries. This visionary blueprint for a plan for global governance was adopted at the 1974 UN General Assembly. For a time, the industrialised countries accepted the economic and political commitments that the NEOI entailed. This was the greatest moment in the history of the United Nations and multilateralism.
The whole world saw the beginning of its demise at the North-South Summit in Cancún in 1981. I had been called upon to cooperate on the information side by Mexican President José López Portillo, co-chair of the summit with Canada's Pierre Trudeau. Among the 22 participating heads of state was Ronald Reagan, newly elected President of the United States.
Reagan, with the enthusiastic support of British Premier Margaret Thatcher, went on to state that:
1. the system of democracy on which the United Nations was based had become a straitjacket for the United States, which had to accept decisions made by a number of countries that were not even remotely comparable to the economic, military and demographic weight of his country;
2. trade and private initiative had to be the basis of international relations and he considered development aid to be a waste of money and a bad habit for the recipients: "Trade, not Aid";
3. it was the citizens who had to act, not the states, which he considered to be an obstacle to private initiative, the only one that really worked;
4. he was against the adoption of any plan of action, as he did not recognise anyone making decisions on behalf of his country; he alone was capable of determining what American interests were.
This was echoed even more radically by Margaret Thatcher, and the silence of Kurt Waldheim, who did not know how to react, did not help François Mitterrand's defence of the Summit. Thus, the interventions of the Third World presidents were totally ignored. At a coffee break, an indignant Julius Nyerere said in a very loud voice to a very annoyed Indira Ghandi: "Here the worst of colonialism and the worst of imperialism have come together, and history is going backwards...".
In reality, it was not just history that was going backwards. Three horsemen of the Apocalypse were launched almost simultaneously to change the world. One was the fall of the Berlin Wall, which authorized the victors to consider that the world would be solely and definitively capitalist and that all the obstacles to its free development, imposed by the existence of a "socialist" camp, could be dismantled. At a conference in Milan in 1995, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, Renato Ruggiero, claimed that the world would progressively unite in a single common market following the disappearance of communism, that there would be a single currency, the dollar, and that wars would be eliminated forever.
The other horseman was the Washington Consensus between the US Treasury Department, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which transferred all economic and social responsibilities to the market, with dramatic consequences in the fields of education, health and all public spending.
The third was the Third Way theory, launched by Tony Blair, supported by Bill Clinton and embraced by all the social democratic leaders of the time. Since neoliberal globalisation was unstoppable (TINA, there is no alternative), the role of the left was to accept neoliberal economic theory but to give it a human face, maintaining measures of a social nature. From there, the progressive desertion of the unemployed and disadvantaged workers who, affected by globalisation, migrate towards a right that presents itself as the true anti-elite force, one that rejects immigrants who steal jobs, agreements and international bodies that have been created by the elites, using xenophobia, nationalism and populism.
The Cold War ended during this period, and it is significant that the famous "peace dividends", of which so much had been said by the peace movement, were nowhere to be found. The reduction in military spending (far less than expected), instead of going to international cooperation for peace and development, went entirely to budget adjustments.
We are entering the new century with a fundamental change in political culture. The values that had accompanied the world since the end of the World War, which had led to the creation of the United Nations and the European Union; the values of international cooperation, peace, solidarity, international justice, the search for an inclusive and participatory social pact, are disappearing, giving way to a new set of values. The values of individualism, greed and capitalism without limits. The market becomes the value on which society is founded. "Greed is good, because it helps to achieve wealth" (Reagan). "Society does not exist, there are only individuals" (Thatcher). "It is trees that pollute, not industries" (Reagan). "Wealth leads to wealth, poverty leads to poverty, don't tax the rich" (Reagan).
The values of development are replaced by those of growth and globalisation. Whereas the development process is to enable a man to be more than he is, the aim of globalisation is to enable him to have more. It is a paradigm shift.
The 2008 crisis, although experienced as a banking sector issue, is in fact the turning point of this paradigm shift. There is already enough data to show that unrestrained neoliberal globalisation has increased unemployment and social inequalities. The public sector has been cut with an axe in favour of the private. Everything that does not make a profit is unproductive. Cuts in education, health and research budgets are continuous. As many economists show, capital increases at the cost of labour. And the fear of an uncertain future, used by populist politicians, radically changes the perception of citizens, especially young people.
Before the 2008 crisis, there was only one far-right party in Europe with any currency: Le Pen's National Front in France, but just a few years later, extreme right-wing parties had burst into all parliaments. The case of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands is highly illustrative: they were the so-called "like-minded countries", the most supportive of developing countries, the only ones to have allocated 0.7% of their Gross National Product to international cooperation, a commitment adopted by all OECD countries and never fulfilled. In a few years, extreme right-wing parties have entered government or become a decisive force. Denmark, a model of civility, goes so far as to confiscate all immigrants' jewellery. The Netherlands, historically a haven of religious tolerance, passes a law to strip 82 children born in the Islamic Caliphate of their nationality because they have grown up in an atmosphere of terrorism.
A strong current of historians argues that greed and fear are two important drivers of change in history. Greed starts with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and two decades later comes fear, with the crisis of 2008, and we are now in the second decade...
This whole paradigm shift is accompanied by a number of phenomena that are out of control. Finance, for example, is no longer part of the economy as in the past; it has taken on a life of its own. Today, the total of a day's financial transactions is 40 times the total production of goods and services, i.e. human labour. There is no instrument to regulate finance. The commercial use of the Internet has created gigantic social networks, also without any rules. The algorithms that govern them seek to keep the reader's attention, favouring everything that is exceptional and eye-catching, often fake news. And they push readers to place themselves on virtual sites where they regroup people with the same tastes and habits. Dialogue and exchange of ideas are becoming ever more limited, sectarianism is increasing and the web is a space for insults, the most implausible theories and rumours. Users have gone from citizens to consumers, and now from consumers to objects; their data is sold to companies and political parties. It is dramatic to read the studies that show how young people have an ever shorter attention span, read less and less and register a lower level of general culture every year. We are entering an era of barbarism.
In all of this, the advent of new technologies, from artificial intelligence to info-tech and nano-tech, will create huge changes in production and employment. All this in an existential threat, which is the climate threat.
It can be logically argued that paradigmatic problems only have global solutions, but the experience of the pandemic tells us quite the opposite. Halfway through the second year, rich countries have secured 86% of the vaccines, while poor countries have secured 2.1%, and it is obvious to everyone that the pandemic will not be defeated until everyone, rich or poor, is vaccinated.
We live in an increasingly fragmented world, both politically and culturally. It is what Pope Francis calls "a fragmented Third World War". The West's never-overcome sense of superiority has led to the pathetic idea that by eliminating a regime, Western-style democracy automatically arrives. The lesson of Afghanistan has not stopped the failures of Iraq, Libya, Syria: all these conflicts are internationalised by the number of aspirants to local, regional and global power. There are eight foreign powers in Syria at the moment, ready to fight every last Syrian. Long gone are the days when Kissinger declared: "Globalisation is the new term for American hegemony".
In this fragmented, barbarised world, which has lost international values and codes of communication, three old traps that history had put in the lumber room are making a strong comeback: in the Name of God, in the Name of the Nation and in the Name of Money. These are the new engines of international relations. And the strongmen emerge, the Saviours of the Homeland, Erdogan, Al Sisi, Orban, Kacynski, Modi, Duterte and their ilk... they all want to play an international role. Since the confrontations of the last century, the United States continues with its hegemonic aims. Russia is not resigned to its economic and military decline and continues to pursue a strong power-based policy. In such a short time, however, a new actor has emerged on the scene that is already approaching the level of the United States: China. Its arrival has changed the international chessboard.
China has its own political model, which for decades the West regarded as primitive, which with growth would inevitably have evolved into the model of Western capitalism. In the space of a few decades, China has managed to lift 700 million people out of poverty and to achieve an economic growth rate several times higher than in the West. It is estimated that in a few years it will surpass the United States in per capita terms, based on purchasing power. Its size makes war with the United States impossible. In general, few know its millenary history, as Mao was able to do by identifying the Communist Party Secretary with the historical memory of the Chinese emperors, and to repair the offended dignity of a great people after foreign invasions. The humiliation of the first opium war (1838), which brought the British into control of the country to force it to buy the drug, which they sold to make up for the huge trade deficit they had with China, is still etched in the national psyche. In 1957, I saw a sign in a garden in the centre of Beijing saying: "No dogs and Chinamen admitted". Mao was the liberator from the ruthless Japanese occupation, and since Deng the Communist Party has ensured the entry of millions of people into prosperity every year. It is a social pact that no other country has been able to achieve.
The Second Cold War, so much talked about in the media, has nothing to do with the First. It is a political, economic and technological competition, not an ideological one. The world is no longer divided into two blocs, but is becoming increasingly fragmented. The United States can no longer present itself as a model, as it must first of all solve many internal problems which are still in force, with extremes such as Trump. The logic is that China and the United States will compete as much as they can, but they will have an insurmountable limit: the use of force. And they will have to cooperate on planetary issues, such as the climate tragedy.
Obviously, in this competition, alliances will be sought in order to gain more power. They will not be based on ideological affinities, as happened in the last century, but on economic or military convenience. In this sense, the United States has the advantage of a whole system it has created, from NATO to the USMCA (or NAFTA 2.0). China is rapidly building another, from the Silk Road to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, created as an alternative to the Bretton Woods system. The time is not far off when China will free the yuan as an international currency, reducing the dollar's privileges as an international reserve currency.
In this situation, how does Latin America stand? It is firmly in the inter-American mechanisms, i.e. under the tutelage of the United States, from the Organisation of American States to the Inter-American Development Bank (where Trump has placed a hawk he trusts), via the Pan-American Health Organisation, to a host of regional agreements, many of them of a military nature. As the confrontation with China escalates, the US is likely to tighten its grip on the region.
This raises a fundamental question: is it in Latin America's interest to remain in this straitjacket of US tutelage? It would be logical for the region to stay as far away from the dispute as possible and to defend its own interests in a new formula of non-alignment, for the good of its peoples.
The problem is that Latin America is not yet in a real integration process, and does not function according to a regional logic. Attempts to create integration bodies are numerous, and all have failed in a changing relationship of political forces. The coup d'état in Chile in 1973 led to the abortive Andean Pact, born of the inspiration of Chilean Foreign Minister Gabriel Valdés in 1969, and rejected by nascent neoliberalism for its treatment of foreign investment. The pendulum has also swung in the opposite direction: in 2005, at the Mar del Plata Conference, the presence of progressive Latin American leaders put a virtual tombstone on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the asymmetrical treaty promoted by Washington.
A striking thing is that the presidents of the two largest economies, Brazil and Argentina, have no dialogue with each other at present. The issue of Latin American unity is absent from the concerns of its citizens. Since 2001 the World Social Forum has brought together more than a million activists from the region, and hundreds and hundreds of panels have been held on the most varied topics. I don't remember a single one on regional integration, whereas this topic has been common in the African and Asian forums, Latin America being vastly more homogeneous as a region...
The way forward lies in an education that assumes a regional identity vision. We are still a long way from this. It is time for the academic and intellectual world to take up this challenge.
This article is a chapter for a book on active nonalignment of Latin America, in the coming Cold War. The book will be edited by Jorge Heine, academic and ex Chilean ambassador to China, and Carlos Fortin, academic and a UN personality.The book will have contributors in the academic and political world of the region.