Gap between the rich and the poor: view from Prague
By Rosendo Fraga

Over the past five years during October the President of the Czech Republic, politician and writer Václav Havel has invited opinion leaders from different fields, countries and regions to participate in a forum that deals with issues affecting mankind.

This year the conference focused on ‘Bridging Global Gaps’ and from October 18 to 19 figures from different fields of expertise gathered to exchanged views at the Prague City Council, a historical XVII century building, reformed in the following two centuries to symbolize Prague’s growing cultural confidence in itself (extracted from ‘Architecture of the 20th Century’ from the exhibition of 10 centuries of architecture in the Czech Republic held in 2001).

On the one hand, Swiss economist Mats Karlsson, current Vice President of the World Bank; American economist at the Columbia University Jeffrey Sachs; Chilean economist Eduardo Anninat, current IMF Deputy Managing Director; British politician Chris Patten, Foreign Relations Commissioner from 1979 to 1992, Rufus Yerxa, Deputy Director-General of World Trade Organization and Czech Jan Muhlfeit, Middle East and Africa Vice President for Microsoft Corporation, spoke about the reality of the globalized world, which is an undeniable fact.

On the other hand, figures such as Kenyan environmentalist activist Wahu Kaara, who is part of an international organization which proposes to forgive the debt of developing countries; Palestinian Ahmed Kamel, Al-Jazeera Chief for Europe; Indian activist Anuradha Mittal, who runs the ‘Food First’ organization in her country; Salvadoran ecological activist Ricardo Navarro; writer, journalist and activist for the rights of women in Pakistan, all voiced their opposition to the globalized world which deepens injustices and differences between the developed and developing worlds and within the societies in each of them.

The conflict between globalization and anti-globalization seems to have replaced capitalism versus communism with a new name.

Those in favor of the globalization point to how some non-developed world regions of the ‘80s such as China and Central Europe, have today achieved growth and well-being standards much higher than in the pre-globalization stage.

Those against globalization argue that violence in the world escalates as the gaps and divides broaden up, adding that the rich are increasingly richer and the poor are increasingly poorer in terms of regions, countries and people. Environmental destruction is deemed as the result of an uncontrolled globalization that fuels a destructive exploitation of human resources for marketable purposes.

Neutral stances were shown by former President of South Affrica Frederik Willem De Klerk; American politician Robert B. Reich, who served as Labor Secretary under the Clinton administration; Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, who was chairman of the ‘Japanese Foundation’; French economist Paul Tran Van Thinh -born in Vietnam- Director of the ‘International Conference on Trade’. These experts spoke about intermediate alternatives seeking to reach compromise and build bridges.

Among the forty participants there were two Argentinians. ARI congressman Mario Cafiero and me. The former stated that borrowing countries should be allowed to pay their debt through their local currencies or products. I raised the issue that both debt and inequality affecting developing countries require economic growth as the necessary condition to overcome those problems.

For his part, in the opening speech President Havel said that when the IMF-World Bank meeting was held in the Czech capital, he had already warned about ‘some effects or parallel signs of the so-called globalization’ that are prompting criticism about the ‘harmful consequences it may bring about’.

The conclusions drawn at the forum after a two-day discussion aim at obtaining support from developed countries to foster reforms that close the gap among countries, fostering the creation of local media network to reduce the divide in the information field, encourage the values of transparency, honesty, trust and democracy in governments, NGOs and societies and create new conditions that make it possible to pay sovereign debts on the part of developing countries.

These are general objectives and basic consensus and not programs and policies.

There is the feeling that the gap exists, that is is real. Not only is it found in quantitative, economic, social and educational indicators but also in the perception, construction and appraisal of the global phenomena on the outset of the new millennium.

Thus the need to build bridges is reinforced as President Václav Havel, scheduled to leave power in 2003 after 13 years in office, having led his country from communism to democracy, the bloodless and widely accepted division of the Republic of Checoslovakia into two independent countries, the democratic consolidation and the transition to capitalism, seems willing as former-president to act as the ‘bridge’ that narrows the gaps of a world that seems threatened by the ever greater global risks and dangers.

Rosendo Fraga
Director of Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoría

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