April 12, 2000


Poor Countries Draft Proposal on Poverty

New York Times- April 12, 2000




HAVANA, April 11 -- A meeting of developing nations drew up draft proposals today on escaping poverty, and participants discussed regional problems.


Foreign ministers at the meeting of the Group of 77 formed a proposal to ask rich countries to forgive debts, increase aid and trade, share new technologies and shift more decision- making to the United Nations and away from institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


"We want to achieve a more democratic and equitable arrangement," said a draft of the proposed plan for the 133-nation organization, which is holding the first top-level meeting in its 34-year history. About 40 heads of state or government are scheduled to be in the top-level talks on Wednesday and Thursday.


The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, met here late Monday with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia to discuss the deadlock in efforts to try Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide for the time when they ruled Cambodia, from 1975 to 1979. Mr. Annan issued a statement praising the decision by North and South Korea to  hold a summit meeting and offering "to contribute to efforts aimed at reducing tensions and promoting mutual confidence in the region."


Among those at the meeting here is the leader of the North Korean Parliament, Kim Yong Nam, though it was not clear whether he would have a private session with Mr. Annan.


In the general proposal, delegates urged richer nations to forgive debts of poorer countries while increasing aid to 0.7 percent of gross domestic product, a figure promised in 1970.


President Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, chairman of the the conference, said at a news conference such steps would promote democracy and stability, citing his country, where his elected government succeeded a military dictatorship last year.


"We have just established a new dispensation, a democratic situation where we want to do everything right," Mr. Obasanjo said.


If he goes to villagers and tells them, " 'I wanted to give you water but I have to pay debts,' " Mr. Obasanjo related, "they will say, 'Get away with your new dispensation' " of democracy.


He ruled out a group decision by poor countries to suspend debt payments, saying that would interfere with aid that some nations depend on for part of their budgets.


The proposals call for giving poor countries a greater voice in development decisions by encouraging the United Nations to take a bigger role in economic aid, rather than channeling it through organizations controlled by rich nations. They also suggest easing patent restrictions that keep poor nations from benefiting from new technologies and setting up mechanisms to share inventions.


The drafts call on rich countries to give preferential trade concessions to poorer nations and to liberalize rules on labor movement, as they have with capital flows.


"Our peoples have run out of patience," Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque of Cuba said. "For decades, they have suffered broken promises."