Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 6 | Noviembre 1981



North-South Conference At Cancun

The controversial topic of North/South relations was debated among representatives of developed and underdeveloped countries in Cancun, Mexico’s luxurious Caribbean resort city, on October 22nd and 23rd.

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The highly publicized North-South conference between representatives of developed and underdeveloped nations was held in Cancun, Mexico’s luxurious Caribbean resort, on October 22 and 23. The conference generated extensive coverage here in Nicaragua both before and after it took place. In order to present the Cancun conference from the perspective of the underdeveloped countries, we interviewed Miguel D’Escoto, Minister of Foreign Relations in Nicaragua and Luciano Joublanc Montaño, First Secretary of the Mexican Embassy in Nicaragua. The following are excerpts of their comments on the conference.


There are two major antecedents to the conference at Cancun. The first is the call made by the Willy Brandt Commission. This commission was formed under the auspices of the United Nations for the purpose of studying the possibility of a North-South dialogue. It was given the concrete task of analyzing the international economic situation: the differences between the rich and the poor countries; trying to define the real dimensions of the gap between the two groups; and looking for solutions to this gap. The resulting document proposed a global conference which would try to advance the level of communication between the North and the South countries.

Meanwhile, there were parallel efforts at the United Nations, trying to push forward negotiations and communication between these groups. During several years, there were very intense and constant negotiations at all levels about all of the issues involved. In an endeavor to consolidate these efforts, an attempt was begun to try to arrange a global meeting. In 1978, there was a proposal for a global meeting for early 1981 within the framework of the United Nations. Everyone accepted this proposal for negotiations under the umbrella of the UN.

During 1979–80, there was a drive to organize this conference. But it was impossible for the North and the South to agree on an agenda, about what issues would be touched at that global conference. For example, the underdeveloped countries insisted that concrete subjects such as international financial organization be a point of the agenda. The developed nations opposed the idea, especially the United States.

The underdeveloped nations were trying to create a certain kind of influence by the UN over the financial institutions so that they could have more influence in them. There was also the matter of the transference of technology. There was much criticism about how the U.S. and the developed countries understood this. These nations understood industrial redistribution as complementary to their necessity of exporting capital to the underdeveloped countries of the system. The opinion of the underdeveloped countries was that this transference was not just for the interest of the developed countries; they wanted to receive the kinds of industries that they really need and not those which are most beneficial to the developed countries. They were also concerned about the liberalization of trade conditions and about the protectionist measures of developed countries, which, through raising tariffs, make conditions more difficult for the poorer countries. The developing countries want more openness in trade. The situation was difficult under Carter; it has become much more difficult under Reagan to the extent that all hope of agreement on an agenda has disappeared.

Cancun, then, was an outgrowth of those two situations. There was some positive change in the position of certain countries, especially the U.S. A month or two prior, there had been a slightly different position than that which was taken later at Cancun. The U.S. had said that the most important thing was that the countries change their internal situation, that is, become more deeply identified with capitalism and the idea of a free market. Foreign aid should not be considered very important. At Cancun the new position was in the commitment to continue the foreign aid at the same levels as before. It was in a sense a theoretical change. The problem now is in how that aid is understood and put into application. Reagan has attached conditions to the foreign aid. The help has to go mainly in a bilateral way, not in a multilateral way. The aid will also be directed mainly to the private sector.

The problem is that before the global negotiations can start, there are already some concrete conditions which are obstacles to an agreement on an agenda; this would prevent agreement on one of the most important matters that needs to be resolved.

Conditions that the Reagan Administration had previously imposed for the realization of the global conference included: that no one would attack the ideology of the U.S. and that the world financial institutions such as the World Bank could not be a matter of discussion. He also introduced a new objective: to look for mechanisms to create incentives for the investment of private enterprise in underdeveloped countries.

The U.S. has only made a commitment to the preparatory process, not to the global negotiations themselves. What of the future? One of the main limitations to the concurrence on a common position is that there are too many contradictions among the developing countries.

The main prerequisite to really get concessions from the developed countries is in developing a unified position among the third world countries. The only way to achieve that is to change the economic systems in the developing countries. The dependence of many third world countries on the developed countries forces them into alliances which cause them to act against the interest of their own people and in favor of the interest of the developed countries.

In summary, about the only concrete result of Cancun was to temporarily revive a plan that was almost dead: to agree to continue talks in the future.


Regarding Cancun, Mexico had a special interest because it had pushed for global negotiations within the United Nations. It was the objective not only of Mexico but also of the majority of the non-industrialized countries that participated in Cancun to generate these global negotiations. This decision was adopted although it still has not been decided what steps are going to be taken to achieve them. There was talk about how to establish a less unjust situation for the poorer countries which, in general, only have raw materials to export and have to import many needed manufactured goods. They require a global agreement that takes into account the price of technology and that of the importation of manufactured goods.

There were two other points that had priority for Mexico and which were approved by the majority of the non-industrialized countries. One of these is the problem of food. Mexico was very active in the effort to adopt priority measures to combat the problem of hunger in the world in such a way that hunger cease to be one of the principal scourges of humanity. The agreement was to consider as a world objective the eradication of hunger by the year 2000. The Secretary General of the U. N. offered that through the United Nations Organization for Agriculture and Food a mechanism be established which takes these fundamental concerns into account.

The other theme was the need to achieve a means of distribution of energy which would make it possible for the poorest countries to have a rational way to resolve their energy problems. The cost of energy is one of the obstacles which the small countries, who are not oil producers, have to confront. This is an enormous impediment to their development. Mexico presented as an example the plan through which Mexico and Venezuela sell oil with preferential credits of 30% of the total sale to various countries of Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico thought that this could be a mechanism which could be reproduced in other regions and which could be amplified so that the non-oil producing, industrialized countries could also participate. Within this process, credits could be facilitated, and exchange agreements could be reached in which raw materials would be exchanged for technology. France proposed the creation of an organism, as a branch of the World Bank, which would be dedicated solely to questions of energy. The idea had considerable support but it also was received with reservations by some other developed countries.

Nevertheless, the idea that these topics are now priorities and have to be attended to with urgency is something which will probably continue after Cancun.


The outcome of Cancun did not surprise us. The position taken there was the same position that had been taken before. We are glad that there has been a move toward opening up global discussions about the problems of the underdeveloped countries, but the root causes of the problems were not touched.

The intransigence of the most powerful nations continues to be the major problem. The U.S. is the main obstacle to the development of a New International Economic Order. There is a lesson that the third-world nations can learn from Cancun. They cannot look to the powerful nations to help them resolve their problems; they have to be resolved, as much as possible, among the third world countries themselves by developing more trade among themselves, exchanging technical assistance, etc. These countries need to concentrate on South-South relations rather than on North-South relations.

The third world only produces 11% of the manufactured goods of the world. There was the hope of increasing this to 25% by the end of the century, but the U.S. has made it clear that this will not be possible.

The outcome of Cancun was obvious from Ottawa. The U.S. has rejected all attempts at peaceful solutions to the problems of the underdeveloped countries. Even if there is maximum cooperation among third world counties, there is still an unavoidable relationship between the developed and underdeveloped countries. The developed countries refuse to accept their role in the causes of the problems in the third world. If this continues, the eventual result will be a third world war. But the forward march of the developing countries will not be turned back.

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