Opening a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, leaders of developing nations appealed Wednesday for economic access to global markets dominated by the industrialized West.
The family of 113 nations, formed in the 1950s to fend off superpower domination, is redefining its postCold War mission largely as a struggle for economic parity with Europe and the United States.
“A dangerous neo-protectionist tendency is spreading over the world like a shadow,” said President Ernesto Samper of Colombia, which takes over the movement’s leadership for the next three years.
Seeking new relevancy, thousands of summit delegates are also debating poverty, terrorism, nuclear weapons and reform of the United Nations.
Samper, whose credibility has been hurt by allegations his 1994 election campaign took cash from cocaine traffickers, also urged an international fight against money laundering and drug consumption.
Several dozen heads of state, a few in traditional African robes and Arab head scarves, walked up a red carpet lined with white-uniformed navy cadets into Cartagena’s convention center for the opening ceremony.
The leaders will issue a final statement at the end of the summit Friday, although the group has no power to enforce resolutions.
In an opening speech, President Suharto of Indonesia said settling poor countries’ external debt was a priority and urged democratic reform of world financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Western nations want to focus on social and environmental issues in developing countries, ignoring more crucial problems of debt and market access, Suharto said.
Fidel Castro of communist Cuba, which has suffered a decades-long U.S. trade embargo, accused the world’s “opulent societies” of trying to impose an economic “straitjacket” of free trade and privatization on poor countries.
He also said the United States was trying to manipulate other countries through its veto power on the U.N. Security Council, and compared American right-wing groups to Nazis.
Still, the fiery political rhetoric common to previous summits gave way this year to appeals for cooperation, rather than confrontation, with stronger nations.
The Non-Aligned Movement, with half the world’s population, includes war-torn and impoverished African nations such as Rwanda and Somalia. But economically healthy nations are also members - Singapore, for example, has a busy port, booming electronics industry and an annual growth rate of 7 percent.
Many delegates complain that rich nations deny developing countries access to resources such as technology. Others maintain the West unfairly uses its economic muscle in agreements liberalizing free trade.
Yasser Arafat, chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was at the summit, but two important no-shows were King Hussein of Jordan and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.