Speech by the President of the Republic of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, at the inaugural session

Speech by the President of the Republic of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, at the inaugural session of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Group of 77 and China on the current challenges of development: the role of science, technology, and innovation.

Your excellencies,

Distinguished delegates and guests,

The warmest of welcomes to Cuba, the land of José Martí, to whom we owe the beautiful idea that Homeland is Mankind.

Thank you for accepting an invitation that brings us together today to defend the future of the vast majorities that form the bulk of that great and unifying concept: mankind.

As announced by our foreign minister on the eve of the present event, this is an austere summit; I hope you will forgive any shortcomings you may encounter. Cuba is literally besieged by a six-decade blockade and beset by all the problems that go with that siege, which has recently been intensified.

We are also faced, of course, with the immense challenges generated by the prevailing unjust international order; but we are not alone. It was almost 60 years ago that our common difficulties and the hope that together we could face them and prevail generated the idea that led to the formation of this group. We are the Group of 77 and China. And we are more.

As you will realize in the coming days, we lack a lot of things, but we’re not short of feelings: of friendship, of solidarity, of humanity. Neither are we lacking in the will to make you feel welcome. Here, you are at home.

You can also be sure that we will do everything to ensure that our deliberations lead to tangible results, in the climate of solidarity and cooperation that underpins the success of any collective endeavor.

The Group of 77 and China has the huge responsibility of representing, in the international arena, the interests of the majority of the world’s nations. For reasons of history and identity we have kept the original name, but we are a lot more than 77 countries. Today we’re 134, equating to over two-thirds of the UN member states and accounting for 80% of the world population.

Meeting at summit level allows us to deliberate collectively and at the highest political level, to pool efforts in defense of the interests of that majority. It helps us find common positions on the current challenges to development and the well-being of our peoples. But it also poses us interrogatives.

Following almost 60 years of diplomatic battles, in the difficult and thus far fruitless attempt to reform the unjust, anachronistic rules that govern international economic relations, it behooves us to remember the calls of our historic leaders to democratize the UN; Fidel Castro’s warnings that “tomorrow will be too late” and an unforgettable remark by Comandante Ugo Chávez: “We presidents go from summit to summit, and the peoples go from abyss to abyss”

Chavéz called for truly useful meetings, which could produce concrete benefits for the peoples waiting for solutions besides the abyss we have been consigned to by the egoism of those who, for centuries, have been cutting the cake and leaving us the crumbs.

This summit is taking place at a time when mankind has achieved a level of scientific/technical progress unimaginable a couple of decades ago, conferring an incredible capacity for generating wealth and well-being which, in times of greater equality, equity, and justice, could ensure decent, comfortable and sustainable living standards for practically every inhabitant of this planet.

If we color the space occupied by the Group of 77 and China on a world map, we see two strengths that no-one beats: we are the largest, and the most diverse. The South also exists, in the lines of the Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti. Considering the length of time during which the North has adapted the world to suit its interests, at everyone else’s expense, the moment has arrived for the South to change the rules of the game.

“It’s the hour of the furnaces, in which all there is to see is light”, José Martí would say. With the rights we - the vast majority of the Group of 77 members - acquire by being the primary victims of the world’s present multidimensional crisis; of the cyclical imbalances in international trade and finance; of the abusive, unequal exchange; of the science, technology and knowledge gap; of the danger stemming from progressive destruction and exhaustion of the natural resources on which life on earth depends, we demand realization now of the overdue democratization of the system of international relations.

It is the countries of the South that suffer most from poverty, hunger, indigence, deaths from curable diseases, illiteracy, human displacement, and other effects of underdevelopment. Many of our nations are labeled poor whereas they should properly be referred to as pauperized. The need is to rectify a situation in which centuries of colonial and neocolonial dependence have left us in: it is unjust and the South can no longer bear the deadweight of all the problems.

Those who built shining cities with the resources, sweat, and blood of the nations of the South are already suffering and will go on suffering the impacts of the economic and social imbalances that favored the plunder because we’re all in the same boat - although some are ‘first class’ and others their servants.

The only safe route, to ensure that this world ship doesn’t meet the same fate as the Titanic, is that of cooperation, and solidarity, the African Ubuntu philosophy, sees human progress as without exclusions, where one person’s pain and hope are the pain and hope of everyone.

Your Excellencies:

We have proposed as this summit’s theme the role of science, technology, and innovation as essential components of the political debate associated with law.

We do so in the conviction that the achievements and advances in this field are those that will finally reveal whether and when it will be possible to fulfill the ideal sustainable development goals, relating to ending poverty; zero world hunger; health and well-being; high-quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; solution of the problems of energy, employment, economic growth, industrialization and social justice.

I am totally convinced that, likewise, it will not be possible to progress towards a sustainable way of life, in harmony with the natural conditions that support life on the planet, without these premises.

It is obvious that the transformation needed to reach these goals implies, in one form or another, the role of knowledge as a driver of science, technology, and innovation.

It is necessary to dismantle, now, the international barriers that have obstructed access by developing countries and the use by these of such critical factors for economic and social progress.

I’m referring to barriers closely associated with an unjust and unsustainable international economic order that perpetuates conditions of privilege for the developed countries and condemns most of mankind to underdevelopment.

If these issues are not addressed, it will not be possible to reach the sustainable development to which we are all entitled, however many goals we set ourselves.

Neither will it be possible to narrow the yawning gap between the living standards of the privileged few and the underdevelopment marking the conditions endured by the vast majority.

We will have no prospect of a world of peace, in which wars and all other kinds of armed conflict disappear.

Science, technology, and innovation play a key role in fostering productivity, efficiency, the creation of value-added, the humanization of working conditions, the promotion of well-being, and the guarantee of human development.

We are seeing the greatest scientific/technological revolution in human history. Science has changed the very course of life. Man has been able to know sidereal space and develop sophisticated machines that automate even the most basic processes associated with our existence.

The internet has broken through the limits of time and space; technological development has enabled a connected world and reduced distances of thousands of miles to a click. It has multiplied the capacities of teaching and learning, speeded up research, and endowed man with unsuspected abilities for improving our standard of living.

But these possibilities are not within the reach of everyone.

In this context, UNIDO has stressed that the creation and dissemination of advanced digital production (ADP) technologies worldwide remain concentrated, with minor activity in most of the emerging economies. Just 10 economies - spearheading ADP technologies - account for 90% of all the patents globally and 70% of the total exports directly related to these.

Far from becoming tools for closing the development gap and helping overcome the injustices that overshadow mankind’s very future, they tend to be weaponized for use in widening the gap, sapping the will of many of our governments, and protecting the system of exploitation and plunder that for centuries fed the wealth of the old colonial powers and condemned our nations to a subordinate role.

That explains why, amid the most tremendous scientific/technical advance of all time, the world has regressed three decades as regards reducing extreme poverty, with levels of hunger not witnessed since 2005.

It explains why, in the so-called Third World, over 84 million children are without schooling and over 660 million have no electricity; why only 36% of the population use the internet in the least advanced countries and the landlocked developing nations, compared with 92% in the industrialized world.

Note that the average cost of a smartphone represents 2% of monthly income per head in America, while the corresponding statistic in South Asia is 53% and in sub-Saharan Africa 39%. It is impossible to speak of technological advances or fair access to communications in these circumstances.

The energy transition is also taking place in conditions of extreme inequality, which seeks to perpetuate itself. The disproportion in energy consumption between the developed countries (167.9 GJ per person per annum) and the developing world (56.2 GJ) results from the existing economic and social divide and also ensures that the gap goes on widening. Electricity consumption in the OECD countries exceeds the world average 2.38 times and that of sub-Saharan Africa 16 times.

Many of the diseases that are more prevalent in developing countries are preventable or at least treatable. The WHO in its report on the world’s state of health estimates that every year 8 million people die prematurely from curable diseases and conditions. These deaths represent around one-third of annual worldwide mortality. Average spending on public health per capita in Western countries is estimated at $947 compared with $20 in low-income nations.

We must try to change the rules of the game; we will succeed only by mobilizing joint action.

All or nearly all of us are trying to attract direct foreign investment as a necessary component of our development and the management of our economies. We sometimes succeed in arranging for this to be accompanied by technology transfer.

But we know that more often than not there is no transfer of knowledge or help with capacity building. This lack means that the developing countries find themselves at the lowest levels in the global value chains, while their research in health, food, the environment, and other fields is very limited or deficient in systematic devaluation.

This phenomenon accompanies the emigration of talent commonly referred to as the “brain drain”: the practice of the most developed countries to poach the preparation and knowledge of professionals trained with much effort by the developing nations, generally entirely without support by the richest countries.

This is a massive drain and a significant financial contribution by developing countries to the rich ones, much greater, by the way, than official development assistance, as a result of a migratory flow that is devastating for the underdeveloped world.

Another reality is the tendency to patent everything, including life forms, as promoted by the World Trade Organization. This is a practice that swells the coffers of large transnational corporations in the most powerful countries and makes the remaining economies more fragile. Thus, the rampant process of privatization of knowledge contributes to widening the gap and limits access to development.

Patents are part of a neoliberal theology, according to which knowledge can be privatized, bought, and sold like any other commodity.

There is pressure on developing countries to introduce laws to protect intellectual property rights, while conveniently forgetting that many industrialized countries developed precisely by pirating products and technology outside their geographic borders, particularly in today's developing countries.

Patent applications continued to increase, even amid the pandemic in 2020 (up by 1.5%) and jumped in 2021 (3.6% growth). Health-related technologies continued to record the fastest growth among all sectors. During 2021, trademark applications reached 3.4 million globally (up 5.5% on 2020). However, it was uneven by region: Asia received two-thirds (67.6%) of all applications filed, driven mainly by growth in China; North America 18.5%, Europe 10.5%; the lowest percentages of total applications were those of Africa (0.6%), Latin America and the Caribbean (1.6%) and Oceania (0.6%).

The gender gap in innovation persists. The numbers engaged in research increased at a rate three times faster (13.7%) than the growth of the world population (4.6%) between 2014 and 2018. In 2018, the number of researchers reached 8.854 million. However, only one-third of researchers are women. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), men still represent the large majority of those associated with patented inventions in the world. In 2021, only 17% of the persons designated as inventors in international patent applications were women.

The privatization of knowledge places limits on the circulation and recombination of knowledge. It poses limitations to progress and scientific solutions to problems. It represents a significant barrier to development and the role that science, technology, and innovation should play in it. It exacerbates the socioeconomic conditions of Third World countries.

Suffice it to say that amid the greatest pandemic humanity has ever known, just ten manufacturers accounted for 70% of anti-COVID-19 vaccine production.[9] The pandemic was a starkly realistic illustration of the cost of scientific and digital exclusion, which took lives and widened the gap between North and South.

As a result, developing countries had only 24 doses of vaccines per 100 inhabitants, while the corresponding number for the richest countries was almost 150. In response to the call for greater solidarity and putting aside disagreements, the world ended up being, absurdly, more selfish.

The World Health Organization has formulated the well-known 90/10 syndrome, according to which 90% of health research resources are devoted to diseases that cause 10% of mortality and morbidity, while those that cause 90% of mortality and morbidity receive only 10% of the resources available.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, our countries have had to endure extraordinarily complex conditions, which they are still fighting hard to overcome.

In tapping financial markets, the nations of the South have faced interest rates up to 8 times higher than those charged to developed countries. About one-fifth of developing economies liquidated more than 15% of their international foreign exchange reserves to cushion the pressure on domestic currencies.

In 2022, 25 developing nations had to devote more than one-fifth of their total income to servicing public external debt, which is tantamount to a new form of slavery.

Between 2014 and 2018, global spending on research and development (R&D), increased by 19.2%, outpacing the growth of the global economy (14.6%). However, it remains highly concentrated, as 93% arises in the G20 countries.

The resources needed for a comprehensive solution to these problems do exist. In 2022 alone, global military spending reached a record $2,24 trillion, that is millions of millions of dollars. How much could be done with these resources for the benefit of the South?

Achieving universal and inclusive participation in the digital economy will require at least $428 billion to be invested in our countries by 2030, a demand that can be met with just 19% of global military spending.

However, the South seems destined to live on the crumbs that the current system has reserved for it. The International Monetary Fund's financial support for the least developed countries and other low-income countries, from 2020 to late November 2022, was no more than what the Coca-Cola Company has spent on advertising its brand alone in the last 8 years.

Meanwhile, less than 2% of the already deficient Official Development Assistance has been dedicated to capacities in science, technology, and innovation.

Estimates indicate that 9% of global military spending could finance climate change adaptation over 10 years (proposed by the "Global Commission on Adaptation") and 7% would be sufficient to cover the cost of universal vaccination against COVID-19.

An international financial architecture that perpetuates such disparities and forces the South to tie up financial resources and go into debt to protect itself from the instability that the system itself generates; that enlarges the pockets of the rich at the expense of the reserves of the poorest 80%[23] is, without a doubt, an architecture that is inimical to the progress of our nations. It must be demolished if we want to work for the development of the great mass of nations gathered here.

Your Excellencies,

It must be a priority to abolish once and for all the research paradigms that are specific to the cultural environments and perspectives of the North, and that deprive the international scientific community of considerable intellectual capital.

This trend poses a premise for our nations: the urgency of restoring confidence in the most dynamic element of our societies: the human being and his/her creative activity.

In this endeavor, capacity building is key to fulfilling the promise of science, technology, and innovation for sustainable development.

We recognize, in this regard, the merit of the Global Development Initiative, promoted by the President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping. It is an inclusive proposal, consistent with the need for a new, just, and equitable international order, which rightfully places knowledge-based development at the center of the priorities of the international system.

Even though Cuba is a developing country burdened by great economic difficulties, it has scientific capabilities that should not be underestimated and that are part of the legacy of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, who, with foresight, identified this field as a mainspring of development.

We have a government management system based on science and innovation, which has become an important strength for the preservation of our sovereignty, the best expression of which was the creation of our own vaccines against COVID-19.

However, for Cuba, linking knowledge to the solution of development problems is a titanic task, since such efforts are to be made amid an entrenched economic, commercial, and financial blockade that translates into significant resource limitations.

To name but one example, by the political decision of the U.S. government, many websites related to knowledge and science are specifically blocked for Cuban researchers.

This is not the occasion for me to dwell on the impact that the criminal US economic blockade has on our economy, our scientific-technical progress, and our development, with an obvious humanitarian cost.

However, I must identify it as a major obstacle, despite which - due to our strong political will - Cuba has been able to achieve indisputable results in science and innovation.

I invite you to discuss during these days the challenges to our nations of development, the injustices that exclude us from global progress, but also the value of our unity and our rich store of knowledge.

Let us focus our reflections on the pursuit of consensus, strategies, tactics, and ways of coordination. Let us put on the table all our assets, let us maximize synergies. Let us show the value and expertise of the South to those who seek to present us as an amorphous mass seeking charity or handouts.

Let us remember that many of the unique nations represented by the G-77 and China wrote impressive pages of creativity and heroism in human history before colonization and plunder impoverished the destinies of a number of them.

Let us recover that fighting spirit, traditional knowledge, creative thin, king, and collective wisdom. Let us fight for our right to development, which is also the right to exist as a species.

Only then will we be in a position to participate in the scientific-technical revolution on an equal footing? Only then will we be able to occupy the place that is rightfully ours in this world in which they try to relegate us to the condition of meek contributors of wealth to minorities? Let us fulfill together the honorable mission of integrating and improving this world, making it fairer and more rational, without the permanent threat of extinction overshadowing our dreams.


Twenty-three years ago, at a meeting like this one, the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro asserted and I quote:

“As for the Group of 77, this is not the time for begging from the developed countries or for submission, defeatism or internecine divisions. This is the time to bring our fighting spirit, unity, and cohesion in defending our demands.

“Fifty years ago we were promised that one day there would no longer be a gap between developed and underdeveloped countries. We were promised bread and justice, but today we have less and less bread and more injustice.” End of quote.

The topicality of those words can be construed as a defeat, in terms of what this Group aimed for and failed to achieve. I ask you to take it as a confirmation of the long road we have traveled together and of all the rights we have to demand the overdue changes.

In tribute to those who believed and laid the foundations; in the name of the people we represent, let us see that their voices and demands are respected.

There are more of us. And we shall triumph.

Thank you.

Havana, September 15, 2023
Taken from Granma