The commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Group of 77 (G-77) is an opportunity for its member nations to assess the progress achieved through their joint action to redress the injustices and inequities of a world order crafted by powerful actors in the developed world to serve their own perceived self-interest. It is also an occasion to inject new energy in our collective role at the multilateral level.
Despite their different political orientations and priorities, their varying levels of development or specific status as land-locked, least developed or middle income countries, despite some states in their midst being oil importers and others being oil exporters, 75 developing nations adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1963 a "Joint Declaration" annexed to resolution 1897 prompting joint action by their delegations at the Geneva Conference scheduled for March 1964 and which led to the setting up of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Bandung Asian-African Summit of 1956 and the first Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Belgrade of 1961 laid the foundations for this collective action by developing countries in the United Nations to move beyond political liberation from colonization to full economic emancipation.
I remember the first session of UNCTAD when Ernesto "Che" Guevara challenged our newly liberated countries to "resist the temptation of offers made in cold blood on the heat of the moment and impose a new type of relationship", adding that if we succeeded "mankind will have taken a step forward". If not, he concluded, "The world will stay as it (1)
In the following three months of this long session, we were energized by the challenge to do all that was necessary so that mankind would take a step forward, as big a step as could be made through enhancing the G-77 effectiveness and discipline.
Here we were confronted by two role models hailing from Argentina: "Che" Guevara, the militant and Raul Prebisch, the diplomat. After a lot of soul searching, and under instructions from our capitals, we acted more as diplomats, less as militants. Both militants and diplomats, we thought, first diagnose what ails the planet. The former then seek to "impose" their remedy on, while the latter prefer to propose it for negotiation, to the Guardians of the Temple; i.e., of the existing order. Committed militants may be ideological but committed diplomats, we believed, are idealists. Militants may be dogmatic but diplomats have to be pragmatic. This is how the Group of 75, who then became the G-77, operated in UNCTAD and in this resilience lay its strength.
Our joint endeavours brought forth the first Declaration of the G-77 which officialized our existence as a group and paved the way for the final outcome of the Conference. That was when we parted reluctantly with a developed country member, New Zealand, a "white gold" (dairy products) exporter so aptly represented by Ambassador Basil Bolt and when we welcomed three new developing country members. Thereafter, having reached the magic number of 77, we stopped counting except for an explicit addition of China when it joined the Group in 1972.
Special tribute must be paid to the visionary leadership of the first Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Raul Prebisch, the "diplomat" whose inspired guidance was invaluable in steering our deliberations towards a constructive outcome. I remember with emotion this youthful puce-faced...