A Call for Less Welfare and More Development

Vatican Aide Views Problems of Poorest Countries

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, MAY 17, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAVVENIRE).- Ours is an age of irony, says Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

«For the first time,» observes the Vatican´s permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, «our age has the knowledge, means and political possibilities to defeat poverty and inequalities. In spite of this, marked inequalities continue to exist.»

Archbishop Martin is attending a conference here on the world´s least developed countries. In this interview, he evaluates the state of assistance for world development.

–Q: In your address, you called on all participants to make «an examination of conscience» on policies against poverty. Why?

–Archbishop Martin: The reason is very simple. This is the third U.N. conference in 30 years on the least developed countries. Yet, in this period of time, their number has increased. It seems obvious that something is not working. It is natural that, having arrived at this point, we ask ourselves the basic question about the validity of our involvement to date.

–Q: You have already asked yourself this question. Do you have an answer?

–Archbishop Martin: The developed countries, beginning with the European Union, which is hosting this conference, must have the courage to admit their errors, which can be summarized in a posture of superiority in relation to the poorest countries. A superpower behavior that must be replaced by a relation of cooperation.

–Q: Can you explain this further?

–Archbishop Martin: It is about being involved in the training of people, in their formation. Deep down, the object of development is to prepare people so that they can contribute the talents God has given them. Translated in a few words: less welfare and more development of the individual.

–Q: Instead, in recent years the emphasis has been on welfarism.

–Archbishop Martin: I would say that here also, in Brussels, there is still too much talk of welfare and no talk, for example, of the creation of jobs. However, this is a central topic, a pillar for any real development policy.

Above all, because a worthy job is the first factor that allows man to contribute his own capabilities. In the second place, it enables the individual to control his destiny, and not depend on the help of the one in power at the moment.

The creation of new jobs should also be used as an instrument to evaluate the efficacy of the different programs of struggle against poverty.

–Is there a special way to create jobs?

–Archbishop Martin: To invest in training is important, but it is also important to create a spirit [in favor of] small enterprises. Positive examples are not lacking and also show that women are especially able to respond to this stimulus.

Therefore, cooperative relations should award small working enterprises. This ties up with the topic of foreign debt. When these enterprises work, it is important to guarantee the reinvestment of profits in the same place. Instead, the high levels of debt impede this, so that local wealth is spent in paying interest rates that are no longer sustainable, and the spiral of poverty is perpetuated.

–Q: In any cases, in Brussels there is little talk of work and much talk of «good government.» The U.N. Program for Development has just announced the creation of a new fund to promote «good government.» What do you think?

–Archbishop Martin: It all depends on how the fund is structured. As I mentioned, it is important to invest especially in the formation of people who are trained, in order to guarantee «good government.» The poorest countries have already accepted this criteria, but it is an error to maintain that the problem of «good government» only affects the least developed countries.

The European Union, for example, should admit that is own past in this area is not exactly a model. This is seen in the funds allocated by this institution, which have never reached those for whom they were intended, just like the many cases, including recent ones, of «bad cooperation.»

–Q: Because of this conference, the European Union launched a new initiative to open the Union´s market to the products of the least developed countries.

–Archbishop Martin: It is a good initiative although somewhat curious in certain aspects. The program is called «Everything Except Arms.» In other words, arms will be the only product of poor countries that will not be able to have free access to the European market.

Honestly, I do not know how high the arms trade is that goes from the poor countries to Europe, but we all know, however, that the one that takes arms from Europe to the poorest countries is very developed.

Therefore, it would not be a bad thing for the European Union to turn the initiative «Everything Except Arms» around, and impose on its own member states blockage of the arms traffic to those countries, given that war and civil conflicts are among the first causes of poverty. But, I think there is no talk of this in Brussels.

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