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Speech at the Extraordinary Summit of the Rio Group. Salvador, Bahía, Brazil

Speech by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, at the Extraordinary Summit of the Rio Group, Costa de Sauípe, Salvador, Bahía, Brazil, December 16, 2008, “Year 50 of the Revolution”.

(Stenographic Versions – Council of State)

I hope that Lula, comrade and dear friend, does not protest, because I speak less than Chávez does. (Laughter) Very simply, I had planned on asking to speak so that I could thank everyone, those who have spoken and those who haven’t spoken, all those who have been in agreement, this exemplary unanimity they have shown on the subject of Cuba’s entry into the Rio Group. I don’t know what you are thinking, but for us this is a very important moment in our history.

Like a speeded-up film, hundreds of different scenes went running through my mind, thousands of faces of comrades who have died in this struggle, because the struggle of the Cuban people is not just the blockade; after the Bay of Pigs aggression in 1961, the missile crisis that put the world on the brink of a third world war is a consequence of the same aggression. When that was discussed, some comrades were doubtful until recently when declassified documents by the American government showed that the US could not sit around with such a defeat on its record, and direct aggression with its troops had been planned against Cuba. That was the reason for the presence of the missiles and the moments we lived through.

Since an agreement had been reached between an assassinated president and a prime minister removed from office, I am referring to Nikita Khrushchev, the doubt always remained. And every time there was a change of administration in the United States, a journalist, some second rate spokesperson, when asked an apparently innocent question, would answer that that agreement no longer existed, that arrangements had to be made so that they would be informed, by diplomatic and not public channels, that that agreement did not exist.

Our surprise was enormous when we learned, on good authority, that we were alone, completely alone, to such an extent that Fidel and I decided to keep the secret. He informed the Politburo that I had just returned from the USSR and that there was a matter which he proposed must only be known by him and me, because if the American government would catch wind of it, any of them, with some exception or another, they would know how to use it to their good advantage.

Today it is different. From the day Reagan took office, we decided to take the matter into our own hands, and today perhaps I can say that there is more understanding and rationality in the US armed forces than in the area of the politicians, in the State Department area.

Today we can say that we are invulnerable from the military point of view, by our own effort. For more than 20 years we have not bought any weapons, except telescopic sights for sharpshooters and, naturally, a certain small number of parts.

For us, avoiding war always meant the principal victory, and we would say: “Avoiding war is equivalent to winning the war; but, to win it by avoiding it, we must spill rivers of sweat and use significant economic resources”, and so we did.

Defence of our country has cost a lot, and it continues to cost us a lot. We have constructed thousands of kilometres of tunnels of all sizes, to such an extreme that in Cuba there is no important military unit above-ground; they are deep underground, even the air force.

For this reason all those events were running through my mind, and how many there would be. Imagine that on December 18th, practically in 2 days, I will be in Brasilia on an official visit, thanks to a lovely invitation extended to us by President Lula, and on that day it will be 52 years from the day, after the disaster of December 5th, after landing from Mexico, on which the guerrilla detachment coming from there was practically destroyed…That is why I tell you that our armed forces were born in Mexico, because the Rebel Army was its precedent, just like before it came the Mambí army, the Liberation Army which fought against European colonialism, we should say. Between the 5th and the 18th, 13 days went by, Fidel thought I had died, and I thought he had died; most of our comrades fell, others were murdered after being captured in wounded or exhausted conditions. I resisted an encirclement with five men in my platoon; from twenty something men, only five of us were left and we resisted the encirclement for a week, and the only food we had were some bits of sugarcane, with no water or food of any kind; we wasted no energy in moving until, overcome with nausea, we realized that this was the moment to take a risk and break out from the encirclement.

And so, about 13 days later – as I was saying to you – on December 18th, by now in the Sierra Maestra, the peasants joined up two groups: one was Fidel’s and the other, mine. After the initial embrace, the meeting happened at midnight; he stepped back and asked me: “How many guns do you have?” And I answered: “Five.” And he says: “And I have two, so that makes seven. And now we are going to win the war!” (Laughter) What I am about to tell you, I told after the war, and I didn’t dare write it into my diary: “My brother has really gone crazy!” (Laughter) That’s what I was thinking. He criticized me later: “How is it possible that you had no hope that we were going to win?” “Yes, but we weren’t going to come out of it alive.”

It is thus that as fate has it, perhaps the only time in history, where after such a long journey, lasting more than half a century, some of the main leaders of our Revolution are still alive, and without realizing it we have assimilated a gigantic experience in every respect, including the economic one, even though we are not economists.

After that solution for the missile crisis, to which I just referred, the so-called Operation Mongoose sprang up, concocted by the CIA, which went on for five years, a sort of internal civil war –not a civil war, it was a fight against gangs -; there were moments when we were fighting against 179 gangs in the six provinces of the republic we had in those days until the Political Administrative Division which was approved in 1975 and applied in 1976, when we went from six to 14 provinces.

That struggle lasted for five years. I would arrive at the Defence Ministry and four or five assistants would be coming in at the same time to bring me the lists, to inform me about what had happened during the previous night, or in the last 24 hours – we didn’t have the efficient communications system we have today – and I would tell them: “Just tell me the most important ones.” “So many fires in the sugar fields, so many tobacco curing houses burning, and so many battles fought in the central region, where they had become strong in the mountains. And as I was saying to you, on two occasions they were in the six provinces, including south of La Habana Province –where there was one, and now there are two (provinces) –where the capital is located. That fight lasted until January of 1966, and after that it went on sporadically.

How many comrades fell in that struggle, and many more, as a result of the state terrorism that we have been suffering from for years? 3,478 Cubans have died, including some smaller numbers of boys and girls, women, innocent souls who weren’t taking part in any fight; disabled, 2,099; total, 5,577 Cuban men and women, including attacks to our embassies, and even to the UN mission. That was everywhere: consulates, embassies, diplomatic officials, etc.

We resisted, and I think that is the greatest commendation for our people, our greatest merit; we resisted and we are here, and now this very significant occurrence is happening, and a minute ago I was telling Felipe: “How sorry I am that it isn’t Fidel sitting here right now! Although he must be watching us on TV.” (Applause)

Telling you these stories, I ask that you forgive me, but I was doing so in order to emphasize why this is an event of incredible significance for us; and, therefore, I go on with my written words, and I ask your indulgence for having taken a few minutes longer than I had planned.

Esteemed and dear President Felipe Calderón;

Distinguished presidents, heads of state and government:

Before all else I would like to express our thanks to those governments, to all, for promoting the full incorporation of Cuba into the Rio Group. The decision adopted by the Foreign Ministers last November 13th in Mexico, in the city of Zacatecas, is a reflection of the singular moment being lived by Latin American and the Caribbean.

To you, President Calderón, I wish to give my thanks for your words, as well as to all those who have spoken this afternoon, and to express to them the acknowledgement of Cuba for the role played by your country in favour of strengthening the Rio Group since you took on the Pro-Tempore Secretariat in March of this year.

We share the hope that the Rio Group becomes ever more representative, with the incorporation of all the nations that make up this vast Latin American and Caribbean region.

Cuba enters the Rio Group with the purpose of encouraging cooperation and solidarity among our nations. It does this with the wish to work in favour of justice, peace, development and understanding among all our peoples.

Cuba participates sharing a mutual compliance with international law, the Charter of the United Nations and to the fundamental principles governing the development of relations between nations, especially the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States, rejection of aggression, use or threat of use of force, and of the use of coercive unilateral measures, in order to prevent any State from exercising its right to choose its own political, economic and social system. That is precisely the purpose of the cruel and vengeful blockade imposed by the government of the United States, that our people have had to suffer and of the information which my initial remarks offered you.

We incorporate ourselves with the commitment to be faithful to the principles of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution, those which have been taught us by Comrade Fidel, master of solidarity and the creator of the values that have characterized it.

That unchangeable ethic is the basis for the ties of brotherhood with the peoples of the continent, and it is our steadfast will to continue strengthening them. I am not at all referring to the OAS because I consider it to be a joke made by Comrade Zelaya; I hope you will not misinterpret his words as they go out over TV and into the world, and as always there are some who were not paying enough attention, and they are going to think that it is a serious proposal; at least I understood it to be a joke.

Before Cuba joins the OAS–and I hope to be excused, not by the OAS Secretary, I greet him, and perhaps I will meet with him, but by the politician he is, the political personality, our friend Insulza–first, as Martí said, “the North sea will join the South sea and a snake will hatch from an eagle’s egg.”

Even Evo was saying that Cuba must become a member of an OAS without the Americans. We cannot enter the OAS, for the reasons I was explaining to you and for many more that would extend this meeting far too long, with or without the Americans. Those initials must disappear; that is our opinion. We respect your opinions, those of you who continue belonging to the OAS. We belong to, and we will belong to, the Rio Group. (Applause)

Thank you very much for the patience with which you have had to listen to these last words of mine. (Applause)

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