Speech given by Army General Raul Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministers, at the 3rd Regular Session of the Seventh Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Havana Convention Center, August 1st, 2009, “Year of the 50th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Triumph.”
These have been days of intensive work. In Holguin, on July 26, I explained that I would be brief because other more complex issues would be submitted to deeper analysis in different meetings to be held through the week.
We spent the full day of July 29 at the 7th Plenary Meeting of the Party’s Central Committee, with its Politburo and Secretariat as well as members of the Council of State and Ministers specially invited, that is, the main Party, State and Government leaders and the key cadres of the mass organizations representing our society. Later on, I shall refer to some issues dealt with at the plenary session although our media published some information yesterday.
Likewise, a regular session of the Council of Ministers was held the following day where a second adjustment of this year’s spending was approved together with a set of actions aimed at tackling the grave financial situation of our economy.
Also the National Assembly commissions have been in session during this week and the deputies have received detailed information on and discussed about the performance of every sphere of action in the country. Today, at this plenary session we have analyzed and decided upon other major issues. The legislations concerning the National System of Museums and the establishment of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic were passed after a comprehensive process where different opinions were discussed, examined and harmonized at all levels.
The National System of Museums Act is an indispensable instrument to preserve our historical and cultural heritage for the present and future generations.
On the other hand, the Act on the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic has established a state body to replace the current ministry of Auditing and Control with the aim of assisting the National Assembly and the Council of State in their constitutional mandate to supervise every State and Government entity.
This new institution will play an essential role in the promotion of economic discipline and order, internal control and a resolved action against any manifestation of corruption as well as the causes and conditions that could open the way to a negligent or criminal behavior by any leader or government employee.
It will also help to define the civil liabilities and penal responsibilities of both the direct and indirect culprits of an offense. According to the law, the latter are those cadres, leaders or government employees who fail to be demanding with their subordinates, have a negligent conduct or ignore the established rules thus favoring the breach of discipline or avoiding its confrontation or immediate report to the corresponding authorities.
The Assembly has just elected Deputy Gladys Bejerano Portela as the Comptroller General. She will have my full support for the achievement of her objectives but above all I will demand that she fulfills her duty to the letter. Likewise, both the Party and Government will stay alert to the leaders at other levels who should be equally conscientious.
These matters are always essential but much more so under the present circumstances.
During the latest session of the Assembly on December, I warned that the year 2009 would be very challenging for the Cubans as a result of the losses and damages caused by three devastating hurricanes amounting to 10 billion dollars. The first, Gustav, started to pounding on August 30 and the third, Paloma, extended its effects until November 9. This means that in barely 72 days the country lost about 20% of its Gross Domestic Product, the celebrated GDP. This would be compounded by the uncertainty created by the global financial and economic crisis and its inevitable impact on our economy.
At that point we were thinking of a 6% growth; but, by April, as we found ourselves forced to make a first adjustment of the plan, our expectations came down to a 2.5%. Then, in the first semester, we have seen a GDP growth of 0.8%; still, it has been estimated that by the end of the year it will be of about 1.7%.
Our exports have significantly decreased due to the plummeting of prices. For instance, the average price of nickel has fallen from 21,100 dollars a ton last year to 11,700 in this first semester. And in the first months of the year it was even lower, to the point that we contemplated the temporary closure of some of the nickel plants.
Tourism is facing the paradox that even as it has received 2.9% more visitors, its earnings have been declining due to the deterioration of the exchange rate of other currencies with respect to the US dollar: in short, more tourists but lower returns.
In the same token, the value of our exports has also experienced a marked decrease. This has led to an almost even trade balance; however, the accumulated effect of previous commitments and the additional difficulties to accede to financial sources have made the financial situation of the country more complex.
Despite our firm determination to honor every obligation, we have been forced to renegotiate debts, payments and other commitments with foreign companies, albeit this is a rather common occurrence these days all over the world. As a rule, our partners have been understanding and shown confidence. Today, we reiterate our appreciation to them and the assurances that we will honor the agreements that have been reached.
At the same time, new proceedings have been recently enforced to expedite transactions with foreign partners that require more discipline and control in this area.
We have been consistent with the necessity to adjust spending to earnings. I am not an economist nor has it been my work under the Revolution to manage the details of economic development, however, I start from the basic logic that –as I said in the latest parliamentary session—no one, neither a person nor a country, can endlessly spend more than they earn. Two plus two always make four, not five. As I said three days ago during the Central Committee Plenary meeting, in the conditions of our imperfect socialism, due to our own shortcomings, quite often two plus two make three.
We are presently involved in the elaboration of the economic plans for the coming year whose guidelines were already approved by the Council of Ministers. I shall mention two of them: to plan a balance of payments without deficit and even with a reserve to make it possible to face up to unforeseen circumstances, and to give absolute priority to the growth of productions and services that bring in hard currency.
Such is the course of action we agreed upon at the 7th Plenary Meeting and the one every institution should implement under the leadership of the ministry of Economics and Planning, a major State body that it is our obligation to assist, support and, foremost, obey.
This year we have continued adopting various measures to strengthen institutionalization and the performance of our State and Government. Four new vice-presidents of the Council of Ministers have been appointed who, together with other two we had, have taken on the attention to ministries, national entities and major development programs. The restructuring of the state apparatus has continued with the merging of various State bodies and other institutions leading to a cut down of spending, transportation and payrolls, not to mention unnecessary paperwork. This process will go on gradually advancing with the purpose of improving the government’s efficiency. There is an increasingly cohesive, harmonious and integrated work among the Party, State and Government collective leadership bodies.
Modest progress is perceived despite the existing strain of our economy. The domestic monetary balance exhibits one of the most favorable situations of the past 20 years. Prices remain high but stable while the number of people working is greater than before. The agricultural and industrial productions have grown, with some exceptions, while transportation as a whole has improved and social services to the population are guaranteed, particularly healthcare, education and cultural and artistic functions.
As far as healthcare is concerned, –despite the inefficiencies we are all aware of– we have given undisputable proof of our capacity to fight all kinds of epidemics.
This is one of the few countries in the world that can say it has the A H1N1 pandemic under control. For example, as this disease keeps constantly advancing in over 171 nations –according to their own reports to the World Health Organization– with more than 177,000 people infected and a death toll of over 1100, in Cuba 242 cases have been confirmed of which 135, that is, more than half, are sick people who have traveled to the island; 50 are introduced cases, that is, persons infected by sick people coming from overseas; and 57 are considered indigenous cases since they were infected here by introduced cases. Of the total figure, 232 patients have been discharged and the remaining 10 show a favorable evolution.
Up to this moment, none of the patients has developed complications and none has died. This is a success of the healthcare system developed by the Revolution and an example that good results can be obtained if we are demanding and if the necessary arguments are offered, the required organizational measures adopted and the entire people involved.
Other achievements could be mentioned such as the avoidance until now of the upsetting blackouts to the population due to power generation deficits, which means we have only had those associated with maintenance to the power grids or other causes.
This would not have been possible without the strategy designed by comrade Fidel and the subsequent steps taken for energy production and saving.
As you know, in the first months of this year the energy demand highly exceeded the planned consumption in circumstances where it is impossible to import more fuel. By June, the decisions adopted allowed for a reversal of the situation even if in July the results were not that favorable. Apparently, the initial momentum is fading, as it is usually the case, this being a negative characteristic often affecting our cadres and government employees. For the rest of the year and in the future, it will be necessary to be more rigorous as to this crucial issue. There is simply no other alternative but to strictly abide by the plan.
Extraordinary measures have been implemented, such as cutting off services to certain entities that have exceeded planned consumption; this has had an impact on them. Also, some crafty people have been fined for altering their electricity meters. I am warning the latter that we shall take more severe action, including the electricity cuts to re-offenders for long periods and even definitely, if need be.
The increase of power consumption in the state sector has been contained but it has continued to grow in the residential sector. Therefore, although we are aware of the high temperatures in these months and that this is a vacation period, we appeal to our entire people to save as much energy as possible knowing that there is still untapped potential for that. The mass organizations in every neighborhood have a greater role to play in this connection, under the Party guidance, persuading the people and taking rational and adequately coordinated action.
There are plenty of needs and we should learn to prioritize the most important. Their solution will depend on our working harder and better. We should definitely put an end to the irresponsible attitude of consuming while no one, or very few, care to think of how much the country pays to ensure it and, foremost, if it can really do it.
We are aware of how anguishing it is, for example, not to have a home but as I have said more than once, the solution to this problem does not depend on our wishes; it is something that takes time, resources and mostly labor. And it becomes more difficult when, as it is commonly the case, we don’t have enough construction workers.
Some provinces do not even have enough people willing to work as teachers, police officers or in some other areas that require a special dedication or physical effort. I made reference to this subject in the previous session of the National Assembly, and I shall continue to follow attentively how every province achieves the incorporation of their people to these tasks.
This issue demands realistic solutions in addition to appealing to the honor of the people which is also important.
In the area of Education, over 7800 teachers in retirement have come back to class while another 7000 have postponed their retirement, which added to the teachers who canceled their request for voluntary redundancy and the ones who have reincorporated, will increase the number of educators to almost 19,000 in the forthcoming school year. I am sure that the example of these comrades will be emulated by many others who have not done it so far, and that many of those reaching retirement age will stay a little longer, if they can, doing their job and receiving the corresponding pension in addition to their wages. This amounts to a considerable figure.
As you know, recently a modest wage increase was approved for this sector. We would have liked it to be higher –and we tried—to more fairly remunerate our teachers and professors for their efforts, but as we delved deeply into the subject we realized that this was all we could do under the present circumstances; and these hard-working professionals have showed their appreciation.
Our social spending must match real possibilities and this requires cutting off those that we can do without. These can be beneficial or even commendable activities which are simply not within reach of our economy.
In this connection, various alternatives are being examined to reduce the number of boarding and semi-boarding students in educational centers at all levels. For example, there are junior and senior high schools in the countryside in places where their participation in agricultural work is no longer required while their students mostly come from urban areas. These schools will be transferred to the cities as material and organizational conditions are ensured.
This decision is aimed at cutting down the high spending in education without impacting on its quality. It will also spare some 5000 teachers long hours of daily travel to the schools and back home and enhance the family role in the children’s education. Nevertheless, in some rural areas they will always need a few schools with boarding students.
Another area in which sound steps have been taken is in reconciling the admission to teaching centers with the present and future requirements of the socio-economic development of every territory.
The same rational approach will be adopted with regards to other decisions concerning education, healthcare and the remaining sectors included in the budget in order to eliminate simply unsustainable spending that have been mounting annually and that are not only rather inefficient but also have made some people impervious to the need to work.
It was on these bases that the regulations were designed to hold more than one job as an alternative conducive to a better use of the workers’ potentials while raising their incomes. This includes the students of working age, as it is common practice in the world, who additionally to covering their personal needs can also improve their professional training but above all be better prepared for life.
We must be aware of our limitations, not to be afraid of them or wage them as a pretext to do nothing but rather to choose the best alternative and implement it.
Last July 26, I addressed the results achieved in milk production and collection and in the distribution of fallow land, and I spoke of the urgency of intensively exploiting the land surrounding almost every city and town.
The first try was made in the city of Camaguey with the participation of every institution and body under the guidance of the government in the province using its own resources and with an extensive utilization of oxen-drawn tools. It has been planned to start next January extending this experience to one head-municipality in every province.
This program, called suburban farming, will be developed in the areas surrounding cities and towns up to a distance allowing the people to work there with the minimum possible use of fuel.
It has been decided to assign this new task to the ministry of Agriculture, specifically to Deputy Adolfo Rodriguez Nodal and his reduced staff who have achieved remarkable results in urban farming thanks to their being demanding and systematic in their work as evidenced in the four annual evaluations of every province and municipality nationwide.
For this program we should forget about tractors and fuel, even if we had enough; the idea is to work basically with oxen since we are talking here of small-size farms. An increasing number of growers have been doing exactly this with excellent results. I have visited several of them and seen that they have turned their land into real gardens where every inch is cultivated.
The upgrading of the collection system of farming products with a comprehensive approach is an ongoing task. As reported by the media, this has already been applied in the two Havana provinces, albeit with many old problems that have been there forever, the same as the bureaucracy handling this activity for such a long time, but the necessary adjustments will be made to take this experience to the rest of the country. At the moment, the installation of new engines in 145 old trucks has been completed and these rejuvenated trucks coming out of the workshops will be used to bring supplies to the capital. Soon, the same will be done with 55 other trucks to bring that figure up to 200.
It is necessary to work with this spirit not only in agriculture but in every productive or service activity that can contribute earnings to the nation or substitute imports.
To such strategic tasks as food production, which as we have indicated is a matter of national security, we shall continue attracting the highest possible number of people through all the existing forms of property but in an orderly fashion.
We can count on many university graduates, –in some specialties we have many more than we need—but if we are not capable of changing their mentality and creating the objective and subjective conditions that will secure the availability of a qualified work force, who will be tilling the land? Who will work in factories and workshops? And, who will create the material riches required by our people? Sometimes one gets the impression that we are eating into socialism before we even build it and that we expect to spend as if we had already built communism.
Going on to another subject, the seven months of this year have been witness to an outstanding performance of Cuba in the international arena. Thus, even our staunchest enemies cannot deny the growing prestige of this small island.
We have just passed on to Egypt the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement, which its member countries agree has been reinvigorated in the last three years under Cuba’s leadership and now commands greater cohesion and influence in the most varied world forums.
The peoples and governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, proving again the deep changes occurred in the 50 years that have passed since the triumph of the Revolution and the failure of the attempts to isolate our country in this hemisphere, have unanimously claimed with renovated energy at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain the lifting of the US blockade.
It was a resounding victory obtained by ALBA and the entire region in San Pedro Sula, Republic of Honduras, when beating the US opposition they decided to unconditionally remove the anachronistic exclusion of Cuba from the Organization of American States, which we have no intention to join for obvious reasons that you all know well.
Cuba is actively involved in the different integration mechanisms of the region. Its admission to the Group of Rio as a full member last December was a very significant event.
Our political and economic relations with Venezuela and the other members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) as well as with countries in the region and the world at large keep up their steady advance. The ALBA continues to consolidate as a forum of integration and solidarity. At the same time, it’s starting to become the target of imperialist assaults.
This Assembly has just adopted a declaration on Honduras. Cuba has strongly condemned the coup d’état in that country and decidedly supported the immediate and unconditional reinstating of the legitimate president while expressing its solidarity with that sister nation. Whatever happens in Honduras shall be decisive for the future of Our America. The Honduran people will have the final say in this matter.
Despite economic and financial hazards we have honored our moral commitment to international cooperation and solidarity.
The two Central American nations that did not have diplomatic relations with us have established them in the past few months.
We could ask which country is really isolated in this region; it is certainly not Cuba.
We have followed attentively the attitude of the new US Administration towards Cuba. Being true to facts, the economic, commercial and financial blockade remain intact and in full force as evidenced in the persecution of our transactions with other countries and in the increasing number of fines given to American companies and their foreign subsidiaries. Likewise, Cuba is still unjustifiably included in the list of states sponsoring international terrorism annually prepared by the State Department.
The positive, albeit minimum measures announced last April 13, –on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in light of the continental outcry against the blockade—which would abrogate travel restrictions to Cuban residents in that country and limitations to family remittances, and permit some operations related to telecommunications have not been implemented until today. It is important to know this because there is plenty of confusion and manipulation of this issue in the international media.
It is true that the anti-Cuban aggressiveness and rhetoric by the US administration has declined. Also, after a six-year suspension following a decision by former president Bush, the talks between the two governments on the migration issue were resumed last July 14 and developed in a serious and constructive way. Cuba reiterated that it will continue to rigorously honor the migratory accords, as it has done so far, and denounced the Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry-foot/wet-foot policy enforced by the United States government that encourage illegal migration and the trafficking of persons.
A few weeks back, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that they are opened to a dialogue with Cuba but that they clearly want to see fundamental changes in the Cuban regime.
It is my obligation to respond to Mrs. Clinton, with all due respect, and also to those in the European Union who are asking for unilateral gestures in the sense of dismantling our social and political regime.
I was not elected President to return capitalism to Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, preserve and continue to perfect socialism, not to destroy it. (Prolonged applause)
This should be very clear for it represents the unyielding determination of the Cuban people that on February 1976 approved by referendum –through direct and secret ballot with a 97.7% of the vote— the Constitution of the Republic, which in its Article No.1 reads: “Cuba is an independent and sovereign Socialist State of workers, organized with all and for the good of all as a unitary and democratic republic to enjoy political freedom, social justice, individual and collective wellbeing and human solidarity.”
More recently, in the year 2002, –exactly from June 15 through 18—a total of 8, 198, 237 people, almost the entire population of voting age, signed an appeal to this Assembly for the promotion of a constitutional reform that ratified the Constitution of the Republic in full and declared irrevocable the socialist nature and the political and social system set forth in our Magna Carta. This was unanimously approved by the deputies to the National Assembly in a Special Session held June 24 through 26 that same year.
I avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate Cuba’s disposition to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States, on equal footing, without the slightest shadow to our independence, sovereignty and self-determination. We are ready to discuss everything, I repeat, everything, but everything about here in Cuba, and about there in the United States. We will not negotiate our political or social system. We are not asking the United States to do so. We should mutually respect our differences.
We do not recognize jurisdiction to the government of that country or any other group of countries over our sovereign affairs.
As of the triumph of the Revolution there has not been in Cuba any extrajudicial execution, any missing or tortured person; I rectify myself: there has been torture in Cuba, at the Guantanamo Naval Base imposed to our homeland over one hundred years ago through the infamous Platt Amendment passed by the US Congress as a pre-condition to the end of the Yankee military occupation. People have been tortured there, and that is a portion of the Cuban territory, but we did not do it. That’s why, with all due respect, we tell Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of that country, that if she wants to discuss everything we are willing to discuss everything about here, but about there, too.
The closure of the American prison in Guantanamo has been announced; it is a fair demand of the world public, but it should not be all. We do not renounce nor will we ever renounce the unconditional return of that portion of the national territory.
The same way we have insisted on our disposition to settle our differences with the United States, I clearly say that we are facing the issue with absolute calm and no haste. For 50 years now we have been walking on the edge of a sword, so we are well trained in that, and we are capable of resisting 50 more years of aggressions and blockade. (Applause)
There are those who say that in the US power circles they are betting on the demise of the historic generation of the Revolution, a sinister bet on the so-called “biological factor”, that is, the death of Fidel and of all of us.
Those who think this way are doomed since the successive generations of revolutionary patriots, first of all our magnificent youth, will never be ideologically disarmed, and along with them and the Party in the frontline will stand the Mambises of the 20th Century: our glorious Revolutionary Armed Forces which this time did walk victoriously into Santiago de Cuba on January 1st, 1959, headed by their Commander in Chief. (Applause)
I did not mention the ministry of the Interior because it had not been created when we entered Santiago de Cuba, and also because we consider it to be a part of the same family and with identical objectives.
Eloquent examples of this attitude are our Five Heroes, who for almost 11 years have remained incarcerated in US prisons for fighting the terrorist plans against Cuba. The world movement for their release keeps growing and this Assembly has just today agreed on an appeal to all parliaments and peoples in the world denouncing that injustice. From here we warmly embrace Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio, Fernando and Rene and we express our admiration for their uncompromising stance which is by now a symbol of the Cuban Revolution. (Applause)
I have another substantial topic to bring to your attention that was yesterday reported by our media. The 7th Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee decided to postpone the celebration of the 6th Party Congress originally scheduled for the end of this year.
The task lying ahead of the Cuban communists and all of our people is great. With the widest possible popular participation, we should define the socialist society that we want to build and can build under the present and future conditions of Cuba, and the economic model that will rule the life of the nation to the benefit of our compatriots. Also, we must ensure the impossibility to reverse the socio-political regime of the country which is the only guarantee of its true independence.
It’s understandable that the studies undertaken are huge since they should cover the main aspects of national life in the midst of the urgencies and strains linked to the economic situation.
These include, among others, the complex process towards monetary unification to put an end to the circulation of two currencies, –which it was necessary to establish at a given moment– to eliminate gratuities, except those consecrated by the Constitution, and undue subsidies as well as to establish a wage system in accordance with the socialist principle that goes: “From everyone according to their capacity, to everyone according to their work.”
It would be senseless to hold a formal Congress lacking in content, one that would not delve deeply into these strategic matters and establish the guidelines for the future. In other words, comrades, we need ‘to bell the cat’, identifying the main problems and this will necessarily take some more time.
As adopted in the 7th Plenary Central Committee meeting and later explained in the published note, first we need to complete the preparation of the entire Party, then analyze it with all of the people and finally hold the Congress only when the whole process is completed. A real Congress is that where every problem is discussed with the communists and with the entire population.
This should be the way to proceed if we want to hold a meaningful Congress, in a situation such as the present, finding solutions to the problems and looking into the future. The decision must be made by the people with the Party in the vanguard.
We have accumulated enough experience of consultations with the masses during the 50 years of Revolution. The most recent nationwide consultation was the analysis of the July 26, 2007 speech in Camaguey. In the months of September and October discussions took place at the rank and file of the Party not limited to the subjects dealt with in that speech and encouraging the people to express themselves on any issue of their interest. The resulting data were very useful for the subsequent work of country’s leadership. On November that year the collection of information and the elaboration of the summary were carried out and by December we were able to examine the final report in the Party. The discussions took place with the participation of over 5.1 million people, who made 3, 255, 000 contributions and 1, 301, 203 concrete proposals, of which 48.8% were criticisms. The product of this activity was not thrown in a bottomless basket.
The most common issues raised were linked to food production; the unwavering decision to build socialism; imports substitution and raising production; the economic and social situation; the idea that it is impossible to spend more than is earned; the need to fight corruption and crime; the preparations for defence and the role of political and government cadres. As you can see, these subjects are very closely linked to the content of the Congress and the future of our country. I should point out now that such a process was then conceived as part of the preparation for that major Party event.
The postponement of the Congress does not mean that we are going to stop preparing; on the contrary, this decision involves the necessity to take certain steps that cannot be put off such as the renovation of the Party higher levels of leadership.
The current Central Committee is made up by excellent comrades but many of them do not have today the responsibilities they did twelve years ago when they were elected for a five-year term that has extended due to the accumulated delay in the celebration of the Party Congress.
In Article 16 of the Party Statutes it is set forth that: “In the period between congresses, the Central Committee can convene a National Conference to discuss major issues related to Party policy. The National Conference will be entitled to incorporate new members to that body and to separate or free from responsibilities in it those it deems appropriate. The number of participants, the way they are elected and the rules for the preparation and development of the National Conference are established by the politburo.”
In accordance with this article, the 7th Plenary Meeting has agreed to convene a National Conference basically to elect the new members of the leadership, that is, of the central Committee, the Politburo and the Secretariat which are responsible for the continuation and conclusion of the preparations for Congress. It is something that we had not done before and that can be arranged in a relatively short period, and so it shall be done.
As from January 1959, it has been an unchanged principle to analyze with our people every major problem, regardless of how hard. If we have been able to survive for half a century every challenge and aggression, it has been because the Revolution is the work of the immense majority of Cubans.
Firmly united, we shall be consistent with the legacy received from our people’s long history of struggle, Fidel’s teachings and our everlasting commitment to the fallen.
Thank you very much.