Photo: Estudio Revolución

Compañeras and compañeros:

We have experienced intense and moving moments in recent days. This December we successfully hosted the Fifth Caricom-Cuba Summit and the XIII Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America last Sunday, an occasion on which we paid tribute to its creators: the dear Bolivarian President Hugo Chávez Frías and Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, compañero Fidel Castro Ruz (Applause).

We are joined in this session by Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio, a cause for genuine joy and happiness for all our people – I will expand on this important issue in the final part of my speech.

Also present are Fernando and René, and the relatives of the Five heroes, together with the young Elián González, his father Juan Miguel and Colonel Orlando Cardoso Villavicencio, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, who suffered severe imprisonment for over 10 years in Somalia.

As has been customary in sessions of our Parliament, it is my responsibility to review the performance of the economy during the year which is ending and the Plan and Budget for 2015, issues which have been thoroughly debated by deputies in the 10 commissions and also in the plenary session yesterday.

The Ninth Plenary of the Central Committee of the Party, held last Thursday, was also devoted to analysis of these issues. Therefore, I will make only brief reference to these matters. It was explained that the Gross Domestic Product, known as GDP, grew by 1.3%, lower than initially planned, influenced by poor performance in the first half of the year, during which major financial constraints were faced due to the lack of foreign income, adverse weather conditions and internal weaknesses in economic management.

In fact during the second half of the year, a modest reverse in that trend and a superior outcome were achieved. The Plan for next year consolidates and reinforces the direction of stronger growth in the Cuban economy, based on the enhancement of internal reserves of efficiency, the revival of productive sectors, particularly manufacturing, more efficient use of energy sources and greater investment in infrastructure and material production, while social services such as health and education for our population were preserved.

For 2015, planned GDP growth is just over 4%, an achievable goal considering that we have, well in advance, a better financial situation in comparison with the beginning of 2014. This does not mean that it will be easy, far from it. We will continue to face the effects of the global economic crisis and the U.S. blockade which is still in place, generating undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy.

At the same time, we will continue to strictly honor the commitments made in the restructuring of debts with our main creditor,s and thus contribute to the gradual recovery of the Cuban economy’s international credibility. Yesterday afternoon, the National Assembly adopted the State Budget Law for 2015, which projects a deficit of 6.2% of GDP, and is considered acceptable under the current circumstances. It incorporates new taxes and reduces the tax burden on enterprises in line with the gradual implementation of the Tax Law.

At the same time, various measures have been adopted to strengthen fiscal control in response to indiscipline and tax evasion by enterprises and individuals. In this area, not only should those who fail to comply be punished, as impunity would be tantamount to encouraging the violation of existing legal norms, but we also believe that it is necessary to foment a culture of tax compliance within institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and among the self-employed, so that it is understood that taxes are the main method of redistributing national income in the interest of all citizens.

Furthermore, the process of implementing the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution, approved by the 6th Party Congress has continued to advance. As reported, we are at a qualitatively higher stage in this area, in which extremely complex tasks are being addressed, whose solution will impact all facets of national life. I am referring, in the first place, to the process of monetary unification, which, from the conceptual point of view, has progressed strongly in the second half of this year and we have managed to outline a comprehensive program of measures in the interest of avoiding damages to the economy and the population.

The decision to extend sales in CUP across hard currency stores has been well received by the population and will continue to expand gradually. The time is right to reaffirm two concepts which we should not ignore. The first is that monetary unification is no universal or immediate solution to all the problems facing our economy.

This important decision should be complemented by a set of macroeconomic policies favoring the monetary order of the country through instruments which ensure the equilibrium of national finances, which will in turn contribute decisively to improving the functioning of the economy and the construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism in Cuba.

The second and no less important concept is that bank deposits in foreign currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP) shall be guaranteed, as well as cash held by the public and national and foreign incorporated entities. We know that different opinions, both well and not so well intentioned, have continued to manifest themselves both within and outside of the country, regarding the pace of the process of updating our economic model.

There has also been no lack of open exhortations abroad to expedite privatization, including of the main production and service sectors, which would amount to laying down the flags of socialism in Cuba.

It seems that the latter have not bothered to read the Guidelines, which clearly express and I quote, "The economic system which will prevail in Cuba will continue to be based on the people’s socialist ownership of the fundamental means of production, governed by the socialist principle of distribution, from each according to his/her capacity to each according to his/her contribution”, end of quote.

We will continue to fulfill the agreements of the Communist Party of Cuba 6th Congress with responsibility and resolve, at the pace which we sovereignly choose here, without jeopardizing the unity of Cubans, without abandoning anyone to his/her fate, without applying shock therapy and without ever surrendering the ideals of social justice of this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.

Next year we will begin preparatory activities for the celebration in April 2016 of the 7th Party Congress, prior to which a broad and democratic debate with members of the Communist Party and the entire people, on the progress of implementation of the Guidelines, will be carried out. Closely associated with the model update is the process of gradual, I repeat, gradual decentralization of authority from the ministries to enterprises.

This is not something which can be done overnight, if we hope to succeed. It requires a reasonable time to prepare and train cadres at all levels, change archaic mentalities and discard old habits and develop and implement the legal framework and precise procedures to allow each other to ensure that decisions are implemented properly, that errors are rectified promptly and thereby avoid unnecessary setbacks, as we have been doing. In favor of the greater autonomy of socialist state enterprises, among other measures, their social objective was expanded and made more flexible, government contracts were defined and authority was granted for the marketing of surplus production. In addition, the elimination of administrative limitations on the payment of salaries linked to production was mandated.

These changes should be implemented gradually, without haste, with order, discipline and thoroughness. The just aspiration to earn higher wages is a very sensitive issue, about which we are not allowed to make mistakes, nor be led by desire or improvisation. We are delighted that wages will gradually increase for those workers employed in activities producing more efficient results and benefits of particular economic and social impact.

However, it should be clear that we can not distribute wealth which we have not been able to create, doing so would entail serious consequences for the national economy, and each and every citizen. Releasing money onto the streets without a corresponding increase in the supply of goods and services would generate inflation, a phenomenon among many other harmful effects which would reduce the purchasing power of wages and pensions, hitting those with fewer resources first.

And that we can not allow. During the first year of the new salary policy’s implementation, more than a few enterprises have violated the standards set for salaries per peso of gross value added, in other words, greater salaries have been paid without a corresponding increase in production. I have warned on several occasions that this must be considered a serious indiscipline, very serious, one which must be confronted with resolve by administrative leaders, and also by the trade unions.

It is no secret to anyone that, in our social system, unions defend the rights of workers, and to do so effectively must be the first in safeguarding not only the interests of a given collective of workers, but also the interests of the entire working class, which are, in essence, those of the entire nation. We cannot leave any opening for the development or strengthening of self-interest or greed among our workers.

We all want and need better salaries, but first wealth must be created, to later be distributed, in accordance with one’s contribution. Of course, I have not mentioned many other questions linked to the updating of our economic model, several of which involve missteps which we are obliged to rectify promptly, in an effort to avoid having to backtrack, but, in order to do so, tasks must be completed very seriously and responsibly.

No one in the world can deny Cuba’s outstanding international record during the year drawing to a close. The challenge we Cubans have before us is great. The economy must achieve the high level of political prestige conquered by this small Caribbean island thanks to the Revolution, the heroism and resistance of our people.

The economy is the principal assignment pending, and we have the responsibility to definitively chart the course toward sustainable development and the irreversibility of socialism in Cuba. As I said earlier, deputies and our entire people are enormously moved and joyful to have Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René present in the homeland, fulfilling the promise compañero Fidel made 13 years ago.

The extraordinary example of determination, sacrifice and dignity of the Five fills with pride the nation which has struggled untiringly for their freedom, and now welcomes them as true heroes. (Applause). I must reiterate our profound, sincere gratitude to all the solidarity movements and committees which struggled to obtain their freedom, and innumerable governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions and figures who made a valuable contribution.

The Cuban people thank the President of the United States, Barack Obama, for this just decision, which has eliminated an obstacle to relations between our countries. The entire world has reacted positively to the announcements made this past Wednesday, recognizing their importance in international relations and, especially, in the United States’ relationship with the region, which has generated favorable statements by governments, presidents and recognized figures – for which we are sincerely grateful.

This is the product of conversations at the highest level, held with utmost discretion, to which Pope Francis made a contribution, and the government of Canada offered facilitation. This outcome was possible, as well, thanks to the profound changes which have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where governments and peoples share our demands for a new U.S. policy toward Cuba. We salute President Obama’s proposal to open a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, and to initiate the most significant changes in U.S. policy in the last 50 years.

We appreciate, as well, the disposition he expressed to hold a debate on lifting the blockade in the U.S. Congress, as well as his desire to assure a better future for our two peoples, our hemisphere and the world. We share the idea that a new stage can begin between the United States and Cuba, that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations can be initiated, based on the Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, which regulates the conduct of diplomatic and consular missions and functionaries. We will approach the high level contacts between the two governments in a constructive spirit, one of respect and reciprocity, with the purpose of advancing toward the normalization of bilateral relations.

As I said this past December 17, an important step has been taken, but the essential remains to be resolved: an end to the economic, commercial, financial blockade of Cuba, aggravated over the last few years, in particular regarding financial transactions, with the levying of enormous, illegitimate fines on banks in several countries.

Our people must understand that, given the conditions announced, this will be a long, difficult struggle which will require an international mobilization, and that U.S. society continues to demand an end to the blockade. All the data indicates that a majority of U.S. citizens, an even greater majority of Cuban émigrés, favor the normalization of bilateral relations. Within the U.S. Congress, which encoded as law the blockade’s regulations, opposition to this policy is also growing. We hope the President of the United States decisively employs his executive prerogatives to substantially modify implementation of the blockade, in those aspects which do not require Congressional approval.

At the same time, we will study the scope and methods used in implementation of the positive executive measures announced by President Obama. His decision to review the unjustifiable inclusion of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism is encouraging. The facts demonstrate that Cuba has been the victim of multiple terrorist attacks. Those responsible for many of these today enjoy absolute impunity, as we all know, costing us thousands of dead and injured.

The pretexts put forward lack any basis in reality whatsoever, as the entire planet knows. They only serve political interests as false arguments to justify the tightening of the blockade, especially in the financial sector. No terrorist act on the people, property or territory of the United States has ever been organized, financed or executed from Cuba, nor would it be allowed. Every time we have become aware of any information about terrorist plans to attack the United States, we have reported it to the country’s government, to which we proposed, years ago, the establishment of a cooperation agreement on this subject.

We have always been willing to dialogue respectfully, on the basis of equality, to address the most diverse topics in a reciprocal manner, without compromising our national independence or self-determination, and, as Fidel has indicated, without renouncing a single one of our principles. I reiterate that it is only possible to advance on the basis of mutual respect, which implies observing the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter - among these, the sovereign equality of all states; the equality of rights; and the free exercise of self-determination by peoples; the resolution of international disagreements via peaceful means, without resorting to threats or the use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any state; and the obligation to refrain from intervention in internal affairs which are the domain of states, which implies that any form of interference or threat to political, economic or cultural elements constitutes a violation of international law. In accordance with the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by heads of state and government during the CELAC Summit this past January 29 in Havana, every state has the unalienable right to choose its own political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference of any kind on the part of another state, which constitutes a principle of international law. This document was signed here in Havana by all heads of state and government on the continent, with the exception of the United States and Canada, who were not invited.

Between the governments of the United States and Cuba there are profound differences which include, among others, different conceptions on the exercise of national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations We reiterate our openness to respectful, reciprocal dialogue about our differences.

We have firm convictions and many concerns about what occurs in the United States in terms of democracy and human rights, and we agree to converse, on the basis of the aforementioned principles, about any topic whatsoever, anything they would like to discuss, about Cuba, but also about the United States.

It must not be expected that, in order to improve relations with the United States, Cuba will renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century, for which its people have shed much blood and faced great dangers. It must be understood that Cuba is a sovereign state whose people, in a free referendum vote, approved the Constitution, chose the socialist path and our political, economic, social system. (Applause) Just as we have never proposed that the United States change its political system, we demand respect for ours.(Applause)

Both governments must adopt reciprocal measures to prevent and avoid acts which could affect progress in the bilateral relationship, based on respect for the laws and constitutional order of the parties.

We are not unaware of the virulent criticism which President Obama has been obliged to endure, as a result of the aforementioned announcements, on the part of forces which oppose normalization of relations with Cuba, and by legislators of Cuban origin and leaders of counterrevolutionary groups, who resist losing the sustenance which decades of confrontation between our countries have given them. They will do everything they can to sabotage this process, provocative actions of all kinds are not to be ruled out. For our part, prudent, measured and reflective - but firm - conduct will prevail. (Applause)

In Cuba, numerous, diverse mass organizations of workers, campesinos, women, students, writers and artists and members of society exist, and are represented on the Council of State and non-governmental organizations, many of which are represented by deputies in this Assembly, to whom I would offend if I confused them with a few hundred individuals who receive money, instructions and oxygen from abroad. In multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, we will continue our defense of peace, international law and just causes, as well as our condemnation of threats to the survival of humanity, which include climate change and nuclear arsenals.

We will continue to promote the exercise of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights for all persons, and peoples’ rights to peace and development. The Cuban Revolution owes profound gratitude to the peoples, parties, governments from whom we have received ongoing, unwavering solidarity, and I will continue to direct our foreign policy based on absolute fidelity to our principles. (Applause) Symbolic of this are the special relations we maintain with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to which we will continue to offer support in the face of attempts to destabilize the legitimate government headed by compañero President Nicolás Maduro Moros, and oppose pretensions to impose sanctions on this sister country. (Applause)

As I indicated a few days ago, our willingness to cooperate with the United States on the bilateral and multilateral plane, to confront dangers which require effective collective humanitarian responses, must never be politicized. This is the case with the battle against Ebola in West Africa, and its prevention in the Americas, just as was proclaimed by the Alba Special Summit on Ebola, which we held in Havana on the issue, this past October.

As I stated during the recent Caricom and Alba Summits, I thank the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, for the invitation to participate in the 7th Summit of the Americas, and reconfirm that I will attend to express our positions, with sincerity and respect for all heads of state and government, without exception.

The participation of Cuba comes as a result of the solid, unanimous consensus of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is living in a new era and has united, within our diversity, in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which Cuba was honored to serve as president pro tempore last year. We have not forgotten that Alba, with its constant demands and ongoing support to all countries of the region, achieved the elimination of those old, ignominious sanctions imposed on Cuba in 1962 by the Organization of American States, in the Republic of Honduras, where only a month later, the President of the country, compañero Zelaya, was overthrown by a coup d’etat.

Compañeras y compañeros:

Within a few days, we will be celebrating the New Year and the 56th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, and just two days ago, December 18, the 58th anniversary of the reunion with Fidel in Cinco Palmas de Vicana in the Sierra Maestra mountains (Applause), in the heart of the Sierra Maestra, and his historic exclamation upon learning that we had seven rifles with which to reinitiate the struggle, “Now, yes, we have won the war!” (Applause),

The unwavering confidence in victory which Fidel instilled in us will continue to guide our entire people in the defense and perfection of the work of their Revolution.

All the best in the New Year! We salute the new Year 57 of the Cuban Revolution! Thank you very much. (Ovation.) (Council of State transcript)