(Council of State transcript / GI translation)
Compañeras and compañeros:
A year of intense work and positive results for the country is coming to an end. In recent days, we have seen much activity: on the 18th, a meeting of the Council of Ministers dedicated to, among other issues widely reported in the media, assessing the performance of the economy this year and the proposed plan and budget for 2016, approved in this Assembly today.
Last Saturday, the Twelfth Plenum of the Party Central Committee analyzed the economic situation and, as part of the preparations for the Seventh Party Congress, the proposed Conceptualization of the Cuban Socio-Economic Model of Socialist Development and the report on the implementation of the Objectives approved at the First National Conference of the Party, held in January 2012, were discussed.
As is customary, during their work in commissions, our deputies have debated at length on these issues of the economy, allowing me to highlight just a few aspects.
Despite the impact of the global economic crisis, compounded in our case by the effects of the U.S. blockade, which remains unchanged, and the external financial constraints which have worsened in the second half of the year, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year grew by 4%, which is undeniably a good result in the midst of these circumstances.
All productive sectors are growing, though some fail to achieve what is planned. Social services maintain levels similar to those of the previous year.
The number of visitors rose to three and a half million, which is the highest growth recorded since the country decided to commit itself to the development of tourism. It should not be overlooked that this result is obtained despite the fact that Cuba remains the only country in the world which U.S. citizens are prohibited from visiting as tourists.
Notwithstanding the financial constraints which we continue to face, the commitments made in the different debt restructuring processes with foreign creditors have been fulfilled, and the trend toward gradual recovery of our economy’s international credibility has been strengthened.
The latest concrete evidence in this direction was the important multilateral agreement reached on December 12 in the French capital with the 14 creditor nations of Cuba that make up the ad hoc group of the Paris Club, which allowed for the solving of an old problem, considering the reality and the possibilities of the Cuban economy.
This agreement opens a new stage in economic, commercial and financial relations with the participating countries, as it facilitates access to much needed medium and long term financing to implement the investments foreseen in our development plans.
I reiterate the will of the Cuban government to honor the commitments resulting from this and other agreements reached in debt renegotiations with other states and their private sectors.
I must also recall the strategic significance of the agreement signed with the government of the Russian Federation for the financing on favorable terms of four power plants, generating 200 megawatts of electricity each, and the modernization of our steel industry.
Next year the Gross Domestic Product will continue to grow, but at a slower rate of 2%, as a result of financial constraints associated with falling income from traditional export items due to lower global market prices, such as nickel.
Moreover, although the downward trend in oil prices benefits us by reducing expenditures for the import of food, raw materials and manufactured goods, it is no less true that negative consequences have resulted this very year of 2015 in relations of mutually beneficial cooperation with several countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, subjected to an economic war to reverse the popular support for its Revolution.
Given this scenario there is no room, as Fidel has always taught us, for the slightest defeatism, just the opposite. The history of our Revolution is full of glorious chapters in the face of challenges, risks and threats.
It is up to us to maximize efficiency, concentrating resources on activities that generate export earnings and import substitution, making the investment process more efficient and increasing investments in the productive sector and infrastructure, prioritizing the sustainability of electricity generation and raising efficiency in the use of energy sources.
At the same time, we must reduce any expenses that are not essential and make the most of available resources with more rationale and the commitment to develop the country.
Despite the limitations, social services provided free to all Cubans will be guaranteed at levels similar to those of recent years.
We will now address certain foreign policy issues.
In my remarks last July 15, at the close of the 5th Period of Ordinary Sessions of the National Assembly, I said, and I quote: “We notice that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been put into practice against Latin American revolutionary and progressive processes, which will be decisively confronted by our peoples” (end of quote).
We are confident that new victories of the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution are to come under the leadership of compañero Nicolás Maduro Moros, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, faced with the constant destabilizing onslaught of the right, encouraged and supported from abroad.
We trust in the commitment of Venezuelan revolutionaries and their people, mostly Bolivarian and Chavista, to the unforgettable legacy of President Hugo Chávez Frías.
We are convinced that, as they did in 2002 by preventing the coup d’état against President Chávez from being completed, the Venezuelan people and the civil-military union will not allow the achievements of the Revolution to be dismantled and they will be able to turn this setback into a victory.
In reiterating the solidarity of Cuba, who will always be with the homeland of Bolívar, we call for international mobilization in defense of the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela and an end to acts of interference in its internal affairs.
In Brazil, the oligarchy also spares no efforts in attempting to overthrow President Dilma Rousseff through a parliamentary coup. Our solidarity and support goes out to her and our Brazilian brothers and sisters in the battle being waged in defense of the social and political progress made during these 13 years of Workers’ Party leadership.
History demonstrates that when the right assumes government power, it does not hesitate to dismantle social policies, benefit the wealthy, restore neoliberalism and apply cruel shock therapy against workers, women and the youth. Decades of military dictatorships in Latin America and new methods to destabilize progressive governments have taught us that imperialism and the right do not renounce violence to impose their interests.
Within this perilous, complex regional context, it is essential to defend the unity of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as an indispensable, legitimate, unitary mechanism of political agreement and integration, which has made possible the bringing together of the 33 states of Our America, for the first time with a common purpose.
The Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by all heads of state and government at the Second CELAC Summit held in Havana, in January of 2014, provides a solid foundation for the development of relations between our countries and at the international level.
We are optimistic given the progress achieved in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, a process which is closer than ever to producing an agreement to put an end to the armed conflict, which has drained this country for more than half a century. We will continue our impartial work as a guarantor and site of the talks.
This coming month, Cuba will assume the presidency of the Association of Caribbean States, with a firm, unequivocal commitment to the cause of unity and Latin American and Caribbean integration.
As the national and foreign press has been reporting, there are currently several thousand Cuban citizens in Costa Rica, who arrived to this nation from other countries in the region with the intention of traveling to the United States. These persons, who left Cuba in a legal fashion, during their journey become victims of unscrupulous traffickers and criminal gangs which do not hesitate to put the lives of Cuban migrants in danger.
Our government has been in contact with area governments since the very beginning of this situation, seeking a rapid, adequate solution, as Pope Francis has also called for, taking into consideration the difficult circumstances in which these people find themselves. Cuba has reiterated its commitment to legal, orderly and safe emigration, as well as to the right of Cuban citizens to travel and emigrate and return to the country, in accordance with migratory legislation.
Just as the Revolutionary Government Declaration, published December 1, indicated, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals, and the Cuban Adjustment Act continue to be the principal catalysts of irregular emigration from Cuba to the United States.
(Other) Latin American and Caribbean migrants also deserve humane and fair treatment. Abusive and discriminatory practices, the violation of human rights, the separation of families, and the cruel arrest and deportation of unaccompanied children must cease.
Moving to another issue, as we warned early on, the policy of unilateral sanctions against Russia, and the tightening of NATO’s encirclement of its borders, have only led to a climate of greater instability and insecurity in the region.
Continuing to worsen is the humanitarian crisis engendered by waves of refugees to the European continent, produced by the conditions of conflict and poverty created by an unjust international economic order, and by the non-conventional wars and destabilization attempts of NATO in North Africa and the Middle East. Europe must assume its responsibility and guarantee respect for the human rights of these people, as well as contribute to the resolution of the causes of this phenomenon.
We reaffirm the right of the Syrian people to seek a resolution with respect to their problems, with the participation of this nation’s legitimate authorities, without foreign interference, preserving their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This past month of September, we received Pope Francis, with admiration, respect and affection, precisely during the year in which we commemorate the 80th anniversary of uninterrupted relations between Cuba and the Holy See. We appreciated his homilies calling for peace and equity, the eradication of poverty, the defense of the environment, and his reflections on the causes of the principal problems affecting humanity today.
During the year which is ending, bilateral political dialogue with numerous countries was strengthened, evidenced by the visits to Cuba of 184 foreign delegations, 25 of which were led by heads of state or government from all of the world’s regions.
This past September, we participated, along with the majority of the planet’s heads of state and government, in the UN Summit for the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, which approved a new framework for sustainable development, with the objective of reducing extreme poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, the lack of access to education and basic infrastructure, and the degradation of the environment.
The commitment and actions of the industrialized world continue to be insufficient. Only by constructing a new international economic order, and a different global financial structure, will it be possible for the countries of the South to meet the goals and objectives approved.
The international community has maintained its condemnation of the U.S. blockade in different forums, in particular during the UN Summit and the high level segment of the General Assembly, in which I had the opportunity to participate, and during which tens of heads of state and government called for an end to the blockade.
This past October 27, 191 UN member states supported Cuba’s resolution, a gesture which our people deeply appreciated, and which shows that the world has not forgotten that the blockade continues.
We have reiterated to the United States government that, in order to normalize our bilateral relations, the blockade must be lifted and the territory usurped by the Guantánamo Naval Base must be returned, just as I explained in my statement during the Council of Ministers on the 18th, when I reaffirmed, moreover, that Cuba should not be expected to abandon its independence cause, or renounce the principles and ideals for which generations of Cubans have fought, for a century and a half.
To advance in this process, the right of every state to choose the economic, political and social system it desires, without interference of any kind, must be respected. We will never accept conditions which undermine the sovereignty or dignity of our homeland.
What is essential now is that President Barack Obama decisively use his broad executive powers to modify the implementation of the blockade, which would give meaning to what has been accomplished and allow for substantive progress.
Just a month and a half ago, we held events commemorating the 40th anniversary of Angola’s independence and the launching of Operation Carlota, which allowed for the recollection of our people’s internationalist contribution to the historic struggle waged by Angolans, Namibians and Cubans, which definitively changed the political map of Southern Africa and accelerated the end of the ignominious apartheid regime.
We especially appreciate the solidarity shown Cuba by the African Union. We reiterate our support to their development program, Agenda 2063, and we will continue to honor our cooperation commitments.
During this last half of the year, progress was made in the negotiation of a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union, as well as in our bilateral relations with its member states. In February of next year, I will undertake an official visit to France, to reciprocate that made by President François Hollande.
Finally, compañeras and compañeros:
Just a few hours before the arrival of Year 58 of the Revolution, I would like to convey, to all Cubans, well-deserved congratulations, and my deep conviction that we will be able to overcome any challenge in our endeavor to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.
Thank you very much.