Full text of speech by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, during the National Assembly of People's Power 8th Legislature's 7th Period of Ordinary Sessions, in the Havana Convention Center, July 8, 2016, Year 58 of the Revolution
(Council of State transcript - GI translation)
Compañeras and compañeros:
This year, we have had an intense first six months, with the holding of important national and international events, in the first place, the 7th Congress of our Party, where a group of transcendental agreements were reached, in the interest of updating the Cuban economic and social model.
Since this past Monday, the National Assembly's 10 permanent commissions have met, a framework within which deputies have analyzed the questions most relevant to the life of the nation.
Our people have received extensive information on these issues, and therefore, my comments will be brief.
The Council of Ministers meeting we held last June 25, and the 2nd Party Central Committee Plenum held yesterday, concentrated their analysis on the economy's performance during the first half of the year.
In December of 2015, I explained that financial limitations were being projected as a consequence of a reduction in export income, due to the drop in prices for some of our traditional lines of production, as well as effects on mutually advantageous cooperative relations with several countries, in particular with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, subjected to an economic war meant to weaken support for its revolution.
In the first half of the year, Gross Domestic Product grew 1%, half of what was planned. This outcome has been caused by the sharpening of external financial restrictions, produced by lower than projected income from exports, along with limitations being faced by some of our principal trade partners, due to falling oil prices.
Added to the above is a certain reduction in the supply of fuel contracted with Venezuela, despite the intention of President Nicolás Maduro and his government to fulfill this commitment. Of course, this has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy.
At the same time, within this context, payments have been maintained in accordance with commitments assumed in the process of restructuring our debt to foreign creditors.
I must recognize that some delays in payments currently due to suppliers have occurred. Thus, I wish to thank our counterparts for their confidence and understanding of the temporary situation in which we find ourselves, and reaffirm the government's firm intention to continue reestablishing the international credibility of the Cuban economy.
Neither can we overlook the harmful effects of the U.S. blockade, which remains in full force. More than three months after President Obama's announcement, March 15, that the prohibition on Cuba's use of the dollar in international transactions would be eliminated, the fact is that it has not yet been possible to make payments or cash deposits in this currency.
Given these adverse conditions, the Council of Ministers adopted a series of measures directed toward confronting the situation, and guaranteeing the functioning of the principal activities which assure the economy's vitality, minimizing the impact on the population.
As was to be expected, with the purpose of sowing discouragement and uncertainty among citizens, speculations and predictions began to appear of an imminent collapse of our economy, with the return to the most difficult phase of the special period, which we confronted at the beginning of the 1990s and were able to overcome thanks to the Cuban people's resistance and unlimited confidence in Fidel and the Party. We do not deny that effects may occur, even greater than current ones, but we are prepared, and in a better condition to turn them around.
In the face of difficulties and threats, there is no room for improvisation or, much less, defeatism. To victoriously overcome an economic situation like the one we are facing requires acting with much energy, equanimity, rationality and political sensitivity, continuing to tighten up coordination between the Party and the government, and above all, with much optimism and confidence in the present and future of the Revolution.
It is imperative to reduce expenses of all kinds that are not indispensable, to promote a culture of conservation and the efficient use of resources available, to concentrate investments in activities which generate export income and replace imports and which strengthen infrastructure, assuring the sustainability of electrical generation and better use of energy sources. This, in summary, is about not interrupting, in the slightest, programs directed toward the nation's development.
At the same time, social services that the Revolution has achieved for our people will be preserved, and measures will be adopted with the purpose of gradually raising their quality.
Amidst these difficulties, several decisions were put into practice to increase the buying power of the Cuban peso, among others, the reduction of prices for a group of products and articles in high demand by our population.
Likewise, despite the prolonged drought we are suffering, we are beginning to see the fruits of other actions directed toward assuring better wholesale collection and distribution of agricultural products, as evidenced by a greater presence of these in markets, and a slight but progressive reduction of the prices at which they are sold.
These measures, just beginning to have an initial effect, have been well-received by the population, since they represent some relief for Cuban families. More alternatives, within the country's economic possibilities, are being studied.
On the other hand, internal financial equilibrium has been guaranteed with appropriate levels of supply in the retail market, while progress is being made in the implementation of salary systems linked to production, all of which has allowed inflationary pressures to be avoided.
This very morning, as happened five years ago, the National Assembly of People's Power, the highest body of state power, agreed to support in letter and spirit the updating, approved by the 7th Congress, of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution for the period 2016-2021. This support from our Parliament brings with it the responsibility to draft and approve the legal norms required to move forward perfecting the legal and institutional base, in the interest of these economic modifications in the country.
The great majority of deputies participated in the provincial consultation on this document which took place prior to the 7th Congress; others did so as delegates or invited guests to the Party's highest event.
At the same time, this past June 15, a process of democratic debate began within the membership of the Party and the Young Communist League, representatives of mass organizations, and broad sectors of the society, on the documents, "Conceptualization of the Cuban economic and social model of socialist development," and the "National Plan of economic and social development through 2030: Proposed vision of the nation, strategic axes and sectors." Through this past Monday, more than 7,200 meetings have been held, with 238,000 participants, who have presented thousands of proposals, all directed toward enriching and perfecting the documents.
As is known, we expect to continue this debate over the coming months, so that the Party Central Committee Plenum can, in accordance with the authority granted it by the 7th Congress, definitively approve both programmatic documents, including modifications which emerge from this process.
It is worth reaffirming that we will continue the updating of our economic model
at the pace we sovereignly determine, forging consensus and unity among Cubans in the construction of socialism. The speed of changes will continue to be conditioned by our capacity to do things well, since this has not always been the case.
Toward this end it is imperative to assure prior preparation, the drafting of normative documents, training, and full command of their content at the level where they are applied, follow-up and direction of the implementation, systematic review and timely rectification of possible missteps.
A clear demonstration of the strengths and experience available to us is the positive result achieved via the execution of plans to prevent and combat illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus.
On the basis of the work carried out throughout the length and breadth of the island, the indices of infestation and the transmission of dengue have decreased; not one case of Chikungunya has been diagnosed this year; 23 of Zika have been detected, 22 imported and just one, autochthonous, without evidence of transmission in the entire country.
I think it is fair to recognize in this Assembly the work done by authorities and personnel of Public Health, the Party, the UJC, state and government bodies, mass organizations, and the population, in completing tasks contained in the action plan approved for the intensive period.
Combatants of our Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior merit special mention, for their decisive contribution to what was accomplished.
The results obtained oblige us to take a series of actions to continue reducing the conditions which favor infestations; we cannot retreat, but must rather consolidate what has been achieved, to avoid the damage that these diseases cause to our people's health.
Compañeras and compañeros:
We addressed issues of foreign policy extensively in the 7th Party Congress report.
This past June 4, I referred to several aspects of the international and regional situation in my speech to the 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States.
More recently, I spoke during the signing ceremony for the transcendental agreements on a Cease Fire and the Final, Bilateral Cessation of Hostilities and Decommissioning of Weapons, and Security Guarantees, as part of the Colombian peace process.
All these statements allow me to refrain from extending my remarks on these questions, and I will only emphasize that, in the complex circumstances of the national economy, Cuba's solidarity and commitment to the Bolivarian Chavista Revolution, President Maduro and his government, and the civic-military union of the sister Venezuelan people will not be weakened in the slightest. (Applause)
We will continue offering Venezuela, to the greatest extent of our possibilities, agreed upon collaboration, to contribute to sustaining gains achieved in social services which benefit the population.
True friends are recognized in difficult times, and Cubans will never forget the support of Venezuelans when we faced serious difficulties.
Finally, compatriots, we have just a few days left before the celebration in
Sancti Spíritus of the 63rd anniversary of the assaults on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons. Second Party Secretary José Ramón Machado Ventura will have the task of delivering the main speech. (Applause)
Upon commemorating our National Rebellion Day, we will do so with the conviction that the revolutionary Cuban people will again rise to face the difficulties, without the least trace of defeatism, with full confidence in their Revolution.
Thank you very much (Applause)