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 Eighth Period of Ordinary Sessions of the National Assembly of People's Power VIII Legislature, in Havana's International Conference Center, December 27, 2016, Year 58 of the Revolution
(Council of State transcript / GI translation)
Compañeras and compañeros:
The last days of the year, as is customary, have been characterized by intense activity. This past Saturday, we held a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which approved for presentation to the National Assembly the 2017 Economic Plan and proposed State Budget, which we have analyzed here today.
Unlike previous sessions, on this occasion an evaluation of progress in the process of updating our socio-economic model was not conducted, taking into account that work continues on the proposed Conceptualization, and on the basic premises for the Social and Economic Development Plan through 2030, after concluding the thorough, democratic debate conducted with Party and youth organizations, representatives of mass organizations, and broad sectors of society, as mandated by the 7th Party Congress.
We hope that during the course of the first half of this coming year, the Central Committee Plenum will approve both programmatic documents.
During the (National Assembly) ordinary session of December 2015, I warned that the performance of our economy in 2016 would face financial limitations as a result of a drop in revenue from exports, given reduced prices for the country's principle product lines, as well as the impact of changes in cooperation relations with other countries.
By July of the current year, these projections had been confirmed, about which I informed our people through this legislature. In fact, limitations in the supply of fuel and financial tensions worsened during the second half of the year, leading to a decrease in the Gross Domestic Product of 0.9%. Despite this, our free social services, such as education and public health for the entire population, were preserved. Our economy did not collapse, nor did the black-outs we experienced in the most difficult moments of the Special Period return, as more than a few international media outlets predicted.
At the same time, amidst this unfavorable conjuncture, the country continued to meet obligations agreed upon as part of the restructuring of Cuba's foreign debt. Nevertheless, it has not been possible to overcome the temporary situation we face in regards to current payments owed suppliers. To address this, a series of measures were negotiated and implemented which will allow us to mitigate the panorama described.
I once again thank our commercial partners for their understanding and confidence in Cuba, and reiterate the government's intention to gradually re-establish normality in this important sphere, and lay the foundation to prevent its repetition in the future.
As we refer to the performance of the Cuban economy, the negative effects generated by the United States economic, commercial, financial blockade, which, as you know, remains in effect, cannot be forgotten. An example of this is that Cuba continues to be unable to conduct international transactions using the U.S. dollar, hampering progress in many important prospective business opportunities.
Nor can we ignore the extensive damage caused by the powerful Hurricane Matthew that struck, with unusual violence, six municipalities in the far eastern region of the country, on October 4 and 5, of the current year, leaving a significant trail of destruction, affecting housing, schools, healthcare centers, warehouses, industrial and hotel facilities, as well as severe damage to highway, electrical, water supply and telecommunications infrastructure.
Fortunately, thanks to steps taken to protect the population, we were not obliged to mourn the loss of human life, as was sadly the case in other states located in the storm's path, including dozens of people within the very territory of the United States.
A much weaker hurricane comes to my mind, Flora, a category two, that on this date in 1963, 53 years ago, caused more than 1,200 human deaths. From that experience, several issues emerged, among them all the reservoirs we have - barely four or five existed in the country previously - and during this last hurricane, as I said, we didn't have a single death, not even a serious injury. We are working and will continue to do so.
I will take advantage of the occasion to offer thanks for the expressions of solidarity and material support we have received from many countries and international organizations in the United Nations system, contributing to recovery efforts in this region. Deserving of special mention is the help provided by the sister republic of Venezuela, on the initiative of its President, compañero Nicolás Maduro Moros.
In regards to the 2017 plan and budget, I must warn that that financial tensions and challenges persist, that may even worsen in some circumstances. Nevertheless, we project that the Cuban economy will retake an ascending path, and that the Gross Domestic product will grow modestly, around 2%.
Toward this end, three decisive premises must be respected. They are: guarantee the delivery of exports and their timely payment; increase national production to replace imports; and no less important, eliminate unnecessary expenses and use available resources rationally and efficiently. At the same time, amidst these difficulties, we will continue executing plans for investments directed toward the sustainable development of the national economy.
We afford great importance to the need to increase foreign investment in Cuba, in accordance with Guideline no.78 of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, approved by the 7th Congress.
I acknowledge that we are not satisfied in this area, and that there have been frequent, excessive delays in the negotiating process. It is necessary to overcome, once and for all, the obsolete mentality of prejudices toward foreign investment.
To advance resolutely in this direction, we must rid ourselves of unfounded fears of foreign capital; We are not heading toward, nor will we head toward capitalism, this is totally ruled out, as is established in our Constitution, and will be maintained, but we should not be afraid, and erect obstacles to what we can do within the framework of existing law. This requires, in the first place, assuring the systematic preparation and training of cadre and specialists to negotiate, as well as analyzing deficiencies and mistakes made in the past, to never again repeat them.
As is known, this small island does not produce all the fuel it needs, having to import a considerable amount, the cost of which hangs like the sword of Damocles over our economy. Without renouncing an increase in the national production of oil, for which we need investors, we must accelerate the development of renewable energy resources, which currently only account for 4.65% of the electricity we generate.
We have more than adequate conditions for this in terms of solar, or photovoltaic, energy, eolic and biomass. This is one of the strategic sectors in which we must decisively strengthen foreign investment.
Precisely these last two issues, which I am addressing, were also discussed in the last Council of Ministers meeting, a few days ago, along with maintaining, I said, the figure of 24%, to which we aspire in the Plan through 2030 - but, really, work to surpass this by that date.
Moving on to another subject, this morning the Assembly agreed to continue working, until the conclusion of the current legislature in 2018, on the experiment being conducted in the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque, directed toward separating the leadership of the Administrative Councils from that of the Provincial and Municipal Assemblies of People's Power.
This experiment, which has been underway for five years now, coinciding with the creation of the two provinces, has allowed for the implementation of a series of organizational and functional principles regarding government bodies, permitting local People's Power assemblies to increase attention to People's Councils, constituency delegates, and the population in general.
Likewise, it was possible to separate state functions from those of local enterprises, creating at a provincial level, a system of entities providing services to the people. All of this has helped significantly reduce staff and cadre rosters across management structures in provinces and municipalities.
Nonetheless, a number of shortcomings emerged which, without undermining the essential concepts of the experiment, prevented the consolidation of the management model implemented, so as to ensure its successful generalization across the rest of the country at a later date.
One of the main factors identified is the high level of instability of cadres in these bodies, as well as the inadequate completion of staff rosters, as a result of miscalculating the selection, training, and oversight of personnel. To this must be added insufficient attention and supervision by national entities and bodies to the experimentation process, thus delaying the implementation of the decisions adopted.
I believe that the errors have been identified and that the decision to extend the experiment is correct. Now, it is up to all of us and the Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development, in particular, together with Party structures in different bodies, to overcome these and advance, without delay, toward its completion in the new timeframe prescribed.
From the beginning, it was genuinely thought to be an easy task, and life is showing us that there is no easy task in this area, and that all the agreements to perfect the experiment are full of difficult tasks. Nothing is easy, we must dedicate the necessary time to everything, while none of these tasks can be successfully completed with superficialities and much less by addressing them every now and then.
Compañeras and compañeros:
In my remarks on December 3, in the Mayor General Antonio Maceo Grajales Plaza de la Revolución, in Santiago de Cuba, I announced the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz’s wish that his name and likeness never be used to denote institutions, squares, parks, avenues, streets, or other public sites, and that neither busts, statues or other similar forms of tribute be erected in his memory.
Today, our parliament has enshrined compañero Fidel’s last wishes in law.
The historic leader of the Cuban Revolution left us his enduring example, his unwavering optimism, and confidence in victory.
I believe, and just as compañero Lazo remarked at the opening of this session, that the best monument to his ideas and work is to bring to life, every day, the postulates contained within his outstanding definition of the concept of Revolution, which he made public on May 1, 2000, and was signed by millions of Cubans in the context of activities organized to pay well-deserved tribute to a man who never betrayed his people, and just as he expressed in the premonitory speech he delivered on January 8, 1959 – on arrival to the capital, at the military camp formerly known as Columbia, now Ciudad Libertad – today almost 58 years ago, when the Caravan of Liberty triumphantly entered Havana – having left me in charge of the eastern province in Santiago de Cuba, at that time the capital of what are today the five eastern provinces, I watched his speech on television that evening. The older ones will remember what it was like, very moving; with the white doves perched on his shoulders, etcetera. I don’t clearly recall what I am going to read to you, but I do remember how it began: “The feeling of joy is immense. And yet, there still remains much to be done. We won’t deceive ourselves by believing that everything will be much easier from now on; perhaps it will be much more difficult.”
I didn’t remember however, quite as clearly, this other quote that I am going to read, and before sharing it here, I looked for the recording, as well as what had been written, and this is how it goes. He said at that time, and I quote: "I know that we will never again witness such a crowd in our lifetime" - referring to his welcome here in Havana and throughout the entire journey - "except at another time when, I am sure that the crowds will gather once again. The day we die, because when they must take us to our graves, that day, as many people as today will come together once again, because we will never betray our people!” End of quote (Applause).
Fidel, undefeated, has left us, but his spirit of struggle will permanently remain in the conscience of all Cuban revolutionaries of today, tomorrow and forever, and we will show this in the Military Parade and march of the combative people this coming January 2, on the 60th anniversary of the heroic uprising in Santiago de Cuba, the landing of the Granma expeditionaries, Revolutionary Armed Forces Day, in honor of the Comandante en Jefe of the Cuban Revolution and our youth.
I have left to say only that, in a few days, we will celebrate one more anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution and the advent of the New Year. We extend to our dear Cuban people our warmest congratulations.
That is all (Applause).