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 closing of the 9th period of ordinary sessions of the National Assembly of People's Power 8th legislature, in Havana's International Conference Center, July 14, 2017, Year 59 of the Revolution
COMPAÑERAS and compañeros:
As is customary this time of year, we have had a fair amount of activity. June 28, we held a Council of Ministers meeting, during which we reviewed, among other items, the issues which would be presented to this ordinary session of the National Assembly of People's Power.
Since Monday, deputies have been working in their respective commissions analyzing the principal questions of national affairs, and received extensive information on the implementation of the economic plan during the first half of the year, and the settlement of the 2016 state budget.
Our Parliament was likewise updated on the Cuban state plan to address climate change, identified as “Tarea Vida” (Task Life), an issue of special strategic significance for the present and future of our country, given our condition as an island, to which the nation's scientific and technical strength has contributed over more than 25 years.
Very closely linked to “Tarea Vida,” today we approved the Terrestrial Waters Act, on which we have been working since 2013 with the participation of bodies and institutions of greatest incidence in the integrated, sustainable management of water, a vital natural resource that must be protected in the interest of society, the economy, health, and the environment, especially in the situations of prolonged, and increasingly frequent drought we face, about which much information has been provided to our people, and this must continue.
Since the plan and budget for the current year were being prepared, we have warned of persistent financial tensions and challenges that could complicate the national economy's performance. We likewise foresaw periodic difficulties in the delivery of fuel from Venezuela, despite the unwavering commitment of President Nicolás Maduro and his administration.
Amidst these difficult circumstances, encouraging, modest results have been achieved. The Gross Domestic Product grew by 1.1% in the first half of the year, which indicates a change in the economy's direction as compared to last year. Contributing to this result were agriculture, tourism, and other exports of services, construction, sugar production, and the transportation and communications sectors.
Progress has been made on prioritized investments that are laying the foundation for the nation's development.
Free social services have been assured for all Cubans, including education and public health.
The internal monetary balance has improved, as reflected in a smaller increase in retail prices in a better supplied market. The budget deficit is currently below what was foreseen.
On another issue, pains were taken to maintain strict fulfillment of payment commitments to our principal creditors, which resulted from the restructuring of Cuba's foreign debt. However, despite many attempts, we have not been able to stay current on running accounts with providers, to whom I reiterate our gratitude for their confidence in Cuba and our intention to honor each and every one of these overdue obligations.
The situation described obliges us to continue adopting the measures required to fully protect income from exports, the production of food, and the provision of services for the population, while at the same time we avoid all unnecessary expenses, and guarantee the most rational and efficient use of the resources available to support established priorities.
Moving to another topic, in accordance with agreements reached at the 6th and 7th Party Congresses, the expansion of self-employment and the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives was authorized, with the purpose of gradually freeing the state from responsibility for activities that are not strategic, creating jobs, supporting initiative, and contributing to the national economy's efficiency in the interest of developing our socialism.
More recently, this past June, these forms of property management were recognized as among those operating within the Cuban economy, in an extraordinary session of Parliament dedicated to analyzing and approving programmatic documents for our Economic and Social Model, after the conclusion of a consultation process with members of the Party and youth, representatives of mass organizations, and broad sectors of society.
We currently have more than half a million self-employed workers and more than 400 non-agricultural cooperatives, which confirms their validity as a source of employment, while contributing to an increase and greater variety of goods and services available, with an acceptable level of quality.
Nonetheless, as we discussed in the Council of Ministers meeting this past June 26, deviations from the policy established on this subject have been noted, and violations of the legal regulations in effect, such as the utilization of raw materials and equipment of illicit origin, under-declaration of income to evade tax obligations, and insufficient state control at all levels.
With the purpose of eradicating the negative phenomena detected, and assuring the development of these forms of management within a legal framework, the Council of Ministers made a series of decisions which will be broadly disseminated as the updated regulations are published.
I believe it is appropriate to emphasize that we have not renounced the expansion and development of self-employment, or the continuation of the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives. We are not going to draw back or stop, nor will we allow the non-state sector to be stigmatized or face prejudice, but it is imperative that laws be respected, progress consolidated, positive aspects - which are more than a few - generalized, and illegalities and other deviations from established policy resolutely confronted .
I am sure that in this effort we can count on the support of the majority of citizens who are working in this sector in an honest fashion.
Let us not forget that the pace and scope of the changes we need to make to our model must be conditioned by the capacity we have to do things well and rectify any misstep in a timely manner. This will only be possible if adequate prior preparation is ensured - which we haven't done - training and comprehension of established regulations at every level, follow-up and guidance of the process - aspects marked by a fair dose of superficiality, and an excess of enthusiasm and desire to move more rapidly than we are truly capable of managing.
I believe this issue I have just mentioned is perfectly well understood. It is necessary that what we have decided be implemented. The country, and the Revolution as well, need it. The desire to do things quickly without adequate preparation, of those who must implement the measures in the first place, leads to all these errors, and later we criticize those we shouldn't criticize.
Criminal acts have been committed; information exists on cases when the same person has two, three, four, even five restaurants. Not in one province, but in several. A person who has traveled more than 30 times to different countries. Where did they get the money? How did they do this? All these problems exist, but we should not use them as a pretext to criticize a decision that is correct.
What is a state, especially a socialist state, doing administering a barbershop with one chair, or two or three, and with one administrator for a certain number of small barbershops - not many. I mention this example because it was one of the first steps we took.
We decided to establish cooperatives; we tried some, and immediately threw ourselves into creating dozens of construction cooperatives. Has no one analyzed the consequences this brought and the problems that this haste created? To mention just one case. And like this one, there are quite a few. This is what I want to say in simple, modest language. Whose errors are these? Mainly, ours, we leaders who developed this policy, although in consultation with the people, with the approval of Parliament, of the last Congress, of the last meeting we held here this past month, to approve all the documents I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. This is the reality. Let's not try to block the sun with a finger. Mistakes are mistakes. And they are our mistakes, and if we are going to consider hierarchies among us, in the first place, they are mine, because I was part of this decision. This is the reality.
Regarding our foreign policy, I would like to say the following:
This past June 16, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced his administration's policy toward Cuba, nothing novel for sure, since he retook a discourse and elements from the confrontational past, which showed their absolute failure for over 55 years.
It is evident that the U.S. President has not been well informed on the history of Cuba and its relations with the United States, or on the patriotism and dignity of the Cuban people.
History cannot be forgotten, as they have at times suggested we do. For more than 200 years, the ties between Cuba and the United States have been marked, on the one hand, by the pretensions of the northern neighbor to dominate our country, and on the other, by the determination of Cubans to be free, independent, and sovereign.
Throughout the entire 19th century, invoking the doctrines and policies of Manifest Destiny, of Monroe, and the "ripe fruit," different U.S. administrations tried to take possession of Cuba, and despite the heroic struggle of the mambises, they did so in 1898, with a deceitful intervention at the end of the war which for 30 years Cubans had waged for their independence, and which the U.S. troops entered as allies and then became occupiers. Negotiating with Spain behind Cuba's back, they militarily occupied the country for four years, demobilizing the Liberation Army, dissolving the Revolutionary Cuban Party - organized, founded, and led by Martí - and imposed an appendix to the Constitution of the nascent republic, the Platt Amendment, which gave them the right to intervene in our internal affairs and establish, among others, the naval base in Guantánamo, which still today usurps part of the national territory, the return of which we will continue to demand.
Cuba's neocolonial condition, which allowed the United States to exercise total control over the economic and political life of the island, frustrated, but did not annihilate, the Cuban people's longing for freedom and independence. Exactly 60 years later, January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Revolution led by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, we became definitively free and independent.
From that moment on, the strategic goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been to overthrow the Revolution. To do so, over more than five decades, they resorted to dissimilar methods: economic war, breaking diplomatic relations, armed invasion, attempts to assassinate our principal leaders, sabotage, a naval blockade, the creation and support of armed bands, state terrorism, internal subversion, the economic, commercial, financial blockade, and international isolation.
Ten administrations held office until President Barack Obama, in his statement of December 17, 2014, without renouncing the strategic goal, had the good sense to recognize that isolation had not worked, and that it was time for a new focus toward Cuba.
No one could deny that the United States, in its attempts to isolate Cuba, in the end found itself profoundly isolated. The policy of hostility and blockade toward our country had become a serious obstacle to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, and was rejected almost unanimously by the international community. Within U.S. society, growing majority opposition to this policy had developed, including among a good portion of the Cuban émigré community.
In the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 2012, Ecuador refused to participate if Cuba was not permitted to attend, and all Latin American and Caribbean countries expressed their rejection of the blockade and Cuba’s exclusion from these events. Many countries warned that another meeting would not take place without Cuba. As such, we arrived in April 2015 - three years later - to the Seventh Summit in Panama, invited for the very first time.
Over the last two years, and working on the basis of respect and equality, diplomatic relations have been reestablished and progress made toward resolving pending bilateral matters, as well as cooperation on issues of mutual interest and benefit; limited modifications were made to the implementation of some aspects of the blockade. The two countries established the bases from which to work toward building a new type of relationship, demonstrating that civil coexistence is possible despite profound differences.
At the end of President Obama’s term in office, the blockade, the Naval Base in Guantánamo, and the regime change policy, remained in place.
The announcements made by the current U.S. President, last June 16, represent a step back in bilateral relations. This is the opinion of many people and organizations in the United States and around the world, who have overwhelmingly expressed their outright rejection of the announced changes. This sentiment was also expressed by our youth and student organizations, Cuban women, workers, campesinos, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, intellectuals, and religious groups, on behalf of the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.
The U.S. government has decided to tighten the blockade by imposing new obstacles on its businesspeople to trade and invest in Cuba, and additional restrictions on its citizens to travel to the country - justifying these measures with out-dated rhetoric regarding the Cuban people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights and democracy.
President Trump’s decision disregards the support of broad sectors of U.S. society, including the majority of Cuban émigrés, for lifting of the blockade and normalization of relations, and only satisfies the interests of an increasingly isolated, minority group of Cuban origin in South Florida, who insist on harming Cuba and its people for having chosen to defend, at any cost, their right to be free, independent, and sovereign.
Today, we reiterate the Revolutionary Government’s condemnation of measures to tighten the blockade, and reaffirm that any attempt to destroy the Revolution, whether through coercion and pressure, or the use of subtle methods, will fail.
We likewise reject manipulation of the issue of human rights against Cuba, which has many reasons to be proud of its achievements, and does not need to receive lessons from the United States or anyone else (Applause).
I wish to repeat, as I did so in the CELAC Summit held in the Dominican Republic in January of this year, that Cuba is willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues with the United States, on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest with the U.S. government.
Cuba and the United States can cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence. And today, I add, nor will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any kind, just as we have never done throughout the history of the Revolution.
Despite what the government of the United States does, or does not decide to do, we will continue advancing along the path sovereignly chosen by our people.
We are living in an international situation characterized by growing threats to peace and international security, interventionist wars, dangers to the survival of the human species, and an unjust and exclusionary international economic order.
As is known, since 2010, the United States has been implementing the concept of “unconventional warfare” conceived as a set of activities aimed at exploiting the psychological, economic, military and political vulnerabilities of an adversary nation in order to develop a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, change, or overthrow its government.
The method was tested in North Africa, and even in Europe, and has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, the destruction of states, has torn apart societies and caused their economies to collapse.
Our America, which proclaimed itself a Zone of Peace in 2014, is currently facing an adverse situation.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is suffering an unconventional war – which didn’t begin now, but a long time ago – imposed by imperialism and oligarchic coup sectors which have incited violence in the streets and fascist acts, such as the frightful scenes of youths being burned alive.
Foreign intervention in the Bolivarian and Chavista Republic must stop. Terrorist and coup violence must be unequivocally condemned. We must all unite in the call for dialogue and abstention from acts which contradict, through manipulation and demagogy, their stated intentions.
The Organization of American States (OAS) and its Secretary General must end their aggression and selective manipulation of reality against Venezuela.
It must respect Venezuela’s legitimate right to resolve its internal problems peacefully and without any foreign intervention. The exercise of self-determination and finding solutions by themselves, is up to the sovereign people of Venezuela alone.
We reaffirm our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and the country’s civic-military union led by Constitutional President, Nicolás Maduro Moros.
The aggression and coup violence against Venezuela harms all of Our America and only benefits the interests of those set on dividing us in order to exercise their control over our people, unconcerned about causing conflicts of incalculable consequences in this region, like those we are seeing in different parts of the world.
Today we warn that those attempting to overthrow the Bolivarian Chavista Revolution through unconstitutional, violent coup methods, will shoulder a serious responsibility before history.
To comrade Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a victim of political persecution and coup plotters, we express our solidarity in the face of an attempt to block his electoral candidacy with a legal disqualification.
Lula, Dilma Rousseff, the Workers Party and people of Brazil, will always have Cuba on their side.
Compañeras and compañeros:
This past July 14, the Council of State decided to call general elections, during which delegates to municipal and provincial assemblies, and deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power – who will chose the Council of State and President of the Parliament – will be chosen.
At the same time, the electoral commissions which will direct the process at different stages were constituted, and candidacy commissions established.
It is imperative to note the vital political importance of this electoral process, which must constitute an act of revolutionary reaffirmation by our people, and demands concerted efforts by all institutions and organizations.
We are certain, as the Cuban people have demonstrated on past occasions, that the elections will be an example of a genuinely democratic exercise, supported by broad popular participation, legality, and a transparent electoral process, which does not feature competing political parties or campaign fundraising, but in which nominating and choosing candidates is based on the individual’s merit, ability, and commitment to the people.
Meanwhile, and to conclude, compañeras and compañeros, only 12 days remain until we celebrate the 64th anniversary of the assaults on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons. This time the central act will be held in the province of Pinar del Río and the main speaker will be Second Secretary of the Central Committee, compañero José Ramón Machado Ventura (Applause).
In celebrating National Rebellion Day, for the first time without the physical presence of Comandante en Jefe of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, let us propose to face the new challenges under the guidance of his example, his revolutionary intransigence, and eternal confidence in victory.
Thank you very much