FIHAV 98. November 1st, 1998Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado. La Habana, 1998
© Fidel Castro Ruz / 1998
© For this edition:
Publications Office of the Council of State / 1998
This speech was transcribed by the Shorthand Version Department of the Council of State
Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado de la República de Cuba, calle 17 número 552, esquina a D, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba
My very dear friend Don Manuel Fraga, president of Galicia - some call him president of the Assembly and I call him president of Galicia, I mean, within the Spanish state (Applause), but, as I see that autonomous regions have growing strength, since it is something visible and recognized, I prefer to call him president.
I also want to welcome the distinguished personalities present here. I will even welcome in advance those arriving tonight and say a farewell to the person leaving tonight, that is the Minister of Venezuela, who is here.
I welcome you all, exhibitors and guests.
I have not come to discuss politics or the blockade, droughts, hurricanes or calamities of any kind, because I take them for granted (Laughter). I have come to share a few jokes with you, partly at the expense of the words by our very dear and really highly appreciated Minister of Foreign Trade, without blaming him at all for the torture that we have to go through here every year.
Sixteen exhibitions have been held since they began in Cuba, the latest ones in this very same place, EXPOCUBA, and it is always the same. We stand on this platform, listen to a speech, cut a ribbon; nobody knows how long you have been waiting. Now, in view of the fact that this is growing year after year, it will be necessary to change the concept of the opening ceremony: where it is held, how it is done, and create a bit more comfort for the guests - it is cool today, fortunately - for those who come here because, otherwise, your speech will have to be the same. (He looks at Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of Foreign Trade.)
I am not criticizing him. He wants you to invest (Laughter). That is why he talks about the boom in tourism and all the rest and, yet, it is not necessary to exhort you to invest, simply because you really are going to invest (Laughter). I do not mean it as a joke. It is a fact. You are going to invest. You want to invest and our duty is to create the best possible conditions so that you can invest. You want to invest here and in many places - and the countries that need to develop argue and compete among themselves, not always in the most desirable way, for those investment. We are aware of that.
But, jokes aside, two or three serious things can be said, which may contain elements for a certain optimism in the near future of the world economy so seriously threatened at this time.
A few months ago, we visited Geneva - he [Cabrisas] mentioned the WHO meeting but a WTO meeting also took place - and some of these current problems were discussed.
We have just had an important meeting in Portugal, in Oporto, a hospitable and beautiful city. The leaders were there from the whole of Latin America which, as you all know very well, is the battlefield at the moment. It could be for the West's economy a relative victory or a Waterloo. The risk of a serious global economic crisis is an issue we have been closely following in Cuba, particularly lately. They are events that we saw coming.
In the Oporto meeting, we were all very clear about the dangers of a recession and something worse, because nobody knows what a recession might become in today's world. We knew there that Latin America was the battlefield where it would be decided if the economy could win a victory against the headstrong advance of the crisis or sustain a great disaster worldwide. I say worldwide and it is not an exaggeration because the economy has been internationalized, as some put it, or globalized, as others put it, and increasingly so, apart from a load of further problems that have been added to these phenomena, some of which have a history and are known; others are new.
Everybody in that meeting was aware and the Cuban delegation was very, very much aware of the fact that the near future would be decided here in Latin America, beginning with Brazil, whatever would happen there and that everything resulted from the economic crisis in your country, Kalinin (He indicates the ambassador of Russia) though we shall avoid an analysis of the causes or blaming any Russian or anything of the kind. Rather, I would put the blame on many of the advises given to the Russians, who did not have much experience in the construction of capitalism.
The financial organizations and the new Western friends arrived with their antediluvian prescriptions to apply in that country which did not even get to know capitalism because it virtually went from feudalism to socialism. Beginning with the latest Russian economic crisis - and everybody knows when it happened; it was in the month of August - when it became very obvious and panic spread.
The Dow Jones on Wall Street fell 512 points in one day, feeding the panic. The stock exchanges experienced sharp drops and it was very clear that Brazil was the most vulnerable place at that moment and that a crisis in Brazil was something that would inevitably spread to the rest of Latin America and would truly, irremediably and clearly reach the United States stock exchanges; and that, when that happened and the 50 percent of Americans who have savings, pension insurance and everything invested there lost 50, 60, 70 or 80 percent of their stocks value in the stock exchange, the disaster was going to be of the greatest dimensions, not even comparable to the 1929 crisis. In our view, worse than that famous crisis.
So, it was clear that, in Brazil, there was going to be a great battle. That was analyzed in Oporto. We expounded some ideas because Cuba will host the next meeting. There was also the question of the topic which, as the host country, we had to choose as the focus for that meeting. It was very sensitive because, what will the situation be then? We thought about discussing what Latin America is doing or how it is confronting the global economic crisis. We finally summarized it in a single phrase: Ibero-America and the serious risks of a global economic crisis.
We set out from the idea that there are still resources in the world. The West and Japan still have a lot of resources to hold back the crisis for a time, nobody knows yet for how long; they could postpone it, or they could even reflect more thoroughly, more in depth, on the economic order and the kind of globalization imposed on the world, and try to find, as something unavoidable, a bit more of tranquillity, calm and peace for all countries. In other words, in choosing a topic for our meeting, we had to be very careful because it remains to be seen what will happen in the next 12 months.
We mentioned there Clinton's speech of the 14th September at the United States Council on Foreign Relations, the importance attached to the meeting of the IMF and the World Bank, the invitation to all the reserve bank governors to meet there in Washington. There were obvious signs of the realization by the United States, or by some in the United States, several key leaders included, of the risks of a really serious crisis.
On the 5th and 6th of October last, the chairman of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the World Bank gave very interesting speeches in which differences, criticisms and antagonisms could be seen between the policeman role of one institution and the Good Samaritan role of the other; one in search of a more restrictive and rigorous order and the other trying to think of how to alleviate the social problems that these crises entail. In other words, there was already some interesting movement in the month of October and our meeting took place just a few days later in Oporto.
It was necessary to try to foresee what the situation would be next year and what we would be discussing. It was not easy to adopt a topic. We limited ourselves to this, I repeat: Ibero-America and the serious risks - not to take it for certain - of a global economic crisis.
We assumed that, here in Cuba, it would be necessary to make an analysis of everything that would have to happen in the course of a year that was still ahead of us. Nobody could venture one thing or another.
There again, we discussed whether it was correct or not to speak of a global crisis, given that, in the United States, there was not a crisis yet nor was there one in Europe.
For some of us, it was clear that it was becoming global, on the basis of what would happen; that Brazil and Latin America were the last defense - as we said on the 28th of September this year - where the United States could defend itself from a situation that would directly affect it. It would no longer be something of interest only to Latin America but also to the United States, which is the greatest economic power, has the greatest resources and a leadership role in the world economy. Europe is not yet strong enough to play a similar role to that of the United States, although it does have an important role to play.
So, it was necessary to be wary when trying to foresee what we would be discussing a year from now. But, no doubt, it would be necessary to analyze the international economic situation. This will continue to be the key issue.
We were saying that there are signs, Cabrisas, and a lot can be said about that. Maybe it will give them more encouragement to invest. There are some elements of interest. These guests are in our country and more of them have come than ever before. The numbers are there. You mentioned some and Maciques mentioned others to us. This is the biggest of all the fairs that have been held in Cuba. There is no longer enough space. All the indicators are very positive: the presence of a lot of countries; the extensive presence of Europe; that of Japan, for the first time. So, there is a growing participation despite the threat of a crisis. That indicates the investors traditional interest and impatience to invest.
Perhaps one of the current problems in the world is the excess haste to invest and, above all, to invest where it seemed that the profits were going to come faster, in the United States stock exchanges.
Europe is not yet competing with you so much. (He looks toward the ambassador of Canada.) Well, the Canadians still have significant resources. They are industrialized neighbors of the United States in a good economic situation. Investors are also going to buy stocks or bonds from Europe, mainly when there are some massive flights of capital from the Third World. But, in the United States especially, everybody was buying stocks because their prices were rising like a hot-air balloon, similar to the situation in 1929.
A lot of it is speculative investment, really. The world has become a big casino. We feel much more respect for those who invest in the places, in a service, an industry, who invest in a certain branch of the economy. Speculative investment could be the great Russian roulette of the world economy. Tens of millions of people are making their bets in the United States. Almost everybody is involved. Money desperately seeking for money, absolutely disconnected from commercial or economic development.
In general, those who come here to exhibit their industrial products are not usually making bets. It might be that some do bet from time to time, that they buy some share in the stock exchanges of other countries but, really, in Cuba, they come to trade or invest.
Speculation has nothing to do with the real economy. I can say that all those present here have to do with the real economy, with the production of tangible goods and services, with commercial exchange and, really, we feel respect for such investors.
But, what is happening now after all that happened in Oporto? Several positive things. First, it was indicated, for example, that the Japanese took measures to restructure their banking system, something that will benefit the economy in the countries of South-East Asia, obviously. They decided to invest 500 billion dollars, although it is known that the bad loans amount to almost one trillion. That step taken by the Japanese is a positive sign for the world economy. It does not mean that their problems are solved. They still have a load of difficulties to overcome.
Second, another piece of news that had a positive effect on the international economic climate: the data related to the United States growth in the third quarter. The first quarter of this year was around 5 percent. The second fell to less than 3 percent. In the third, they were calculating two point something, if I remember correctly, 2.6 or 2.7 percent, and now the news, 48 hours ago, of 3.3 percent in the third quarter. That encouraged some stock exchanges which badly needed encouragement, because the remedy against panic is hope, confidence. That is what the doctors in economics prescribe from the viewpoint of the capitalist system.
Third piece of news: the rigorous program, truly an austerity program, a savings program, not just to reduce the budget deficit but also with the aim of achieving a surplus in Brazil's budget. The measures taken by Brazil's government also breathed a certain encouragement, a certain optimism into the United States stock exchanges.
The last thing, what has strengthened the hope and calm at the very worried stock exchanges, is the G7 agreement. The Senate had finally approved, with a series of very questionable strings attached, the 18 billion [dollars] that the United States had to contribute to the IMF. The G7 countries, as a whole, have undertaken to inject 90 billion dollars into the world economy to avoid catastrophes, to try to prevent them or to run and put out the fire. But they are already thinking a bit more in terms of preventing the fire and not having to put it out, which is always more expensive.
Those four pieces of news are elements from the last few days that have raised a little the hopes and enthusiasm in the stock markets.
I think that one of the most important things is the growing awareness in the United States - the administration in the first place, and the Treasury and the US Federal Reserve System. This last institution, which hardly a few weeks ago, was planning to raise the interest rates had now decided to reduce them by 0.25 percent and some days later, another 0.25 percent. It now amounts to 0.5 percent. That was another positive sign that could be added to those previously mentioned and which introduced a certain optimism internationally. Most of the members of the United States Federal Reserve, up to the Russian crisis and its rapid and unforeseen consequences, were in favor of raising the interest rates for fear of inflation.
In the speech of 14th September, which I mentioned before, Clinton states clearly that the grave danger for the world economy is of a recession and not of inflation. That was another positive sign in the dangerous situation created. In other words, there has been a certain change of concept. I consider it positive, as a sign of awareness about the not so idyllic realities of today's world.
As for the International Monetary Fund, you only need to read the articles published in all the economic magazines in the world. They are now saying awful things about the IMF. It is really a moment of a true crisis in public relations. The World Bank, on the other hand, has raised its stocks in this field, with its directors speech in that meeting on the 6th October in Washington.
In that same meeting, Clinton spoke once more, confirming what he had said on the 14th September. It is obviously a complete turnabout which has happened in a matter of weeks.
The danger, gentlemen, is recession and not inflation, Clinton has decidedly admitted it. In essence, a criterion, a thesis that has forced its way through.
A second idea was strongly in evidence in that meeting: the International Monetary Fund must have a more flexible policy; it must change, it must be restructured.
There is a widespread opinion that the International Monetary Fund has become a major agent of subversion and destabilization in the world. Wherever it arrived, it ruined the economy. To begin with, it arrived late, then it ruined the economy and it ruined the governments. It had to be a bit self-critical there and recognize that, of course, more flexibility was required.
Will they go so far as to try to mend this world? I do not really think so. I was convinced that they had enough room to maneuver. Reducing interest rates and injecting money into the world economy was the least they could do, faced with such an obvious catastrophe.
What will happen afterward? We will have to watch closely. How far will the changes go? There is talk of a new financial architecture. What will the new architecture consist of? A country in trouble cannot be helped by putting it in crisis, destabilizing it, destroying its economy and throwing tens of millions of people to go hungry in the streets.
At the Washington meeting, important leaders of the world economy sounded like Marxists when they talked to the world. They themselves were bringing up the data - in Indonesia, so many millions in the streets and going hungry; the idyllic middle class, which they say they had been creating with so much effort, destroyed in a few minutes, going hungry, selling their homes; an end had come to the car sales and to a lot of other things that all those countries were producing. A disaster, really! A true disaster! And with serious international consequences.
They admitted, in figures and details, what was taking place and they said that could not go on. They understood, they were sensible. They at least reasoned sensibly. How far can they go in that reasoning and apply measures to palliate the chronic and growing poverty? I frankly say that there are things that can be palliated. They can slow down, put off the arrival of a very serious crisis. But, we are deeply convinced that while other concepts are not drawn up and applied that can really guarantee the general well-being and the very survival of the human species, the same problems will again reappear with additional complications each time.
If those in the New York Stock Exchange get too excited about all this, then it will happen that the Dow Jones, which was at 8,000 and something today, will get to 9,000, then reach 10,000 and even go from 10,000 to 12,000 and the madness causing the debacle will be reproduced to a greater degree, the already famous currency speculation, which comes to one trillion [dollars] a day and which some say rises to 1.3 trillion or 1.8 trillion, an absolutely new phenomenon in the world, to which are added fabulous figures from speculative operations with shares and other kinds of securities. That will increase.
They are talking about regulations. For now, they are talking about an ethic that would regulate capital movement. They are even talking about some light controls and things like that, something so that the others do not run around in absolute freedom doing all the kinds of stupid things done by those who have accumulated a large amount of funds and experience and who devote themselves exclusively to speculation. They have even dared to say some words against the worldwide speculators. Well, that is already something. Before, no-one could talk about that because whoever did was immediately condemned to hell, just for suggesting some control over that kind of operations.
There are those who talk about collecting some funds by setting a small tax on speculative operations. A Nobel Laureate, honored 15 or 20 years ago - I think it was [James] Tobin [winner of the prize for Economic Sciences in 1981] - proposed the idea of charging a modest tax on such harmful and disorderly activities. At the time he proposed that, in 1985, currency-speculation operations involved 150 billion dollars a year. Just 13 years ago!
At this moment - I cannot speak about the month of September - in the middle of 1998, they have risen to at least one trillion, and not per year but per day.
One analyst estimated that the 1 percent tax suggested by Tobin would produce around 800 billion dollars every year and he proposed that one half be dedicated to the countries that collected the tax and the other half to the poor countries or emerging countries, as they are sometimes politely called, to assist in their development. It is not a bad idea but it remains to be seen whether the masters of the world economy would find it acceptable. In substance, we are faced with a very serious, a very grave phenomena, a lot of unknown factors, a lot of questions.
Of course, we do not belong to the IMF or the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank. Nobody gives us a loan. Nobody gives us anything - no long-term credit, over so many years, as they gave Haiti and quite rightly so. I read it in the cables and it was confirmed to me by Iglesias, the director of the Inter-American Bank, in Oporto. They granted Haiti 91 million dollars, 40 years with 10 years' grace, 2 or 3 percent interest, actually a gift. Anyway, that should be the role of the international financial organizations, it must be done and it is only right that they do it if they really want to solve a lot of serious problems in the world.
As for us, let the hurricanes come. I have already said that we take them for granted. We take the blockade for granted. We take the drought for granted. El Niño is already a well-known phenomenon affecting many places.
However, we do not receive any of that nor do we base our plans on the possibility of receiving any of that. We do our calculations fundamentally on the basis of the reliability of our work, our efficiency, the real advantages and the confidence of those investing in our country, generally in association with our national companies.
We cannot wish for a disaster in the world economy. It would not be ethical. Not even the most radical revolutionary would have the right to wish that the problems in this global world, where six billion people now live, be solved by a disaster, even when we know that oftentimes in human history, great disasters have been followed by the great remedies. There must be other alternatives at this stage of history. It is at least a moral duty to consider them.
Clinton himself - who, some weeks ago, was not generally concerned about the international economy; he never thought about that much, concentrated as he was, almost exclusively, on the interests and the economy of his own country, which now finds itself seriously threatened by what is happening in the world; very much held back, too, in his domestic and foreign plans by the extreme right of the Republican majority in Congress - began giving serious thought to the matter and so did his team from the Treasury Department and those from the Federal Reserve System.
Everybody did when they perceived the problem so near and so serious. That is the truth. The capitalist world only moves when faced with crises or the approach of great crises. It is still very far from rationality and reality.
We hold another very different conception and perception of reality. We prefer that the world's problems be solved on rational basis, on the basis of reason, discussion, debate and dialogue. Next January, we will host an important meeting in Cuba with many outstanding economists from very diverse countries in attendance. We intend to discuss these problems for five days with the participation of representatives of all the schools of economic thought, as we are persuaded of the need to study the issue deeply, to develop and disseminate ideas.
Of course, the threat of a global crisis has already changed minds and the memory of 1929 has returned like a ghost. Everybody has been recalling that ill-fated date and discovering that what happened then on the stock exchange was almost exactly the same as what is happening today - stock values rising and rising; commodity prices plummeting. That is how the conditions for a catastrophe began to be created. Despite the fact that there already existed the Federal Reserve System, which they have called to account. They have accused it basically of not having then taken the measures in time.
Well, we prefer problems to be debated, studied in depth, discussed and solved and not for there to be crises, which bring calamities and dreadful consequences for billions of people, unthinkable sacrifices for billions of people, many of whom, almost one billion, were already going hungry at the time of the world economy boom. It is absolutely necessary that man uses his intelligence and his rational to find solutions to such dramatic problems.
I have mentioned some positive indicators which might even remove risks in the near future.
Notice that, despite the already mentioned dangers of a crisis, the participants had decided to bring their stands here, to take part in this fair. I think that, now, they deserve all the more to be told by us: Gentlemen, there are some rather good news and there are some hopes. This is a better time than a few months ago to invest and to do business. That is a fact.
Of course, nothing else can be said but that there are hopes, possibilities, changes in ideas and conceptions; certain perceptions in those who hold in their hands the key to the fundamental resources of the world's economy, those who can curb, delay or precipitate a major crisis.
They must be grateful to you, Kalinin. (He indicates the ambassador of Russia.) That is why I think that the Russians have the right to request and to demand aid from the great advisers - not to blackmail, that is not the idea - to tell them: "Look, we have followed your advice; these are the consequences. Do not ask us now to cut our budgets again and, instead of six months behind in wage payments to be 12 months behind." Nobody can put up with that. It is impossible. They cannot simply go to Russia with the demands they have been making of everybody else.
It is clear to me, from my tiny bit of experience in political strategy and tactics, that you [Russians] are in a strong position, like Brazil, because now it is not just a matter of helping to save others but, more than anything, of helping to save themselves, which comes first. They cannot demand of the Russians more sacrifices that turn out to be absolutely impossible.
We are following very closely every word said and everything done there every day and I really see courage in the new Russian leadership. I see steadfastness and a sound rational combined with resiliency. They are not putting forward formulas without any alternatives: we are willing to do this and that because it is possible; but not this or that because it is impossible, they say.
Yesterday, the cables were reporting that, in the month of September, Russia had collected 812 million dollars in taxes for the budget and it was more than in October. Eight hundred twelve million dollars for the largest country in the world, with 140 million population, great industrial and scientific development, nuclear weapons by the thousands, almost endless borders, trains that need to cover thousands of kilometers as the main system of domestic transportation, all of that. Anyone understands that it is impossible to sustain life in such a country with 812 million dollars a month or with a billion dollars in tax revenue.
Portugal raises more than a billion dollars a month for its budget, possibly twice or thrice that amount. Just think what can be asked from an enormous country like Russia with less than a billion dollars in revenue. The world cannot remain indifferent to the tragedy of that great state. What is more, the world's problems cannot be solved if Russia's problems are not solved, because political events and catastrophes might arise that would have enormous repercussions in the world's economy and politics.
I am not charging you for this advice, Kalinin. (Laughter.) Nobody asked me, but I can assure you that my advice is more selfless and possibly more objective than that given by the IMF people and many other experts from the United States and the West. Now, we give the IMF this advice: Listen, let go of a little of that 90 billion and send it to Russia. Let them discuss other things if they want, but no more cuts to the budget. Other issues can be discussed, but not the kind of conditions that are ruinous, disastrous and destabilizing.
A leadership is gaining ground in the government which enjoys wide support in the Duma. A series of circumstances and mere common sense should advise the United States, the IMF and everybody else to send part of those funds to Russia. They cannot forget Russia. They cannot afford it.
Today, I read a news that they had decided on some food aid. Well, I am ahead of you, Kalinin, if you have not read the cables. It is from four to six million tons of wheat, a loan on lenient terms. You are very lucky. They do not even sell us a kilogram of food, let along offering us a loan, whether hurricanes come or not, whether droughts come or not. But that is good news for you - from four to six million tons of wheat.
Our only concern is that it not be so much that it will increase the price of the wheat we have to import, so that we would have to spend our scarce hard currency to pay for a more expensive wheat in the world market. Two things alarm us: the one I just mentioned and the other if the floods in China require the import of grain, rice and other things because that could be a real headache for us, countries of the Third World, that import many of those grains that we cannot produce ourselves.
They have also said that part of that aid of four to six million [tons] will be humanitarian aid, in other words, free of charge. They did not say how much. Are they not "very kind"? They really must do it. But it is not enough, far from it.
I say here very frankly, as I always do, that they cannot forget Russia. Of course, they cannot forget Brazil either. They are not going to forget Brazil. They are obviously not going to forget it. That is certain now, because it is the last defense to stop the advance of the crisis before it directly pounds the United States stock markets. Latin America absorbs one third of their exports and a significant portion of their bank loans and investment are sited there. That is not the case with Russia.
Logically, Brazil has been given a priority. The situation of the Brazilian economy is a lot less critical than Russia's. They believe that they can solve it with 30 billion dollars, which remains to be seen. Mexico needed 50 billion; South Korea 100 billion. Brazil might very well need the 90 billion from the G7 and a lot more. Brazil's negotiating position is strong for the same reason that I was explaining before, because helping Brazil means protecting the rest of Latin America from the crisis; helping Brazil means the United States helping itself and all the West helping itself. Brazil's position is, therefore, very strong and when someone's position is strong, responsibility is called for.
So, I am not suggesting that a privileged strategic position should be used to be irresponsible, to stop making one's own best efforts with the greatest seriousness and efficiency. But, being strong in a situation like this makes it possible to negotiate acceptable conditions that do not destabilize the country.
In Brazil, the president has just been re-elected with over 50 percent of the votes. He has a good domestic situation, but serious political difficulties may be created for him - great resistance by parliament, by the federal governments, by the social sectors. The problems he must face are not easy. But, I repeat, Russia and Brazil have a strong negotiating position.
I am about to finish now. You must be tired from standing there (Laughter). The news is for you, not for me. I am not asking for anything from you, simply trying to make predictions and revealing some easily discovered secrets, talking freely, very freely. I think that, since we are the blockaded country, since we are the country that does not receive anything from any of those organizations controlled by the United States, we are the country with the greatest freedom to speak clearly about what is going on.
On the other hand, there is nothing secret in this world, even the small talk over breakfast among the great personalities of world finances, what one of them thinks and what the other thinks is spread throughout the world. There is no need for spies, far from it. There are many assistants and experts taking part. They all have many friends everywhere and they tell them what they talked about over breakfast, over lunch and elsewhere, to journalists, experts, economists and colleagues; and what [Alan] Greenspan thinks, what Rubin said, Summers views, that is, the Undersecretary of the Treasury Department, and the point of view of Fischer, second in command at the International Monetary Fund, and what their concerns are. Nothing is a secret.
We have the freedom to talk, to explain, to reason and it is a freedom that, I swear to you, we would like to preserve forever. Many countries are hanging on some loan or another and cannot take the liberty of speaking as clearly as this about problems.
I am trying to help Cabrisas, who wants you to invest, and I am telling him: They will invest if we do what we have to do, because they are eager to invest and there is now perhaps an opportunity to alleviate the crisis in the world economy, at least in the Latin American and Caribbean region. This is a hope not only for those who want to invest here but also for those who have invested in other parts of Latin America. Dont you think?
Anybody with an investment in Brazil, in Argentina or anywhere else must be glad there is a possibility that a disaster or a crash might not take place there as in South-East Asia. I know that many of you have business in many of our countries. This panorama that can be glimpsed right now is good for the investors of any country and it is also good for your investors, Fraga, and for the hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens who are spread throughout Latin America. That hope is not bad news for them either.
What we have to do, really, is try to change the format, how we can make this ceremony a bit more comfortable. We have to come up with something. Secondly, we have to expand.
I remember perfectly a few years ago, it will soon be ten years, there were misunderstandings and criticism at the expenditure, which was not really high, when we were building this center, with the enthusiastic help of voluntary construction workers, for a permanent exhibition center of our national industry. It continues to play that role, but it immediately began to be used for international exhibitions as well.
The first exhibitions were held in the International Convention Center and its surroundings. A bulldozer and a crane were exhibited by the Convention Center. From there, we moved over here and, now, we are lacking in space. What does this mean? That we have to expand this exhibition center, which is also visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year and whose total investment was recovered in a short time.
We have to create more exhibition space to meet the increasing international demand. Fortunately, there's land for enlarging this center. But the number of countries and firms looking forward to exhibit their products grow every year. And I am sure that it is going to continue growing. It depends on us.
We are our own International Monetary Fund, our own World Bank, our own Inter-American Development Bank. Our country is all that. So, with hard work and great difficulties, we have learned to be austere, to fight against anything that deviates from this austerity - a tireless fight against any shortcoming, waste or improper use of resources and, of course, stricter control over those resources and a reduction in the price of what we purchase or import.
Every year, you will discuss matters with better trained and more experienced cadres, who are going to argue more with you over every penny they spend, whether it is on machinery or commodities. You understand that it is our duty to do this so that the economy can continue to develop and economic and social investment can continue to grow, be it national, joint-venture or strictly of foreign capital. It is through our efforts, our sacrifices that we get the resources for the part that we contribute to that development, which remains the fundamental part.
Now, it also suits us, it is in our interests and not just for ethical reasons as I have explained, that any catastrophe be avoided although, one way or another, we are used to struggling against great odds. I think that we're better prepared than any other country to face up to difficulties. That is why the modest fruits of our efforts, our growth, although modest, have been gradually gained and will continue to be gained. I believe that, at a certain point in time, it will be possible to appreciate qualitative changes, very visible changes in the efficiency of our cadres, advances in our experience, absolute and total security for the investors who have trusted in our country.
We did not need the IMF to come and tell us what to do with the repatriation of profits because we had already decided how to do that from the moment we decided to accept foreign investment for our development - and it was before the collapse of the USSR - as a supplement to our development, which was partly based on Soviet technology, credits and supplies.
Nevertheless, throughout the years of the Revolution, whenever it was possible and convenient, we purchased Western technology, machinery, equipment and input for our national companies. So far, we are pleased with the result of foreign capital participation in investments in our country, with the cooperation and experience contributed by foreign companies in the administration of economic centers and in the production and marketing of goods and services. We do not need any advise on the repatriation of profits, because they are automatic, absolutely unrestricted.
The problem of repatriation - and there are now discussions on whether measures need to be taken, whether incomes must wait or be frozen for a time - is something we completely solved from day one. Here, the repatriation of profits has been, is and will continue to be unrestricted, automatic. We have not stopped thinking the same way and that has not prevented us from considering ourselves socialists. For us, socialism is the country's development, economic development, social development, equitable and fair distribution of the country's wealth.
We are happy to have such good comrades-in-arms as Mr. Wolfenshon, director of the World Bank, even when the last word will be said by those with the absolute power of veto in that institution, that is, the United States. Read his speech of the 6th of October and do not panic, he has not declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist. What we say is that we can subscribe to many of the concepts that he expressed that day.
In summary, our revolutionary and truly socialist conception is perfectly compatible with the idea of foreign investment and the utmost possibilities, guarantees and security for those who invest in our country.
We can promise you honesty. We can promise you that no minister, no high-ranking official in our country will approach you or negotiate with you requesting or accepting a commission or a bribe. I say this categorically. And if this ever occurred, it is your duty to report it directly to those of us who hold the highest responsibility. Obviously, I cannot vouch for all of my fellow citizens in an absolute way, but I tell you that we can vouch for those with a decision power.
We have decentralized certain activities. It was essential. There are many people in a great variety of activities - also due to the individual or almost individual nature of a great number of these activities - who come into contact with those green bills, which are the worst poison, the worst vector of vice and moral sickness the world has known.
It used to be gold, but gold weighed a lot and could hardly be carried around. It was assumed that one of those bills represented a certain amount of gold. Now, it does not represent anything. It is a piece of paper printed in a printing press. But, it has a purchasing power due to historical reasons and the overriding economic need for an instrument of exchange, which has been abused and is abused to absurd levels by the hegemonic power that prints it.
There are a lot of people who handle it and we are not unaware that there is always a risk with a lot of those who handle money. However, I can assure you that the main decisions of economic policy, the main decisions, are adopted at levels where you will never find a person who can be bribed. We know that the cries of protest and complaint are universal about something called corruption - more widely spread throughout the world than malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and other diseases put together - against which no country is immune. The Revolution has struggled hard and will continue to struggle hard for the idea and the value of honesty. That much I can promise you.
I have told you what I wanted to tell you. That way, you will be able to better interpret Cabrisas words. Do not force him to come here every year to give the same speech, one that is five pages long. Every year, he has to talk about how tourism is faring, how it is growing and how nickel production has increased. Everybody knows that production increased but the price fell and that all commodities prices have fallen. They show very low indexes: copper, aluminum, tin. Gentlemen, even the gold price, has fallen.
The Canadians do not like that in the least. (He looks at the Canadian ambassador again.) They do a lot of gold trade in different places, prospecting and contracts on gold. Because gold is now hardly used even as a financial reserve. Today, it is practically a metal used to make jewelry and for some other purposes. Fewer governments still keep some gold in their reserves. Many have sold it or have reduced its volume in the central banks, significantly affecting prices.
So the product prices are falling but, if a new surge of economic growth comes, then that nickel, whose production we've kept profitable, despite everything, at less than 3,900 and less than 3,800 dollars a ton; that same nickel, which has sometimes had a price of 8,000 and 9,000 dollars, is still profitable. At least, it covers the costs. There is no need to halt production, even at its current very low price. If the world economy improves, the price of nickel and other export items will undoubtedly improve.
Let us prepare for next year. Think something up. Find seats. We have Fraga standing over there, although he is really strong. Do not go thinking that he is paid heed to the years. He fulfills incredible programs. It seems like he is not very well loved by those who organize such programs or it might be that they love him so much that they sometimes come close to killing him.
Two ideas have been proposed - to organize ceremonies that are more comfortable for those present, so that the issues can be analyzed in depth and the content of the welcome can be varied, without leaving out essential indexes and data; and to begin to plan for the enlargement of this exhibition center. You need space. Also, more parking space is required. At the rate you're going, you'll end up parking the cars over by 100th Street and with a bicycle service to get from there to here, because I have seen cars everywhere at the side of the highway, as it is to be expected with the presence of almost 3,000 participants, exhibitors and other accredited people.
That is what I can say.
I beg your forgiveness. I repeat that I will not charge you anything for the good news and the advice. Actually, I'm speaking from an optimistic and well substantiated perspective. Let us hope that nothing happens, out of the many possible political and economic events or mistakes, that might prevent a favorable and desirable development of the world economy in the near future.
Thank you very much (Prolonged applause).