Dear delegates to the 5th Congress of the CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution], for the unity that we defend. (Applause.)
I think we have just won a second victory with the excellent development and the results of this Congress, with the hurricane or without the hurricane, even under the hurricane or pursued by the hurricane (Laughter), which got here right behind us, although without very strong winds but with enough rain to really soak the Karl Marx Theater, where we would have had 4,000 to 5,000 guests today if flood water had not seeped in affecting the electrical services. Our people were able to re-establish the service in 24 hours but a certain danger remained associated with electricity. That is why we preferred, as we had anticipated, in case we could not use the Karl Marx Theater, to close the Congress right here where we have been working.
We hope that those who would have been invited to be here have the chance to see it on television, because this function is being broadcast live.
I hope that Marquitos has reserved as much electricity as possible for the people in Havana, and the rest too. We know that they have re-established 90 percent of the service in almost every the province. In Guantánamo, they already had 75 percent or so two days ago. What is the situation like now, Marquitos? (Marcos says that we are already above 90 percent practically in the whole country.)
Above 90 percent in practically the whole country, are we? So are the CDR members listening to us? Is there electricity? (He is told there is.) Well, the newspaper or some other news can get to you later, but we are really pleased that, in such a short time, they have re-established electricity and communications in general. All the roads now also permit communications.
We have talked about the Congress. It is not necessary for us to elaborate on that very much. Part of what we have discussed has been broadcast on radio, television and other media.
We also have the complete report, with the small modifications introduced to make it more accurate. Certain things no longer appear as if they were current or normal, and you can now take it plus the ones that will be printed, so that at least one copy reaches every defense CDR. You know that there are over 100,000 of them, and we hall have a bit more for other mass organizations to receive a copy of the report. As I have already said to you, it had been very well done and it really reflects the extraordinary effort put in by yourselves; extraordinary, growing and so necessary effort, which can be measured in facts. They are all here. (He shows documents.)
I did not bring all the papers but we remember many of them and I am not going to repeat them. It is enough to point out that an impressive record has been broken in this tough year, with 570,000 blood donations and almost all the rates show an improvement. I hope that it is not just because this is the year of the Congress and that, on the contrary, as a result of the Congress the rates will continue improving. Some are already very difficult to surpass.
Let us say that the 91 percent participation of the people in the CDRs is a really high and encouraging rate which, unquestionably makes this organization the broadest in the whole country, with over seven million affiliates. This does not include the children, who are also starting to organize with them, apart from their pioneers organization. It is a beautiful idea, that one about the children's CDRs, as part of an education and a motivation for them.
That participation allows you all to work more within the organization, since you have proposed doing a better job and exercising a greater influence on the community. After all we have seen, I do not have the slightest doubt that you will make it.
You had old tasks; now you have new tasks and the new ones are strategic. The subjects raised about the development of patriotic and revolutionary values and the ideological battle are enormously important. The fight against crime and the fight against illegalities together with your active participation in cooperation with the country's other forces and the Ministry of the Interior and the Revolutionary National Police are really transcendental.
We discussed that issue a lot yesterday and we agreed that we had to continue discussing with the most resolute determination to face up to those difficulties and wage a fierce battle against them. We must do it with organization, intelligence, the most suitable methods of control, pressure, persuasion and social influence, as we talked about here and there is no need to repeat it.
I am sure that all your comrades throughout the country, the millions of CDR members who are the vast majority of the people, and the rest too, and even some delinquents are going to be happy, because they do not like being robbed either. They are going to be happy if there is less theft because they must also be victims of their own theft. Everybody will have more peace of mind. This is one of the issues that most affect all citizens.
The fight against illegalities is crucial. The battle for the survival of the Revolution and the defense of the Revolution is very closely linked to the ideological battle. The enemy, as has been said already, uses every possible means concentrating today against Cuba in this field.
I have said to you that, in a cable yesterday, we saw the amazing news that in 1964 the United States had been very close to launching a nuclear attack against China. I say amazing because no matter how used we are to the incredible things that our northern neighbors do, an information like that is bound to be amazing. I am not making this up. One of the newspapers with the highest circulation in the United States has published it, on the basis of declassified documents from the State Department.
We have often denounced facts but it is necessary to wait years for the famous declassified documents to appear: CIA documents on plans and actions against Cuba, Pentagon documents that reveal, for example, how they received instructions to concoct a pretext for a direct military invasion of Cuba after the mercenary invasion and the defeat at Girón [the Bay of Pigs]. These objectives were known since that time. They led to the measures taken by Cuba and the USSR which gave rise to the October Crisis in 1962 [the Cuban Missile Crisis].
Documents and new documents constantly appear. Some have not been published, of course, and others they might publish perhaps in 200 years. They have got all that well regulated.
As I said, they always surprise us with plans like those I mentioned to you today. Nowadays, of course, relations between the United States and China are normal, they are going quite well. The United States has understood what China is, the enormous real power and, above all, the potential of that country in the scientific, economic, military and many other fields. They have been more realistic in the case of China which is also an enormous and growing market of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Some of their spokesmen have said, with the greatest cynicism, that with China it is worth the trouble changing from the policy of confrontation to trading, even it is a socialist country because it is also an enormous market for exports and an enormous field for investment, with a trained, disciplined and cheap workforce. They know that they can not do without that in the economic field, as they also know that they can not do without China in the political field.
At this very moment, the time of a serious international economic crisis, of which I will speak later, the Chinese are making an important contribution to prevent disaster by avoiding the devaluation of the yuan, their currency, which is only partly convertible, only to a limited extent. That is one reason the Asian crisis has barely hit China. But, it is a currency whose devaluation would have terrible consequences and possibly lead to a catastrophic outcome of the economic crisis. It would aggravate the situation in all the countries of Southeast Asia and it would aggravate the situation of the yen, the currency of Japan, which is the world's second largest economy and which is now going through a very difficult recession.
All that has a tremendous influence on the world economic situation and seriously increases the risks that the crisis will inevitably become universal.
That is, at this time, the People's Republic of China, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, is supporting the value of the yuan whose devaluation would be the best condition for competing with the goods from Southeast Asia, which are now being sold much more cheaply after the dramatic devaluation of their currencies. China, of course, is losing sales, losing markets, and not just the sales it is losing because of the blow those countries' economies have suffered but also by way of these products competition in the present circumstances.
We will see Latin America and many other countries flooded with goods from the so-called tigers, as they are now trying desperately to increase their exports. In other words, China is not only an enormous market and an enormous field for investment. China is also an important player in the world economy and it has steadfastly resisted the need to devalue its currency, which has been an important contribution to the international economy.
Of course, nobody can be sure that, when all is said and done, the great sacrifice they are now making, an unquestionable proof of China's responsibility and its concern over world affairs, will have any result. It might perhaps delay the crisis, avoid a rapid and general outcome but, all the indicators show that, sooner or later, this crisis is bound to arrive.
Well, now there is no longer that hostility, that blockade, that economic warfare against China. Quite the opposite. There is substantial investment and considerable mutual trade. I believe that the Chinese are exporting a lot more than 50 billion [dollars] to the United States, if I am not wrong, despite the yuan not being devalued and despite the competition from the others.
The President of the United States visited that country where he met with the leaders and talked to the people. The Chinese opened up the doors for him. He was welcomed almost as a Pope and, like us, they made the national media available to him so that he could talk to all Chinese. He really believed that he was talking to them but, the truth is that it occurred to him to take some translators of the Chinese language. You all know that, at times, when someone whose mother tongue is English speaks Spanish, he gets tangled up, so you can imagine someone whose mother language is English speaking in Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese spoken in Peking is not understood in Canton, Shanghai and a lot of other places.
As I was telling you, he believed that he was talking to 1,200 million Chinese. As far as we know, the vast majority of the Chinese were quite annoyed because they could not understand the translators. Later, he visited the University of Peking and, again with the same translators, he gave his speech there, he spoke very well, very pleased, very happy.
I am recalling this to describe the relations. The socialist bloc does not exist and relations are excellent with many of its fragments; some of them have been invited to join NATO and they have accepted. As for Russia, they are scared, but not of its nuclear weapons or of a confrontation, they are scared at the really huge economic crisis that has been sweeping through Russia and is threatening to spread out quickly to other parts of the global economy. They are deeply scared of that and are trying to see what they can do, but they are virtually conceding their helplessness. I will give you some information about that later on.
That is, they no longer have where to concentrate their attacks, their hostility. Plundering is something else. Investing what is theirs and what is not theirs is something else again. But it is not economic warfare. It is not hostility. There is still another country, for example, the (Peoples) Democratic Republic of Korea.
The Koreans were building a nuclear reactor there and, out of fear, to convince them not to build that nuclear reactor, arguing the need for a safe technology, they are going to supply the resources, I mean, the United States, Japan and South Korea for the construction of two nuclear reactors and, in the meantime, they are also supplying it with some 500,000 tons of fuel for the thermoelectric plants. In other words, although there is still a high level of confrontation with that country, it is a different situation. They have even got that far.
Regarding Cuba, it is all different. Well, they have prevented Russia from continuing the construction of the nuclear plant in Cienfuegos. In theory, the Russians have promised to proceed with the construction, but that is a slow process. It takes time, a lot of time. Cooperation might happen to be maintained there and some supplies for the maintenance of what has been built, but it would be a delusion to count on that for now, for a long time and even more so taking into account the terrible situation in that country. Meanwhile, they are campaigning against everything that might appear to be a nuclear plant in Cuba and saying that it poses a danger for the United States. They can build a hundred in their territory, but us, none or they make it a world scandal, even if it is authorized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and have all the safeguards. That is why we have to look for other sources of energy.
Relations with Vietnam, are similar to those with China: investment. We are delighted that the Vietnamese, who have struggled so much, who lost four million people, not including the disabled and other damage and human suffering, now have the opportunity to live in peace, to trade and develop, without renouncing their principles, the ideas of socialism.
I am telling you this to demonstrate that everything, absolutely everything is against Cuba, their nearest neighbor, the ripe apple that never fell and will never fall from the tree and which they were expecting to take, as they said a long, long time ago. Because, almost since that country was founded, its first political leaders raised the matter of Cubas occupation. That was in their plans. Our predecessors prevented it and it is our duty to make it impossible. We have done that up until now and we will continue doing so. But all their propaganda resources, all the campaigns, all the maneuvers, all their lies and their ideological warfare are directed fundamentally against Cuba.
This does not mean that they do not wage ideological warfare against China, that they do not try to influence in other ways. They may avoid verbal attacks but they spread American culture to reach everywhere with their cultural influence, consumer habits and other forms of penetration. They would like to introduce into China the style and conceptions of the consumer society which would be absolute madness. They can not act differently because those are the principles that govern a capitalist economy and they do it in competition with other capitalist economies that are also powerful. They sell a consumer model which, as we have said on other occasions, is completely unsustainable, inconceivable for billions of people on Earth.
They will also continue trying to subvert order in China. They will try, by more subtle methods, to impose the Western societys criteria, concepts, ideas and style on those countries. Also against the Vietnamese, they will not stop using those measures.
As for us, the idea is to overthrow the Revolution and its ideals, to destroy the Revolution, crush the Revolution. Like we were saying before, they are now fundamentally concentrating on the proclaimed, thoroughly proclaimed programs of ideological warfare, via the famous Track II policy, and the economic warfare. Two things: ideological and economic warfare. They want to suffocate the country economically so they try to smother it, to weaken it, to create the optimum conditions so that their rotten ideas can get in or can deceive with illusions a lot of people who do not know, as that young man who spoke to us today knows, about the realities of the world and the dominant system. That is why we have to constantly explain why they have what they have and how they got it. You could also ask how much longer can last the economic order they have imposed to the world.
They themselves could be faring better. Wealth could be better distributed there, more fairly, too. They have accumulated technologies, science, industries, all the resources needed to produce in abundance.
The type of society they have developed is disastrous for nature and it is disastrous for the world. They are consuming 25 % of world energy every year. They are the ones who have most polluted the atmosphere and the seas, who have contributed most to climatic changes and they are the ones who are most resisting taking measures.
The Europeans, the Japanese and all the other countries show more willingness to take measures friendly to the environment. It is the rulers of the United States who are the most resistant. They are the least concerned at that. Actually. they can not be concerned, because the system does not let them be seriously concerned at the tragedy. There, they work for capital, for profits, through anarchic laws that can not be concerned with anything, neither the environment nor man. It is simply what results from the chaotic development they engender.
But that is a country where there should not be 43 million people without guaranteed medical services; a country where there should not be such inequalities, so huge disparities in fortunes, where some have more than 50 billion dollars in wealth and other must sleep under bridges. That makes no sense. There is no rhyme or reason to that while they have so many technical and material resources and they have had great achievements in productivity, production and services. The agricultural manual labor of picking tomatoes and vegetables is for immigrants from Mexico, Haiti and other countries. That is no longer a job for Americans. It is a job of foreign immigrants. Everything else is done with machines.
It is essential to know all those realities so that they can not deceive people. We must not forget imperialism and the imperialist system, its origin in the developed capitalist system and where it is leading the world. We have to make the necessary emphasis on this subject because it is leading, inevitably, to great catastrophes.
All that is part of the ideological battle and putting in everybody's mind the impossible illusion of a personal motor car. As I have said on other occasions, I try to imagine China with a motor car in every family home. The 100 million hectares the Chinese have for growing food would not be enough for garages and parking lots, highways and expressways. There would be no arable land left there. We hope that, with the proverbial Chinese wisdom, they will meditate on all these things.
India, is similar and so are Africa and Latin America. That is one of the great tragedies they have. In places like Mexico City, there is a large number of motor cars. The pollution they produce, along with the smoke from industry, is physically unbearable. So, they have established some regulations. The cars with odd-numbered license plates do not ride one day and those with even-numbered plates do not ride the other day. What have those people with money done? They have bought a second car, one for each day. They have no problem, except for endless traffic jams and the same poisoned atmosphere.
The traffic difficulties in many big cities, even in Tokyo, are awful. It takes three hours to get from one place to another. They often can not use vehicles. They resort to the subway, which is expensive but fast. There are cities that have grown disproportionately and they no longer tolerate that lifestyle. All kinds of resources are tremendously depleted. It would be better to place them at the service of humanity rather to waste them. They have invaded the Latin American countries with such habits. I hope, therefore, that the Chinese do not give up the bicycle, to which they owe so much.
As for us, from the 30,000 rides per bus per day, we had to go back to the modest bicycle. We bought millions of them and we are also manufacturing; we had to turn to the famous "camels" (lorries converted to buses) and endure the hardships of a difficult situation with passenger transport.
There are developed countries like Holland, for example, where everybody has a bicycle. A bicycle culture has been created, perhaps due to greater awareness about the environment, physical health and exercise. They use them on a mass scale, although they might have a car. I think the Dutch have 17 million bicycles. And they have told me that, even there, there are those who steal bicycles. I do not know if it is the simple bad habit of stealing or it is for amusement.
The imperialists talk about human rights but they never talk about the truly human problems, about man within the very hegemonic power and in the rest of the world. We, on the other hand, always talk a lot about human things and do humane things that are a thousand times more humane than what those masters of the world do for man.
They say that the market laws solve the problems of man, of the sick; the problems of unemployment, poverty, hunger, lonely forsaken people, abandoned children and all the others, this law accompanied, in their mad conception, by the dreadful selfishness that those societies engender.
These subjects need to be studied in depth. They are related to the ideological battle that is so important and fundamental because those are the weapons they mostly use to attack us now. They have a reserve in their military forces but we do not know what they will do with them because the world can not be ruled with nuclear weapons. It is impossible.
They have had serious problems in a country as small as Somalia. Sticking their noses everywhere, they suffered a setback there. A company was almost annihilated. That created such problems in the United States that they had the wisdom to quickly pull out the troops from there.
Their greatest hopes are with the great supremacy they have over the mass media. They have great hopes in that and they have enormous economic and technical resources for it. We have already talked about that too in this Congress.
These are subjects we need to think about and the young people must think seriously about it all. You can not be irresponsible in this day and age because big problems are in store for humanity just around the corner.
I would simply mention that, within 50 years, humanity will have 10 billion inhabitants while it can not cope with the six billion it has now. Of those six billion, five billion live in the underdeveloped and poor world and only around one billion live in developed countries. It does not mean that all those who live in the developed countries are receiving the benefits of development. No, there are great inequalities in wealth in those developed countries and millions, tens of millions of unemployed, too. There are problems of every kind, but there are only one billion living there.
There are also rich people in the underdeveloped countries. They do not have any problems. There is a percentage who live as if they were in Europe. From that point down is where the tragedy begins. That is to say, the rich classes in the underdeveloped countries can have the average consumption level they have in Europe.
Among the underdeveloped, there are those with a higher level of development and others with a much lower level. Hence, the enormous importance of that battle which, in our country, is the fight against all illegalities, I repeat, against all kind of criminal activity.
It is irritating, annoying, it corrupts and it brings a rosary of problems that you all know, which you have fought against, are fighting against and propose to fight against more and more, with increasingly efficient methods a good part of which are, as I said, educational, persuasive, preventive methods. It is a general struggle that must unite all forces, the really important force the Revolution has created to wage such struggle at this time. I think those ideas are by now very clear.
We have attended the two plenary sessions here, but we are familiar with debates in the commissions where, as we were told, around 120 delegates took part. Those must have been very rich debates. And here, in the plenary, a total of 36 people spoke. Around 160 have been able to speak, so that I think the organization is well informed and it will benefit a lot from this Congress; and not only the organization but the country at large.
This must be circulated as much as possible, in every CDR and among all the CDR members in the country. It is very important that they become aware, that they have full information of the Congress and its results.
I do not think that I need to talk more on this point. We have the another subject: the hurricane.
Some things were already said about that on the opening day. We even had the opportunity to talk to you briefly about the history of the CDRs. That spares me the need to do it here. Our problem now is not so much talking about history as preserving history. It is not so much the past -- although that is very important, really important, since that is where our roots are -- as the future struggle that we must wage.
I also said something about the hurricane, what it means morally and the satisfaction for the fact that we have been able to simultaneously wage two such important battles on these two fronts. Of course, we are now recovering from the consequences of the hurricane.
Broadly speaking I must say, now with all the information, that the number of fatal victims -- and, when I spoke to you three days ago, there were only four confirmed -- increased to six. Here are the names and causes:
A lady who needed to go out to the patio of the house and died when she made contact with an electric wire. You can not speak of carelessness in this case.
Another who died while crossing a road on a motorbike under the hurricane. He was a combatant. There was a hot wire that the winds had thrown to the road... He was not out socializing, as I told you, he was doing some work and he died.
There is another who died while trying to tie an electric wire next to his house. The electricity took him by surprise. It did not electrocute him, but he fell in the River Simborrio and drowned, in the municipality of Yara. This fellow countryman died in that effort. He must have been in great need and it is in that kind of accident that he passed away.
There is another death. This was at the Tercer Frente (Third Front) municipality, in Santiago de Cuba. He was found drowned in the Salto del Chivo crossing, in the same municipality, on 25 September 1998. It has not been possible to determine how it happened.
There is this other case, which I already mentioned the first day, who died in a dam, where he had been working. He was a water resources worker who was out there. In this case, I had said that he died while doing a job but it seems, really, that he was careless while on his way home. I had mentioned him as a worker under the hurricane. According to what they tell us now, he tried to cross to the other side of the dam and the accident happened on the dam levee. Apparently, he did not notice that the dam was overflowing and the water swept him away. That is the fifth case.
The sixth, in the municipality of Buey Arriba, Granma province, drowned while trying to cross on horseback the already flooded River Buey, in Yara, on 26 September 1998. We were informed of this case last night.
They are six, whose names I will mention, to express condolences to the families, on behalf of all of you and all of us. They are: Elvia Matos Reyes, 61 years old; Amaury Reyes Mojena, 60 years old, he is the one who died on the motorbike, a former combatant of the Revolution; Jorge Vega Guillén, aged 42; Rafael Mojena Arteaga, aged 60; Israel González Chacón, aged 58; and Lorenzo Fiss Ramírez, aged 33.
Regrettably, they are the victims reported up to now. The possibility exists that other cases might still appear, although I see it as less probable with all the data that we now have, all the communications re-established and all the places checked.
There are no children and let's say that the youngest is 33 years old. No child, no adolescent, no young person under 30 years old has died because of the hurricane.
It was mainly agriculture that was affected, certainly. Crops were affected substantially by the hurricane in its course through 13 provinces, out of the 14 in the country, where the hurricane passed through, including Havana province and the capital city, although it was rains more than winds over these two and on a smaller scale, really.
These provinces produced 95% of the country's plantains. Those plantations occupy 94% of the total crop area for that product nationwide but, fortunately, the damage was less in Havana province, the supplier of this city of over two million people.
The best plantations suffered the most, those set up with the microjet irrigation system. The ones with the highest investment and production were seriously affected, to different extents, with those in Guantánamo the most affected of all.
Coffee and cacao were also badly affected, in the first place Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Holguin, which are the main producers.
The roads sustained great damages. Among those reported, 344 kilometers affected in Guantánamo and 162 in Granma. The rest of the territory is still being checked.
Other green and root vegetables: a lot of cassava plantations flooded. Except in Guatánamo and Holguin, all the provinces report cassava plantations under water. Work is being done to drain the fields and recover what is possible. An important part of this production will not be useful for human consumption.
Also the plantations of early cabbage although, fortunately, we were not deep into the planting season. Vegetables seedbeds have been lost but there are seeds for replanting.
Rice suffered quite a lot, not the rice kept in silos and warehouses. What was affected was the ripe rice that can not be harvested due to the fields flooding and humidity. There are 105,000 quintals in Pinar del Rio waiting to be harvested. There was not so much rain there. There is a smaller number of flooded caballerías. [One caballería, 13.43 hectares.]
The worst-affected rice-producing area is that of Granma, which has some 200,000 quintals of rice ready to seed and ripe, still to be harvested.
Tobacco. The tobacco harvested and stored from the last campaign was not affected. It was timely protected. But in practically every province seedbeds were affected. There is tobacco, as you all know, in Sancti Spiritus, in Villa Clara and elsewhere. But the seedbeds can be recovered and do not constitute a problem to emphasize about tobacco, in general.
Citrus fruits did not suffer like with hurricane Lili. At the Victoria de Giron enterprise in Jagüey Grande, Matanzas, there was no significant damage. In Ciego de Avila, they report losses of several thousand tons of grapefruit. The estimate is 2,500 tons of citrus fruit in Ceballos and 1,000 in Morón.
Seven hundred and ninety-six tons of oranges, 400 tons of lemons and a similar quantity of tangerine were affected.
Camagüey also reports 2,095 tons of grapefruit affected in the Sola plantations.
As for forestry, the number of trees blown down by the winds onto the coffee is considered high, with a substantial number too on mountain roads and paths, in all the provinces affected. The number of cubic meters of timber lost is not known yet.
It is considered that approximately 80% of the honey potential is affected, mainly due to the passing of the hurricane at the time of the kindling reed flowers, which have been damaged appreciably. This is another export item.
That is regarding agriculture, in general. The data related to the sugar-cane plantations still has not been accurately compiled.
There is no significant damage reported to the cattle population. No animals loss.
No stores of fodder were lost either. There was damage to the roofs of installations, which were repaired immediately. The raw materials for fodder were protected, they were not affected. Production has been paralyzed for lack of electric energy.
There are no difficulties with medicines, there being reserves in every territory to face any contingency.
No significant damage is reported in pig breeding.
No losses are reported of pesticides, raw materials for fodder, raw materials for fertilizer and stored seeds.
Here is the report of the measures taken but I am not going to talk about that.
Efforts, and other damages and losses caused by Hurricane Georges, according to preliminary information sent by the provinces, are as follows: 494,124 people evacuated. Of these, 202,513 were given shelter, and 237,991 students were evacuated.
If both figures are added, that makes around 700,000 people evacuated. There is not a single case of a child, adolescent or young person who suffered any harm.
Some 705,600 animals of different species were moved to safe places.
Some 40,079 houses were damaged, 2,100 of them totally destroyed.
Almost 400 economic facilities were partly affected, 144 of them agricultural facilities.
A hundred and thirteen schools were damaged.
Some 104,935 people were mobilized to implement the protection programs and 8,676 means of transportation.
The dead, although they are mentioned here, I have already referred to them at the beginning.
The data on damage to bridges and roads is being determined exactly by the territories. There is still some data to be determined but we hope they are problems that can be solved.
Communications, in general, are being re-established. The most important bridge in the Santiago-Guantánamo railroad, made of steel and concrete, was ripped out and dragged along by the river. That is going to have Guantánamo cut off by that route. The bridge must be rebuilt quickly but it takes time and 60% of the goods that reach Guantánamo are transported by that way. This means transportation by other, more expensive means while the bridge is rebuilt..
The problem with this hurricane regarding farm production is that it came along with the end of the harshest drought the Revolution has known and that nobody had known up to now in Cuba -- the most severe drought of all time. It caused damage everywhere. It caused damage in rice production, of course. The dams, as you could all see, were almost all empty. The water had to be transported in trucks to many cities at a high cost. On top of this drought which damaged agricultural production throughout the country, there came the hurricane, with the damages that I have explained, but mainly in plantains and other food crops which are part of our population basic diet, in the city and in the countryside.
One demonstration of how the drought affected the production of beans is that, in the capital's agricultural market where, some time ago, a pound of beans cost six pesos, it now costs 12, 13, 14 pesos. That is as a consequence of the drought. Also, as a consequence of the drought, root-vegetable production was affected in the different provinces, but where it caused tremendous damage was in Las Tunas, Holguin and three municipalities in Guantánamo. The drought was very serious. It has affected agriculture and sugar cane. When it affects sugar cane, the damage is always considerable because it is an export item, an industry where significant investment and expenditure are made every year in order to ensure a certain harvest.
Of course, the hurricane lowers production. It deprives the country of X amount of sugar, we still can not say how much. We have to quantify it well and watch for the weather in case new rains fall and sowing can take place. The sowing now is with a view to the 1999-2000 sugar harvest. That is important. We have to do things right. We now have to wait for the fields to be proper to be able to plant that cane. There is water, there is humidity, but too much.
That is damage by another route, is it not? Although the cane also means honey for rum production. Of course, rum will be given priority. It also means honey for the production of alcohol, honey for feeding livestock and other uses. That is indirect but significant damage.
I have not mentioned the sugar harvest here. I do want to explain some things well. This creates a complicated situation.
I already explained to you that we had undertaken efforts to compensate for the drought. Yes, there was no hesitation as soon as the situation was assessed in Holguin, Las Tunas and some other places. Actually, we concentrated in those places with the most critical situations. The decision was made to incur an expense, relatively high in our case, to provide a food supplement for those two entire provinces, that is, a supplementary food quota for the two complete provinces and the three most critical municipalities in Guantanamo.
I will give you the information. It was agreed, for example, to double their bread ration. That involves certain quantities of flour that are needed immediately. The implementation of this plan began in the very month of September. Bread was included, despite the complications derived from the industrial process, transportation and distribution. But, as production is organized in the cities and in the countryside, their ration was doubled and what was needed was acquired to do this for four months.
There was no hurricane and beans and other autumn crops were being sown. There was no threatening hurricane and the decision was made. I am even going to point out to you -- it is not a very large amount but I think it means something -- about the bread, which was doubled for them; the delivery of an extra kilogram of rice, an extra kilogram of peas -- and I am going to talk about that too, explain something to you -- half a pound of cooking oil, approximately a quarter liter per capita a month, already purchased for that purpose. When the costs were incurred with that aim, we were not counting on the hurricane.
Now, on top of the drought came the hurricane. We had hoped that the people in Holguin, Las Tunas and Guantánamo could begin recovering with some fresh rain falling. A little rain had already fallen before the hurricane in those provinces. There were some red marks of more than 30 millimeters in some places. The plantain under microjet irrigation, the safest production, was terribly affected. It suffered considerable damage. We can not say that it was totally destroyed. You can always use something. But the strong winds affected it very, very badly. We know from experience here in the capital how long it takes one of those plants to recover because even those leaves that do not fall are left very damaged.
Holguin is a plantain producing province and that is its main staple. They had grown those crops with microjet, which yields 10, 12 or 14 times higher than the others. But they traditionally have a lot of caballerías of plantains in non irrigated areas. Everybody grows plantain there. Also in Las Tunas, in Camagüey, everywhere they grow plantains with and without irrigation. And the plantain was struck a blow everywhere, in addition to the other things that I pointed out to you before.
It was necessary to find a quick food response to the hurricane situation. In this case, of course, it is more expensive than the response I described associated to the assistance for 1,600,000 people. This is the exact data; nothing more, nothing less.
Our resources are scarce but there was no hesitation. As I told you all, we had a meeting on Friday. Upon conclusion of the opening session with you, I returned to my office and we met to analyze two things in detail: first, the damage to housing, facilities, everything concerning damages. There, we learned about 40,000 houses affected, not destroyed and 2,100 totally destroyed in different and distant places.
Second, to analyze every aspect, that is, how much material we have in the reserves -- because we always keep some reserves at hand -- zinc and asbestos roof tiles, guttering, everything; how much wood we have, how many tons of nails, painting materials, everything that might be needed to repair or build a house in emergency cases. Also, if somebody lost a refrigerator, how many we have in reserve where a number have always been kept for these situations; if some television sets have been lost, some of those things; mattresses, for example, something that is important.
I can say, for example, that the news reached us today that, in San Nicolas de Bari, Havana province, something similar to what happened in Mayari occurred there on Friday. Three hundred millimeters of rain had fallen in a town where there had never been floods and nobody was evacuated. There was a tremendously heavy rainfall. People were on the roofs of the houses. Only a few homes were not flooded. I do not know the population of that little town of San Nicolás de Bari. One of you should know. (They tell him 21,000 people) Twenty-one thousand¼ quite a few. And all the organized forces went there immediately and they evacuated everybody who had to be evacuated in those circumstances, without an accident, nobody drowned.
The water was at roof level in most of the town and there suddenly went a stream, a small river whose sources had received the 300 millimeters in a very short time. It was the case of Mayarí only this time in San Nicolás de Bari. We know that they lost 300 mattresses. The comrade Minister of Domestic Trade has been there since yesterday she manages certain supplies -- in order to organize the immediate delivery of 300 mattresses to ensure replacement of those definitely lost and the repair of all the others affected.
These products are sold to those affected but they are sold at reduced prices, the traditional minimum prices, oftentimes subsidized. If they do not have enough money, they are granted with the necessary payment facilities.
How many were lost in Mayarí? How many were lost in Sagua? How many were lost in other places? In Havana province, San Nicolás was not the only place. There is another town in the same province, Aguacate. How many things were under the water there? (They tell him that some 110 houses were under water, but that the water level fell more quickly and there was less damage.) How many mattresses were lost there? (They answer that none were lost there.) We all have to learn to be very honest when reporting losses.
There were losses of that kind in almost every province. It is still not known with absolute precision. But we know what we have and the raw material available to make some mattresses. Sometimes, really, people do not like them, but the foam-rubber mattresses are the best, the most comfortable and long-lasting. They are also what we have. The others are of cotton padding and other materials and there is not the same production capacity. We know the capacity that we have for producing mattresses and other essential items.
Look, it happens that there is a joint venture for the production of this line, people who brought the technology and some equipment. They supply the raw material and do so quickly. We are partners and the arrangement we have signed for these cases is that they provide us at cost price. But, of course, it is an expense and what is used up from the reserve of materials needs to be replaced. Everything, each of these things, was analyzed and they are being distributed quickly to the provinces.
Two commissions set out today to accurately assess the damage. But we said: Do not wait for the commissions. The commissions go because it is essential to visit the affected areas and determine the damage. But we are not waiting until the commissions come back. We are starting to send the resources that can be used immediately. We are not waiting a single day. The commissions should assess the total damage and do so with precision. They are made up of ministers and deputy ministers and chaired by an experienced cadre to visit the different places. It is not about solving old problems, of which there are many, but the new ones that have been created by the hurricane. Those basic products are immediately available as was the case in Cienfuegos, in Villa Clara and in all those places hit by hurricane Lili two years ago.
We must also take into account that the hurricane season is far from being over. Nobody can be sure that another hurricane will not come. So, at the same time we are using up a certain amount of something, we have to be acquiring more to replace it. Keeping a reserve, at least at the level we have it at the moment, requires expenditure in cash and in hard currency for all these materials. I am talking to you, comrades, about expenses in cash and in hard currency, because the first thing is to have the materials in hand, then there should be no problem in getting them everywhere quickly!
All the construction brigades are organized and already working. As it stopped raining, they started working. That is the importance of being organized. That is also the significance of the national property or the control and close cooperation of the basic means of production, transportation, trains and factories, to provide an immediate response to any critical situation.
For example, the zinc roof tiles were there in Las Tunas. There is quite an amount of raw material available and the production capacity is well known because what they had produced for the reserve, before the hurricane, was taking up almost all the space, so that, now that the raw material is available they should quickly begin to produce gutter tiles. The production and supplies go faster then that the time it takes to use them. With those things, they do not have to wait for one minute to start doing the repairs and building. These are the measures taken with regards to material damages.
As for of emergency food requirements, I have already explained to you the needs caused by the drought. Now come those caused by the hurricane, took a pleasure tour of 900 kilometers, from Maisí up to the point from where it went into the sea, including the influx of strong rains and winds on Varadero.
How far is it from Maisí Point to Hicacos Point? It went from point to point, a large part through the territory. Winds of over 100 kilometers an hour speed blew in Varadero and, here in the capital, some blew with a certain force. Heavy rains fell in some areas of the Havana provinces located in zones comprised within the 900 kilometers of direct hurricane influence, where also strong winds blew or rains fell abundantly for three days.
Fortunately, the area of the Malecón waterfront was less affected, because damage is always costly there. The amount of sea water that seeped in was relatively small, with little damage, because, although it passed over the wall and seeped into the city a few blocks in some places, winds then came from the south and slowed down the undertow. We have been lucky that the sea water seeping was relatively small in the north of the city and the winds did not destroy the plantain and banana crops in Havana. From 5% to 10 % must have been affected, but it did not destroy the plantations in that province.
So measures now have to be taken. What are we to do, considering what happened throughout the country due to the drought? Because those measures related to the drought were taken in the most critical places and without hurricanes and, since then, it had begun raining in the rest of the country and the people were preparing to sow crops, vegetables, beans and all before the hurricane.
We then analyzed well what we had to do in this situation and the decisions made were as follows:
To keep up the plan for Las Tunas, Holguin and the three municipalities in Guantánamo, what is delivered to them and in the amounts is delivered to them, according to the program foreseen for four months.
Now, apart from that, something common to all was arranged for every province, from Matanzas to Maisí. We did not measure who suffered more or less, in every hectare of land. Sancti Spiritus, for example, suffered a bit less, but we are not going to apply a program and leave out Sancti Spíritus. It would be very confusing now to make a mathematical calculation, if somebody is given a pound, one-and-a-half pounds, and somebody else two pounds. We calculated an immediate supplement for everybody.
An extra kilogram of grains per person, peas, for all citizens. This means that if, in one household, there are six or seven, that means six or seven extra kilograms a month, for three months -- October, November and December -- from Matanzas to Guantánamo and that is in addition to the quota that Holguin, Las Tunas and those three municipalities are receiving. That is an addition to the previous aid. What you give, you can not take back. (Laughter.) They are given something else taking into account that they were more badly affected than others by the drought, then again badly affected by the hurricane, the rains and all that.
Look, they are not big figures but it will not be only that either. For the whole population of those provinces, from Matanzas to Guantánamo, one kilogram a month per capita for three months means around 22,000 tons. That is already here. But something else will be done, this time selectively and throughout the country.
We analyzed how many children there are in the country under 14 years old. This distribution is a bit selective, but our people will certainly understand it. All children up to 14 years, no exceptions can be made here. It has to be for all of them. There are households that have more resources and can go to buy, almost at any price, in the agricultural market or in some shops, some things. But, here, no distinction of any kind can be made. When it is for children, it is for all children and there can be no distinction.
All the children in the country under 14 and all people aged 60 years and upward will be provided an additional supply! Do you know how many people there are in this country who are over 60 years old? I do not have the exact figure now, but it is about 1,300,000. The result of the health programs, the increase in life expectancy. Around 1,300,000!
José Luis, could you say exactly? You were at the meeting. (José Luis Rodríguez, Minister for Economics and Planning, answers that there are 1,460,000.) Well, there are more than I had thought. I am really glad. It is surprising, is it not? Well, now you know. There are people with good incomes who do not remember their little old lady and, if they can then send her to elders home. It is not bad, they are quite well in the home. But, well, such things happen.
All of them for 10 months will receive that assistance until agriculture recovers. That was the estimate we made, 10 months. That is, all children up to 14 years and all people aged 60 years and more are going to receive an additional quota for 10 months.
What does it consist of? One kilogram of rice, that is something, one kilogram of peas, I have come back to peas and I said that we were going to talk about that. Incidentally, people from those age groups in the eastern provinces will receive an extra one-and-a-half kilograms because they were affected most by the drought and the hurricane. So, these people in that area will receive an extra two-and-a-half kilograms of grains, that is, in all the eastern provinces. I repeat: one kilogram of rice, one kilogram of peas -- they can cook rice with peas, soup with a little bit of rice -- and a quarter liter of cooking oil for 10 months. They make up more than 3,900,000 people, about four million people children up to 14 and adults over 60 years of age.
Can we do anything more equitable, anything fairer, if we do not have enough resources? Well, every family has a child, a grandchild or a grandmother. Of course, what the grandmothers generally do is protect the children. Those who are least protected are elderly people. Aside from psychology and habit, there is a certain logic in protecting the young. These products, I repeat, will be distributed for 10 months. Is all of this clear? At the subsidized prices of the ration card.
If it were to be paid at the dollar-peso exchange rate, the price would have to be at least 20 times higher. But, no, it is not a matter of putting the prices on the same level as the price of the dollar in the exchange bureaus where it is 20 to 1. The prices I am referring to are in national currency, at the normal subsidized prices of the ration card. That is called Revolution! (Applause.)
I want to continue elaborating on this point. Of course, we will have to work hard for an agricultural recovery.
Now, on account of the hurricane and the drought we are talking 146,000 tons of grains and approximately 10,000 tons of cooking oil.
Each of these products has a price and, really, one of the most expensive at the moment is rice. The price of rice is climbing like mad. Nevertheless, not only were grains considered but a certain amount of rice, as during the drought there.
This makes up approximately 156,000 tons of food including the cooking oil, of these, 146,000 tons are of grains and I am including the flour for bread that is being given out in Holguin, Las Tunas and in those municipalities in Guantánamo. Add that up. And some prices are high, others not so high. The highest is the price of rice and there is the risk of the price rising.
This will be for of the next three months. The extra quota for children and the elderly over 60 will last for 10 months.
There are two things to bear in mind: none of what is added will take anything away from the previous amounts. Everybody can figure it out according to what we have explained. The people of Holguin, Las Tunas and elsewhere will continue to receive what they were receiving their bread and things, plus the extra kilogram, which will be given out from Matanzas to Guantánamo for three months. And, on top of that, children and the elderly their extra quota for 10 months, which will be given throughout the country. (Applause.)
The country is now making efforts to try to increase the production of yogurt. Children are will adapted to soya yogurt.
Let's see, we have to study all of this, but these were some of the things that I wanted to talk to you about today and the resources had to be at hand.
Each province should do its own calculations. Everybody in Holguin, for example, must do their own calculations. We hope that in Velasco and other similar places throughout the country, people will be collecting their beans and other crops by the month of January, if there are no more hurricanes come, right? If more hurricanes come, we will have to come up with new ideas.
These resources that I have mentioned are already on their way. We are not leaving anything till later. To begin with, as early as Friday, instructions were given to start transferring what we had in hand, and also purchasing more. In some cases, we had anticipated and they had been negotiated before the hurricane. But we are talking about some tens of millions disbursement in convertible currency and dollars to include everything: the hurricane, the drought, materials for repairs and other things. What we have in hand today must be replaced immediately, and other things that can be added.
As I told you, no one hesitated, even though this could mean shelving certain important investments for the country's development. Of course, some are given priority in relation to others.
You all know that a hotel produces hard currency, employment and other things. But, well, we are looking at new ways and we are striving for greater efficiency. We are not going to halt our development plans either.
But we could not sit back and wait for help from abroad. We have experienced with that. We applied for a credit for food products from certain countries with abundant resources at the time of Hurricane Lili and there was no cooperation whatsoever, except for some modest donations.
As I was telling you the other day, there are many disasters in the world. Condolences and solidarity telegrams abound. Of course, many who send sincere messages do not have resources to help. I will never forget that a country with such scarce resources as Jamaica sent us 50,000 dollars at the time of Hurricane Lili something deeply moving.
We are thankful for every message of solidarity that we receive, from wherever it might come. Some countries with more resources send donations, spontaneously, without being asked. Some contributions are given but in quantities that do not compare with the great efforts, the sacrifices and expenditures the country makes in such situations. Cuba, under an economic blockade for almost 40 years, has never received a single penny from the international financial organizations. The United States forbids it. We have learned how to struggle alone against natural disasters.
When Hurricane Lili hit us badly, causing considerable loss and great damage to exports too, the bulk of the resources were purchased by the country in free convertible currency and other valuable resources. Undoubtedly, under these exceptional circumstances of two natural disasters -- a drought and a hurricane --, it was much more important that the essential aid available was immediately taken to the people, who have behaved so gallantly, waging their battle in such an exemplary way. This could at least be proof of the efforts the country is willing to make even under the conditions of the special period, with resources taken from the heart of our own economy.
We have had some bitter experiences. I have already told you about them. I mentioned on television -- I think it was at the National Weather Bureau -the experience we had with some aid, which certain non-governmental organizations and some friendly people offered to send from Florida and which we only accepted out of courtesy, so as not to offend anyone. The counterrevolutionary mafia interfered and sabotaged the deliveries, mixing the goods with the dirty poison of annexationist and unpatriotic propaganda. Of course, that is not the attitude of many Americans of Cuban origin. People like Lucius Walker and other institutions in the United States send aid that is highly appreciated by our people because it is sincere, valiant and noble.
Some American spokesmen certainly say shameful things. When Robertico [Roberto Robaina] spoke at the United Nations, an American delegate presented a reply the following day. Robertico immediately gave a counter-reply, very good and concise. That American delegate's reply could have lasted, between 5 and 10 minutes and Robertico's around six minutes. He said quite a few additional truths there. The American delegate replied again, something that had not been seen at the United Nations in a long time, and Robertico counter-replied again for some four or five minutes. Certainly very good, although it does not have the same effect that a speech given there in Cuba's name, which has more impact.
But, do you know one of the things that the U.S. delegation said? That Americans had sent to Cuba about two billion dollars in humanitarian aid in the last few years. His exact statement was as follows: "Since 1992, the United States has authorized more than two billion dollars in private humanitarian aid to Cuba." Come on, gentlemen! Are they out of their minds?
They must have even included Lucius Walker's donations, the ones that were stopped there, which forced them to go on a hunger strike and wage heroic battles. And, what do you think about the alleged permits that the government publicly declared it would grant and licenses to import some medicines, including some that Robertico mentioned at the United Nations? No, none of that has come yet. But, I should correct myself, if I am wrong. I would ask Minister Dotres to correct me. (Carlos Dotres, Minister of Public Health, says that none has arrived.) None has arrived. And how long has it been since they made those statements? If I remember correctly, I was in Geneva. (Dotres says that we filed a request to 10 companies about three months before.) We filed a request to 10 firms and no medicine has arrived. (Dotres says that some of the companies have since declined.)
As soon as they issued the statement, we put them to the test. We said: Let's see, Dotres. Which are the main items, the fundamental items among the things that we have to obtain by certain means or some that can not be obtained by any means. Three months have passed and not a single pill has arrived in this country. This is to give you an idea of their lack of integrity. They say that U.S. citizens have contributed two billion dollars in humanitarian aid. Let them speak the truth, let them come up with the figures so we can know what multiplication factor they used.
Let's see, Dotres, since this is your field, do you have any idea of the amount of humanitarian aid in terms of medicine that has been received from that country? (Dotres answers that some aid came from non-governmental organizations, which does not even amount to 1% of that figure, not even to 20 million dollars.) In other words, it does not even come to 20 million. Is that so? Why do we not write it down clearly, the whole sum? How can they include what they have been banning as humanitarian aid when there was even a hunger strike, that lasted I do not know how many days, so the medicines could be brought in? Then they take a stand at the United Nations to say that U.S. citizens have sent around two billion dollars in humanitarian aid.
Two billion dollars! Our Minister of Public Health here can show the lists of everything that has arrived, and giving it the usual price, or even the commercial price, it will not amount to that figure. They have exaggerated by one hundred times. They have multiplied by one hundred. How about that! That is what they said at the United Nations.
Even family remittances were banned for a good part of those years. Millions of people throughout the world send remittances to their families from the United States, from Europe, from the oil-producing countries, from South Africa, from Malaysia, from any country where immigrants work. And never before, in any part of the world, has that been considered humanitarian aid. It would be an offense to those who send remittances and to the wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters who receive them. Practically every Third World country receives remittances sent to their families by migrant workers in developed countries. There are also family remittances between developed countries. If they mean that, it is disgraceful. The dictionary cannot be changed just like that.
A small message will have to be sent there, with the figures and it will have to be sent to every UN delegate because Robertico does not have that information there. It is not there. But, with respect to that paragraph, we have to send a message and dispatch the list, and the denial, to the Pan-American Health Office (PAHO), to the WHO and to all the ambassadors in the United Nations. It is worth the trouble. We cannot stand idly by, they must be exposed. Also, because they deceived the world when they declared more than three months ago that they would authorize the export of medicines to Cuba.
However, we are very grateful to those Americans or U.S. organizations that, in good faith and honestly, have sent medicines to Cuba. We do not measure a gesture by the volume of what is sent to us. We measure it by the goodwill with which it is sent, the spirit of solidarity in which it is done. This is how we measure it, and we thank them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. (Applause.) I wish Dotres were mistaken and it was 15 million, 20 million during the years of the special period. Let's hope so! I once asked the minister to calculate the amount, because I had already read similar statements. That does not totally surprise us.
There is aid, yes, from different countries. But when does it arrive? Long after our people have run out of the plantains that they collected when they were toppled by the winds? Well, it would be worse if we received nothing at all. Of course, it would not be much, but it is something, especially a noble gesture of goodwill.
A United Nations agency offered us help to compensate for the drought, the World Food Program, which is presently chaired by an American lady who visited us not long ago. As a UN official, she showed interest in organizing some kind of aid, but there was a problem: part of the aid would have to be labeled as a donation from the U.S. government. We replied that we would not receive that part.
You all know that during the Popes visit, he criticized the economic blockade in his farewell address, then Messrs. Helms and Burton... -- Him over there is putting words in my mouth. (He refers to a delegate who earlier called out something.) But, for this more solemn occasion, I will correctly say the name of the latter, Burton, that is depending on how you pronounce it. ("Burton" sounds in Spanish like "burro", meaning "idiot".) I will use the other description, which is the one you could rightly use and with all good reason to describe that law. The authors of that notorious genocide law immediately began to maneuver in order to sabotage a motion in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to lift the blockade for exports of food and medicines. They were desperately trying to fabricate an alleged humanitarian aid, which would also come with strings attached, while keeping the economic blockade rigorously in place.
We immediately declared that we would not accept that humiliating and dishonest aid, even without conditions. What we demand is the end of the blockade and, if the blockade ends, we will not need humanitarian aid (Applause) from the government that has blockaded us for nearly 40 years, that wages economic warfare against us and that uses against us all its influence in the world, which is greater than ever before, like its power that is also greater than ever.
Are they going to stick a knife in our back while pretending to be a humanitarian government, sending some amounts of food nobody knows for sure? But regardless of the amounts, what about the blockade? What about it? What about the honor and the moral values of this country and the long struggle that it is waging against the criminal blockade? That struggle is gaining ground, winning support and sympathizers, and we see more every day, even among American businessmen.
Recently, over 100 American businessmen wanted to visit Cuba. Some of them organized a visit. They were going to be here for 24 hours, because they were told that they could not spend a single penny. Well, we were willing to put them up in a good hotel so that they would not spend even a penny, since it was not their fault. Oh! But, no, non of that. If anything, come from Cancun and go back the same day. Later, they were told quite simply that they could not do that either and they were banned from coming. Some comrades, [Ricardo] Alarcón, who was going on a trip to a meeting in Central America, and another comrade, had to go there to speak with the American businessmen who want to trade with Cuba and, by the way, some represented very important companies. They did not receive permission to come.
On this subject, too, a university that usually organizes trips abroad for its students, requested that we receive a few hundreds of their students. Answer: Yes. They are students. They simply do not have the right to deprive them of the chance to get to know another country. It is a prestigious, distinguished university and, curiously enough, they have received permission. I do not know, Otto [Rivero], if those people think that, by coming, they will soften us up or indoctrinate the Cuban students and youth.
I do not know what element might have determined that they did not give the businessmen permission, they multiplied the medicines by one hundred or two hundred and, on the other hand, they authorize, according to what we have been told, the students from the university, a distinguished university. I am not calling into question the attitude of the American students, far from it. Our students have maintained ties with American students and there are many issues to talk about with those young students. I think that they are 700. I do not know how long they will be here, one day or two, I do not know. But we told them, yes, let the students come.
Have they suddenly turned good in the State Department? Are they not afraid? I do not know what the prevailing criterion might be. Perhaps they believe that it fits with the Track II policy. Well, let the students come and get to know the country. Yes, let them come. So, what? Did the world come to an end when 3,000 journalists came here for the Pope's visit? And they poked their noses in everywhere. They were truly able to cover everything. They knew almost as much as you do because many things were organized by some people here for them, reporters from TV, radio, the printed press, everything. Nothing happened, the world did not come to an end.
We are delighted! Welcome the 700 students! I hope that you will receive them and organize a program including whatever is of interest to them from the monument to the Maine victims, up to the ships from Cervera's squadron, which were sank off the coast of Santiago de Cuba, if that is of interest to them. I imagine that different subjects will interest them. But, I am sure that, when you talk with them, you will have a wide arsenal of topics to talk about with the US students, with all due respect, with complete courtesy, while avoiding to insult their country in the least.
Of significant interest to us: the analysis of important current problems, by using arguments. Our arguments are so sound that they are irrefutable. Among those young people, there must be many with good qualities, who come in good faith, who have no other information but what they receive one way or another, which is seldom reliable.
Another proposal made to us was a meeting of important newspapers and magazines. We told them: Yes, let them come too. Many of those publications have criticized the blockade policy, many but not all. Some seem hostile but we are not afraid. So, we have no objection. But, they did not let the businessmen come.
That is, they use every measure, against us, all resources, a relentless political, ideological and economic warfare, all sorts of lies, like the ones I told you about. But, you are well informed, as well as the rest of the people and our fellow countrymen who, in Guantánamo and other places, have electricity tonight and can watch this event on television.
Suffice it to say that the measures we have taken constitute a significant sacrifice for the plans that we are developing aimed at overcoming our current difficulties. But, at the moment, the priority is looking after the population.
I was talking about aid. Well, promises have been made. I spoke about this when I mentioned the constructive action of the American lady who chairs the World Food Program. She was looking for 20 million dollars, a figure that indicates a sincere effort at cooperation on the part of an agency that is faced with a large number of requests. It was her idea, 20 million dollars to help the country compensate for the drought. But, as I told you and as I explained at quite some length, there was the problem that the United States government, through the WFP, is offering part of this aid, but clearly registering its origin as a US donation. And we replied: No, please. Let this UN agency do what it can, gather what it can, seek for funds wherever it wants to seek for them, but we will not accept any kind of marked aid from the United States.
Those UN agencies collect funds from different sources but, of course, we said, that we would not accept the part of the aid, in that 20 million dollar program, coming from the U.S. government as a donation to Cuba. They are still working. They are still doing what they can to gather resources and to assist Cuba.
The FAO is another UN agency that, throughout the years, has made noble and generous contributions of food to Cuba.
Other countries have talked about a certain amount of aid. I understand that Spain spontaneously offered a million dollars. Other counties have also offered us some aid, 100,000 dollars, for example. And, still others might offer us a certain cooperation. But, we know that, at the moment, we will have to resolve the consequences of the enormous damage caused by an intense and prolonged drought plus a hurricane that went right through the country, basically with our own resources, as we said that day. We will seek out solutions to it. Whatever the force of that hurricane and the damage it caused. We will face it with our own forces and sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed. All the assistance that we might receive from abroad will be distributed free of charge, in addition to the aid that we have decided to purchase on our own, modest aid, but not without sacrifice.
We have even said that we prefer that they give priority to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, brother countries that have been gravely affected. I would like to say something about this.
The hurricane hit the Dominican Republic terribly hard because it got there with the full force of its 200 kilometers per hour winds and it crossed the republic by the middle, with a colossal mass of water, overflowing rivers, tremendous damage. Up until two days ago, only the capital had electric energy. The rest of the country was without electricity. According to reports we have received, it will be at least 10 to12 days before they can re-establish it.
The destruction of the electricity and communication networks, roads, housing and agriculture was quite extensive. There were sustained winds of 200 kilometers per hour. The damage must have been devastating; a large number of victims, I do not remember now. It was reckoned 200. A number of missing people, no less than 100. And, it is highly probable that, as they restore the communications, they will discover an even higher number of human victims. They estimate the economic damages at 1.2 billion dollars.
There is hardly any news about Haiti. It has not been possible to establish communications with Haiti. Not even the Dominican Republic's government has been able to establish communications with Haiti. I say this because I talked with the president of the Dominican Republic two days ago. We talked. He was concerned about our situation. We explained everything to him and, he explained to us fully about all the damage suffered, the situation they have.
I am not going to go into details here about the conversation, which was quite interesting, in my opinion, although I am sure our neighbors up there have it recorded. That is for sure. There is not a telephone call from here that they do not pick up. They spend many billions on that every year. But, well, I must be discreet about what we talked, the usual things in such a situation.
They had approached us, asking for some cooperation. But, well, I first want to conclude what I was saying. The hurricane did a lot of damage there. The damage that it must have done in Haiti too is incalculable. What has been reported is that there were around 100 victims and some 60 missing. It will surely be much higher when there are communications and we know what happened in Haiti.
A lot of rain must have fallen in Haiti. With that humid mass that the hurricane brought and, after passing over the mountains, what falls is a lot of rain. Maybe they did not have such strong winds there. But I cannot say because we do not have the data. Although we have relations, we have not been able to communicate with Haiti. Neither have the Dominicans, who are closer. The president of the Dominican Republic had not been able to communicate, as I said, with Haiti. So, nobody knows what happened there.
It caused considerable damage in Puerto Rico, too. We sent a telegram of solidarity to the people. It also caused damage in other small eastern Caribbean islands: Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica. The last three are independent Caribbean nations members of CARICOM. Guadeloupe is a French overseas department and I think Saint Martin is partly occupied by the French and partly by the Dutch. There is Montserrat. The English are there. It is an English colony.
I would also like to take this opportunity to convey, on behalf of all of you, on behalf the people of Cuba, our feelings of solidarity to the citizens of all those countries: Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Gualaloupe, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, and say that we are deeply sorry for what has happened and, if we can cooperate in any way, we are ready to do so. (Applause.)
Well, there is a difference within this situation. Puerto Rico, as you all know, is a U.S. colony toward which that country has certain moral obligations. It has, of course, already declared it a disaster zone and it is to be assumed that the Puerto Ricans will receive the necessary resources to rebuild the country. The hurricane did great damage to the housing, to many things. Guadeloupe, as a French department, will presumably receive abundant resources from France for its reconstruction and the same with Saint Martin and Montserrat, from France, Holland and Great Britain.
Then come those that do not have those resources. I would say that Haiti is right at the top of the list. The degree of poverty there is terrible. It is a small piece of land, with a population over seven million. The Caribbean islands, independent countries such as Antigua and Barbuda only have the cooperation that they will get from the other countries in the Caribbean. Saint Kitts and Nevis, whose president visited us not long ago, and Dominica, all those countries have excellent relations with us. But, who will back them up?
It is true that they have options, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti, that we do not have, like access to some soft credit, which we suggested they request from the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank, for 15 or 20 years, with minimum interest rates and a number of years' grace. Those and other institutions can perfectly well do that for these countries, low-interest, long-term credit with a grace period. They would then rebuild housing, rebuild everything.
The smallest islands have hotels. They live on tourism. I do not know the damage they may have sustained. Those hotels, in general, are the property of foreign companies. Many of those companies do not even pay taxes for a certain period of time and all that they contribute to the countries is jobs, which, for the countries, is better than nothing. All they provide is the jobs. Those countries really do not have a lot of resources. That is why I want to publicly express our view that they can be helped by the international credit organizations and they must be helped because they have suffered considerable destruction.
The independent countries I previously mentioned have closer supply sources to purchase food. The Unites States is closer. It has surpluses of some of those grains and different materials, if they are going to buy anything. We always have to resort to more distant markets and problems arise with transportation; longer distance and everything is not always available.
Well, we contacted the Dominicans because, on Friday, the same day that we opened the Congress, they sent a message to different countries. They explained that the country was in a state of calamity and asked for cooperation. They also sent the message to us. As a matter of fact, we do not have a lot of resources. You all understand the situation and they understand it too, everybody understands it, because we have just been through a drought and a hurricane.
But we felt that we could not just stand idly by and tell them that our situation is very tough; if there is any way, despite everything, that we can cooperate. We gave them an immediate answer. On Saturday we told them that we were willing to send a medical brigade, that could be sent to the most remote and difficult places, trying of course to avoid any kind of professional jealousy, which I am sure will not exist there. We are not there to compete with anyone. Rather, in an emergency situation, these doctors can go any place to provide a useful service. But, above all, it is a gesture of goodwill, a response.
They called on Friday. They contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday. We replied on Saturday, telling them what we were willing to do. They immediately accepted and yesterday, Sunday, at nine o'clock in the morning, an IL-18 took off. It would be one of the first planes to land there, taking of course the medical team made up of 13 specialists, two tents that can be used as makeshift hospitals, with some instruments, a number of beds, -- 10 to be exact --, the camp beds for our personnel, some equipment and the resources needed to look after patients in that little hospital. There were some resources such as plasma, some medicines; everything required for the little field hospital to function there and look after the victims. It really is not a very great expense. The cost of the medicines sent might be around 40,000 dollars. I am saying this openly. I am not going to hide anything from you.
There will be those who will criticize, those who are unable to understand the fundamental meaning of solidarity (Applause); those who do not understand what it is to have high moral values; those who do not understand the meaning of the example by a country that has just been badly affected by that hurricane which was here longer than anywhere else and then an intense drought and all that the equivalent... That will be the cost, Dotres, will it not? (Dotres replies that the cost is between 40,000 and 50,000). Let's assume that it is 50,000, although this might a be a part of what they send to us.
We are blockaded. We do not have the resources to go and buy goods quickly in Florida, some grain, some items, with minimum transportation costs. Nor are we going to receive credits from any bank, from any of those international institutions.
On the other hand, we have ourselves, an experienced people, a veteran people, a hardened people, an organized people, a protected people. There is the information, name and municipality of the people who died. Not one child, not one adolescent, not one youth! Despite our difficulties and shortages, we sent the aid described to the Dominican Republic, under the responsibility of the Revolution and with your support. (Applause.) That is what counts.
We have provided the gas for the plane, some small equipment that can be used for minor surgery, to care for the people there for a period of time, but very much aware of what it means morally that Cuba is doing that. They are not going to measure it by the volume but by the gesture. And if we are willing to help a country that has suffered greater destruction than we have, I do not think we are merely preaching with words, we are preaching with the example.
We trust the capacity of our specialists who went there and let's hope they can save some lives!
But, their main problem is material, so this is something practically symbolic to which we have to add the expenses in fuel, the plane, the things inside it, the field hospital.
I want you to know that the plane left Havana on Sunday at nine in the morning and the hospital should be set up today, Monday, at the place chosen, in Barahona, not very far from the village of Baní, where Máximo Gómez was born. And, how wonderful it is that we can return some of our blood, from the donations that you in the CDRs promote, a little of our plasma to our Dominican brothers and sisters, to the country where Máximo Gómez was born. (Applause.)
By the way, the Dominican president told me: "Despite everything, I have some good news for you. Your village of Baní sustained minimum damage." Some mountain must have protected it from the force of those winds. On the other hand, Barahona -- where the medical brigade is heading, traveling along the coast from Bani in that direction, near the border with Haiti, which is the place chosen by the Dominican authorities-- suffered tremendously from the hurricane. The Health Minister went to the airport to receive our delegation. They have assigned a deputy minister the task of looking after our brigade and I expect they will do a good job, the value of which is, I repeat, mainly of moral significance and it gives our country the authority to talk about this subject.
I will say something else. There is still Haiti. Well, they are talking about a number of victims, around 100 dead. They are talking about a number of missing people. Maybe a lot of them will add to the list of the dead. They have reported 100 dead cause by the hurricane. Why isnt that country receiving any help? I am asking the international community. When are they going to help that country? And does the international community want to know how many lives could be saved? I take this dramatic occasion of the hurricane to raise this point.
Hurricanes make for good drama, but there is a permanent hurricane over that country, like this one or worse, which is killing every day almost as many people as those killed by the hurricane in a day, and I am talking on the basis of precise and accurate information.
I ask the international community: Do you want to help that country that not long ago experienced an invasion and military intervention? Do you want to save lives? Do you want to show of a humanitarian spirit? Let's talk now about a humane spirit and about the rights of the human being.
We say that we know how 15,000 lives can be saved every year or, in a word, how around 25,000 lives can be saved in Haiti every year. It is known that, every year, 135 children under five years old die for every 1,000 live-births. Again: 135 children under five years old for every 1,000 live-births.
A health program -- we have talked about this with some political leaders who have visited our country -- could save 15,000 of those children and, in a very conservative estimate, a further 10,000 lives of children between 5 and 15 years old and young people and adults can be saved avoiding large expenses.
In the face of this bitter experience, of the damage that country has sustained, which should remind us the prolonged tragedy of that people, why isnt help provided in that sector?
Based on the premise that the government and people of Haiti would gladly accept a significant and crucial assistance in that field, we propose that, if a country like Canada, closely related with Haiti, or a country like France, historically and culturally related with Haiti, or the countries of the European Economic Community, which are moving toward integration and already have the euro, or Japan, if they contributed the medicines, we would contribute the doctors for that program (Applause), all the doctors that may be necessary, even if it means sending a complete graduation year or the equivalent.
This country, with over 60,000 medical doctors, can take pride in saying that it has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. It also has trained doctors anticipating the needs of the Third World, where many of its health professionals have worked. This country has the doctors required by the proposed program.
We met the doctors working in South Africa where it has become evident that language is not a barrier. Our doctors who went to South Africa had to study English and pass a tough exam. There are around 400 there now. Several of then are also working as professors. We know how they are appreciated. Every village is asking for Cuban doctors. They went to villages where English was not spoken. The South African villages where our doctors are do not speak English. But, in a really short time, our doctors adapted to that situation. They are learning the villages dialect and providing an excellent service. So, French or the patois spoken in Haiti, with a little training and some books as they go along, they can learn the terminology needed for them to communicate with the patients. That is not a problem. English is more complicated.
Besides, there is a precedent. Tens and tens of thousands of Haitians, in the first decades of this century, came to Cuba to cut sugar cane and work practically as slaves and language was not an obstacle for them to cut all the cane that was needed by the US companies and those who employed Haitians to exploit them.
It was not necessary to know their language, just as those English speaking or Spanish speaking countries did not need to know the language of the African villages to bring millions and millions of its people to be enslaved and create massive fortunes for their masters.
To heal the sick and to save lives, you do not need prior knowledge of the village language. History has shown this, apart from our recent experience.
In these programs, the hardest thing to obtain is the human personnel and the human personnel we have. I am sure there will be enough of volunteers among our young doctors. I am absolutely certain. (Prolonged applause.) They are doctors who go to the mountains, who go to the countryside and wherever they are needed. They are in the villages of South Africa. (A member of the public tells him: "And blood if it is needed!") (Applause.)
I am taking advantage of this occasion, this moment, when those peoples are still living the trauma of what has happened, to propose undertaking this program to be managed by a United Nations agency, the World Health Organization.
Haiti does not need troops. It does not need invasions with troops. To begin with, Haiti needs invasions of medical doctors. Haiti also needs an invasion of millions of dollars for its development. That is something we do not have but the international institutions have plenty. The World Bank has it, other financial institutions have it and the West has it. They have the capacity to show some kindness. That country is counted among the poorest in the world and certainly the poorest in Latin America, no doubt of that. A small area, an eroded soil, deforested mountains, exhausted fishing zones. It has led to UN agreements and military invasions condoned by the United Nations and carried out by American airborne brigades.
That country does not need airborne brigades. It desperately needs medical brigades. We can supply the medical doctors. Let others send teachers and still others send the essential material for schools, the hospitals infrastructure and for that countrys development. How much longer will it take then?
They cannot say that we are going there to indoctrinate the Haitians, because our doctors have not indoctrinated anybody in the villages of South Africa or in the scores and scores of countries where they have worked, beginning with Algeria at a very early stage. Our doctors went out there. Actually, the first doctors who set out from here went to Algeria, right after independence. And when we had no more than some 3,000 doctors, because they had taken the rest, the Revolution opened up for them the doors to the United States, which wanted to leave our people without any doctors. If it had not been for the Revolution, they would not have given any visas to those who on the day of the triumph where jobless here and without any possibility to go anywhere.
Our medical doctors first internationalist mission was in Algeria. Around 25,000 doctors and health workers have been in scores of countries throughout the world. And, so our proposal stands. We submit it to consideration by the countries or groups of countries I have mentioned, aside from our appeal to them for helping the Dominican Republic and the other islands.
The really critical, critical case is that of Haiti, a very clear case where, with a relatively modest health program, 15,000 children under five years old might be saved, thus reducing infant mortality in that age group to 35 for 1,000 live-births. We have 9.4, almost four times less. The reduction of that figure to less than 20 requires a more sophisticated medicine, but cutting down mortality to 35 or 30 is relatively easy.
How many mothers could be saved from those who die in childbirth? And how many people of whatever age who die of infectious diseases, typical of such poor countries as these, or who die of other perfectly preventable or curable diseases? I made a very conservative estimate and I am now offering to cooperate with the international community so that, every year, no fewer than 25,000 lives can be saved, the vast majority of them children. If that is not done in the world, what will its fate be?
We have the human personnel. It is not an economic cost, it is a human cost. We have the men and women capable of carrying out that program. If they are moved to consider these words, this proposal, they may contact us at any time, so that a study can be immediately undertaken into what needs to be done to save that country and, of course, doctors and medicines are needed.
I hope they understand that we do not want any leading role, since this would all be subordinated to the WHO, and that we are not going to indoctrinate anyone at all. It is difficult to indoctrinate a six months baby or a one, two, three, four, five, six and seven years old in matters related to Marxism-Leninism or theories about communism or political subversion. Our doctors have never done that in the dozens of Third World countries where they have worked and saved countless lives.
Well, if you will give me a little more time, now that I have already covered most of the things I wanted to tell you today, I would like to explain that there is a serious, grave international economic situation. It is there for all to see and they will not be able to blame communism or socialism for that. They will have to blame, from beginning to end, capitalism and its famous market economies well as the world order that they have imposed.
That is why I have brought some materials, from which I would like to quote a few paragraphs on the economic situation. But first, if you will allow me, I am going to read two paragraphs to remind you of our speech at the WTO in Geneva, that young man who spoke here, Rainer, surely knows. This was on 19 May of this year. I became aware of the situation, the euphoria that prevailed there, the things that were brewing. If any of you are interested, this was published in Granma. If you do not have a copy of that Granma, maybe you can find it in a library.
One paragraph, the first that I am going to read you, said: "The United States also has the peculiar privilege of issuing the currency in which the central bank and the commercial bank deposits worldwide keep most of their hard currency reserves. The transnational companies of the nation whose citizens have the lowest saving rates are purchasing the world riches with the money saved by people in other countries and the money printed without the gold backing agreed upon in Bretton Woods, and unilaterally ended in 1971."
And I concluded that statement in the following terms, mind you:
"Despite so much euphoria no one can be sure of how long the United States economic system, ruled by blind laws of the market economy, will be able to prevent a financial meltdown. There are no economic miracles. That is clear now. The absurdly inflated stock values in the stockmarkets of that economy unquestionably the strongest in the world cannot be sustained. In similar situations history is not known to have made exceptions. The problem is that now a big crisis would go global and have unpredictable consequences. Not even the adversaries of the prevailing system could wish that to happen", said I, there.
I then added: "It would be worthwhile for the WTO to assess these risks and include among the so-called 'new issues' another one: 'Global Economic Crisis. What can be done?'"
This was on 19 May. Incidents have been happening at increasingly higher speed.
Three months and 10 days later, on 29 August 1998, a prestigious English magazine, The Economist, which is conservative and traditional, advocate of the system and of all those theories that are very much in vogue, in an article entitled "As bad as it gets?", after affirming in an introductory line "Depending on your definition, a global recession may already have started", it said, among other things:
"The world economy resembles an airplane that has lost two of its four engines, with a third now starting to splutter. (...) The Russian rouble is plunging headlong. Latin America may be the next region to hit trouble. Last but not least, Wall Street continues to wobble..."
And further on: "If Wall Street does crash -- taking with it the world economy -- the blame will doubtless be laid on reckless investment in Asia. But the present fragility of America's stockmarket also has much to do with recklessness at home. Despite its recent falls, Wall street remains expensive by historical standards -- as though investors believed that equities were safer now than they have been for years, which they patently are not."
The problem is that those stockmarkets have exponentially multiplied their value into fabulous sums, exactly, but exactly, the same as in the months before the 1929 crisis. We asked the comrades at the Institute on World Economics to collect all the information and elaborate an analysis. Nothing bears more resemblance to the months prior to the famous 1929 crash, which led to a recession that lasted over 10 years, as what is now happening in the US stockmarkets. It seems like a carbon copy. The only thing is that then a crisis had very serious repercussions, but this one, in a global world, would be much more serious.
Then come other articles, this one also from the same traditional, conservative magazine. We would even like them to send someone to the economists meeting that we will hold in January, in order to discuss these issues in depth. This article is called: "Heading for meltdown?" It is from 5 September and states things such as the following:
"The global economic crisis continues to deepen. The latest horror, Russia's collapse, may be insignificant judged by that economy's puny weight in the world, but it was nonetheless a turning-point: the sickness that started in Asia is spreading still, claiming victims far beyond its source."
And then, under the subheading "Luck and judgment": "For the first time since the early 1980s, global slump is a thinkable, even plausible, outcome (...). Indeed, in some ways, the danger now is greater than it was then." It is not talking yet about the 1929 crisis. It is talking about another previous crisis that was quite serious but which did not have the same calamitous consequences of the one in 1929. "Much of the world is already deep in recession;" -- the article continues to say -- "the chances are that the worst is not yet over for many big emerging-market economies (...), not to mention for a handful of rich-country commodity producers, whose export revenues have crashed."
That is a phenomenon, present today, that also preceded other crises and preceded the one in 1929, the collapse of basic commodity prices. This means, among many others, coffee, cacao, minerals, aluminum, copper, zinc, nickel, this little part affects us. Nickel is at half the price it was a few years ago, barely recouping costs at the plant. Of course, the price of oil, another basic commodity in many countries, has also dropped quite a bit. Oil producers are making desperate maneuvers to try to raise prices.
"... Mid-week," the article continues, "Wall Street stood some 15% lower than at its peak in July. Yet at these prices American equities are still dear." That is the problem, extremely high. "If the market were to fall another 20%, say, the shock to American consumers might be enough to bring the country's long expansion to an end. With it would go any hope that the United States could pull the world out of its troubles."
I have only read some paragraphs.
Another article appeared on the same day in the same magazine -- "On the edge", it is called. It reads: "The risks of a deep global recession are increasing." It then adds: "... The world economy has become far more dangerously poised even during the past month, let alone over the past year. At the annual meeting of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, over the weekend, some central bankers were privately admitting that these are the worst global economic conditions they have seen in their lifetime."
It goes on to say: "... Japan and most of the rest of East Asia is in deep recession. GDP is expected to fall by as much as 15% in Indonesia this year, and by 6-7% in South Korea and Thailand. Russia's government has, in effect, defaulted on its debt; its economic predicament worsens by the day. China may yet respond to the sharp slowdown in its economy by devaluing its exchange rate, and the Hong Kong dollar is under severe pressure. Latin America still teeters on the brink."
"Even some developed economies, such as Britain's and Canada's, are slowing. And Wall Street has fallen sharply from its peak. Indeed, tumbling share prices have wiped almost $4 trillion off the world's financial wealth over the past two months -- the equivalent of Japan's GDP." That is, in only two months, the world's financial wealth has dropped by almost four trillion dollars as a result of a fall in stock values. Such wealth, measured in terms of stock values, has its ups and downs. But that is the trend that has become very much apparent: it has already lost four trillion dollars, what we would call in Spanish billones but, in English, four trillion dollars. In how much time? Two months.
When did we raise this prospect? On 19 May. We had already begun raising it before then, but not in an international organization where there were ministers of economy or trade from every country member of WTO. Of course, euphoria reigned then and there. Now, it is not simply what I said. The most prestigious advocate of the system are now saying it.
The Economist continues stating in the article what we have been commenting on: "World output grew at an average of 4% in 1996 and 1997, but J.P. Morgan, an American bank, now forecasts growth of a mere 1.5% this year and 1.7% next." And it continues: "But if the [predictions] turn out correct, this would be the same growth over the two years as in 1981-82, the world economy's worst 'recession' since the 1930s." That was the worst recession since the 1930s.
Further on, it reads: "Russia's implosion has triggered a new phase in the emerging-market crisis. Its economy accounts for a mere 2% of world output, so its direct impact on world trade and output is tiny. But the indirect effects -- through commodity markets, investors' confidence, the cost of capital -- are proving far bigger. Coming on top of other financial troubles, Russia's plight could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
"The sickness has spread far and wide: to Eastern Europe, South Africa and Latin America. Venezuela may soon be forced to devalue its currency. Brazil's economy is not in such a bad shape as Russia's, but there are some nasty similarities, not least a big budget deficit (7% of GDP). Brazil has suffered a heavy capital outflow in recent weeks."
"... The prices of industrial commodities are now at their lowest in real terms since the 1930s." These commodities that are mentioned more than once are the main exports of the Third World countries, although some of them, like certain minerals, are also exported to some developed countries. "This has severely hurt commodity producers, not just in Latin America and Africa, but also in Australia and Canada." In other words, the conditions are ripe.
"The bubble bursts."
"Perhaps the scariest fallout from the latest turmoil in Russia has been the fall in Wall Street and other developed markets. Despite a midweek rally, the Dow Jones Industrial Average" -- this is an index that they have for measuring how the New York Stock Exchange is performing -- "is still down by 17% from its peak, wiping out all this year's gains..."
"But the biggest risk to the American economy is not a slowdown in exports, but a further big fall in its stockmarket."
It also says: "... it is unlikely to turn into anything like a 1930s-style depression, when America's GDP fell by 30% over three years. There are many similarities between now and the late 1920s, such as falling commodity prices and a overvalued stockmarket." They then explain some arguments, some differences between both periods. It says, for example, in the first place, that countries used the gold standard and it was consequently more difficult to ease monetary policy. This is an argument they give, not on their own account but invoking a well-known economist.
They put it as follows: "... This restricted their ability to ease monetary policy as economies went into recession after the Wall Street crash of 1929."
"Second, governments compounded their tight-money mistake with tight fiscal policies, even in the depth of the depression." It adds other arguments: "Rather than allowing taxes to fall automatically as income declined, the Americans raised taxes..."
It adds: "Not only do governments have a better understanding of macroeconomics today, but now that public spending takes a much bigger share of GDP, their ability to stabilize demand is greater."
"The third difference between today and the 1930s is that there were no global organizations such as the G7 or the IMF to oversee the world economy. The IMF was set up in 1944 at the instigation of the Americans to head off any future global economic collapse ... [and] to provide temporary financial assistance to countries with balance-of-payments problems."
The fact of the matter is that today the whole world has practically rebelled against the International Monetary Fund. They are starting to blame it for all the disasters that are taking place. You would have to see the number of articles published by the analysts in these specialized magazines. These magazines are practically the last word on matters relating to economics and on what is happening there. Other magazines with a different editorial line are even more critical.
I have been reading paragraphs from a magazine that would be the last to say things that might involve an anti-capitalist idea. The last argument indicated lists some supposed advantages nowadays as compared to 1929. We see the system's leaders coming up with different things in order to avoid the worst. As we have said to some friends of ours, they are terrified that the crisis might go from Russia to Brazil and from Brazil to the rest of Latin America.
They analyze the conditions in Brazil, with a high budget deficit, a high deficit too in its current account, an overvalued currency, as they put it.
We had the opportunity to visit Brazil and talk for many hours with the president of that enormous country about all these issues. It was a very interesting exchange of impressions. I will not be committing any indiscretion if I tell you that we have seen Brazil making great efforts to stop the crisis, adopting drastic measures in order to try to prevent and avoid an unfavorable economic outcome.
What have they done to avoid a sudden capital outflow, to avoid devaluation of their currency and to keep their reserves? They have considerably increased the interest rate. At the moment, it is around 50%. So anybody who has money deposited there will reason: Well, that is better, with interest at 50%, instead of taking my money out, I will keep it in the country, making high profits. An interest of 50% a year represents a considerable benefit for investors but, at the same time, a high cost for the economy, the operating capital and the national investment.
The president explained to me how, even in agriculture, the interest rate is different. It was around 8% or 9%. They were keeping it lower protecting it in some way. They were likewise protecting, as far as possible, the export industries because, with such a high interest rate, the aim of which is to protect the country from the actions by speculators, no industry in the world can be competitive.
He explained how, on the other hand, they were maintaining high interest rates for non-essential or, rather, luxury production. They explained to us, at length, a lot of things, their points of view, so we had a chance to learn and, at the same time, exchange views. They have made additional efforts in recent days, tough measures to reduce the budget deficit, on the eve of elections that will be held in a few days.
Of course, the United States is very worried that the crisis might spread to Brazil. This is an advantage for the Brazilians and the South Americans in general, because the United States considers them to be almost the last defense. All the other defenses have started collapsing and a crisis in Brazil would have grave consequences for all of Latin America.
What happens then in the New York Stock Exchange? Its time, its turn would come. It is to be expected that, strategically, they would try to defend themselves in South America and find some money to support their finances. Of course, the International Monetary Fund does not have funds.
There remain the problems in Southeast Asia. And nobody knows at this point how the problem of Russia will be solved. Well, I believe that Russia would need 100 billion and, in the United States, the Congress has opposed this in some way. It is putting up resistance to the handover of some 22 billion dollars. Look, 22 billion in Russia is a drop of water in the ocean.
In all probability, the Americans will take refuge in South America, for their own interests, not for South America because, otherwise, the relapse of the crisis would reach as far as Mexico again and the Latin American stockmarkets -- all of them -- are already at 50% of the values that they had reached before. I do not think that it would have such a catastrophic effect on the region, because they are smaller stockmarkets, they do not have the tremendous weight of the stockmarkets in the United States.
The stocks value in the United States is enormous. However, their present or, rather, their former value has already dropped, the article says that by 17% of the maximum value. Of course, they say that an additional drop of 15% or 20% would have dreadful consequences.
Observe that in the US stockmarkets, stockholders have won 9 trillion dollars in four years. Can you even imagine such a figure? The wealth of the stockholders has grown by that amount. However in 1929, only 5% of the US citizens owned stocks, perhaps less, but never more than 5%. Today, all of the insurance banks and all of the social security funds, all the savings of the middle class an even many of the workers have deposited money in insurance banks, where they accrue enormous sums of money which, to a great extent, have been invested in these stocks.
All this increased the expenditures: the greater the available wealth, due to the rise of the stocks value, the more they spent. This is what they called a virtuous circle, which is beginning to transform into a vicious circle. And why virtuous? Because, by artificially multiplying their wealth and expenses, buying more and more within and outside the United States, investing in everything and everywhere, they stepped up production and services and consequently lowered unemployment and increased the Gross Domestic Product. They have other mechanisms but I shall not go into details.
In substance, since they had more money, they began to buy like madmen. Everyone who owned a car would change it for a new one, and if it was worth $15 000 they would buy one for $20 000, and they would also buy yachts, etc. Spending money on everything under the sun. With a domestic market of 270 million people, the weight of 50% of the stockholders at the stock market has a stronger bearing on the demand for goods and services.
The problems with the balance of payment are no problems for them. That is paid with Treasury bonds. The United States is the only country in the world which can afford to have a 100 to 200 billion dollar commercial deficit and yet buy all the raw material it wants. The only country in the world, among other reasons because there is no longer a gold standard and the banknotes and bonds of that country have become everybodys reserve currency and securities.
When there was a gold standard, any person with dollars could get the gold that the bill was worth, and some were getting it. However, during the Vietnam war, the United States lost two thirds of the gold that it had accumulated after World War II. It was then that it suspended the gold standard, that is, the right of anyone with a dollar to demand the gold. But the world moves on, and it had no other alternative but to use that paper as a universal instrument of exchange and reserve currency.
Furthermore, many people deposit their money in US banks. The Japanese are the ones who have deposited the most or acquired Treasury Bonds, thus preserving a certain interest rate. When shareholders are frightened and panic breaks out, they sell their shares and stop buying gold. They also buy US Treasury Bonds which have traditionally maintained their reserve. They have managed to do it, based on the huge benefits derived from the two World Wars. They became immensely rich. They only became involved at the end of both wars, did not suffer any material damage, accumulated great wealth and achieved considerable economic development.
At the end of World War II, it was the only country that had remained intact; Japan did not exist, the USSR was destroyed; England, France and Germany were also destroyed and all the other countries were penniless. There was only one rich and industrialized country, perhaps Sweden also, because even in Norway there was a destructive war. They had hoarded practically all the gold in the world; the bills they printed circulated universally for their value in gold. They could print bills as long as they had gold. They unilaterally suspended the dollar conversion into gold. It was a trap, the world had been robbed.
Then the value of gold increased tremendously, immediately. They artificially kept it at a low price. They would buy whenever the price of gold was about to fall. When it was about to go up, they sold gold from their enormous reserves and kept the price at approximately 35 dollars an ounce. Then they suppressed the conversion and a boom in oil prices occurred.
The price of an ounce of gold reached more than 400 dollars. They still had approximately 10 billion in gold, and the price of that gold grew tremendously, at least 10 times. The gold standard ceased to exist and there were no more limits. They would print Treasury Bonds with a certain interest rate for a certain number of years. They preserved the tradition of those bonds which were the safest securities in the market. This is where investors who sell their stocks in times of uncertainty and panic seek refuge. They sell but they do not buy stocks elsewhere, only Treasury bonds. Therefore, they have all the money they need to pay for any budget deficit or a deficit in the balance of payment.
Not now. Now, with the progress this has enabled them to make in the economy they have more or less balanced the budget, not so the balance of trade whose deficit grows. They must pay huge amounts of money for their imports, more than what they get for their exports. That is the mechanism.
This way, stock holders have earned 9 trillion and they have spent according to what they have earned, as they watch their stock values rise. Because if you have 100,000 dollars and all of a sudden your stocks are worth 200,000, you say. Oh! why should I save? I will buy everything I want so you end up buying a yacht or even a plane. All of this boosted, as I said, the growth of the economy; it boosted employment, everything was great, an exclusive benefit, an exclusive privilege of theirs. That is why they have bought, well, no one knows... They have almost bought the whole world!
That is why the Europeans want to integrate, in order to survive. They want to have a strong currency so that these tricks can not be played on them, so that part of the reserves in central banks are made up of euros. And it is good for the world that there should be another currency. I wish there were others, two, three more, strong ones, because today the whole world depends on the dollar. It is the main, almost unique, reserve currency. They print paper, buy things, and an important part of that paper is put away by other countries in their reserves.
In other words, they have had a very privileged situation. Stocks multiplied their value with all the support of an economy growing at a steady rate for a relative long period of time; the unemployment rate that was dropping. Inflation, the other enemy they fear like hell did not increase. On the contrary, the price of products from Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and all those countries have dropped after their currencies were devalued. This contributed to keeping inflation down. But Aladdin's lamp begins to lose its magic power to do wonders.
The great discussion on the US Federal Reserve interest rates --I have already talked about what it meant for Brazil--, reflects deep contradictions. If they raise the interests rates, they worsen the situation of all the weakened currencies and the economies of Southeast Asia, Japan, Russia and increase the risks for Brazil, South America and other countries.
What is everybody demanding now? "Hey, please lower the interest rates, lower them." But they are trying to carefully manage the situation, because if they lower the rates too much, everybody begins asking for loans to buy and spend, and loans to invest. This can bring about an excess of circulating cash which can immediately turn into inflation.
I was telling you what the Brazilians do with the interest rate to avoid the capital outflow and keep their reserves. But they can not maintain a 50% rate for too long, despite the exceptions mentioned for agriculture and the exporting sectors, because all of the working capital of the other industries and services must pay a 50% annual interest rate, and what industry has high enough profits to pay a 50% interest rate? In other words, they would bring the economy to a standstill. Loans cost a lot more.
For a time, they can hold back the panic and the capital outflow, keep people from exchanging the national currency into dollars. Because the exchange of currency there is free. They can exchange it and take it out of the country. But, on the other hand, that mechanism is a double-edged sword, it halts the economy and creates an unsustainable situation. They can not maintain it for long. These are the mechanisms they have been using to defend themselves, to avoid losing all of their reserve in hard currency.
In August, Brazil lost billions, I do not remember if 10 to 15 billion of its reserves, just in August and early September. They had been able to accumulate those reserves and they had managed to do so with great hardships and, partly, by privatizing enterprises. There was a telephone company that they privatized which gave them 18 billion. It was an important income, but it was lost in a few days defending the national currency from speculation. They have had to take new, strict measures. The Brazilians are struggling, they are defending their currency, but there is no doubt that they are going to need income from abroad. How much will it be? Well, no one knows exactly.
They offered Mexico -- in this case being a close neighbor of the United States was an advantage -- up to 50 billion. But when the crisis reached Southeast Asia and then Korea, their favorite international financial institutions had no funds left. So, now they are terrified with that spreading fire.
I think they will make an effort. It is clearly seen that a good place to entrench themselves is Latin America, to keep the fire from reaching their own premises.
Contrary to the Latin American stockmarkets, those in the United States have a huge economic weight, because colossal funds are invested in them. I have already told you that in the last four years they had earned 9 trillion dollars, although they must start deducting now.
I have already told you about the article which affirmed that putting all the stockmarkets together, the world had lost almost four trillion dollars in only two months. That is, not only the United States, part of these losses are theirs, when the value of their stockmarket shares fell 17% from its highest point, according to the last of the articles referred to. Do you understand?
Forgive me for going into details this way, but I am trying to make you understand these mechanisms and how the collapse can take place.
So now they are putting out the fire. The one in Russia... I think they have given up from trying to put out the fire in Russia. This is very serious because of its implications, including political ones. I think they will try to entrench themselves in Brazil and in South America, trying to prevent a disaster like that one in Southeast Asia. Then the fire will inevitably reach them, and it might happen like in 1982, or worse yet, like in 1929, or even worse than in 1929, despite their IMF, their World Bank and all the tricks they have been devising.
To be sure, since the great experience of the 1929 crisis and the recession that lasted 10 years, in which the country's GDP dropped to 30%, unemployment rose to incredible heights; it seemed as if capitalism would meet its end at the time. Then came Roosevelt, another formula, and they barely saved it in ten years. But it might be worse now, because this world is global.
They have to analyze well what consequences it would have within the United States for that 50% of Americans who have their social security money and their savings in those stocks, if the stocks drop to one half or one third of their value.
That had never happened before. When the great crisis of 1929, the number of people who owned stocks was very small. Its effect, however, was disastrous. What would it be like now when half of that country plus those with the most resources have their wealth invested in the stockmarket? The fellow who lives under the bridge has no stocks in the stock market (Laughter). The big transnationals, the big industrial tycoons, the middle class, many professionals, high-income workers, they are the ones who invest. Anyone who has some money, on seeing that values have been rising like foam --and that is where the danger lies--, invests there, and encounters these problems which are typical of a capitalist society, typical of a market economy. No one can control that.
There are already a lot of people stating the advisability of having the State regulate this some way, or regulate the operations, the capitals that come on a short term basis and then go. That is against neoliberalism, against everything it has been doing and preaching. Yet, they are beginning to speak with growing energy against allowing the free stocks of those short-term capitals, and other types of regulations the absolute freedom that financial capital enjoys today.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia, who also visited us, has been concerned about this matter for a long time. He has just suppressed the free exchange of currencies, taken a series of measures and is entrenched defending his country's economy, although it has declined due to the devastating blow it received. He told me that the work and the accumulated wealth of 40 years could be lost in two weeks.
All countries are exposed to this. Not a single one can escape. That is why Europe is uniting. No European country alone can escape that enormous power accumulated by the United States. The Europeans are seeking for a market of hundreds of millions of people. The United States has a domestic market of no less than 270 million, a very big market. A small country can only have a market of 10 million no matter how industrialized it may be. They are all uniting in Europe, the 15 countries of the Union, amounting to some three hundred odd or four hundred million people. They aspire to incorporate more countries in the future to keep safe from the monster, but it can almost be said that the monster is fatally wounded. It is an unsustainable system that is nearing that crisis, as I have explained here.
They still have hopes and the capacity to maneuver, and they have been devising formulas since the 1929 crisis, to prevent something similar from happening. A not too serious one occurred in 1982, but the one that is coming now, based on the premises I have indicated, could be much worse.
Besides, they have been too divided in the United States itself. The Administration has advisors and acts somewhat more skillfully defending the economic interests of the empire. But the rest are at war with it, with the support of the majority in the Senate and the House, and have not adopted the fast-track for the agreements with which the Administration wants to tie the Latin American and Caribbean countries to the empire's economic interests.
They are putting up a great resistance against the government to increase a little the funds of the IMF, but even if they were to give them the 15 billion or 18 billion for the IMF --I think they had already given 3 billion--, it is just a drop of water in the desert and it would be difficult to even suppose that they might try to save Russia, instead of entrenching themselves in the last stronghold they have left: South America. But, it may so happen that even while they are entrenched, the problems continue to grow and to worsen, because what we are seeing here is a congenital disease of the system.
I have not finished, I have still a little more to say. If you are patient enough... Yes, I have been talking for a while, but it is worth it. Do you want to know how our friend Russia is faring? Are you interested? (People exclaim: "Yes!") Very well, I am going to read some paragraphs of articles that have appeared in the capitalist press specialized in economic issues. In this case, they are from the same British magazine I already mentioned.
This one is entitled Russia devalued. Remember that they are the same analysts who applauded time and again, from the perestroika to neoliberalism, privatizations and market economy as the great miracle to improve the economy and the life in that country, where, as you know, and those of you who studied there know it even better, with a rouble you could have breakfast, lunch, dinner and you still had some money left, with a rouble!.
Afterwards the rate was 6,000 roubles to a dollar. Now, in order to work better with the figures, they took away three zeros, and they established a new rouble equal to 6 dollars. Once again it had to be devalued and, instead of 6, it is now quoted at approximately 18 per dollar. And this also changes every day. People there have lost their money twice.
When they had the first devaluation, everyone who had some money saved, mark my words, everyone who had money in the bank or anywhere else lost it! Because if you have a certain amount of roubles and the rouble is suddenly or gradually devalued sixthousandfold, if you had 6,000 roubles for example, each more or less equal to a dollar, as to purchasing power, you would see those 6,000 roubles turned into a dollar.
Look how different from what was done in Cuba. When there was a change of currency at the beginning of the revolutionary process, the money in the banks was never touched, and recently, when we took all those measures to reduce the excess circulating cash, we did not touch the money in the banks either.
The money of all of those who trusted the banks and kept their money there --some who had a little bit, some who had a little more and some who had a whole lot; some, who had accounts in different banks, just in case, based on previous experiences, all the money was respected. Even those who accumulate quite a lot were able to keep their money. Of course, there are many decent, honest people among them. I know very hard-working, honest farmers, who without the agricultural market or anything like it have accumulated 300,000; 400,000 or 500,000 pesos, because they had very high yields. Ten thousand quintals of potatoes brought 40,000 or 50,000 pesos per year, and they put that money in the bank. There are those who earned their money that way. Others, as you know, earned it either selling at very high prices or one way or another.
But, what occurred in Cuba with so much circulating cash, after the special period set in? We held discussions in the National Assembly, we held discussions everywhere, but we did not touch the money in the banks, there was no change of currency. Those who had that money could use it to buy the things they buy from the quota assigned to them, although, right now, unfortunately, in more reduced quantities, as I have explained, at the historic, subsidized prices.
Cuban money can be used to go to a movie and to many recreational activities. Medicines, building materials, electricity, telephone services, rent, sport functions and whatever else the population is entitled to in many other fields, goods and services, are all paid in Cuban pesos. There are important, vital services that do not even need the peso to pay for them, they are absolutely free. The measures were taken for the people and, naturally, its national currency continued to have the same value in relation to all these things.
At a point in time, those who engaged in exchanging currency were able to get 150 pesos for a dollar, but thanks to the measures taken by the Revolution in every respect, all the measures we have talked about --some of which have brought us the problems we have analyzed-- and, with a certain recovery of our economy -- which is not much, we still have not climbed back to 1989 level, and some time will pass before we do--, the fact is that without fuel, without timber, without raw materials, without all of those resources that Russia so abundantly has, we did not touch the peso and everyone's trust in the banks was preserved, for that is where the money is most safely kept. But what is more incredible: a revaluation of the peso in relation to the dollar, from 150 to 19, 20, 21, 22 or 23, in the exchange bureaus.
So our peso, and all the pesos of those who had money in the bank or elsewhere, was simply revalued. The exchange bureaus bring in a little money, they control, they regulate. If the demand for dollars increases, they raise the price of the dollar. They always guarantee some income, but that was what the speculators who engaged in those dealings, exchanging dollars and pesos, used to earn. And there is a certain amount of income, not much. Do not think it is much, but it solves some problems and some needs. Do you know what the profits obtained in the exchange bureaus are used for? They are totally handed over to the Ministry of Domestic Trade, for some products or others, or the raw materials to manufacture them, even some that are sold in the parallel markets. Well, yes, they are expensive, we know that. They have this to meet certain needs and, at the same time, to collect circulating cash in order to maintain the best possible balance between wages and prices, between pesos and dollars. So those exchange bureaus give the country an additional benefit. In this case, the old saying that the bank never loses is confirmed.
But if we start letting money go into circulation again then we will be back in the same hapless situation. When the peso is devalued so are the salaries. Because even if someone earns, let's say, 200 pesos, if he wants to buy a dollar some day to spend it in one of those shops, he has the possibility to get that dollar, it costs him 20 pesos. If the exchange rate climbs to 50 or 100 dollars per peso, he does not have that possibility.
Notice that this country has revalued the peso, the national currency. This has not happened anywhere else, only through the measures implemented and thanks to our socialist system, despite being under a severe blockade and under the conditions of the special period.
But over there, in Russia, a person who had 6,000 rubles was left with only one dollar. Now, with the new ruble, a person who had 10,000 --there are some over there who make that much in half a minute-- or, let us say, 6,000, would have the equivalent of 1,000 dollars; when the ruble is quoted at 12, he has the equivalent of 500 dollars, when it is quoted at 18, he has the equivalent of 300 and some odd dollars, and when it is quoted at 20 and at even more, as it has been the case, what he has left is 300 dollars or less. In a matter of days the worker loses what he has saved from his salary, that is, in the event that they are paying his salary. The nouveaux riches, of course, do not suffer at all; they have their money safe abroad, converted into dollars and into large, luxurious mansions.
Concerning this Russian crisis that they are talking about --bear in mind that I was reading a paragraph written in late August, it is said that the turning point in the global crisis that is so seriously affecting the world economy begins with the recent Russian financial crisis. That is the thesis advanced. In Russia, the State was confiscated by all of those gentlemen who had the West's absolute trust, by those who applied all the recipes of the West, by those who privatized everything. And it was "Oh, happy West!", "how marvelous!", "that country is really going to develop!", "what profitable investment we are going to make there!". And they gave them loans for tens of billions of dollars.
But, the fall of production in Russia led them to dump into the market all the nickel they had accumulated, we know very well how much that cost us. The Rotterdam docks were full of nickel, and all the copper, all the minerals they could hold, and that has a lot to do with the so-called commodities. That is why the article said that Russia, although it represents only 2% of the world economy, being a great producer of nickel and of all sorts of raw material, unable to use those items in its production, which fell more than 50% in relation to what it produced in 1989 and 1990, dumped them all into the world market.
They said that a bigger economic catastrophe would make them dump everything they have left into the commodities market, reducing these prices even further. This is one of the factors they consider would increase the dangers of a big recession. They mentioned two factors in the article I read: the drop in commodity prices and the overvalued stocks in the US stockmarkets. That is why they say that although Russia represents only 2% of the world economy, it has a lot of influence, this, without dwelling in other more worrying, serious dangers, just the economic. But well that catastrophe has come about and now they have no money, the reserves are depleted, because everybody rushed to exchange their rubles for dollars, which is what usually happens, and they inevitably had to suspend the exchange of rubles for dollars. That alone was a sacrilegious violation of all the IMF rules. They had already negotiated a loan of around 22 billion dollars with this institution, with the help of the West, the United States, everybody, but under very strict rules and conditions.
What is this about suspending the free exchange of currency? It is a sacrilege, they no longer have the free exchange of currency. They suspended their debt payment, another serious sacrilege. How can that be accepted by the IMF or the World Bank or the United States, who is the owner of all that. That business is managed by the United States. It owns 17% of shares in the IMF and has a similar participation in the World Bank. Power of veto: with 15% it can veto any agreement. They decide all that the IMF and the World Bank approve. The Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, the World Bank and the IMF meet and decide what they are going to do. Well, they were scared because of what was happening in Russia, to which they had offered 22 billion. The situation there was really in bad shape, because they suspended the debt payments, the free exchange of currency and they even spoke about printing money to pay salaries.
The shops began to empty. Before that, everybody had made a run on the banks to change rubles for dollars. The reserve, which was not very high, 14 or 15 billion, was rapidly disappearing. They stopped, they suspended the free exchange.
In other words, when everybody ran to exchange their rubles for dollars, that type of operation was halted. They also stopped the foreign debt payments. There was no hard currency for that, and they could not exhaust what little they had left. Everything that they have done goes against the rules and conditions set by those institutions, which then decided not to hand over the 22 billion.
Now, the gentlemen from the West are so stupid that they are liable not to give them that money. The consequences would be still worse, and they would not only be economic consequences, they would be political and security consequences. It would seem, I have already said it, as if they had given up on saving that country. You can imagine how worried they are, putting more and more pressure, saying no, that they will give the money only if all those methods are strictly applied, to wit: free convertibility, debt payment, levying of taxes, and so on, and so forth.
Over there, more than half of the existing taxes are not collected, and the big enterprises of the multimillionaires that confiscated the State with the West's support do not pay taxes. They bought the major media, the main radio and television networks.
Just look at the freedom of the press that the West has obtained!, and the freedom it defends! The people lost the media, now they are in the hands of the large groups of multimillionaires who confiscated the State. They became owners of the big oil and gas enterprises, of any export item. They took over the main industries. They bought the most powerful media. Such and such a group has such and such networks, such and such a group has such others, all these names are available. Someone can write an article to explain this better, with more time available and giving more details. So, many of the most important media are in their hands. They are the ones in charge, and that is that. They publish what they want published and nothing else. They own the main sectors of industry, they own the media and also the banks.
Just look how well the banking business was doing, that they established up to 4,000 banks. What did some of these banks do? Many Russians confidently went to deposit their money in those banks and many of those banks declared themselves bankrupt and stole the depositors' money, as simple and unpunished as that. They exchanged the money for dollars and took it away. In other words, many Russians have been swindled by many of those banks which are in the hands of the mafia. Market economy in its purest form.
There is something called the mafia, resulting from all of those reforms that the West so cherishes, defends and glorifies. Now nobody wants to invest because the mafia has taken over everything. I hope that does not happen to you in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, that we do not make the big mistakes that facilitate such things. We are fighting against those who steal in houses or stores. Very well! Over there they robbed the riches of the socialist State. They invented different mechanisms --I will not go into that -- in order to do it. They even gave out some bonds, the bonds were immediately devalued, then they bought the bonds and they took over the enterprises. It was all very democratic. They gave out part of the bonds to the workers, but soon those bonds were not worth a single penny, they were devalued. These guys came around, bought them, and that is that; they are the owners of big banks, big enterprises, all of that. They do not pay taxes.
What have they done with the money? The West does not speak of this. Oh, no!, they hardly talk of it, or do not mention it. Every now and then, they feel ashamed and they talk about it in some small paragraphs. But the fact is that, since they established that model, from 200 to 500 billion dollars have fled Russia. This is something that must be known.
With the free exchange of currency, everyone who could exchange currency did so; feeling unsafe in such situation, they exchanged it, and sent their money to the Scandinavian countries, to all of Europe. In Spain alone, the wealthy Russians had 60,000 mansions, and they have others in southern France, no one knows how many they have in Austria, in all of Europe in the Scandinavian countries. In Cyprus, a small country, they have a lot of banks and other things. They are experts in confiscating the State assets, experts in getting money out of the country.
Notice the figure, a minimum of 200 billion and a maximum of 500 billion. Let's say it is 250 or 300 billion. Who can withstand that? How can they pay the teachers, the doctors, the scientists, the workers, the army, the missile operators, the pilots? Even those who are orbiting in outer space have been left without a budget, without a budget for the spaceship that has to go fetch them.
The strategic missiles operators based in Krasnoyarsk had not been paid for 5 months. It was so serious that a General of those who were in Afghanistan, whose mindset is still unknown, who is a mystery, but what is clearly seen is that he wants to run for president, that he won the elections in Krasnoyarsk because people are desperate, he is the one who negotiated peace in Chechnya. A few days after he took over as governor, he wrote a letter to the former prime minister, the one they had appointed, asking him to put under his jurisdiction the strategic missiles based in Krasnoyarsk, because he could at least give those people food and clothing.
Just notice what kind of order, what level of discipline is left, that the governor of Krasnoyarsk writes asking to put under his jurisdiction the strategic missiles of the region: a region turned into a big nuclear power. Meanwhile, the operators there are not paid. It is the last thing a government can do, leave the strategic missiles operators unpaid, something terribly dangerous. But this gives you an idea of the situation there.
The army has not been paid for months, only an elite division of the Ministry of the Interior, with very high salaries, that the government, in this case we have to say the presidency, has there as a reserve, an elite division. They were not paying the army. The first thing done by the new prime minister, formerly the minister of foreign affairs, was to hold a meeting with all the military and order that the army be paid.
But, where its the money for that? They said: "Let's print it." So the third big fight with all those international agencies broke out. Print? "No, that is utter madness, absurd, you can not print, for such and such a reason."
Then they were demanding that they cut down the budget. That budget can not be cut any further. What is it they want, that the strategic missiles operators do not get paid for a year, that nobody gets paid for a year? How much longer? And the coal miners and the others how much longer? if they are bringing to a halt the trains on the Siberian railroad. How?
The new government has a very hard task ahead. He is, undoubtedly, an earnest man, a competent man, but he is facing a almost impossible problem.
Some have spoken about rationing, some have spoken about renouncing all those funds, promises that will not solve anything. It has created a frightening situation, there is fear everywhere, because no one knows what might happen in that country under such circumstances. But they can not comply with the conditions demanded by the IMF to give them the 22 billion. They can not, it is impossible.
Everybody who has a ruble left runs to the bank and exchanges it, takes it away. But, as I have told you, the West did not say anything and is not saying anything. You can not see any of that in these articles, the hundreds of billions that fled that country thanks to those mechanisms that have destroyed the country. The Russian population has declined, the situation is catastrophic, not even money works anymore. There are whole towns living exclusively on bartering. Those who produce coal give others coal for the winter winter is coming now-- in exchange for agricultural produce. What is functioning in Russia today is the barter of goods rather than the use of money.
How can the new government, irrespective of its competence, its earnestness, find a way out of this situation? This man was minister of foreign affairs, he once visited Cuba. He is a man who everyone respects over there. But what is he to do now? Should he accept the IMF's conditions? Who are they going to collect taxes from, how are they going to pay, how are they going to cut the budgets when they are at their lowest? How? How are they going to pay all those people? Well, should there be a rationing of goods? Of course, that would be the most fair and logical thing to do. That would make them stronger, of course. I am not recommending them anything, we stay out of that. I am simply analyzing the situation.
Well, I have told you that the people ran to exchange their rubles for dollars. When the free exchange was stopped, they ran to the shops to buy, without limits, all the goods they could find there, while they lasted. The small time shopkeepers must have made a lot of money, because they must have raised the prices, when the caravan was stopped, the exchange of rubles for dollars was stopped, everyone who had one of those pieces of paper went to the shops to buy what they could find and the shops began to empty. How do you cope with a situation like this? Can they avoid rationing even if they are given the money? But if they are given the money, they cannot do any rationing or print any bills or any of those things, and they have to pay the debts and they have to cut the budget.
At a very difficult moment, the government has been placed in a very difficult position. That is the predicament right now in Russia and they are between the devil and the deep blue sea. Let us hope that the devil goes by without doing very much harm, but the truth is that they are in that very tight fix. We read about that situation every day.
Did I make all this up? No, allow me, at least, to demonstrate that I did not make it up. The article I mentioned at the beginning of this topic states, among other things:
"It has not been a good week for Russia. The bundle of measures thrown to the financial wolves on Monday amounts to the end, for the time being at least, of all prospects of further economic reform". They are still talking about economic reforms, a larger dose of that poison as a remedy. "It may also mark the start of a political degeneration that sees the country slide towards nationalism, autocracy or something nastier. It consigns to the dust bin the last boast of the government's battered reformers, that their policies at least brought currency stability and steady prices"
"...They have been imposed, it should be remembered, only four weeks after the IMF and other foreign lenders agreed on $23 billion-worth of props for the Russian economy, and only three days after pledges from Mr. Yeltsin that there would be no devaluation and vows from his ministers that all debts would be honored. What went wrong?"
"The short answer is that much of the lending has gone not to guarantee the deposits of deserving savers, nor even to pay the pensions of impoverished old folks or the wages of unpaid miners."
"The danger is that the loss of confidence will continue. If so, the ruble -- supposedly freed to float, but in reality to sink-- could merely gurgle on downward, the banks could be besieged by depositors large and small and, if no more credit from abroad is forthcoming, the government could be tempted to resort to the printing press to meet their demands. That is the road to hyperinflation, which Russians experienced as recently as 1992 (when, in December, year-on-year inflation reached 2,500%), by which time they had seen their savings vaporized." They have lost their savings twice during this period.
"...Russians had plenty to complain about: a government so incompetent at collecting taxes that it could provide few services; a payments system so constipated that soldiers, miners, teachers and a host of other workers went without wages; appalling living standards even for those in work; ill-equipped hospitals, overcrowded prisons..."
"If lending is now to resume, it must only be on the strictest of terms". They are recommending it, in this case the magazine is. "That should mean explicit conditions about what the money is to be used for --for instance, to guarantee small deposits in commercial banks. It should also mean stern supervision of how it is spent, preferably by appointing foreigners to run the banks in question.". In other words, the intervention of the banks, so that they can be managed by foreigners. Look at this: "Similar oversight over the tax and customs service will have to be imposed if any support is to be given to the balance of payment." The method used by the United States in the Dominican Republic in the second decade of this century but to collect taxes: the intervention of customs.
"And if the Russians say no? Or, just as likely; say yes but mean no? Then the West should also say no. The West has an interest in promoting democracy and market economics in Russia, though it stands to lose much less than the Russians themselves if these concepts fail to take root." It says that the Russians would stand to lose more.
"It also has an interest in seeing a country that remains infested with nuclear weapons peaceful and non-belligerent. But it would be wrong to assume that it is in the West's power to bring all this about, certainly not through economic assistance alone. The unfortunate truth is that Russia is condemned by its own history and its own people, to a period of acute unhappiness: All happy families resemble one another, Tolstoy might have written, but the Russian family is unhappy in its own way. In the end it will be Russians, not foreigners, who bring its period of misery to a close."
Look at the Western treatment at this moment of supercrisis, they are about to do some crazy deed.
I do believe that the Russians can be saved, I do believe it, I am sure that they can be saved; but I am not saying a single word, nobody has asked for my opinions, neither do we want to assume any responsibility.
Other articles follow, but I will just mention brief phrases.
Another one, this one also from the same magazine: Russia's nightmare.
"Nothing about the measures taken this week to deal with Russia's financial mess gives confidence about the country's future.
Another article: A detour or a derailment?
"A botched devaluation and a bond default are likely to leave the struggling Russian economy in even worse condition."
The other one is entitled: Collapse in Russia. Here the things they say about the president of the country are somewhat insulting, and my intention is not to insult anybody, to offend anybody, but to inform and reflect upon these problems a little.
And another one, this time from the New York Times. Its title: Moscow Dashes American Illusions. Subtitle: Already the question is being asked, "Who lost Russia?"
It seemed right to me to present these ideas to you, even if abusing your energies. I warned you to have a good-night sleep before coming (Laughter and applause).
If I were the lady that sang for us so beautifully yesterday, and had a good voice and just a fairly good intonation, I would sing a parody of a song I heard some years ago, which began something like this: "How far behind those times now seem" and change it to "How far behind those dreams now seem". Yes, the dreams of those who had such illusions, of those who recommended these neoliberal recipes, of those who destroyed that State, no matter what its limitations or errors might have been; a State that had to be corrected, upgraded, improved, but never destroyed (Applause).
Now the West has taken possession of everything, of the Caspian oil; it has introduced itself into all the fragmented former USSR republics, into Kazakhstan, into Uzbekistan, into Azerbaiyan, into all those peripheral countries. It has left the Russian army practically unarmed. They have not been able to supply the armed forces with 20 state-of-the-art aircraft developed by Russian technicians, not even 20 aircraft!
NATO with Poland joining it. It was assumed that after the agreements whereby the Soviet troops were to withdraw from Eastern Europe, there would not be a NATO expansion or anything like it. But right after that, NATO expansion in Poland, NATO expansion in the Czech Republic, NATO expansion in Hungary, and they are threatening to expand into Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, and even to Ukraine if they can. Although, I think that in these difficult times, since the situation of Ukraine worsens hand in hand with Russia's, there may be a better understanding between Ukraine and Russia. But, at this rate NATO will soon reach the Kremlin walls.
A totally east-bound expansionist policy inspired in bad faith has been applied. What need was there of this? Advancing with the military apparatus where there used to be an army that was strategically on a par with it --only strategically, mind you--, naval superiority and superiority in other branches, in surface units, bases all over the world, they would favor whoever was against the Soviet Union during the cold war. Nuclear strategic parity with the United States had been achieved by the USSR, and now Russia can not even incorporate 20 aircraft to the country's air force, even though they have all the necessary factories to build them in huge quantities? History will be harsh in passing judgment to the culprits of this catastrophe, of the humiliations, the scorn and the dangers that today threaten that people and the world along with them.
What is, then, going to happen in that country? And what if a Yugoslavization of Russia, full of nuclear weapons, takes place? It is estimated that they have 20,000 such weapons. Would it not be a tragedy for the world that that country should follow the same road as Yugoslavia, that that country should be dissolved? Can such a thing be conceived? What consequences would it have?
From the economic point of view, nothing scares us. Who is better prepared than Cuba for any global economic crisis? It would affect us, of course. If we have to halt the nickel plants, we halt them; if the price of sugar continues to drop, we will withstand the low prices. We have been withstanding them for a while now; we will see if it is compensated with the low prices of other items.
Our land is in the hands of the people and they will not be idle. What country is better organized and prepared than this? We do not want that crisis, we consider it a tragedy, it is going to bring enormous suffering to the world. In other words, it can be catastrophic. And the effects...
They should be thinking in the United States, and thinking it very well, about what will happen within the United States and how the next elections will turn out, not the one coming up in a few days, the next one, if the stock markets collapse and half of the Americans with shares in the stocksmarket lose huge amounts of money.
Reading about the 1929 crisis one can see how the stock brokers committed suicide one after another. Many millionaires would committed suicide because they only had 100 million left. Suicides were daily routine at the time of the 1929 collapse. And, as I said, only 5% of the US population had stocks then. These were mainly owned by companies.
Well, these things are inevitably bound to happen the way things are going. But, mind you, an economic crisis in Russia is one thing, its Yugoslavization is another. A civil war in that country is something very, very serious. And if I were to advise my enemies, I would tell them: "You had better help Russia. See where you can get the money, maybe by selling those bonds issued by the US Treasury or by printing new bills. Save that country, prevent its disintegration." That is what I would really recommend, and I am not charging them half a penny for the recommendation. I am not doing it to favor the United States' interests, I am doing it for the world.
I would also say to them: "Entrench yourselves also in South America prevent the crisis from spreading. Help the South Americans, help them, because, otherwise, the fire will soon reach the US economy. Try to understand." And they have to understand it. They cannot be so nearsighted, so arrogant. They cannot continue squeezing the others until the very end. They cannot suffocate Russia nor allow the crisis to spread to Brazil.
I will say more: even if they do this, the only thing they will gain is to postpone the crisis for a time. It will come again and it will become even worse. The IMF would have to explode, the whole financial system that has been established. The economic order they have imposed would burst into pieces. They would have to devise something that could save what it is possible to save of capitalism; but the present situation is unsustainable. It must change.
They must certainly go quite a bit further if they want to avoid an imminent catastrophe. An increasing number of people are already calling for this. They can not continue insisting on the rules, the regulations, the outrageous things they are demanding of governments and peoples. They are not neither economically nor politically viable, and from the human point of view they are unbearable. The developed capitalist world must inevitably pay a price. It must accept to distribute part of the wealth it has accumulated throughout the centuries and some of the technology it has developed. It must cut back the squandering of natural resources, the insulting and irrational luxury. The more rationality and less selfishness.
I have said very little, I mean that I have only dealt with two or three topics. I have not even mentioned other problems that burden and threaten the world, what for? What we must do now is face the economic catastrophe that awaits us. There will be solutions. Do not ask me which. I am not a prophet, as I said in the South African Parliament. I only say and repeat something with the most absolute and deepest conviction: The greatest solutions have always emerged from the greatest crises.
Sooner or later everything will have to change. We are not seeking petty and narrow national interests. We have been withstanding the worst of situations for quite a long time now. We have learned to defend ourselves, to struggle, to achieve many things under extremely difficult circumstances.
We hope the world can be saved. The world has no alternative, it must be saved, and it should save nature, from which the 10 billion people that we will soon be will have to live. I know the way many politicians in the world think, in Europe and everywhere, and many of them are even more anxious than we are to do away with the world economic order that has been imposed on us, but not with our freedom to express this desire.
Some of us have devoted some time to delving deep into this matter, and we are going to have that meeting in January: 600 economists. Even the gentlemen from the British magazine mentioned several times here and from others of renowned prestige are invited, those who defend neoliberalism and those who oppose it. But no one knows what might happen from here to January. Anyway, we have to gather information and follow the events. We will have debates, presentations and debates, and a lot of people interested in the topic.
Also, as I told you in the Congress, Cuba has been chosen to host the meeting of the Group of 77 made up of more than 120 countries now. They are going to discuss all of these issues, which are matters of life or death for our countries. But, we can also wonder what might happen from here to the year 2000. Many things can happen! But first we have to prepare ourselves for the January meeting: five days, it will be five days of intensive work as we have done in this Congress of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, with one difference, that it will consist of three sessions a day: morning, afternoon and evening, in this very same room. They are going to be a little more comfortable than you are, because we only want 600 to come, so that they feel more comfortable in those seats, without anybody seating behind them, so that the invited economists and personalities can listen, meditate, take notes.
We do not want too many people to attend, because we do not want a meeting like the one we held to discuss the foreign debt, in which many personalities and sectors of our continent participated, a great battle that we waged and that was not useless, for it helped to build awareness and to somewhat alleviate the dramatic situation of the debtors.
Today's economic situation presents a great challenge: it is more serious and worse, really significant. Our January meeting acquires utmost importance, from the theoretical and practical point of view.
Our economists are very happy and satisfied. They and the Association of Latin American Economists convoked the meeting. We offered them all our help and support. It will be a meeting where a broad, deep and free debate will take place between all the schools, those who defend certain theories and those who think differently. This will be a good place to extensively discuss papers by outstanding people and then, after each presentation, questions and comments. It is going to be a great school for our economists and of great interest for politicians and economists of many countries.
This meeting was convened months before the current situation, seeing these problems coming: Let's delve deep into these problems, we said. Now, because of what is happening, there is even more reason for holding the meeting. People are increasingly interested, and the truth is that we do not want a crowd. If we were to accept everyone who wants to come, we would need to hold it in the Revolution Square. The interest for such a vital and decisive topic is enormous and continues to grow.
For the meeting of the Group of 77, we are going to be better prepared, because for that meeting the events must be followed very closely, although some of the questions we have now will have been answered by then. For now, since you like interesting movies or interesting serials, as everyone does, follow this serial. I hope our press can be of service to you and, based on these topics that have been presented, it can offer you some information; and if our press can not, Contino, let's see if the press and some economists can help out and you send the resulting material to the CDRs so that they are well informed (Applause), so that they know well within what strategic framework their struggle will develop in the next few months and in the next few years.
That should be all. I just want you to excuse me for keeping you here for so long (Exclamations of approval and applause), and thank you for not falling asleep (Exclamations). Yes, some of you dozed off, even I did in one session, although I was generally wide awake, but it can happen! (Laughter.) So, I do not criticize anybody for it. And, I say what we must say today stronger than ever:
Socialism or Death!
Motherland or Death!
We will win!