Key remarks by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the rally of youth and students marking the closing session of the 7th Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women. Havana International Conference Center, March 8, 2000



It was announced that there would be two surprises and you surely assumed that I would speak; anyone could have guessed that. (Laughter)

But never in my life have I had to work so pressed and in such haste as in the last two hours organizing papers and figures and putting pages in order, because at times like these one needs to be precise and exact. I want to thank singer Silvio [Rodríguez] who saved my life although he may have lost his voice. (Laughter and applause)

Dear comrades:

Some people have been wondering why I have not spoken at any of the rallies and about five days ago I explained that it was not necessary.

I do not know if this is an exception or a combination, since there is this rally here today although the Federation of Cuban Women Congress is not over yet, and this year I have not attended the Congress at all even although I am usually present at congresses every day and every hour. Anyway, today I have something to say.

I am not going to talk about Elián or, let us say, about Eliánís case. What has been done with this child is truly a monstrosity but I think there is still a greater monstrosity: the Cuban Adjustment Act, and I will prove it.

The following are reports taken from wire stories out of Miami:

"February 28.- A new group of five Cuban immigrants arrived today, Monday, on the Florida coasts, presumably transported by smugglers, the U.S. authorities announced.

"According to the U.S. Coast Guard Service, the group, which arrived this morning in the Florida keys, paid 5,000 US dollars for the trip from Cuba."

"February 28.- On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard detained seven undocumented Cubans who arrived on the Florida coasts in two groups, according to a spokesman from this agency.

"The patrol picked up a Havana couple in Hollywood (Florida), who had departed the night before from the port of Mariel (Cuba) in a speedboat. They said that they had paid 5,000 US dollars each to a smuggler, according to spokesman Joe Mellia.

"The couple claimed that another six Cubans were with them on the boat but the Coast Guard did not detain any other Cubans, nor the presumed smuggler, in Hollywood, the spokesman added".

"March 2.- Twenty undocumented Cubans arrived on an island off Florida on Thursday in a makeshift raft built from empty oil barrels, reported a U.S. Coast Guard agent. There were 15 men, three women and two girls."

"March 3.- A total of 48 undocumented Cubans arrived on the coasts of Florida in just one day, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman confirmed Friday.

"In the early morning hours of Friday, police in Monroe County (Florida) detained a group of 28 Cubans who had arrived Thursday night at a beach on Marathon Key, in the stateís southernmost archipelago, according to spokesman Joe Mellia. There were 10 men, 10 women, five boys and three girls."

We already read what they reported about the other boat, with 15 men, three women and two girls on board.

All of these are public wire stories.

"March 6.- A group of nine Cubans arrived Monday to Key Largo, Florida, which means that a total of 89 undocumented Cubans have arrived in the United States during the first six days of the month, according to a Coast Guard spokesman."

There were actually 107 in five days, if to those 89 you add the 18 who were intercepted on the high seas and will be returned tomorrow, Thursday, by the U.S. Coast Guard Service.

When we realized that a high number of Cubans were being transported to the United States on speedboats coming from Florida which returned overloaded, or on flimsy boats financed from Miami, today, at 9:30 a.m. we requested from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to urgently inform us of how many women and children were among the 89 Cubans who had arrived on the U.S. coasts between March 2 and 6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed the request and asked for an swift response.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Interests Section was asked if there was any response on the information requested. The answer was that they still had no official information although they had made numerous calls to Miami. They said that approximately 140 people had arrived in the last seven days, the majority of them as part of smuggling operations, and added that they would insist in seeking out information even if they did not expect to have any until at least tomorrow.

We really needed precise figures on this matter today. We are talking about 140 Cubans, according to the Interests Section.

As we did not receive a response today on these figures, and tomorrow is not today, then based on what was reported by the wire services on March 2 and 3 on the 48 people who arrived in two groups --28 in one group and 20 in the other-- noting that there were women and children on each boat, a total of 23 out of the 48 arriving on the U.S. coasts this way --almost half, just one short of half the 48-- and applying this ratio to the 89 mentioned in the March 6 wire story, we can assume that there were around 24 women, possibly almost all of them mothers, and 19 children. Based on these calculations we have an approximate idea of the number of women and children who set out during those five days.

If the same method is applied to the total of 107 who set out between March 2 and 6, the figures would rise to 28 women and 21 children.

In fact, I have had to do a lot of calculations, multiplying and dividing, because these figures had not been filled in yet. I knew how I would have to work out the totals and I was waiting to see if there was some response. There were still blanks where these figures needed to be filled in. I thought I would be able to work out the totals quickly, but I have had to fill up a whole page with numbers.

If I have made any mistakes in my calculations, then for those who like to analyze and verify figures --like I generally do-- I offer my apologies. I even used fractions, but I could not talk in terms of fractions of people. If it was closer to the higher number, I rounded up; but I was quite conservative with my calculations.

In summary, at this rate, there are 38 women and 28 children arriving per week, which means an average of five women --I rounded down there-- and four children every day.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. government is doing everything possible at this moment to return the kidnapped child to his father and grandmothers. This is demonstrated by the fact that yesterday, 48 hours before the hearing scheduled for tomorrow morning, Thursday, March 9, it was announced that the deputy Solicitor General of the Department of Justice, Mr. Edwin S. Kneedler, will present the oral arguments at the hearing, which is highly unusual. The responsibility for presenting the arguments at a federal court hearing has been given to someone who is practically a deputy Minister of Justice.

We appreciate this because it increases the possibility of a relatively quick solution to the problem, which is crucial for the mental and even physical health of this tormented child. I say that "it increases the possibility of a quick solution." However, that does not mean that there is any certainty that this is what will happen in a few days or weeks.

Now then, and this is most important, how significant would Eliánís return be if four children a day and 28 children a week are taken out of the country risking the same fate or even worse than the shipwrecked boy who survived this tragedy?

In the ill-fated voyage organized by an irresponsible individual with a dire personal background, who would have never been granted a visa to enter the United States, a total of 11 people died, including women, old people and children, or one child. I do not have precise information on this figure, but what is certain is that at least one other child died.

Ten days before the March 6 wire story, another one out of Miami brought news of a similar tragedy.

Actually, the first reports arrived on February 26, but I prefer to use the wire story from February 28, which provides the essential information with greater detail. It was a public wire story, and this is how it read:

"Without food or water, a group of rafters who survived nine days at sea before being rescued off the coasts of Florida were forced to drink their own urine, according to what they told a local newspaper.

"Three of a total of four survivors will be released from hospital today, Monday, while the fourth remains in critical condition in a Miami hospital since Friday, following the voyage in which two other immigrants died.

"Three of the survivors, Jorge Nicolás González, 33, Oscar Lázaro García, 27 and Reynier Alvarez, 22 recounted their odyssey to The Miami Herald.

"The group recalled that upon waking on Friday, shortly before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Service, they found two of their companions dead.

"The fourth survivor, Ernesto Molina Ramos, 29, remains in the intensive care unit of South Shore Hospital, where he was admitted with circulatory problems due to saltwater ingestion. He could also be suffering from gangrene in one of his legs."

I understand that they later amputated one or both of his legs.

"According to Sara Abreu, Garcíaís stepmother, the state of suffering on the raft had reached such heights that Molina Ramos had given his companions permission to eat his body if he died.

"The outboard motor broke down shortly after they had left the island," they explained.

Another wire story two days later reported that Ernesto Molina Ramos had also died; in other words, three of the six lost their lives.

There could be nothing better than this case to illustrate what I was saying about the monstrosity of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Who were the six individuals who went through this cruel and tragic ordeal?

I have their names here with me in alphabetical order and some background information.

Reynier Alvarez Valdés. Date of birth --the wire story I read from earlier gave his age as 22-- September 7, 1973. Age, 26. He had relatives living abroad, including his father, who had never accepted his paternity. He had no criminal record.

Víctor Manuel Bermúdez Pavón. Date of birth, June 15, 1958. Age, 41. No criminal records although he moved in clearly antisocial circles.

Jorge González Aguerreve. Date of birth, December 6, 1967. Age, 32. His records show the following:

Ernesto Jorge Travieso López. Date of birth, June 20, 1963. Age, 36. His records show the following: Note: he requested a visa in 1986 and was turned down. At the U.S. Interests Section they pick and choose and they are rigorous when it comes to giving out visas. It depends on who the applicant is. A counterrevolutionary gets a visa quickly while someone with a certain kind of personal history does not get one. Yet, he still attempted to leave the country twice and was even detained for a time on both occasions, but was then set free.

He was an ex-convict for common offenses and not only for leaving the country illegally, according to file No. 0255040. He had a sentence of several years pending for theft. As he was denied a visa, he immediately resorted to the option of leaving the country illegally. But, of course, he would be welcomed once he set foot on U.S. soil, even if it was on one of the many tiny keys off the Florida state.

Ernesto Molina Ramos. Date of birth, January 10, 1972. Age, 28. He tried to leave the country illegally in December of 1999 and was returned by the Coast Guard Service that same month. He had not even bothered to go to the Interests Section since he would have never been granted a visa. Last December, when Eliánís case was already underway, he tried to leave and was intercepted and turned back.

Based on the existing agreements, they send back those they intercept but they intercept fewer everyday. They have always kept a few, just over 20%, no one knows exactly why. In my opinion, this policy is related to the demands of the extremistsí mob who would like to see the migratory agreement removed.

Well, they sent him back and he returned to his own home with the same status he had when he left. On February 18 he left for the United States again. He left with another individual who had also tried to leave in December and was intercepted along with him and returned. These two who had been returned were among the six who tried to leave the country illegally and enter the United States two months later.

The records show the following:

Oscar Lázaro García Pérez. Date of birth, June 27, 1971. Age, 28. He had attempted to leave the country illegally in December of 1999 with three other people including the one mentioned earlier. They were traveling on a flimsy boat and were returned by the Coast Guard. He tried it again two months later on this fatal voyage. How many times would a person try to leave under these conditions and why?

The records show the following:

As you can see, among people who have committed crimes, people who have trials pending or who are on parole there is a high potential for individuals who do not abide by any laws or set of rules. They try to leave illegally and they do it. They are sent back if intercepted but the majority of them are not. At this moment, over 80% of those who leave the country illegally are not intercepted. They achieve their goal if their boats do not sink, if no tragedies occur; and if they are sent back, they try it again.

According to the odds of success, very few people need to give it a second try because they have over an 80% probability of making it in one attempt, and their odds increase even further in a second one. The odds of success are doubled. There is no need to try three times because the chances of making it are 170 in their favor to only 30 against.

How can these things be prevented if the United States denies them visas but when they leave the country illegally they are welcomed with open arms without any questions asked from Cuba --the U.S. never does-- about their criminal records? They are granted legal residence and immediate authorization to seek employment, something recently added to the interpretation of the infamous Cuban Adjustment Act. Really, what kind of employment are they going to seek if they have never done anything in their lives --in the cases I am referring to-- aside from living outside the law, without ever seeking employment?

What sense is there in returning the people intercepted at sea to Cuba where they are sent back to their homes, in accordance with the migratory agreements in force, when they can immediately try to leave the country illegally, risking their lives over and over again, until they finally reach the U.S. coasts?

Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, there will not be a single adventurer or criminal with prison sentences already served or still pending, on parole or out on bail, who does not dream of traveling this way to the country where there are more things to steal and more opportunities for crime. Of course, I do not mean that everyone who tries or has tried to illegally leave the country is a criminal; many of them are ordinary people who have not been granted a visa or have spent many years waiting for one and have thus opted for the privileges of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Ten years were practically lost after signing the first agreement with Reagan, which pledged to grant up to 20,000 visas annually. Notice how they interpreted that agreement, granting just over 1000 visas in one year, then decreasing that to less than 1000 because according to their interpretation they only had to give out three visas to say that they had complied with the agreement to grant up to 20,000 visas.

What did they do in collusion with the infamous Cuban-American National Foundation, their creature, to which they wanted to provide a broad base of membership? Many of the visas that should have been extended to people living in Cuba to be reunited with their relatives in the United States --the people targeted by the agreement-- were instead granted to Cubans living in other countries, in any of the many countries where there are Cubans, who would not have been able to get into the United States otherwise, since you cannot get there from these countries on speedboats or rafts carried by the gulf stream. That is what they did with these visas. Meanwhile, around 180,000 Cubans living in Cuba, I do not remember the exact figure, were kept waiting.

Throughout all those years, less than 10,000 visas were issued. I think that agreement remained in force for nine years until it was replaced by those signed in 1994 and 1995 with the Clinton administration. As a result, the new agreements stipulated the issuing of no less than 20,000 visas. This means that they can grant more, if they want, but no less. They actually have been meeting this quota. There was a period in which they were only granting 15,000 because they asked us to help them solve the problem of the several thousand Cubans held at the Guantánamo Naval Base. They asked for our cooperation and we obliged, that was how thousands of those sheltered at this facility were able to travel to the United States over the course of two or three years. Part of the 20,000 quota was used for this purpose but then it was reestablished and they have even, on occasion, issued 2,000 or 3,000 visas in excess of the 20,000 stipulated. That is a fact.

How many lives has the Cuban Adjustment Act cost our people throughout the 33 years it has been in force? How many lives of innocent children, torn from their schools and placed in great danger by mothers and fathers acting irresponsibly or fooled by illusions or by the vicious campaigns and incitement of the overwhelming propaganda originated in a country which, on the other hand, subjects ours to a blockade aimed at destroying our people through hunger and disease?

If the six individuals on that flimsy boat had all drowned; if Elián and the other two survivors had died along with the 11 others, perhaps no one would have ever heard about their deaths. Why does this happen?

If it were not for the Cuban Adjustment Act, we would never have seen the emergence of this disturbing and criminal smuggling of human beings, which now uses techniques developed by drug traffickers, with speedboats equipped with three powerful outboard motors that no Coast Guard could intercept.

Whether traveling on slow makeshift rafts or speedboats, only 18 individuals out of 107 were intercepted. In other words, 16.9% of those who tried to reach the United States were not able to do so, and they still have the prerogative of trying again, something truly absurd and unjustifiable.

Not a single smuggler has been arrested in the United States, not a single one! The Coast Guard Service has been the victim of ambushes, traps and provocations, along with media campaigns showing footage aimed at discrediting and demoralizing it, and thus further reducing its effectiveness. Only Cuba has adopted serious measures to fight the trafficking of immigrants such as laws that establish stiffer sanctions for this crime, including life sentences, and others that severely regulate the ownership and construction of boats and that step up vigilance and prevention with the support of the population in order to hinder or obstruct illegal migration.

There are United States residents implicated in the smuggling of immigrants using speedboats registered in the United States, and through contracts and payments made in Miami, thus fundamentally violating the laws of the United States. We have 60 of these people under arrest here, who were caught between April of 1998 and February 20 of this year.

For many months, we have been waiting for the United States to accept our offer to extradite them to that country where they reside, something they so strongly demand when it comes to drug traffickers. They practically force many countries in Latin America to comply with the extradition of nationals of those countries or individuals residing there. It suffices with the intention of sending drugs to the United States. However, that is not the case when it comes to people who traffic in human beings.

Those traffickers, 60 of them, are in prison here. We have already tried and sentenced some others because during their misadventures two of them caused the death of some of the people involved and risked the lives of children on board these boats, thus the main crime was committed here, not there. As for the other cases, the fundamental crime was committed in the United States, where they live and where, I will reiterate with greater precision, the smugglers acquire, buy or rent the boats, make the contracts, receive payment for their services and illegally bring in the immigrants.

Therefore, based on the aforementioned principle, in the two cases where the main crime was committed in our countryís territorial waters we have held two trials and enforced the new sanctions. But, the other cases involve U.S. residents whose main crimes were committed there. These people remain in prison. Their families in the United States are growing impatient and demanding that they be sent back; even some of their relatives in Cuba are demanding the same. However, there is fear to make them stand trial in Miami, and anyone can understand why. There is fear of the economic influence, the alleged electoral influence and the challenges and disturbances of the Cuban-American mob and their allies in Congress, from both parties, something truly humiliating and demeaning to a major power.

On the other hand, none of that countryís leaders dare to admit the truth or say a word about the actual cause of the sensitive problem created with the kidnapping of the Cuban child. Nobody talks about the diabolical killing machine that takes the lives of women, children, old people and men, with or without criminal records.

The United States does not have any right to promote the death of people from this country, whether they are criminals or not. The diabolical killing machine that claims lives and provokes tragedies is nothing other than the Cuban Adjustment Act. That is the true reason behind the sensitive problem created with the kidnapping of a boy who had not even turned six years old then, who is being unfairly retained in that country and who was placed under the custody of a person who lacks even the minimal ethical requirements to assume this duty. We know this very well since we have learned even more as we have looked further into the kind of person that has this child in his power.

It is because of all this that I told you at the beginning that I would be speaking to you today about a greater monstrosity, something more serious than the kidnapping of Elián.

We will fight against this vicious law, this heinous and criminal law. We will keep fighting until it has been repealed. Only then can we be certain that thousands of innocent children will not be illegally uprooted from their homeland, from their schools, from their identities, and subjected to extreme dangers, or even death.

No matter how much it hurts, the Revolution will continue to respect as something sacred the parental rights of our citizens and their right to leave with their children, by legal and safe means, for other countries, to opt for another identity, another kind of education, another culture, another flag. It does not matter how many children the homeland loses in this way. However, if it is attempted by resorting to the abusive use of force, thus destroying the innocence, the identity and the future of a Cuban child, which we feel is the greatest honor and the greatest future offered to any child today, then we would all be willing to fight and die for the sake of just one.

Homeland of Death!

We will win!

(Ovation)