Speech delivered by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at an anti-imperialist rally on the 40th Anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Havana, Cuba, September 28, 2000
I often say that I will be brief and I seldom fulfill my promise (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) and, although on an occasion such as this there is much to remember, I say that I will be brief and I will definitely try to be. (APPLAUSE).
Some of us probably share the same emotions when we remember the day on which the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) were born. It was 40 years ago, almost at this same hour, a little earlier perhaps. The things that can happen in 40 years! But those were very different times.
In a mass rally in front of the former Presidential Palace the idea of the CDRs emerged as a sudden, inspirational response to the blast of four bombs: one over here, another one over there, it was like an air raid and I asked myself: Who are setting up these bombs and how can they do it? 300 counter-revolutionary organizations were active at the time, created by you know who. I said: How is it possible, if the entire people support the Revolution, that the terrorists can move with such freedom and even activate four bombs in a few minutes?
That was not the only serious thing they did. Those same people had been preparing other actions in the same place where the CDRs were created. They had an apartment full of bazookas, machine guns and equipment to attempt to annihilate half of the Revolutionary leadership. They were close but they could not make it.
When the Revolutionary triumphed there was little organization and our small army was practically swallowed up by the number of new fighters who took up arms and occupied the military barracks. In just a few weeks our force grew to 40 000 men, 10 times its original size; the masses took to the streets, it was a chaotic situation. But, the worst was that we still had everything to do.
Our problems at that time were the 30% illiteracy rate, the lack of schools and medical services, the absence of social security, the employment shortage and the recovery of all the wealth robbed in the previous seven years.
I once said that for the sake of recovery we began counting from March 10, 1952, the date of the coup d’état, because if we had gone further back we would have had to confiscate half of the republic. Really, in those early moments of the Revolution we did not want to carry the recovery measures to where we could, that is, to the establishment of that puppet republic in 1902, because even many great- grandchildren would have been affected by the confiscation.
Then a sort of amnesty was applied to what had happened before March 10, 1952. In the end this did not cost us much because many of the thieves did not wait long to flee to Miami leaving all their stolen goods behind. Others, whose riches came from other sources also left in the believe that they would return in five or six months, a year at the most. How could they guess the future? They just saw a handful of crazy people doing things, next to such a powerful neighbor and they could not believe that would last very long. So, these too left much wealth, aside from the Urban and Land Reform Laws and many other revolutionary measures taken in those days.
But, how many schools were there in the country? How many teachers? We know that there were 10,000 unemployed teachers and a very high percentage of children who had neither schools nor teachers.
The Yankee policy aimed at depriving our country of professionals, doctors, teachers and professors began very early involving hundreds of thousands of people who had been longing for an opportunity to go to the U.S. to find work or live in much better conditions than they could hope for here or that Cuba could offer them in those times.
Those were also the times when cars were smuggle into the country by the tens of thousands every year. They were bought second hand very cheaply over there, $300 or $400, and sold here for $1500 or $2000. The country was mortgaged with an enormous necessity for fuel, spare parts, etc.
I mention these facts because on that afternoon of September 28, 1960 this was the scenario we faced: constantly emerging new threats, armed gangs, recruitment of mercenaries to invade the country, and something that had never failed before, the toppling of every progressive or revolutionary regime in this hemisphere, as was the case in Guatemala and so many other places.
This was what we had, and so, that night the CDRs were born, like so many things that have occurred since the beginning of the Revolution and continue to occur to this day. It was like a spark, an inspiration we had, because revolutionaries also need to be as the folk music composers we admire so much who find the right word to express an idea. The Revolution has trained us all to be like these composers: in the face of new problems we need to search for solutions, often immediately, although we were not fighting against new problems but old ones, old recipes, that imperialism had used elsewhere in the world.
In Cuba, it was first the imperialist interventionist war; later, after many years of doing everything possible to prevent Cuba’s independence --seizing arms and ships-- they opportunistically intervened in a war without an adversary.
We could talk of Cervera’s fleet, in which many of the best boats had broken down engines, many of the new cannons had not been fitted, and which was even sent out without a fuel supply ship. Everywhere in the world vessels, except submarines and aircraft carriers, are accompanied by supply ships. But, those Spanish politicians --such great warriors!-- who led the country, or metropolis at that time, sent the fleet out without a single coal supply ship. Everything was improvised and senseless. First, they blocked themselves inside Santiago de Cuba and then were given the suicidal order to leave, even though they could have done much more defending Santiago with the fleet’s artillery and the accompanying marines. Meanwhile, the whole Yankee fleet that, with superior artillery, stronger and thicker armor waited in front of the narrow mouth of the bay, simply sank every single boat of that fleet which had followed its orders with great courage and stoicism, admirable bravery and heroism.
That was not a costly war for the Yankees. The Cuban Liberation Army helped them disembark, co-operated with them, fought alongside them in the storming of El Caney and El Viso forts, and later at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Many Cubans died in those battles and as a reward they were not even allowed to enter the city of Santiago de Cuba. What the Yankees did is registered in the history of our country as terrible, and worse still, they took control of everything.
They did the very same during this century; they did it in Santo Domingo, in Haiti, in Nicaragua, wherever and more than once. Even after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, they have done it again: they intervened in Santo Domingo when the revolution was on the brink of success; they invaded Granada on a whim, under the pretext that there were students at risk there. Actually, they wanted to get even for an action in the Middle East –I think it was in Lebanon– where a number of U.S. Marines had died. They took their revenge against the island of Granada. Later, they intervened in Panama; they organized a dirty war against Nicaragua; they supported a tough and bloody regime in another Central American country, El Salvador; they intervened in the war in Guatemala. They intervened everywhere.
They invaded us by the Bay of Pigs, they blockaded us from the beginning, and they were very close to provoking a nuclear war. There was a real danger of such a war as a consequence of the dictatorial policies implemented since before World War I and after World War II. The richer and more powerful they became, the more prone they were to armed intervention.
We all know what they did in Vietnam, where they took the lives of 4 million Vietnamese. They have also intervened in many other parts of the world.
But, as I said, we were fighting against old wrongs.
In my view, it is remarkable about the history of our Revolution that it has resisted all attempts to destroy it, and in this sense, that day in which the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were founded was truly historical.
Anyone can understand that our tasks were different and that the situation was not that of today, the world was not the world of today. There used to be two giant superpowers, technology was not as developed, Internet did not exist; computers did not exist, nothing existed. Television had barely begun, the world was not globalized, a world system of globalized neo-liberalism did not exist and the empire in the political, economic, military, technological and cultural areas (if we can call culture the poison they spread around the world) was not as immensely powerful as it is today.
Presently, it is much more powerful and the world is different. These are the new conditions in which our people and our Revolution should carry on the fight. Is it perhaps more difficult? No, it is not more difficult. It was more difficult when our people’s average education was around third grade; forth grade seems too high to me. Nobody has made an in-depth study, and someone should, of how many people in that period had passed the sixth grade.
I am convinced, although I have not made the precise calculations, that today there are more university graduates in our country than there were sixth grade graduates before the Revolution.
There was no general education, no political education and no political culture when the CDRs were created; but these are now the new conditions in which the CDRs, other mass organizations and our entire people need to fight. These are very different conditions.
Some day, it will be necessary to elaborate on the heroic deed of our people during these 40 years, on how that has been possible. Contino spoke of four decades; but among these four there was one extremely difficult decade: The first, or the first years of the first; and there is another that we feel has been the most difficult of all, that is, the last of those four decades, the one that has just passed.
What do we have today? We have a population with at least a ninth grade of education, we have around 700,000 university graduates, we have schools in even the most distant areas of the country. Suffice it to say that there are 600 schools with five or less students and one teacher. There is not one place in the country without a little school and a teacher.
We are now trying to solve the problem of 1,962 distant schools without electricity. How many primary schools are there? Of approximately 9,000 primary schools, 1,962 are in areas so remote that, despite the over 90% electrification of the country, these places are not electrified. Of course, they have very few students. The total number of students in these schools is 30,000 and we are already taking electricity to 300 schools. These 300, which are the largest schools, have 11,000 pupils, which leaves 19,000 students without electricity for their television and video equipment. Instead, they have been provided with special literature, and in due time, through photo-voltaic batteries, they will have sufficient electricity for the TV set, the VCR and two fluorescent lamps. We will not need to spend a dime on fuel, thus protecting nature but with the use of new techniques we will reach many parts of the country, and except for the 19,000 already mentioned, there will be 2 400 000 students with access to electricity and audio-visual equipment for their education.
Compare this to what existed before. There were no teachers, 10,000 were unemployed. We created 10,000 jobs but could not fill them all because not all the unemployed teachers were ready to go teach on the mountains. Also, there was the U.S. attraction since that country was offering visas to all teachers and professors who wanted to leave the country. So, the choice in those days being to go to the mountains of Baracoa, the Second Front, the Sierra Maestra, or to Miami, a number of those teachers formed in that society where individualism and not solidarity prevailed, chose to leave Cuba.
The 10,000 jobs created would have sufficed, but they were not ready for that. We then appealed to high school students to train them as teachers in intensive courses. What a good response we got from them!
First, it was the Literacy Campaign. That was one of our great exploits, which I think has never been done in any other country, and it was mainly carried out by students. One hundred thousand students volunteered who combined with the primary and secondary school teachers that we had then amounted to about 25 or 30, 000; I can not be sure, someone should delve into these figures. And while we were involved in the Literacy Campaign, armed gangs roamed the country and the Bay of Pigs invasion was launched.
The gangs had been hit hard on the Escambray Mountains a few months before the Bay of Pigs, as we prepared for the invasion. An invasion during the Literacy Campaign! We also felt that in case of a large-scale invasion or a war, the youths would be safer in the countryside and the mountains than here in the city. We faced this predicament together, that is, the CDRs, the Federation of Cuban Women and the Young Communists League. The organization of the Party was underway since it was a blend of various revolutionary organizations, youth groups, members of the Popular Socialist Party (the old party), members and followers of the July 26, Movement and of the Revolutionary Directorate. Unity was achieved and from that emerged the first leadership but the membership was yet to be forged. There were divisions and unavoidable mistakes were made.
I remember that the organization of the publicly created CDRs began in a clandestine fashion. Probably few would remember it but a clandestine mass organization was really incongruous; of course, it was just a mistake of some comrades. Then, at a given point we asked: "How can this be a clandestine organization? Impossible!" Even the Party was being organized almost clandestinely, until the method was introduced of consulting the masses before the admission of new members.
We had, as I said, a period of divisions, the sort of vices that are usually present in all revolutions, but fortunately they were overcome.
The Trade Unions achieved great unity, great strength. Before the Revolution, the Unions were controlled by the so-called "mujalistas"*, who were their official leaders. But, such leadership did not last long, I think they ended on that same January 1st.. Palma Soriano called a revolutionary general strike and the whole country was paralyzed, even the radio workers tuned in to Radio Rebelde. From the very first day there was only one radio station, Radio Rebelde, broadcasting to the whole country even though the situation in the capital was not under control yet. The Imperialists were maneuvering to thwart the Revolution, but the swift and decisive response --the general strike and the instructions to all columns to advance without cease-fire– resulted in the occupation of all the barracks in the country within 72 hours. They had no chance. (*Mujalistas.- Relative to Mujal, a corrupted trade union leader before the Revolution.)
Since then they have been constantly looking for their chance, a new chance; but 40 years have passed, and I assure you that these chances become more elusive with every passing day. (APPLAUSE) I would dare to say that there are lower chances than ever because of what we now have. We have a lot, and not only in terms of material wealth but rather in the area of that wealth which is essential to all changes, to every revolution, and especially to a profound and great revolution, which is what our modest Revolution of January 1st, 1959 has become.
At that time, it was a modest Revolution made with very modest resources, based on a history known by all of you. The war lasted only 24 months, if we leave out the dispersion of force at Alegría de Pío and the problems we faced before we had the capacity for survival. We relied not so much on our strength as on our knowledge of the mountains and on the accelerated training that we acquired every day. Initially we were seven, then a few more, by the first battle we were 17 men with at least 17 rifles –but then we saw our forces reduced again. We suffered more than one dispersion and we always re-grouped. At one point our force had been reduced to 12 men and then we began to grow, having experienced all those vicissitudes, we learned enough so they could never defeat us again, even though we were so few.
I say that a modest Revolution was made with few resources, that it continued to fight, to gain experience and to grow in size until what we are today. Today, this is not an illiterate nation because the average education is 9th grade. And that is only in terms of mere education, as for political culture we could classify it as a perfect report card; 100 points. We are not the only country, there are others that have performed heroic deeds; right here we have a representation from our beloved sister Republic of Vietnam (APPLAUSE), whose fighting and victory were such a great contribution for the security of our country.
Yes, because after the October Crisis which placed the world on the brink of a nuclear war, the U.S. administration embarked on the Vietnam war. That insane action took the lives of over 50,000 Americans, but it also took at least 4 million Vietnamese lives, and this does not include those maimed or left permanently damaged by the sufferings caused by the conflict and the use of chemical warfare.
However, we could say, when talking of a revolution here only 90 miles off the U.S. coasts, in the heart of the hemisphere they have always dominated, in the heart of the West, that in political culture our Revolution ranks first with 100 points.
Anyone might think that we are satisfied with what our people know today, with their political culture, with what was achieved in crucial moments of our history.
Actually we need to talk about these things, mention some events, mention all the mass organizations, mention our Party, and mention our youth in order to explain how the country could resist these last four decades, how the country could arrive at the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
We have certainly lived through different stages: when the armed gangs were defeated and 300 counter-revolutionary organizations were neutralized; when the Bay of Pigs invasion was crushed; when the country stood firm facing the risks of a nuclear crisis and later after the alleged solution when we refused to accept a U.S. inspection of our country or anything like it, when we refused to accept the low-flying of U.S. military aircraft, or the demobilization of our troops. After all this, and after the great shock that some of our adversaries experienced, we enjoyed a relatively calmed period. Several years would pass before we could destroy the last armed gangs. It can be said that we are the only revolutionary country that has been able to annihilate all the armed gangs in the service of imperialism, make a note of that. Among other things due to the methods we used, the type of fight, the participation of only voluntary fighters –they were all volunteers, just like in the internationalist missions– that allowed us to defeat them and definitely solve that problem.
The pirate attacks continued for many years from different places like mother ships against one port or another and again. The introduction of weaponry and explosives; the perpetration of sabotages, burning of shops, destruction of factories; dozens of victims, hundreds of victims, the armed gangs alone took 400 lives. More Cuban combatants died fighting the armed gangs than in the battles that led to the victory of the Rebel Army. In their last offensive against us in the Sierra Maestra we only lost 50 troops, and in our last offensive against Santiago de Cuba less than 50 died. These were the two largest operations we carried out. I do not have the exact figure here; I am not including the murder victims but only those killed in combat, and more died in the struggle against the armed gangs than in the whole war.
This aggression persisted for many years, and on top of it, an iron blockade. They kidnapped fishing boats, attacked merchant ships and attempted to sabotage our sugar by depriving us of a market; they fired on our ships during their voyages and carried out a cruel economic war. They planned assassination attempts but there is no point in talking about this, it would take a long time and I promised to be brief. (LAUGHTER)
Well, the Revolution resisted all that, all of these policies. But, the most difficult was this last stage, the most hurtful has been the special period because it brought very hard conditions. It was preceded by an ideological aggression that emanated from the "Holy Spirit". I have used this religious terminology because I find it most illustrative to explain the origin of said aggression which came from none other than the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. I say the "Holy Spirit" because they were considered to be supreme, unquestionable, infallible truths.
The USSR played a very important role in our Revolution. After the unexpected popular victory in Cuba their assistance was crucial. If we had had to suffer a special period at the outset, in 1960, 61, 62, 63 --when aside from petroleum the Yankees also took away our food supply, our markets, everything-- this country would not have been prepared to face such a vicious blockade. I can assure you that this country was ready to fight and die. We would have been another Vietnam, we would have had to face a Yankee intervention that would have undoubtedly been defeated, because even then we had hundreds of thousands of armed men, trained in the mountains, not in military academies. Our people knew how to fight and were inspired by their combat experience in the irregular warfare whose tradition dated backs from the previous century when in 1868 our people had fought with machetes against the most powerful army of the time.
I can assure you that no U.S. invasion could have defeated this country. Their troops would have had to pull out at a considerable cost or kill to the last patriot. We were lucky that when they eventually came to support their mercenary force, there was no one left to support. Right in front of a fleet of aircraft carriers, we had destroyed the Bay of Pigs invasion in 68 hours. If they had been able to take that beachhead, a war of attrition would have begun against our country, and we would have had another Vietnam in 1961. Hundreds of thousands of lives would have been lost because I know the Cubans well, I know the rebels and they do not give in, they fight and fight again. They had a creative spirit and the necessary courage and they were ideologically and militarily prepared to face a direct invasion but not so to triumph alone in the economic arena.
The special period came 30 years after the triumph of the Revolution, when many vestiges of the past had vanished. The political culture to resist a special period in peacetime had developed. In the first months of the Revolution we lacked a socialist culture. Our people had a class instinct rather than a class conscience; it hated robbery, corruption, poverty, inequality and injustice.
The revolutionary laws were the fundamental element that contributed in the transformation of a political conscience saturated by the venom of McCarthyism, by many years of anti-Communist propaganda hammering on our people and by over half a century of dependence. From the moment they landed and occupied our country in 1898, they began training teachers there; they wrote a history of Cuba as a country liberated by the United States and attempted the Americanization of Cuba by all possible means. In schools and through the media of the time, they made many people in this island believe that the United States was their savior.
Who could tell them about imperialism? Lenin had yet to write his book about imperialism. Lenin took the 1898 war as a model of the first imperialist war, in the modern sense of the word. They took control of everything: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines thus consolidating their domination over the hemisphere. They directly occupied Cuba for four years, dismembered the Liberation Army, dissolved Marti’s Revolutionary Party and brought their own recipes that have been so costly to the Cubans and to all Latin Americans. Fortunately, we are free from imperialist recipes, which they have wanted to bring back here, but they never will (APPLAUSE).
The works of the Revolution, the preaching of the Revolution and the example of the Revolution built a socialist political conscience, a communist conscience. In the years prior to the 1959 victory, the simple mention of the word communism was anathema, like calling the devil; that word which stood for the purest ethics and the most advanced human sentiments.
Studying religions, particularly Christianity, one finds that in completely distinct societies under the Roman Empire 2000 years ago there were people who thought of what they called love for one’s neighbor, doing good for others, solidarity with the poor. I often cite the founder of Christianity as an example of someone who did not have landlords or merchants help him found his doctrine but rather illiterate fishermen.
It was truly a humane preaching. I am not contradicting any other religious faith or criteria, I simply say that it was a profoundly humane statement based on religious beliefs. However, it is Marxism, socialism and communism that, based on a deep understanding of the capitalist system and on a historical, economic and social analysis of the exploitation of man by man in the course of time, have raised to the highest level the human spirit, the spirit of solidarity among individuals and the internationalist spirit among peoples.
Nothing like this could have dawn 2000 years ago. Marxist thought emerges with the development of the working class in the West. From the first moments it was conceived of as inseparable from internationalism, that is, socialism and communism could not exist without internationalism. Marxism is based on the premise of a developed world where the productive forces had the capacity to create sufficient wealth to clothe, feed and provide the necessary conditions for life, not simply the material life –and this is a very important point-- but also the spiritual life of humanity whose population at that time was approximately one billion.
Many of today’s problems were then unknown. It was thought that the only limitation to the wealth required to meet human needs was of a social rather than material nature. The use of petroleum had not been discovered and the fabulous technologies of today had yet to be develop. If Karl Marx had known this technology he would have been even more Marxist, more communist, because the scientific and technological advances make it possible to create the necessary wealth to meet basic human needs such as food, footwear, clothing, housing, education, medical care, recreation, culture and others perfectly accessible to the individual.
In Marx’s days neither cars nor many modern commodities existed. I mentioned the car because I believe that in capitalist societies it has become one of the fundamental elements contributing to the destruction of the environment and the natural resources.
Technological progress has been used by capitalism to better exploit less developed countries and those that remained as colonies until the first half of this century. These were later turned into neo-colonies and are now worse off. Technology has been used as an instrument of domination. Military technology was developed between the imperialist wars until the nuclear weapons and many other new armaments were produced, such as the smart weapons that did not exist at the beginning of this century and have since been used to assert their power.
Non-military technology like mechanized industry, electricity, communications, the power industry have simply served to create consumer societies. In my view, these introduced in the history of humanity one of the most dangerous and aggressive elements against the natural resources and the environment indispensable for the survival of the human race.
It is true that fertilizers enabled the exploitation of the productive capacity of virgin lands and increased productivity per hectare. Furthermore, the breakthroughs in traditional genetics have allowed the development of new and more productive botanic specimens while tractors and machinery have raised the productivity of agriculture. In summary, humanity has created the appropriate instruments to meet its basic needs.
I believe that the only conception that can open the way to a rational idea of how the world of the future should be is the one that perceives the sum total of the material wealth necessary for a decent life –and we all know what that means-- with the unlimited creation of cultural and spiritual riches as the source of human wellbeing.
Spiritual wealth are underestimated because consumer societies tend to underestimate everything that is not luxurious material goods, so there are households with five TV sets, families with six cars and other such things.
We constantly see the value of spiritual wealth. What we have enjoyed here today is called spiritual wealth. In that Neruda’s poem read here, which was a pleasant surprise for me, I perceived a prophet and I think he was completely right in what he wrote in 1960 about the year 2000 which was not the case at the time of the 30th anniversary or before the special period, that is, 20 years ago, but it is today because here in Cuba, we are on the threshold of an era like Neruda dreamed of that day (APPLAUSE). But to avoid overstating in contrary to its true value, I will say that we are on the threshold of an era that not even Neruda could dream of that day. (APPLAUSE) I say this and I can prove it.
When Neruda wrote that poem he could not have imagined that this country would resist 41 and a half years of blockade and the full arsenal of dirty tactics that imperialism had developed during its lifetime, and still worse, a special period. It would have been different to have a special period when only half the population had electricity and very few had radios and when there was not widespread access to other electrical appliances. This is a special period in a country where 90% of homes have electricity and there are millions and millions of radios, TV sets, washing machines, electric irons, etc.
I remember that in my house for a long time there was no electricity and there was never enough for an electric iron because it was consumed by the radio. This was monopolized and administered by my father who did not allow us to switch it on so as to preserve it, and I had to listen to a baseball game or to read when everyone was already in bed. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
We never had an electric iron in my house even though my father was the owner of a large amount of land, had more land leased and had a good income. There were other things in my house and we were only four kilometers from the nearest sugar refinery, that in those days was called Marcané, and now "Loynaz Hechevarría" after the communist leader of that refinery who was killed by the tyranny. The electric iron was unknown in my house.
Thirty years after the triumph of the revolution, Which family in the city or the country did not have an electric iron, a fan, a TV set and a number of electric appliances? It is easy to go from darkness to light, but it is awful to go from light to darkness. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
I am beginning to go back on my word. (LAUGHTER)
I did not speak of refrigerators. At the beginning of the special period, when we had 14 hour-blackouts, the refrigerators defrosted and much of the modest quantity of food stored there were spoilt.
Televisions also went off, everything went off. In those days TV sets were black and white, used 180 watts and never had any spare parts; today in all schools they have 20-inch-screens color TV sets that use 180 watts.
Yes, we know how much the supply of material goods to the population was affected. Even shoes, not to speak of toothpaste, brushes, soap, not to mention rations that were drastically reduced because there simply was nothing. We had no markets, no money, no nothing, especially in the first four or five years.
The country faced the special period in conditions where a certain level of material comfort had been reached, and this fell abruptly. We faced a special period and suddenly we fell beneath a double blockade. Which double blockade? The Yankee blockade and the collapse of the market of the whole European Socialist block, the collapse of the supplies coming first from the USSR and later from Russia.
Trade with all those countries virtually disappeared including the occasional exchange of sugar for petroleum at world sugar prices, which were a third of those received when the Socialist camp and the USSR existed. Everything was practically reduced to zero, the supply of spare parts and many other things and that in a country like Cuba, where mechanized agriculture used 80,000 tractors compared to 5,000 at the triumph of the Revolution. The sugar harvest was also mechanized and transportation was no longer performed with oxen but with trucks or carts pulled by tractors while sugar cane was hauled mechanically and cleaned in storage centers. The production of eggs, poultry and swine were also high before; it is indeed painful to remember that terrible blow and what was lost in that situation.
Havana: 30 000 daily bus journeys. We had to rush out and buy 1 million bicycles on credit from China for the capital city. It was necessary to start using bicycles since daily bus journeys were cut down to 5,000. Workers had to be relocated and many other measures had to be taken as well. How could we keep the supply of one liter of milk to children under seven? How could we guarantee the fuel for ambulances and other essential services?
It is impossible to imagine a worse situation than our country has experienced. No other country in this hemisphere –not to mention the rest of the world– would have withstood 15 days of special period. Governments and whole systems would have collapsed a month before just considering what was coming!
The whole world expected the Revolution to fall within 24, 48, 72 hours, two weeks or three months at the latest. They were packing their bags in Miami. It is over, they said, as they watched the fall of country after country in Europe, even the Soviet Union. It was like saying that the sun would disappear.
Well, yes Sir, one morning we woke up without a sun. Very strange, is it not? In everyone’s mind were the heroic Soviet deeds, the first revolution, their heroic wars, the outside intervention in the first revolutionary stage, World War II, the 20 million dead and the defeat of fascism in which that country played a decisive role. All this is proven by mathematics, by history, everything. No one can be made to believe that it was a few boats that arrived with some supplies that saved the situation. Yes, some supplies did arrive, but that was insignificant. Whoever knows the exact figures, has read well the history of that terrible war, knows the tanks they made, how they were made, how they produced arms in Siberia in mid-winter, in roofless workshops. Anyone who has read history knows exactly how fascism was defeated.
Today that is hardly ever mentioned. And I am not defending their mistakes because I was well aware of the many that were made in the USSR. But, the heroic exploits of that country cannot be minimized, and its prestige cannot be diminished.
I remember that in the first years of the Revolution we were interested in Soviet epic books: The Volokolamsk Road, Panfilov´s Men, Days and Nights, I recall it because I personally tried to have these books printed. It was epic literature and our people were in great need of such literature to prepare for the Bay of Pigs invasion, a direct invasion, and a number of other things. It is true that epic literature helped building a conscience, but it also made people think that all truth came from there, and all the experience. There was a great respect for them among our people.
I also felt great respect and admiration but I was critical. I have always been reluctant to copy the experiences of other countries no matter how good they were. Because I have studied the Cuban history, what was done well and what was wrong, and the French Revolution, the first great social revolution in modern times, and other revolutions as well.
Now, one day I realized that by destroying that country’s history, which we could see in their new literature, they were destroying its dignity and honor and reducing it to ashes; they were spiritually disarming themselves. That country needed fixing, but not destroying. I had the privilege, I will not take credit for it, but I predicted the fall of the Soviet Union two years before it happened, even at the risk of having some people think I was out of my mind. I said that if some day the USSR should fall we would continue struggling and building socialism and that indicated two things: first, that we saw the danger; second, that we trusted our people, that even in such difficult circumstances we would continue our fight.
Then it happened; suddenly the sun did not rise in the horizon. It was a sporting day, not Olympic but Pan-American, when everything over there began to collapse, when a movement in some sectors promoted a change through force, and I will not go into that as it would take too long; it was the final day of the Pan-American Games. And then what came next: the dismembering of that country brought about by four people meeting in a dacha on the outskirts of Minsk; none other than Minsk where in the 1890s Lenin had founded the Communist Party of Russia with 15 or 20 delegates, all meeting there to create that party.
Well, if with 15 or 20 people Lenin created what was later to become that enormous party, in the end it was four people, under the burning influence of a famous liquor which some like but I find tasteless –such is history!-- after a few big glasses or a few bottles, and a good amount of money, I say, who knows how much! (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) they agreed on that ill-fated night to dismember the Soviet Union. I know this because I was told by someone who has a right to know what happened there and how it happened. What a coincidence!
Do any of you, who are so versed in political instruction handbooks, know on which day, month or year Lenin founded the Communist Party, or Social Democratic Party as it was then called, in Minsk? Raise your hands those who know. I imagine you have forgotten the exact date. I know that it was after Martí had founded our first party, the Revolutionary Cuban Party, to lead our revolution of 1892. Good. When was it the demise of the USSR? When was it that they dismembered it right there in Minsk? Almost a century later. If no one here remembers it, within the hour we will know precisely because we will check, it is not very difficult. (APPLAUSE)
Yes, four people only; we must reflect on that, on the dangers that a revolution should protect itself from, like four people destroying it overnight. Of course, they were not just four. There were also others who, fully infatuated, began having strange dreams that had nothing to do with political reality. I assure you that a group of our youngsters, like we have seen shine in the rallies, would have better understood what was needed there, much better than those who did what they did.
Now, one person began to unleash pandemonium with the support of some others whose history is unknown. What secrets must the CIA be hiding! They must know who were those who assessed that person who pulled the detonator for the destruction of the history and the merits of that nation. They must know who developed the peculiar ideas that led to the spiritual and moral disarmament of the multinational state that had written one of the most heroic pages in the history of our age. That state that tried to build socialism in conditions that not even Marx could have imagined. It was the audacity of Lenin --more Marxist than Marx himself in the sense that he was a genius disciple developing Marx’s ideas-- who faced with the alternative of surrender or fight, decided to fight for socialism in one country. And that country was not England, Germany or France, but the most industrially backward of them all in Europe, the advantage being that it was a world in its own right, that is, the USSR with its 22 million square kilometers. Lenin tried it and succeeded. He achieved what others were unable to preserve, that which a group of naive people would later destroy. I do not think the author –and I rather not mention names since I do not take advantage of anyone’s misfortunes but you know who I mean-- the Party leader at that time, acted deliberately.
Based on my personal convictions, and despite what they say about the author recently declaring his intention was to destroy communism, I personally do not believe it. There was much more naiveté and infatuation than a purpose to destroy the USSR. Others played their role, like the West with its flattery, and so the conditions were created that preceded the long night in Minsk. It was a process, keep this in mind, a process of demoralization, of weakening and destruction of the giant state born of a proletarian revolution.
We were not a satellite orbiting the sun, we never were. On the contrary we argued a lot, and after the Missile Crisis we spent a good number of years arguing. The history of the 30-year relationship between our Revolution and the USSR is not yet known, our policies are not yet known, and perhaps it is not yet the time to write that history.
You speak of the 40 years of the CDRs, but we could speak of the 41 years of the Revolution. Maybe we should preserve the notes of every critical moment so that our ideas and our policies toward Latin America and Cuba’s internationalist missions can one day be known.
I assure you that there is much honor and glory in that history and that may help to understand the answer to many questions. Lots of questions could be asked, really, and the only explanation of the durability of this Revolution would be the sum of all the answers to those questions. Still, the most difficult time ever has been the special period. The facts I have offered you shed some light on the conditions in which our heroic deed has been performed.
Somebody here explained various things: Ana Fidelia told us that there have been great changes in sporting techniques, even sport has been mentioned, others have talked of their work during these years.
The major achievement of the mass organizations, and they have done much, is to have saved the Revolution, (APPLAUSE) under the leadership of the Party and the Young Communists League and on the closest alliance between the Revolution and the people. They want us to renounce what gave us life, what preserved our conquests and our future and that is our unity. They want us to break this country into 20 pieces (EXCLAMATIONS OF : "NO!"), there is only one answer, with seven exclamation marks, (MAKES GESTURES). (LAUGHTER). Never!! (APPLAUSE). Without this unity, without this strength how could we have resisted and fought the battles we have fought? And we have been beating them restlessly and we will continue to defeat those who want to divide us for the worst. Our slogan is unite and bond for the best. (APPLAUSE)
However, the special period did not only bring material damage. When somebody here mentioned the 574,320 blood donations, I thought of the conditions in which that record was reached and I remembered, and checked it out with some comrades, that blood donations never failed to increase throughout the special period. There were 400,000 donations before this period and there are 574,320 in the year 2000. I heard that figure for the first time just recently but I will never forget it. (APPLAUSE) I will never forget that with the double blockade and the collapse of socialist block and the USSR, the average daily calorie intake of our population dropped from 3000 to 1800 and the protein consumption –more or less evenly distributed– dropped from 80 to 50 grams, without the previous quality. We have not yet reached 3000 daily calories, the figure is a little over 2400. We have recovered 600 calories and part of the proteins. What I say is that the special period affected the food supply of our people and led to a range of measures.
The 30 million quintals of vegetables currently produced in the city gardens were not produced before the special period. There were areas of land cultivated with tomatoes and vegetables but only in rural areas, not in the cities. This is part of the effort we have made, one way or another, to guarantee some food supplies and the essential nutrients, especially to children. The same applies to medicine.
Let us hope that one day someone writes the history of how the country managed to perform this feat. But there is something I can say before the in-depth history is written. It was possible thanks to our people’s spirit of sacrifice, their patriotism and revolutionary conscience! (PROLONGED APPLAUSE.) We cannot say yet that the special period is over, what we can say is that we have been through the most difficult part of special period, that we are continuing to make sacrifices, many sacrifices, but we are gaining ground steadily, that we are stronger and our experience is richer than ever.
What I am talking about here are material goods, those that are indispensable for life. Today we do not have all the essentials. We know what the housing situation is like and we cannot promise much, but we can remind ourselves that we had the capacity to build 100 000 dwellings per year, it took years of work to achieve that capacity, we had it in our hands and when the sun did not rise, then it was all left unfinished. We had made all the investments, we had all the factories, many of them new and the capacity to produce more than 4 million tons of cement per year, the capacity to produce iron beams, sanitary furniture, bricks, and whatever materials are needed to build 100,000 new houses and repair another 100,000 and we were left, suddenly and abruptly, without the ability to build them.
Today, we must rely on our own limited resources for the work we have been doing in our capital city since before the last hurricane and which was stepped up after it. More houses in the capital fell down, were ruined or rendered unfit for human habitation than were being built. Today, we have plans to repair at least tens of thousands of houses annually, using the Cayo Hueso system for low-rise housing. A number of brigades are repairing, little by little, the 25 000 medium-rise buildings in the city and others are working on the 500 highest buildings in the capital.
There are a series of plans, something than has not received a lot of publicity because we cannot deal with the whole country at once and we have had to put our efforts first into the most critical areas. The Revolution’s way of doing things, starting somewhere and then expanding to the whole country is well known. It has been like that with everything. But now we are slowly making sound progress, we have acquired a great deal of experience and we are moving ahead in many areas.
I wanted to make a distinction between the material aspect and that which is referred to as intangible wealth, those of enormous human value. I will give you an example. The cinema is considered to be a step forward in leisure activities for society, from the time of silent films. Producing cartoons for children and first class films, composing musical works of universal value, making paintings which will become famous, writing books for Cuba and the world, those are immense sources of wealth that cannot be measured in tons and that contribute very little to a country’s macroeconomic indicators. Humanity, nevertheless, and especially our people, could never live without them. This is what is meant by standard of living and quality of life.
Another example: during these Olympics, Cuba has been almost the only country in the world which has broadcast live and every hour of the day and night, from midday until 6:00 or 7:00 the next morning, hundreds of hours of the always fabulous Olympic games which have left in our people’s hearts and minds unforgettable emotions and memories. I would dare to ask those of you here if there is anyone who, at least once, was not still watching television at sunrise. Let that person raise his or her hand, if there is anyone. (NOBODY RAISES HIS OR HER HAND.). Well I am keeping both hands down because I have absolutely no idea how many hours I spent watching those broadcasts. And all at the lowest possible cost and without commercial advertising. (APPLAUSE) According to all those who measure the standard of living by the crude yardstick of macroeconomics, this privilege, this major contribution to spiritual wellbeing is meaningless in terms of a country’s standard of living.
By the way, I should say that some of the things that happened in Sydney were not in the least discouraging to me. I will share with you what Ana Fidelia said, that the competition is stronger every time, that more and more countries are taking part in the competitions, that each time one has to box against more opponents to reach the final, run against more people, jump against more people and fight more bouts. Furthermore, it is disgusting how commercialized sporting have become; they have stripped it of its greatest virtues and best qualities.
Presently, we are the only amateurs in the world battling against professionals (APPLAUSE), patriotically and honorably. Our athletes represented us with great dignity. You can see that there was practically no sport where there were not one or two Cubans competing, whether it was Tae Kwando, free-style wrestling, classic wrestling, boxing, fencing, collective sports. There were Cubans in everyone of them, that is why the television was able to spend so much time on air in spite of the attempts to steal our athletes from us, as they have robbed us of some of our good athletes in every Olympic games. In Sydney, however, they were not able to steal a single one. People could see on television what this kind of Olympics is like.
But I will not elaborate further on that because perhaps the subject will be approached some other day. I only say that we are not in the least bit discouraged, our athletes represented us honorably. We sustained a setback, a very hard setback. The wire services were not wrong when they said that Cuba was in mourning yesterday. Today we are not mourning quite so much. But yes, Cuba woke up in mourning for two reasons. One, because of the setback we suffered at the hands of the American baseball team. We are not used to that and we are very annoyed because in the game they invented and in which we have almost always won the gold medal, we won the silver. To our way of thinking, in our national sport, as in honor, the gold medal is the one that is worth winning. (APPLAUSE). We wanted the gold, yes, and we all suffered a lot. But, when has this Revolution ever lost heart? Never!
I think that it is an American General who is supposed to have said these famous words when he had to use a small, very fast boat to make his get away from a mighty fortress in Manilla: "We’ll be back!", he said. Well that is what we are saying to our northern neighbors, and we say it in all friendliness, absolutely devoid of hate. We were there in Baltimore and we had a friendly match there between U.S. professional players and Cuban amateur players and before that there was another match here, which they won. They received total respect and the applause of our educated public. But, we shall be back and we shall face off against the professionals. I wish one day they would bring their Dream Team or whatever it is called. (LAUGHTER) I wish they would, because perhaps if we had won the gold medal, we would have felt a bit disappointed to have measured up only against Triple-A-League professionals. It will be a much greater honor when they send a Dream Team (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) my English needs brushing-up, I will have to register in the Television course. Let them bring the Dream Team and the home run hitters and the very best the major leagues have to offer; let them go wherever they want and we shall see.
We have to draw the relevant lessons from what happened with our sports and analyze them well. You know that in this country everybody knows about baseball, really knows! That is indisputable. All of this must be submitted to a rigorous analysis particularly when we know that all the resources for training were in place, that they trained for months and months, from the Baltimore match that we won. And now all the provinces have that little machine for measuring speed, those pitching machines, they all have them. We have coaches, we have all the basic things for training and developing athletes, so now we have to analyze what went wrong. For example, Why do we not have any left-handed pitchers? It is just a question. How is the training of athletes going, and not only in baseball? Baseball sometimes has too much of a monopoly over the pool of good athletes. We need athletes for all competitions, except for those with horses and that kind of thing because that is a purely bourgeois sport and it costs more money for the upkeep and shipping of a squadron of those horses than it does to send 250 athletes. (APPLAUSE) We let them keep to themselves some sports because they are sports for millionaires, but we even competed in races of tiny sailboats.
In cycling, who walked off with the top places? Those who make their living riding bicycles, competing in European competitions for money.
Sport has become horribly prostituted, still we must go on fighting. We are stronger than ever in many ways. We have 34,000 physical education and sports teachers. Next month an international school of physical education and sports will open. (APPLAUSE).
We do not just have coaches. Cuba is the one country in the world that collaborates most in helping to develop sport in the Third World. There is a growing number of trainers on contracts who are working in sister countries and doing an excellent job. We also continue to take in new students and future trainers. Our coaches are training athletes who will compete against us, in fair competitions, and we shall continue to do so.
We will have to talk about sport, but not now. Do not lose heart, the outlook is better than ever. We have the necessary human capital.
We felt deeply hurt by the three or four boxing matches that they brazenly snatched away from us. We shall have to analyze each one of the decisions that were taken, why this, why that. There were obvious mistakes, we all recognize that, and they should be analyzed. Now, they certainly gave a raw deal to our boxers. I have already told you that like many of you, I stayed up watching television until dawn. Maybe I will sleep tonight because the only thing coming up is a match at 3:00 in the morning. (LAUGHTER). Tomorrow is another thing, because tomorrow is the last day of the boxing and what we are worried about is the mobsters there; we have punched them, we have accused them and we will go on accusing them and they want to take revenge. (APPLAUSE)
We lost some matches, we must be asking why. Others were stolen from us. We have to get those video tapes and analyze them with an electronic microscope: each step, each blow, each maneuver and argue with all of those we have to argue with about.
The fact of the matter is that they are going to take some gold medals away from us, but also the competition was harder.
There were victories like that of Ivan Pedroso. (APPLAUSE). Everyone knows that his longest jumps are his first jumps, never the last ones. Yesterday he had his back to the wall, 8. 44 against 8.49, but he made it in the last jump, when there was hardly any hope.
And I know something else about Ivan, I know it because I visited him in the hospital more than once when he suffered a serious tear in one of the muscles most essential for jumping. An irresponsible and arrogant doctor and a coach made an awful mistake when they set out to cure him without making a thorough examination of his injury, and so 11 days had passed before he was operated on. Eleven days, when the muscles can shrink and stiffen! Dr. Alvarez Cambra performed the delicate surgery at "Frank País" hospital. The damage done by that injury was so great and so many days were lost --it was something that should have been done right away-- that it is hard to imagine how he could jump again.
I know what he was thinking in the nine-meter approach, I always wondered: Will he be able to make it, with that terrible injury? If Ivan Pedroso had not suffered that injury, and if he had not been kept waiting so long for the adequate procedure, he would have jumped 9 meters a while ago. If it were not for that injury, Ivan Pedroso would jump more than 9, he would jump 9.20 or 9.25. No one knows what he would have jumped because he has the willpower and exceptional abilities. He proved that last night when he acted like a hero in front of 100,000 spectators in that the last jump when a simple foul would have brought everything crashing down. He made a jump of at least 8.80, but he had a foul. I think that was the second or third jump. To have won on the sixth jump is his amazing achievement there, in front of 100,000 spectators who were cheering for his rival, the hometown athlete. I think it was one of the great moments of our sport and I appreciate it all the more when I remember all that he went trough, which was why he could barely compete in Atlanta. Such is the athlete who gave our country a gold medal yesterday. I do not discount the possibility that one day he will accomplish his dream of jumping nine meters.
The volleyball girls performed like true champions. In the fourth set it was almost 16 to 8, 16 to 9. It seemed impossible to catch up that lead, but they caught up and won that set to go on to one of those famous tie-breakers. We have to wait for tomorrow. We must have confidence in them.
We should not just applaud our athletes when they come home with gold medals. We should welcome them with brotherly affection; we should welcome them all as if they had won. They are not professional athletes; they are athletes who compete for our country’s honor, as they so often have. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE). 250 of them along with their coaches and auxiliary staff are already airborne, they are supposed to be here tomorrow at about 1:00 in the afternoon, although I understand - and this is for Ivan’s family, I saw them on TV --, that Ivan is not flying on the first plane, some are staying behind for the second plane. Because he finished his competition in the early hours, he finished really late. That is what we can say about sport.
I have been here, breaking my word, due to the subjects I am talking about; I have gone on for somewhat over two hours (THE AUDIENCE SAYS "SOMEWHAT"). Thank you very much, that comforts me a little and perhaps I shall finish before two (LAUGHTER) not before 2:00 in the morning but before the two hours are up (LAUGHTER), be brave! (APPLAUSE)
Yes, I see how much you applaud that promise (LAUGHTER). No, it is just that the comrades who have arranged the CDRs’ parties are waiting for you.
We would have liked to use the "Karl Marx" theater for this meeting but it was not possible. We then decided to use these facilities at the Havana Convention Center and some of the areas adjacent to the main hall. And what a subject is coming up now! Still, I will try to finish talking before midnight. Although the 24 hours of the anniversary are almost over, let us make use of what we have left of the 28th. (APPLAUSE)
I want to tell you something, perhaps the most important thing I have to tell you today is that the Revolution is entering a new stage. We have done many things, but our revolution needs improvement, our work must be improved. I have already explained the material damage and even the spiritual damage brought by the special period, mostly because of what preceded it. But we were able to rise above it; we were capable of doing that.
Moreover, the special period brought in its wake many inequalities, sad things, painful things, which the circumstance obliged us to put up with. There was no alternative, we had to resort to a series of measures. This was the additional moral pain we had to suffer. For instance, inequalities in earnings. There are people who receive remittances from overseas and others who receive none. The factories were left without raw materials, although no worker was left without the minimum amount of money needed to buy things, even if it was only what came on the ration book. We were left without buses, and here in Havana we had to take up cycling. The cities in the rest of the country were also left without buses, they had to make do with carts. All sorts of self-employed services sprang up, some made perfect sense and others not so much for their prices are exorbitant.
Believe me that it is equally painful to remember that people to whom the Revolution had given housing --not all the houses were the same, some lived in modest houses or apartments, others in mansions because they were left empty when their rich owners left-- when tourism grew they began renting out rooms or even whole houses in dollars. No, we are not going to ban it, no one should worry, the only thing we have done is to regulate such activity so that they pay their little share of taxes, and pay it they will, as the law is enforced, really enforced.
Today we are concerned that those who have the most money --because there are some people who have a lot of money-- can get the best houses in the country, one way or another. There are some shameless people, we know them well, we know about the old people’s caretakers, who when they see two elders or a sick person living in a big house --I have seen such cases-- they show up on the scene and pass themselves off as good Samaritans. They make themselves indispensable, they move in and they wash, and help do everything and when the two old people die they keep the house, often real mansions, and everything that is in them.
I have only given one example I could cite many more. Illegalities with housing, losing papers, bribing officials who are into that. No one should believe that we do not know about these things, the list could be this long (SHOWS LENGTH WITH HANDS) on all the techniques of corruption or bribery at the lower levels of the administration. It is really hard, though, to find this at higher levels, very hard! But sometimes a form, a document, a change is needed and things are a bit too loose around the question of housing. It is our duty to insist that the law is respected and that if it is not then penalties are imposed. (APPLAUSE). If anyone has an apartment and has a cousin, a relative to live with and rent his out, well let him do it but he must abide by the legally established regulations.
In the future the state will have all the adequate facilities and enough housing. Many representatives from foreign companies have come here, people who are doing business with us and we have not been able to provide them with the housing they need, therefore, many end up renting private houses. One thousand dollars? Be it, one thousand dollars, one thousand dollars! The equivalent of no less than 20,000 pesos a month.
I just want to say one thing, there are many people in this country, I do not mean one million nor 500,000 nor 100,000 and maybe not even 10,000 --I would have to think about that-- a few hundreds and maybe a few thousands who could pay the salary of 35 leaders of state institutions whose salary is 450 pesos a month with what they earn in the same period.
The public has a tendency to think that ministers live very well, this is the result of long term conditioning, and I am not saying that they are begging for alms or living in abject poverty. But we know them because we see them often. A minister receives free lodging for a week’s holiday. Two years ago it was decided to provide not only the lodging but also food for that week’s holiday. Do you know why? Because there were ministers who did not have enough money to pay for that week’s holiday. I am not defending the ministers, because what I mostly do is criticize them as often as I can. But to be quite fair, I have to tell you that, and I cite it as an example.
There are some people here who earn 3,000 or 4,000 pesos in less than a week for some job or other. That is to say there have been abuses in what families are charged for some private services. The state cannot charge high prices because everybody comes down on it, and rightly so. Our state is not there to charge high prices, even though you do not applaud. Our state must preserve a financial balance because when that balance was altered in the first few years of the special period, one dollar bought you 150 pesos, and today for 1 dollar you can only buy 20, 21 or 22 pesos, it varies a bit within a small range.
Cuba is the only country in the world, listen carefully, who managed to revalue its currency sevenfold in four and a half years and to take the peso to the level it is at now vis à vis the dollar. We must keep it there, we cannot go around throwing away money and go back to drowning in a flood of pesos because we have to safeguard the value of the currency and the value of his salary to the worker who saves his money. That is why, although many are demanding raises, we are raising salaries selectively. Teachers went for years without a raise, and the time came when teachers’ salaries had to be raised just like in other sectors, otherwise people change jobs. We had to improve university salaries, not much, but they had even been reduced. Ah! Because here comes the problem. Such and such a company --because there are certain advantages to working in the business community-- try to take people from other jobs. These are state enterprises I am talking about, but some managers of those enterprises like to take other’s workers.
We recently examined the Computers Club. Of the two hundred and something workers they had at the beginning only 10 remain there. They have been there 13 years. It is easy for this to happen. Someone trains a computer teacher and along comes a hotel, such and such a company and takes the computer teacher. For ethical reasons we cannot allow that to happen.
They are already pirating university professors. We reached an agreement with them because we have not reduced the number of university professors by even one in the special period. On the contrary, we shall increase the number of careers for other reasons. We have that pool of professors.
Why were we able to create a Latin American School of Medicine? Because we had that pool of professors. It is in a building formerly used by the Ministry of the Armed Forces which cut down its spending and staff. It had to be repaired but now it is operating at full capacity. I am talking about an institution which already enjoys enormous prestige in the world.
We cannot resolve our problems in desperation, by retreating from the positions we have attained. Today, there are many families who keep their money in the bank and receive a certain interest rate on it.
We have three currencies today: our ordinary peso; a convertible peso, which is used as an incentive for certain working sectors --more than a million workers receive some kind of incentive in that currency-- and the US dollars. There are bank accounts in US dollars, in convertible pesos and in Cuban pesos. Presently, our financial situation is back in order and that can be very helpful. That is why I say we cannot retreat from any of the gains we have made.
We know how the people feel about certain issues because we collect thousand of spontaneous opinions every day. We use that thermometer to measure a very wide range of opinions. Some of them are obviously wrong and that tells us that we need to explain some things better, but they are all useful. At times some of them are quite extremist, these are the fewest. You cannot imagine how much these opinions have changed, how much the people have learnt in the last ten months. It has been a steep learning curve. The battle over the kidnapped little boy, the battle for the goals of Baraguá have increased our people’s knowledge remarkably. We also conduct surveys on sensitive subjects like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the dollarization, what is this, that and the other, difficult subjects. And as our experts have grown used to the idea that they are not talking to academics but to the general public, what they say has become much more intelligible.
I bring this up for a simple reason: our country is going to make a great leap forward in the educational and cultural areas although it will go more slowly in the material field.
We listen to opinions, believe me, about the public fora, the round tables, and many more subjects. Some people get impatient because they cannot see all of them and they say: "Have them twice or three times a week." We collect all the opinions, thousands and then we take a sample of them and those that are the harshest or the most critical are put in first place, even if there are only three of them. If three people in three different places say something, even if it is a lot of nonsense, this opinion is collected. Sometimes it is only one out of a thousand, nonetheless it is registered.
One would have to be in possession of all the facts and of all the details to give you an idea of how far the general education and the political education of our people has progressed, who now have a grasp of subjects that many professionals in other parts of the world do not have.
However, I can tell you that what we have done in education is nothing. Although, since we have been talking about Olympics, I can say that a few months ago all the countries in the Caribbean Basin held a mathematics Olympics and in those Olympics Cuba won a gold and a silver medal and took first place. (APPLAUSE)
I have said before that in a UNESCO investigation our students were rated with almost twice the knowledge of the average student in Latin America. This is not hard to prove because you have seen it yourselves. From that same school in Los Palacios from where a 13 years old child was taken and almost lost his life, a boy spoke at a public forum and gave a very brilliant speech, like all those that are given at the public fora. A teacher from that school gave an excellent speech, too. It is the same wherever you go.
Another Olympics --this one took place at the same time as the Sydney Olympics from September 16 to 24-- an Ibero-American mathematics Olympiad. Our students took part in it but arrived late due to travel inconveniences, therefore, they had to take two tests on the same day and still they won three silver medals. (APPLAUSE) That happened in Venezuela.
The latest of these Olympiads was held a few days ago --the news arrived yesterday-- it was a Physics Olympics in Spain, for Ibero-American countries. Our youngsters won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze, and that put them in first place among all the countries taking part. (APPLAUSE). So, when I say that we have done nothing in education, that can maybe give you an idea of what we think can still be done in that area. It is up to us to do it, and we are already in the process.
If we are going to have a really educated population, we are going to have to make sure that everybody is educated.
Let us say that previously the Ministry of Education would come along and give a seminar during the week of school break. 300 people would come and then they went away and gave the seminar to others. This school year, in the first week of school break we shall be giving seminars simultaneously to 200,000 elementary and high school teachers. You see what a leap that is. From one seminar for 300, to giving seminars simultaneously to 200,000. And, what is more, any person will be able to watch that program. We are going to achieve this through the use of the mass media, quite simply, thanks to their endless potential. A team of professors, 10 or 12 can teach a subject to the students, in the first place, to the teachers and to anyone else interested in the subject.
The first course will start at the beginning of October. This was going to be for journalists, now it is going to be for all high school teachers, and gifted students, because they will be able to receive this narrative writing course through the TV sets and the video cassettes in the schools. This can be useful, even for any one who wants to write a letter. I recommend it to anyone who can watch it, and to elementary and high school teachers in particular. There will be twenty lecture hours and the lectures are already prepared. Those to whom the course is directed will be given the written materials, anyone else who wants to follow it will be able to buy them in the newspapers stands.
There are some people who think that some things we sell are very expensive. Some have said that the collection of the supplements from the round tables is very expensive, it sold for 10 pesos. If they had bought it and kept it, it would have been less. But I can tell you that 10 pesos do not even cover the costs of the paper for this collection. I just wanted to point that out.
We have analyzed many ways to print books cheaply and books can already be printed in any municipality in the country. The Cultural Centers have computers. I will not elaborate on this now because at some point we shall have to discuss it.
We already explained a few days ago what we are doing in the field of computer science, and that is a major issue. But we are moving into the computer age and into the age of computer education for 2,400,000 students, including primary and preschool students, the ones who must be taught this subject. It includes learning games, not just violent games sold commercially. We will have specially chosen recreation and educational programs.
We have opened two schools. One I have already mentioned, and a student touched on that, about boys who had graduated from high school but did not pass the tests to study at the university. It is an amazing school of intensive studies for an enormously significant task! I will not expand on that now, I just want to say that it opens the door to a new world and the possibility of real justice for our society in which some of the marginalization we inherited from capitalism remains.
It is not true that every child in this country has equal opportunities. We thought that by building so many schools, implementing so many programs, by investing a large percentage of our gross domestic product in education -which when added to the amount invested in health is a pretty big sum -- we had created equal opportunities for everyone.
We are doing further research into a series of things which range from the sources of crime to the marginalization which still exists in our society. Some of these things are linked to housing problems. But in spite of that, and in spite of the fact that we cannot promise that we are going to begin building all the houses the country needs, I can assure you that even in our current situation there is a lot that can be done to fight marginalization and to create true equality of opportunity.
I have already said that some people earn in a month enough to pay the salaries of 35 members of the Council of Ministers. Well, I can tell you that some of those people who have money, who have a lot of money coming in for this, that and the other, self employed persons, owners of this and that, those who rent their houses for dollars --and I already said that we are not going to ban this, no, we are not going to ban it-- what I did say was that we are going to enforce the law, and not abruptly but in the way in which we know the law must be enforced. Those people can afford to pay a teacher double the salary that the state can pay now to one of our many educators to give a few hours of coaching to their children. That then gives these children an advantage over those of a working class family which lives in one of those poor houses where families live all crowded. That is how they steal our teachers and, also create privilege. Since higher education is selective according to marks and passing the examinations, the children who live in marginal conditions or who do not come from more educated families do not have access to the same opportunities. I will not say more.
Behind these inequalities there is a huge world which we have begun to discover quite recently amid this struggle. If, now that we know it is there we did not deal with it in the way it must be dealt with --and I think that we are dealing with it correctly-- we would not be able to call ourselves a socialist country. We can call ourselves a socialist country because of everything that we have done, even though we were unaware of how much still needed to be done.
The special period created many more inequalities which resulted in less opportunities for lower income families and we must battle so that every child in this country has the same opportunity to pass sixth grade, and high school, graduate from high school, go to a vocational school, to university, or whatever else. (APPLAUSE)
Of course, those who have more money are not the only ones who have more opportunities. We have 700,000 professionals, and professionals have a certain level of education, much higher than that of families living in marginal areas. Although there are also university graduates from those areas.
We have mobilized a small troop. I call it a small troop because they are only 600 now. But, we are already organizing the second brigade of university students --I am getting ahead of myself by telling you this-- to do a very important job on Saturdays. For we have to do research into many social issues and to develop, even amid all the inequalities, a much more just socialism than we have now. You can be certain that we will get there, because we are using the experience of many years to that end, the experience accumulated throughout these forty years.
We have said that we will fix Havana’s disgrace. What is Havana’s disgrace in terms of education? In the surveys made by research centers, the marks the children obtain in Havana are almost half of those of primary school students in Santiago de Cuba. Their marks are around 80 or eighty something, and in Havana they are around forty something. Is it the teachers’ fault? No, it is not! There are no more heroic teachers anywhere, if I may be so bold, even though the whole country is full of heroic teachers. Those who teach where there is no electricity, where there is nothing, are heroes. But the teachers here are working with 40, 42, 45 students, for five days a week, and they are in the schools from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening. They go home and look after their families, often wash, iron cook and that is every day and Saturday and Sunday. These women are university graduates in primary education who often do not even have a washing machine. They are heroines. And I say heroines because most of them are women.
No, we have to know about all of that and find ways to relieve this excessive teaching load. We are going to do it and with simple formulas. I say that in two years there will not be a classroom in Havana with more than 20 students. (APPLAUSE)
Of course, when they see the sacrifice teachers make, the first people to tell their children not to study to be a teacher are the parents who are aware of the teachers’ difficult lives.
Before the special period we also had an excellent plan for school building, we were already designing projects. Three or four years more and we could have done quite a lot in terms of new school buildings. We know what many of them in the capital are like. I have seen classrooms which should envy that little classroom in a little wooden school house that I went to in Birán the first time I went to school. It was like a day care center because they must have sent me there when I was about 3 years old. Here in Havana there is overcrowding, there are difficulties in many schools, we know. We are going to learn about each and every one of them, X-ray them one by one. And we will not promise to fix them all immediately or to build new ones, because it would be wrong to raise false expectations. We must know what is going on and where the most critical situations are, so we can act upon them.
I said: One teacher for every 20 students. I confess that I am overestimating, and that perhaps it will be for a little bit less than 20 students, I can guarantee that.
A few days ago we opened two schools with intensive courses: one to prepare social workers and another to train teachers. They are doing extremely well and we shall open some more for other subjects. Our many years of experience have taught us how to solve huge problems with few resources.
Could it be that we have forgotten that when hundreds of thousands of students finished sixth grade each year there were neither schools nor teachers for secondary education and we had to build the schools and form a teaching detachment to go off and study and teach? Thanks to that we have 700,000 university graduate teachers. So, are we now going to make a mountain out of a mole hill? Would we allow a situation to arise where no one wants to be a teacher in our capital city, where there are more problems, more difficulties, and more social problems of all kinds?
In addition, there are many other options, because if you mention tourism about 100 people put up their hands but if you mention being a teacher only three or four put up their hands. We already have pre-teacher training schools in Havana to encourage students to become teachers.
This problem must be solved. The situation is not the same in the rest of the country of course.
I do not want to get into details, I prefer to speak of the things which are being done, as they are done. I will say, however, that a new world is opening up for our revolution. Without too much effort and at negligible costs we will multiply our educational work in this area as well as in others.
I will not say more, you will see that we are going to multiply our people’s knowledge. In November the Spanish courses will begin and English will be twice a week. Later, we will have a third language, that is three. But what is really needed, among other things, is Spanish grammar. If I were to take a test to some of you it is pretty certain that 90% of you would not remember some of the concepts that you learned in sixth grade. I will not do that because I am your friend, (LAUGHTER) however, I have done it with university graduates.
We shall multiply the knowledge and the cultural level of our people, we shall multiply their spiritual wealth at a pace never seen before in the history of any country and not because we are the best, but because struggling and wanting to improve things we have found new ways.
We shall develop a fairer kind of socialism. We will ensure that every child born in this country, no matter the educational level of his or her family, no matter where he or she lives or the marginal environment, that absolutely every child has the same opportunities. It is up to us to do it, we are sufficiently strong to make it happen.
On this 40th anniversary, Contino, I say this to you members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution: I say this with more conviction than Neruda used in his poem, I say this with absolute certainty and I hold myself accountable for what I am saying.(APPLAUSE)
That is why we are entering a transcendental new stage and we have won these opportunities by struggling, by standing firm, by fighting.
The benefit is that our people will have such high levels of education and culture as will guarantee their political future for ever. We want a population of millions of thinking heads and a revolution that has a totally guaranteed insurance policy so that it is a revolution that cannot be destroyed by 1 nor by 2 nor by 10 nor by 100 nor by 1000 nor by 100,000. Historical experience has shown very clearly that it must be the nation’s conscience which today, tomorrow and always gives the orders and makes the decisions.
We have such faith in the justice of a revolution, such faith in what human beings can become, that we do not harbor the slightest doubt that we shall reach our goals and this will not be only for the good of the 11 million people in this country. I assure you that what our country is doing today, can be for the good of and is beginning to be for the good of hundreds of millions of people in the world.
Martí said: "Humanity is my homeland" and that is one of the most beautiful and most profound things that anyone has ever said. Humanity is my homeland means that defending this revolution, the most just, the most humane, the most honest, the one with the highest morale, because for 40 years this has not been a revolution of crooks nor a revolution of turncoats, nor a revolution of the corrupt, nor a revolution of traitors, and that each and every one of us who are a part of this Revolution --some have been around longer than others-- and those who follow us, will be the guarantee of the line that we have pursued for 40 years.
The prestige of these 40 years of struggle is already indestructible, I assure you of that, and it is also growing, as is the strength we have at our disposal to defend ourselves, the measures and the ideas that we are defending. As for us, these are no longer just ideas for us since we have made promises: schools of one kind or another for our country and promises to cooperate with other countries in crucial areas. Let nobody think that our country will go bankrupt for this. I tell you, we have learned to do things at minimum cost because the buildings are already and so are the teachers and the other workers. If you were to see the other costs, which we have calculated down to the last penny, I can tell you that you would be surprised at how low they are.
We have at our disposal an abundance of what they call human capital, no other people has ever had as much human capital as we have today. In this special period, despite the reduction in the food that we received, we have increased blood donations every year when it is more difficult, now that it is much more important to give blood.
Very rich countries have no other way to get blood than by paying for it at any price because the spread of new diseases like AIDS or old ones like hepatitis and others, which are blood transmitted, means that today blood is worth a lot. There is one country where they do not have to pay a dime for anybody’s blood, the generous blood, the blood given in solidarity by those hundreds of thousands of compatriots who willingly donate it.
This is not new, it was not much discussed here, for example that when there was an earthquake in Peru, in 1970, about 105,000 donations of blood were collected in 10 days. (APPLAUSE) Try to find another country that has done that, and I am talking about the consciousness of thirty years ago, and we have given blood more than once. We also gave it for Iran and for Armenia when they hit by earthquakes.
We converted a children’s recreation facility into a center for children who became sick after the Chernobyl accident. More than 15,000 of those adolescents and children have been there and if it has not been used to its full capacity that is not our fault. We did not charge a penny. It is simply that we have the doctors, we have the workers, we have the human capital to do that.
We raised this issue at the United Nations, that is, the need to save entire nations, to save a hemisphere and we have demanded, or we have called on --let us use a more diplomatic word-- the rich, industrial nations to supply medicines since we can create the infrastructure to distribute them, to administer them. The issue of the infrastructure had come up a few weeks ago at a meeting that representatives of the African countries had in Durban, South Africa, where the rich capitalists, frightened to death of what might happen in that continent due to AIDS, thought about asking the transnationals to reduce the prices of medicines. They cost ten thousand dollars a year per person, just to survive. The transnationals talked of reducing the price to their real costs, which is about 1000 dollars and the Africans said: "Even if they are given to us for free we lack the infrastructure to distribute them." That infrastructure is mostly of a human nature.
I was able to say to them there. "Cuba can create that infrastructure in one year" and I can tell you that I was being conservative because we can create it in less time. We have the human capital to do it. The United States and Europe combined do not have the human capital to create such an infrastructure and we can do it with less than 10% of the human capital we have available in the public health area. But, no! What am I talking about? I am being too conservative . With barely 6% of the human capital we have available. Those industrial nations together do not have that human capital that a blockaded little country has. (APPLAUSE) That is the achievement of 40 years of Revolution, that is your achievement.
The day had to come when we could say: Cuba can help the world, and here we are not talking about saving 100 children, but about saving entire countries that are literally sentenced to vanish. It is almost too late to begin.
This got a good reception in the United States. There we could tell our friends in the Black Caucus, which represents 35 million African Americans --some of them had told us that their congressional districts did not have doctors-- that we could send them some doctors. Also, that we could accept a number of students from those districts to study in our country. Actually, they listened to that with enormous interest. If they ask us to send a doctor to one of those districts, because they ask for it, will the authorities of that country have the nerve to forbid it when they are sending applications to the Cuban doctors in Zimbabwe for them to go live in America leaving helpless that nations which has been virtually without doctors and where the rates for certain diseases are extremely high. They are sending these Cuban doctors applications for the raffle, so that they defect to the United States. And I said, can they prevent us from sending doctors to some black districts in the United States when you are the United States’ Third World?
And while there, we also offered them scholarships, 250 scholarships a year for young people from the districts of those black legislators to come to Cuba to take up studies that cost $200,000 in the United States. We shall see who is defending the more just ideas, and make a thorough analysis of everything.
I have given you one example out of hundreds of them, out of thousands of examples. We have also offered an additional 250 scholarships to native Americans and Hispanic minorities over there. We did this through the Cuban parliamentary delegation, lead by comrade Saez, first secretary of the Party in Havana Province, who visited the United States on the invitation of black lawmakers. They showed our delegation great consideration. Dr. Alarcón was not allowed to go, but they said the others could go and they went even though they got there somewhat late. The things they have to say about their meetings with the Black Caucus legislators --they are 38 members of the US Congress-- are really impressive. The consideration that was shown to them, the treatment they were given at a meal for 5000 people was commendable.
Why can our country do that today? Because we have sent 30,000 doctors into our communities in these years of special period, in these ten years of special period. They are the product of something we had created, the 21 schools of medicine founded by the Revolution.
We were reducing enrollment into the medical schools and now we are accepting 2750 Cuban students this year and 3000 next year, we do not need more. But our country today can count on enough human resources, human capital, to enable us to render great service to the world and not only to itself. In fact, by sending so many people or by graduating so many students we render services by simply setting an example. How can our country, blockaded for 40 years, harassed for 40 years, and finally submitted to a double blockade for 10 years, say what I am saying to you here today?
Our task is no longer watch, as it was on the day the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were founded, what a terrorist worm is up to, although this is not really what you did, far from it. From the very beginning you devoted yourselves to serving the people. One would have to calculate the tens or hundreds of thousands of lives that the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution have saved with the blood donation program alone, and those really are human rights. (APPLAUSE)
I could ask if you or the Federation of Cuban Women or other mass organizations or the young communists or the students have assassinated any Cuban; if a soldier of the Revolutionary Armed Forces has killed any Cuban; if a Cuban has been killed by one of our combatants from the Ministry of the Interior. Nobody would be able to find a single one in 40 years of struggle, of harassment and blockade, in a country that has carried on the struggle here and abroad.
Try to find a racist South African soldier taken prisoner and subsequently murdered by a Cuban internationalist fighter, there or anywhere they have been, whatever the country that they have helped in that hemisphere or elsewhere in the world. No one has ever been able to say that about a Cuban combatant, about a revolutionary Cuban in 40 years, which is not four days, nor four months, nor four years, but forty times one year. And in that period of time look and see what those trained by the Empire have done and you will see that as long as the Cuban Revolution has existed there has not been one person tortured. I say this and I will repeat it a hundred times. It would be very hard for us not to find out if someone had been tortured here.
Never! There is not one person here who has heard that word. That is why we often say: "Talk to the people, ask them". That is what gives us the moral authority that no one else has. In places like Argentina there were 30,000 people vanished, 3,000 murdered in Chile, more than 100,000 in Guatemala, tens of thousands in other places, and who knows how many dead and definitely missing.
Marx said that capitalism came into the world dripping blood from head to toe. The history of imperialism throughout the world shows the cruel, hypocritical and bloody heart of imperialism anywhere in the world. In Vietnam, in Angola where they gave arms to the troops working for apartheid, and where, knowing that South Africa had seven nuclear warheads, they harbored the hope that they were fired against us as we were advancing towards Namibia, a time when crucial issues in Africa were decided.
Where is the morale of the Empire? There is no morale, there are only lies, simple and plain lies for injustice and crime can only grow on a foundation of lies. As a reason for murdering 4 million Vietnamese they had to tell the American people that it was to safeguard the security of the United States and world peace. And all the Vietnamese wanted was to govern their own country, to stop being a colony, to grow rice and feed their people, to be independent. One day the American people discovered the truth and acted decisively against that monstrous crime.
Thanks to the way it has behaved our revolution’s moral authority is irreproachable, very high, unwavering and we know that because we are in contact with many people around the world.
Many of those who thought that this revolution would collapse in a matter of days now admire the revolution much more because it was not only capable of holding its ground but also capable of doing what it has done. No one accuse us of chauvinism, because a true internationalist is never a chauvinist. Those who work for the world can never be called chauvinists.
To feel proud of a people that has performed this feat is not chauvinism, it is just and well deserved recognition. This has not been a self-congratulation session for us. We Cubans have been privileged to have had the opportunity to do some things, to contribute to a revolutionary process, we are not saying a single word for the sake of glory for any of us. What I have said, and what I repeat and shall repeat is for the sake of the well-deserved glory of our people.
Fatherland or Death!
We shall overcome! (STANDING OVATION)