Key Address by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the State dinner offered to participants in the United States Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana. Laguito Protocol Hall Havana City. September 28, 2002.
Distinguished participants in this excellent exhibition and their families:
This U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Cuba has been possible thanks to the determination, constructive spirit and initiative of farmers and businesspeople in the United States and the modest but sincere and friendly cooperation of the food importing, producing and distributing companies in Cuba.
The term historic could be used to describe an event taking place for the first time in over 40 years, or the first time ever.
Throughout more than a century, sugar, tobacco, rum, vegetables, tropical fruits, nickel, cobalt, iron, copper and other commodities were exchanged for U.S. food and industrial products. Our country’s beaches, clean air, abundant vegetation, warm sunshine, beautiful landscapes, as well as its popular music and other cultural manifestations together with our people’s traditional hospitality were always attractions that millions of Americans enjoyed in our country, regardless of historical circumstances. Not even major international conflicts could interfere with our trade relations.
During the Second World War, a number of Cubans lost their lives while transporting goods between Cuba and the United States, which helped that country to meet major needs in times of war.
There is nothing new in the relations between our two countries, when it comes to the exchange of products. What is really new is the transcendental event that we celebrate here tonight:, a U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Cuba after more than 40 years of no trade at all.
In the eleven months prior to this exhibition over 50 merchant ships have brought to Cuba 712 thousand tons of U.S. farm products.
It is my duty here tonight to most sincerely acknowledge the seriousness, efficiency and punctuality of the suppliers and the quality of the products delivered. Not one of the merchant ships that arrived in our country delayed even a minute in the time scheduled for unloading, while all of the importers without exception were rewarded with hundreds of thousands dollars for swift delivery.
The total imports that, including transportation costs, had initially been estimated in 40 million USD, were at the beginning of this exhibition 140 million and in the following days new contracts have been signed that will eventually raise that figure to over 200 million USD.
There was not a single case of late payment for the services and products delivered; everything was paid for in cash, despite predictions by those who claimed that Cuba was not in a position to pay for such purchases.
On the other hand, such operations have not affected the economic and financial interests of our country’s traditional food suppliers during the hardest years of the special period. Their interests have always been taken into account. The increase of U.S. imports have been based on very precise analysis and calculations of the comparative economic advantages of gains and losses in hard currency related to local productions, and on indispensable import increases.
No Cuban worker has been nor will be affected since special circumstances enable us to fully respect their income and to offer them the opportunity to follow middle or higher level studies, which will extraordinarily raise their self-esteem and social recognition. The country will thus have more funds available for its economic and social development.
We hope that the seriousness that has so far prevailed will always guide our trade relations that today work in one direction only but tomorrow will work in both.
The capacity of those present here today, their courage, confidence and good faith, have been decisive factors in the success achieved. We shall always be grateful for it.
Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of farmers and agribusiness representatives from the United States. I have learned a great deal from them about the agricultural techniques applied and the productivity achieved by grain farmers. Many of them are families with three or four members who farm large areas of land and cultivate hundreds of hectares of grains by using large and modern machinery.
The question I invariably ask almost all of them is how much more food they could produce above and beyond their current production. What leads me to ask them this is my deep conviction that the greatest challenge facing humanity in the not-too-distant future will be food production. The world’s population today is roughly 6.2 billion, four times more than 100 years ago and this figure will almost be doubled in a few short decades. Only science, technology and higher productivity per hectare will help face the enormous challenge on a planet that is becoming increasingly impoverished and lacking in arable land and drinking water with every passing year.
As peoples acquire higher levels of education and development, they demand greater quantities of grains. They are not satisfied with cereals, for example; they want also milk, meat, eggs, greater variety and quality in the foods they eat, including more grains, fruit, vegetables, fiber and vitamins, and less fat and heavy molecular weight oil.
In the near future markets will not be scarce but food will. We must facilitate exchange, eliminate obstacles, and increase trade and development so that billions of undernourished people in the world will be able to buy what they need to live and to achieve the necessary technical and economic development. When this is achieved, then the hard-working American farmers will never again have to worry about finding markets for the food that they are capable of producing.
It is with this hope that I will conclude.
For me, as well as for my comrades, this exhibition have meant a privilege since we have been able to meet and to sustain fruitful exchanges with many farmers, food industry business people and others in charge of agricultural programs coming from almost every state of the Union. They are all excellent and well-educated people in whom we appreciate the great values and human virtues that we have always recognized in the American people.
I wish each and every one of you and your families the success that you so rightly deserve for your initiative and courage.
May you always remember the sincere respect and hospitality with which our people have welcomed you!
Thank you very much.