KEY ADDRESS BY ARMY GENERAL RAUL CASTRO RUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA, TO THE SECOND SESSION OF THE 7TH LEGISLATURE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF PEOPLEīS POWER. HAVANA, CUBA, DECEMBER 27, 2008.

 

 

Comrades all:

 

We are coming to the end of a year when our country has taken up difficult challenges. A world economy marked by the upheavals of a sustained decline has been aggravated by increasingly devastating and unpredictable natural phenomena. Cuba as well as the other countries from Latin America and the Caribbean has witnessed a succession of droughts, hurricanes and floods of growing intensity and frequency.

 

But, again, millions of Cubans have shown the spirit of those who never back away from challenges, regardless of how insurmountable they may seem. The fact remains that when we work united in solidarity and with adequate organization the resources invested and the results of our efforts multiply.

 

In general, recovery from the damages caused by the last three hurricanes is steadily advancing. We can already see the first fruits of the steady recovery of the farming productions. Likewise, major investments have been made to equip the brigades that will substantially increase the capacity for housing construction. By now, we have in the country the first four large brigades that will be working in the ground movement required by the new housing development.

 

On the other hand, the equipment and material have been bought to be used in the construction of roads and railways and in the repairs of the power and communication grids. This has been achieved in a shorter period than on previous occasions even if the damages were greater. These are but a few examples of what has been done in the past few months.

 

Nevertheless, we should be aware of the magnitude of this endeavor, particularly, the recovery of the houses, since this yearís hurricanesaffected over 500 thousand of them in 35 municipalities, while in 12 other of these 70 thousand remain affected by meteorological events that hit on previous years. From the total sum, 77% are still pending repairs or full construction.

 

I have been given assurances that this work can be concluded within three years, but letís be realistic and not delude ourselves, for even with a continued effort we might need from three to six years.

 

However, while the majority was working and making sacrifices, some tried to profit from the needs of their compatriots, but these were confronted by the firm action of the law enforcement forces, the Prosecution and the Courts of Law acting with the support of the population through the mass organizations.

 

It must be clear that not a step backward shall be taken in our purpose to strengthen institutionalization, discipline and order in every field since without these it is simply not possible to advance.

 

The economic results achieved this year have been discussed both in this plenary session and in previous days.

 

Actually, the adverse economic reality during practically the entire year 2008, combined with the great number of hours that the countryís leadership had to dedicate to looking for the best alternatives to ensure food, healthcare, education and the other basic necessities of our people, despite all difficulties, forced us to postpone the study and adoption of decisions on equally important issues.

 

It has been possible to advance in other areas such as the distribution of idle land among those who can and are willing to make them produce. This is a decisive area; therefore, we should be alert in case of any delay or violation of the established rules.

 

There has also been progress in the collection and local distribution of milk and other food that can be possibly grown in the country; in the rationalization of transportation and its improvement wherever possible; in the construction of major water facilities, aqueducts and sewage systems or the restoration of those existing in various cities; the sustained growth of tourism and a modest increase in imports replacement, just to mention some of the most important tasks.

 

This has enabled us to be in a better position to face the increasing expenses associated to the losses caused by the powerful meteorological phenomena and whatís more by the enormous increase in the prices of practically everything we need to import, except for some specific fluctuations.

 

For example, concerning food, the country paid this year 907 million dollars more than in 2007, and of these, close to 840 million were due to price increase. These prices have been decreasing in the past few weeks, but the prices of our main export items have decreased even more.

 

In 2008, the average price of nickel was 41% lower than in 2007 and 80% lower than that yearís record. Also the prices of sugar and seafood, among other export items, have sustained a decrease.

 

The financial crisis that broke out in the United States has quickly evolved to become the global economic crisis that comrade Fidel forecast no less than ten years ago; the most severe crisis in almost 80 years.

 

The truth is that no Nobel Laureate in Economics, no school of economic thought or international body can ascertain how long and how far this crisis will go.

 

Therefore, next year will be one of great uncertainty in world economy and we should be prepared to take up that serious challenge which has been affecting us considerably.

 

Despite all of these difficulties our economy registered some growth, even if less than had been planned, basically, as I have already said, due to the damages caused by the hurricanes amounting to almost 10 billion dollars, that is, close to 20% of this yearís gross domestic product.

 

Given its importance, I must insist on an idea I have expressed before: no one, neither a person nor a country, can afford to endlessly spend more than it receives from the sale of its productions or the services it renders.

 

The adverse scenario of the world economy and our own difficulties demand that we maximize the possibilities offered by the mutually advantageous relations that we have been developing with friendly nations in every continent, particularly with the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, personally encouraged by its President, comrade Hugo Chavez Frias.

 

Our primary duty is to adjust our foreign currency spending to the amounts we can bring in. The victory in this battle shall depend on the steady increase of productions either marked for exports or that can efficiently replace imports or bring about savings, and on ensuring a greater and better offer of services to people from other countries, since tourism as well as healthcare bring in considerable incomes.

 

This is not only an imperative necessity but also our basic duty to future generations. It would not be ethical to increase the non productive expenditures at the expense of contracting debts to be paid for by our children and grandchildren.

 

Consequently, it has been decided, among other measures, to reduce by 50% the expenses contemplated by the state institutions for foreign traveling and the same has been decided with respect to the business sector. The objective is not to reduce necessary tasks or negotiations but rather to act more rationally.

 

Far from changing the economic strategy adopted, we are being totally consistent with it. We have not set aside any of the issues I have addressed lately. Rather, we have proceeded to take the partial measures allowed by the circumstances and we shall advance --avoiding undue speed or an excess of idealism-- depending on the availability of resources and the conclusion of the necessary studies.

 

In the same token, we should be aware that in order to gradually solve the distortions affecting our wage system, we need to work for the removal of undue gratuitousness and excessive subsidies; otherwise, we cannot make ends meet. Two plus two will always make four; never five.We must be realistic and adjust all of our dreams to real possibilities. This means to apply the socialist principle of everyone receiving according to their work.

 

We should be limiting gratuitousness strictly to ensuring every citizen such crucial services as education, healthcare and social security, which together with culture and sports --just to keep their current levelsówill demand higher productions and an increase in the budget incomes, since the expenses keep growing from one year to the next. This is no simple task and it requires that everyone understands it and supports it.

 

An example of this is what the Council of Ministers analyzed and broadlyinformed you about yesterday regarding the elimination of the practice to guarantee holiday packages, gastronomic offers and others at highly subsidized prices to cadres, outstanding workers and other segments of the population which accounted for an annual spending in hard currency of almost 60 million dollars. Perhaps a little more, if we add that the subsidies received by the camping program exceed 60 million dollars a year. This is the only country in the world doing that.

 

Let this be clearly understood: we are not questioning whether those who have enjoyed this possibility deserved it or not, nor are we limiting the right to go to these places. We are questioning the rationality of such a costly incentive, under the present circumstances or any other.

 

It is a known fact that most people do not have a clear perception of what they receive for free or of the generally high subsidies which are part of their payment and feel that this comes only from their salary.

 

As I have said, this issue was thoroughly discussed yesterday. It really has many other angles from which we shall continue to analyze it; and we say without hesitation that they must all be examined and gradually removed as we advance in the process of giving the salary its real worth. There is no other solution.

 

The priority accorded to other issues prevented us from concluding the necessary studies and presenting to this Assembly session the new composition of the government. Therefore, we are requesting from you to put off that decision, even if, as we have done so far, we shall continue to introduce other changes in the course of the year 2009.

 

These issues are very closely linked to the structural and conceptual transformation that shall be submitted to discussion to and approval by the Sixth Party Congress.

 

For example, great progress has been made in the study towards the establishment of the office of General Comptroller of the Republic. This will be a hierarchical higher body of the central administration of the State directly subordinated to the State Council.

 

It is our purpose to introduce our proposal to the next session of the National Assembly.

 

The draft proposal sets forth that this new body would take up the work of the existing ministry of Auditing and Control in addition to other tasks. It is assumed that this new body will have more responsibilities than it usually does in other countries where it is essentially limited to controlling the pubic funds.

 

In short, we hope it will decisively contribute to strengthening the demand that every leadership structure discharges its duty strictly, while avoiding doing the job of a minister or of any other official. Even in those cases where it detects the absence of rules or regulations, it shall promote their elaboration and presentation to the corresponding authorities. Such a situation is present both at the level of enterprises and even the nation.

 

Where are your duties spelled out, and your guidelines, those that must guide your work and on whose basis you should demand from everyone the fulfillment of their duty, as many delegates said here referring to very concrete subjects? There is an absolute absence of rules or regulations.

 

This office of the General Comptroller of the Republic will also see after that, and I shall elaborate on this concept because it is high time for many of us to start checking what should be regulated in our respective areas of responsibility.

 

Everything requires a regulation as a guidance on which our work must be based.

 

In order to call for action we need to educate, to guide, to prevent and to demand the observation of what has been provided for, but what should be done must be written down and not depend on what comes through anyoneís mind. And, if the time comes to punish somebody we cannot limit ourselves to those who directly committed the violation but we should also include those who with their negligent actions propitiate or permit their occurrence, that is, the so-called accessories, those who do not claim for a responsible action.

 

For many years I have meditated on these matters, first of all by critically analyzing my own work and the othersí, and I have reached the conclusion that one of our fundamental problems is that we are not systematically demanding at all levels. Do observe and meditate, look at one side and the other, and look inside yourselves, too.

 

We should always be willing to get involved in discussions and to face misunderstandings. Being a leader is knowing first of all how to call for action, from the rank and file to the top levels. It is not possible to lead, control and be tolerant at the same time, I mean, be ďa good guy,Ē as people usually say.Thatís why those who really do what they are supposed to do are called names, generally degrading names.

 

Likewise, it is not possible to be a good leader without mastering the documents and provisions that rule our work. We are not used to observe the ruling documents, and when a new one comes around, we simply read the heading and put it on ice. Our work must be guided by the ruling documents adopted at the corresponding levels, preferably after democratic discussions, with the participation of everyone that should be involved and of those who should enforce them.

 

There are few institutions in our country, very few, where everything is regulated from the moment you join in up to the way you should be buried if you die while working in that institution, and what to do in every case. Iím giving you these two extreme examples. But, there are others where nothing is regulated and you commonly find unconscious violations --that occur naturally-- of official regulations and laws of the republic, passed by this same Parliament, and nothing happens.

 

I was saying that it is impossible to be a leader without mastering the provisions and the ruling documents concerning our work.

Unfortunately, not everyone is in the habit of studying or consulting them as often as necessary, which is the only way to adequately implement them.

 

The office of the Comptroller will not remove these problems all by itself, since these stem from deeply rooted vices, as deeply rooted as the plants ofmarabou, --but even the marabou can be pulled out, the marabou can be burned, and in the that land which is today protected at least by the marabou, useful plants can be grown and fruits produced for the country-- however, it will contribute --I mean the Comptrollerís office-- to the battle we are waging on them with the support of other state institutions, especially the General Attorney of the Republicís office, the Party and other non state institutions which together stand for the entire society. We shall give the maximum support to this effort and move ahead step by step avoiding extremism but acting with energy and rigor. De meditate on these matters I have just said and be watchful.

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During the previous session of this Assembly we concentrated on two main issues: the new Social Security Law and the necessity to increase incorporation to the labor force, productivity and efficiency.

 

I agree with the views expressed here during this session in the sense that we have adopted a fair Social Security Law, which respects the workersí interests while taking into account the countryís economic and demographic realities.

 

As reported by our press outlets, the year 2008 is coming to its end with a slight growth in the birth rate as compared to previous years. This does not point, however, to a change in the sustained trend of an increase in the number of citizens of older age with respect to the younger resulting in a progressive decrease of the economically active population.

 

These are unavoidable reasons that can hardly be reversed and that impose the necessity to defer the retirement age. This has been understood by the overwhelming majority of our workers after profound discussions where everybodyís opinion was attentively listened to.

 

Last June an appeal was made to all teachers and professors who had retired for several reasons to return to the classrooms, and the response has proved our expectations to be right.We are happy to congratulate the seven thousand educators who responded positively and who are today contributing their experience and expertise to the different education levels, particularly, in the primary, junior and high school education, where the major deficit of educators is registered.

 

It has meant a major reinforcement for the hard-working and irreplaceable detachment made up by our educators.A proof of this is the additional figure of nine thousand educators who are beyond retirement age and still working. And this task does not end here, mostly in the provinces with the lower results.

 

Something similar happened before with the over 1600 engineers, middle level technicians and skilled workers already retired who have come back to work with the Armed Forces, many of whom are taking part in the important task of modernizing our armament and other means of defense, a subject I addressed in the previous session of this Assembly; 1500 retirees have returned.

 

These examples show that our people always responds well when a serious work is done, and when sound arguments are offered together with a correct organization.

 

On that occasion I also made reference to the fact that every province must ensure not only the professors it needs but also the construction workers, the police agents and the rest of the working force they are lacking today. Some progress has been made. In the first semester of this year, 867 youths from the capital of the country joined the courses to train as policemen, and the enrollment of those who shall start training on February 2009 is already complete.The provinces of Matanzas and La Habana are still lagging behind.

 

Even if I do not address this issue during the next session of the Assembly, I will publicly recall it so that we do not forget.

 

As far as the construction workers are concerned, I must say that the response has been very, very poor in this key sector for the development of the country in every area, even for the thousands of houses we need to build. Letís see what can be done.

 

These are only steps part of a number of measures we shall continue to adopt until working becomes a crucial necessity to all. To put it simple: the people must feel the need to work in order to cover their basic needs, regardless of the conscience of every honest citizen about this primary duty.

 

Letís not deceive ourselves; if there is no pressure, if the people do not need to work in order to cover their necessities, and if we continue to give things for free here and there, we shall lose our voice calling people to work. Thatís my perception, and thatís why everything that I am proposing is aimed at that objective. Letís not deceive ourselves.

 

We share the concern of many compatriots with respect to individuals who do not make any contribution to society, but we should be aware that this problem cannot be solved with a resolution, not even with legislation. This requires a comprehensive approach including political, economic, legal and administrative action, but above all it requires what I have just said: that they feel the necessity to work.

 

In the field of international relations the country has been very successful. We have properly fulfilled our responsibility at the head of the Movement of Non Aligned Countries, which is today more active and united. The resolution against the blockade was adopted at the United Nations for the seventeenth consecutive time. Just a few days ago, the Summit of the Rio Group acclaimed the acceptance of Cuba as a full member, while our countryís considerations were attentively and respectfully heeded by the attending leaders to the summits of Latin America and the Caribbean on Integration and Development, and of MERCOSUR.

 

The nations of our sub-continent have moved from making petitions for to demanding the cessation of aggressions against Cuba by the United States of America, both in multilateral meetings and individually by a growing number of governments and parliaments.

 

An example of this transformation is the statement against the blockade unanimously adopted at the Latin America and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development.

 

This year we continued striving restlessly for the return to our homeland of our Five Heroes. Here, in the presence of their relatives and the people, we restate our commitment to never lose heart in this effort until they are all back home.

 

The swift and considerable assistance received after being hit by the hurricanes, together with the countless messages of solidarity and encouragement, are gestures much appreciated by our people, as they are another tangible example of the respect and affection Cuba has earned with its vertical and principled position in its relations with other countries, and its fraternal and selfless cooperation in innumerable areas, specially in healthcare and education.

 

We are living through a historic time radically different, very different, from those years when the governments of Latin America, except for few but honorable exceptions, submitted as a group to Washingtonís dictate to isolate Cuba. Today, we are harvesting the fruits of a firm and fraternal foreign policy based on unshakable principles, conceived and carried out by comrade Fidel for almost five decades, even under the most challenging circumstances.

 

This year which is about to end, we hosted various important international meetings, the most recent being the Third Cuba-CARICOM Summit, held this December in Santiago de Cuba with excellent results and which was attended, for the first time, by every leader of the countries that make up this community. Additionally, we have had the honor to welcome numerous heads of State or Government, as well as outstanding personalities from all continents in the areas of politics, economics, religion, science and culture.

 

Around these same days, fifty years ago, the Ejercito Rebelde --in close coordination with the combatants of the underground struggle-- obtained its great and decisive final victories throughout the country. Hardly a week later, unable to resist the thrust of the revolution, the tyranny collapsed, seven years after it had come to submerge the country even deeper into tragedy.

 

The triumph of our latest War of Liberation came exactly five years, five months and five days after the heroic attempt to ďtake heaven by stormĒ in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo, on July 26, 1953.

 

The victory of January 1st did not mark the end of the struggle but rather the beginning of a new stage characterized by the increasingly massive and conscious participation of our people without a minute of truce in almost half a century. Such has also been our reality in the particularly intensive and complex past 12 months that we have just reviewed.††

 

That is why Iíd like to conclude wishing you and all of our compatriots, good health and much energy for the year 2009. We shall need them both, as I have said before; there is plenty of work to be done!

 

We, Cuban revolutionaries, can look back at the past holding our heads high and into the future with the same confidence in our strength and our capacity to resist.

 

Letís congratulate ourselves on the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Revolution, and first of all letís congratulate our Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz who has been leading us, --yesterday, today and alwaysófrom victory to victory!

 

Thank you, very much.

 

 

 

 

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