SPEECH DELIVERED BY ARMY GENERAL RAÚL CASTRO RUZ, FIRST SECRETARY OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA AND PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCILS OF STATE AND MINISTERS IN THE SIXTH SESSION OF THE EIGHTH LEGISLATURE OF THE NATIONAL PEOPLE’S POWER ASSEMBLY AT HAVANA’S CONFERENCE CENTER. DECEMBER 29, 2015, “YEAR 57 OF THE REVOLUTION.”
(Stenographic Versions – Council of State)
A year of intensive work and positive results for our country is about to end. We have been quite busy during the last few days: The Council of Ministers met on the eighteenth to discuss, among other issues broadly covered by the media, the performance of the national economy this year as well as the economic plan and budget proposed for the year 2016, which were approved today by this Assembly.
On Saturday last, the twelfth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party analyzed the economic situation and, as part of the preparations for the Seventh Congress of the Party, it discussed the proposed Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development as well as the fulfillment of the Objectives approved at the First National Conference of the Party held in January of 2012.
As usual, our deputies, during their work in different commissions, have broadly debated these economic issues, which has allowed me to highlight only some aspects.
Despite the impact of the international economic crisis, worsened in our case by the effects of the US blockade, which remains unchanged, as well as the external financing restrictions which have been further tightened during the second semester, the GDP grew by 4 per cent this year, which is undoubtedly a good result in the midst of these circumstances.
All production sectors have recorded a positive growth, although some failed to meet the plan. The growth rates achieved in social services are similar to the ones recorded last year.
The number of visitors increased to three and a half million, the highest figure ever since the country decided to bet on the development of tourism. The fact that these results are achieved despite the fact that Cuba is still the only country in the world that is banned for US tourists should not be ignored.
However the financial restrictions that we have continued to face, the commitments entered into during the different processes to reschedule our debt with foreign creditors have been honored and the trend towards the progressive recovery of our economy’s international credibility has been reinforced.
The most recent concrete evidence of such trend was the important multilateral agreement reached on December 12 at the French capital with Cuba’s 14 creditor countries that belong to the Paris Club Ad Hoc Group, which made it possible to resolve an old problem, taking into account the reality and possibilities of the Cuban economy.
This agreement marks the beginning of a new stage in Cuba’s economic, commercial and financial relations with the countries that are part of this mechanism, since it facilitates the access to medium and long term financing, which are most necessary for the investments foreseen in our development plans.
I reiterate the willingness of the Cuban government to honor the commitments resulting from this and other agreements achieved during the re-scheduling of our debt with other States and their private sector.
I should also remind you of the strategic scope of the agreement signed with the government of the Russian Federation for the financing, under favorable terms, of four 200 megawatts power generators and the modernization of our steel industry.
Next year the GDP will continue to grow but at a lesser pace -2 per cent-, due to the expected financial restrictions associated to the drop in the revenues from traditional export products as a result of the reduction of their prices in the international market as it is the case, for example, with nickel.
Furthermore, while the downward trend in oil prices benefits us and the import of foodstuffs, raw materials and manufactured products has been reduced, it is also true that as from this very year 2015, the mutually advantageous relations that had existed with several countries, particularly with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, that has been subject to an economic warfare intended to reverse the popular support to its Revolution, have also been affected.
In a situation like this, there’s no room whatsoever for defeatism, as Fidel has always taught us. The history of our Revolution is full of glorious episodes staged in coping with difficulties, risks and threats.
It is now our task to maximize our reserves of efficiency; concentrate our resources in those economic activities that generate export revenues and contribute to replace imports; make the investment process all the more efficient and increase investments in infrastructure and the production sector, while prioritizing the sustainability of power generation and an increased efficiency in the use of energy sources.
At the same time, we should reduce any cost that is not indispensable and make the best use of the resources available in a more rational way and with a vocation to develop the country.
Despite the limitations, the social services that are being provided to all Cubans free of charge will be maintained at levels that are similar to those of recent years.
We will now discuss some foreign policy issues.
In my remarks of July 15 last at the closing ceremony of the Fifth Session of the National Assembly I said, and I quote: “We realize that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been launched against the revolutionary and progressive processes in Latin America, which will be resolutely confronted by our peoples”, end of quote.
We are sure that the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution will attain new victories under the leadership of comrade Nicolás Maduro Moros, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in the face of the continued destabilizing charge of the right forces, encouraged and supported from abroad.
We are confident of the commitment of the Venezuelan revolutionaries and people -most of whom support the ideals of Bolívar and Chávez- to the legacy of the unforgettable President Hugo Chávez Frías.
We strongly believe that the Venezuelan people as well as the civic and military unity, as they did back in 2002 to prevent the consolidation of a coup d’état against President Chávez, will not permit that the achievements attained by the Revolution are dismantled dismantling and will know how to turn this setback into a victory.
While reiterating Cuba’s solidarity, which will always accompany the homeland of Bolivar, we call on an international mobilization to defend the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela and put an end to the foreign interference in its internal affairs.
In Brazil, the oligarchy spares no efforts to attempt to overthrow President Dilma Roussef through a parliamentary coup. May our solidarity and support go to her and to the brother people of Brazil in the struggle that is being waged to defend the social and political achievements attained during these 13 years of leadership of the Workers’ Party.
History shows that whenever the right wing is in power, it does not hesitate to dismantle social policies, benefit the rich, re-establish neo-liberalism and apply cruel shock therapies against workers, women and youths. Decades of military dictatorships in Latin America and new methods of destabilization against progressive governments have taught us that imperialism and the right forces do not renounce violence either to impose their interests.
In the midst of this risky and complex regional context, it is essential to defend unity within the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as an indispensable, legitimate unitary and diverse mechanism of political coordination and integration, which made it possible for the first time to gather under a common purpose all 33 States of Our America.
The Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by all heads of State and Government at the Second CELAC Summit held in Havana in January of 2014 is a solid foundation to develop relations between our countries and at the international level.
We feel optimistic over the progress achieved in the peace talks between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, a process that is much closer than ever to an agreement that will put an end to the armed conflict that has bled that nation for more than half a century. We will continue to exercise our impartial role as guarantors and as hosts of that process.
Next moth, Cuba will be presiding over the Association of Caribbean States, with a firm and invariable commitment to the cause of unity and integration in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As has been reported by the national and foreign media, there are thousands of Cubans currently stranded in Costa Rica. They arrived in that nation from other countries of the region with the purpose of travelling to the United States. In their journey, these persons, who departed from Cuba legally, have become victims of unscrupulous smugglers and criminal bands that do not hesitate in jeopardizing the lives of Cuban migrants.
Since the very beginning of this situation, our government has been in touch with the governments of the region in order to find a quick and appropriate solution, as was also requested by Pope Francis, taking into account the difficult circumstances facing these citizens. Cuba has reiterated its commitment in favor of a legal, orderly and safe migration, as well as the right of Cuban citizens to travel and migrate and return to their home country, in compliance with our migration laws.
As was stated in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government published on December 1st, the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program and the Cuban Adjustment Act continue to be the principal encouragement to an irregular migration from Cuba to the United States.
Latin American and Caribbean migrants also deserve fair and humane treatment. The abusive and discriminatory practices, the violation of their human rights, the separation of families and the cruel detention and deportation of unaccompanied children should cease.
With regard to a different issue, as we advised early on, the policy of unilateral sanctions against Russia and the tightening of the siege imposed by NATO on the Russian borders, have only favored a climate of greater instability and insecurity in the region.
The humanitarian crisis generated by the waves of refugees to the European continent, due to the existence of conflicts and poverty derived from the unjust international economic order and the non conventional wars and destabilizing actions of NATO in Northern Africa and the Middle East, has continued to worsen. Europe should take up its responsibility and guarantee respect for the human rights of these persons as well as contribute to the eradication of the causes of this phenomenon.
We reiterate the right of the Syrian people to find an honorable solution to their problems with the participation of the legitimate authorities of that nation, without any foreign interference, while preserving their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In September last we received Pope Francis with admiration, respect and affection, precisely in the year when we commemorate the eightieth anniversary of uninterrupted relations between the Holy See and Cuba. We appreciate his prayers in favor of peace and equity, the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment and his reflections on the causes of the main problems that currently affect humanity.
During the year that is about to conclude, the bilateral political dialogue with several countries was strengthened, which was evidenced in the visits paid to Cuba by 184 foreign delegations, 25 of them presided over by Heads of State or Government, from all regions of the world.
In September last, we attended, like most of the Heads of State and Government of the planet, the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the Agenda 2030, which approved a new framework for sustainable development, with the purpose of reducing extreme poverty, hunger, diseases, inequality between genders, lack of access to education, basic infrastructure and the degradation of the environment.
The commitments and actions of the industrialized world continue to be insufficient. Only by constructing a new international economic order and a different global financial architecture will it be possible for the countries of the South to meet the goals and objectives that have been approved.
The international community has continued to reject the US blockade in several fora, particularly at the United Nations Summit and the high level segment of the UN General Assembly, which I was able to attend, and during which tens of Heads of State and Government called for an end to the blockade.
On October 27 this year, 191 UN member States supported the Cuban resolution, a gesture that is deeply appreciated by our people, which shows that the world does not forget that the blockade still exists.
We have reiterated to the US Government that in order to normalize bilateral relations, the blockade should be lifted and the territory usurped by the Guantánamo Naval Base should be returned to Cuba, as I explained in my declaration before the Council of Ministers on the 18th, in which I also reaffirmed that no one should expect Cuba to abandon the cause of independence or renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have struggled during one and a half centuries.
In order to advance in this process, the right of every State to choose the economic, political and social system it wishes, without any interference whatsoever, should be respected. We will never accept the imposition of any condition that is harmful to the sovereignty and the dignity of our Homeland.
The most important thing now is for President Barack Obama to resolutely use his broad executive powers to modify the implementation of the blockade, which will give some sense to what has been achieved so far and will make it possible to attain sound advances.
Hardly one and a half months ago we commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the independence of Angola and the beginning of “Operation Carlota” which made us remember the internationalist contribution made by our people to that heroic deed worked out by Angolans, Namibians and Cubans, which changed, once and for all, the political map of Southern Africa and accelerated the end of the opprobrious Apartheid regime.
We particularly appreciate the African Unity solidarity towards Cuba and reiterate our support to its development program Agenda 2063. We will continue honoring our cooperation commitments.
This semester, progress was made in the negotiation of a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union, as well as in our bilateral relations with its member States. In February next year I will pay an official visit to France to reciprocate the visit paid by President Francois Hollande.
Finally, comrades, a few hours ahead of the arrival of the year 58 of the Revolution, I want to convey to all Cubans well-deserved congratulations and the strong belief that we will overcome any challenge in our endeavors to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.
Tank you very much.