We have all lived through intense and exciting moments in the last few days.
In this very month of December we successfully held the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit. Last Sunday we held the Thirteenth Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and, on that occasion, we paid a well-deserved tribute to their founders: our close friend and Bolivarian President, Hugo Chávez Frías, and the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz.
Present in this session are Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio, a source of genuine rejoicing and happiness for all of our people. I will elaborate on this important even towards the final part of my statement. Also present here are comrades Fernando and René and the relatives of the Five Heroes, as well as the young Elián González, his father Juan Miguel and Colonel Orlando Cardoso Villavicencio, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, who endured a harsh incarceration for more than ten years in Somalia.
As has been the usual practice in the sessions of our Parliament, it is now my turn to make a review of the country’s economic performance throughout the year that is about to conclude, as well as of the economic plan and budget for the year 2015, which have been thoroughly discussed by deputies in all the 10 commissions of the Assembly and also in yesterday’s plenary session.
The Ninth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party that was held on Thursday last was also devoted to the discussion of these issues. That is why I will just refer to them very briefly.
As has been already explained, the Gross Domestic Product, known as GDP, increased by 1.3 per cent, a figure below the originally planned rate, as a result of the insufficient economic performance during the first semester of the year, when we were faced with significant financial constraints deriving from the failure to meet the expected level of revenues from abroad, the adverse weather conditions and the internal insufficiencies in economic management.
Although, in fact, during the second semester of the year, we managed to modestly reverse that trend and achieve better results.
Next year’s economic plan will consolidate and reinforce the trend towards a more solid growth of the Cuban economy, based on the optimal use of our reserves in terms of efficiency; the restoration of productive sectors, particularly the manufacturing industry; a more efficient use of energy sources and a higher number of investments in infrastructure and material production, while preserving social services, such as public health and education, for our population.
A GDP growth of a little more than 4 per cent has been projected for the year 2015. This is an attainable goal, considering that, as different from the situation faced in the early months of 2014, a better funding has been guaranteed with sufficient time in advance, which in no way means that it will be an easy task. We will have to continue coping with the effects of the global economic crisis and the US blockade that still remains in force and creates undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy.
At the same time, we will continue to strictly honor the commitments entered into when we rescheduled our debts with our main creditors, thus contributing to the gradual recovery of the international credibility of the Cuban economy.
Yesterday afternoon, the National Assembly approved the Law on the State Budget for the year 2015, which envisages a 6.2 per cent deficit in the GDP, considered to be an acceptable rate under the present circumstances. New taxes will be implemented and the tax burden on the business system shall be reduced in accordance with the gradual implementation of the Tax Law.
Likewise, a series of steps have been taken to improve tax control against indiscipline and tax evasion by both juridical and natural persons.
In this regard, we should not only penalize those who fail to comply with their duties, since impunity would be an encouragement to the infringement of the legal norms in force. We have also considered it to be necessary to promote among all institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and self-employed workers a culture of civic behavior towards taxation as well as the view that taxes are the main formula to re-distribute national income in the interest of all citizens.
Furthermore, the process of implementation of the Guidelines of the Economic, Political and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, approved by the sixth Congress has continued. As has already been announced, we are now on a qualitatively higher stage of this process in which we are addressing extremely complex tasks, the solution of which will affect all the aspects of national affairs.
I am referring, first and foremost, to the process aimed at unifying both currencies, an area in which a very sound progress has been achieved during the second half of this year from the conceptual point of view. We have managed to streamline a comprehensive program of measures in order to avoid damages to the economy and the population.
The decision to generalize sales in CUP at the hard-currency stores has been positively welcomed by citizens, and this process will continue to expand in a gradual way.
This is an auspicious occasion to ratify two concepts that we should not ignore.
The first is that the Unification of Currencies is not the universal or immediate solution to all the problems our economy faces.
This important decision should be complemented by a series of macro-economic measures that would favor the ordering of the monetary regime of the country through a series of instruments that would guarantee a proper national financial balance, which will decisively contribute to improve economic performance and the construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism in Cuba.
The second, and no less important concept, is that all bank accounts in foreign currency, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), as well as the cash in the hands of the population and the national and foreign juridical persons shall be protected.
We have known about the well-intended and not very-well intended opinions that are being expressed both inside and outside the country about the rhythm of the process to update our economic model.
There has also been an open encouragement from abroad to speed up privatization, even of the main production and service sectors, which will b equal to laying down the flags of socialism in Cuba.
It seems as if the latter have not bothered to read the Guidelines which clearly states as follows, and I quote: “The economic system that shall prevail in our country will continue to be based on the people’s socialist ownership over the fundamental means of production, governed by the socialist principle of distribution: “from each according to his/her capacity to each according to his/her contribution”, end of quote.
We will continue to implement the agreements adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in a responsible and firm way, at the speed that we may sovereignly determine here, without jeopardizing the unity of Cubans, without living anyone to his or her own fate, without resorting to shock therapies and without ever renouncing the ideals of social justice of this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.
Next year we will initiate the preparations for the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the Party in April of 2016. Prior to that there will be a broad and democratic debate among all Communist Party members and the entire people about the process of implementation of the Guidelines.
Closely associated to the updating of the economic model is the process for the gradual, I repeat, gradual decentralization of faculties from the ministries down to the business sector.
This is not something that can be done overnight, if we want to succeed. We will require a reasonable time to prepare and train, as we have been doing, our cadres at every level; modify the old-fashioned mentality and get rid of old habits; and work out and implement the legal framework and specific procedures that would enable all of us to see to it that the decisions are adequately implemented and mistakes are timely corrected, thus avoiding unnecessary setbacks.
Among other steps, a decision was made to expand and make more flexible the social object of the Socialist state-owned enterprises in order to increase their autonomy. The mission assigned to them by the State was redefined and they were entrusted with the faculties required for the marketing of their production surplus. Likewise, the removal of administrative limitations, which will allow for the payment of salaries based on results, was also established.
These transformations shall be gradually implemented, without haste, in an orderly, disciplined and rigorous manner.
The just aspiration of earning higher salaries is a very sensitive question. We can not allow ourselves to make any mistakes, nor letting ourselves be drawn by desire or improvisation.
We would be happy to see that the salaries earned by those workers who work in those sectors recording the most efficient results and reporting benefits of particular economic and social impact are gradually increased.
However, I should state very clearly that we can not distribute a wealth that we have not been capable of creating. Doing so would have serious consequences for the national economy as well as for the personal finances of each and every citizen. Pouring out money into the streets without an equivalent increase in the offer of goods and services will generate inflation, a phenomenon that, among other harmful effects, would reduce the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, which will particularly affect the most humble. And we can not allow that to happen.
The first year of implementation of the new salary policy in quite a few enterprises has revealed that there has been a violation of the salary cost index per every gross value-added Peso. In other words, higher salaries have been paid without the corresponding backing in production. On several occasions I have warned that this should be considered as a serious, very serious indiscipline that should be resolutely confronted by the administrative cadres and trade union organizations.
The fact that in our social system, trade unions defend workers’ rights is secret to no one. To effectively do so, trade unions should be the first to look after the interests of any given workers group, but also the interests of the entire working class, which are essentially the same interests defended by the entire nation.
We can not leave any room for selfishness and greed to thrive and consolidate among our workers. We all want and need better salaries, but first we have to create wealth and then distribute it according to the contribution each one can make.
Obviously, there are many other issues related to the updating of the economic model which I have not mentioned. In several of them there have been deviations that we are called to correct in due time, in the spirit of never having to back. But for that we have to work in a very serious and responsible way.
No one in the world could ignore Cuba’s outstanding international record in the course of the year that is about to conclude. Cubans are faced with a huge challenge: We must put the economy on a par with the political prestige that this small Caribbean Island has earned thanks to the Revolution, the heroism and the resilience of our people. Economy remains the most important unresolved matter and it is our duty to place it, once and for all, down the right path towards the sustainable and irreversible development of socialism in Cuba.
As I said at the beginning, the deputies and the entire people feel deeply moved and excited about the possibility of sharing the presence in Cuba of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René, which makes true the promise made by Comrade Fidel thirteen years ago. The extraordinary example of firmness, sacrifice and dignity of the Cuban Five has filled with pride an entire nation that struggled tirelessly for their liberation and now welcomes them as true heroes (APPLAUSE).
I should reiterate the profound and sincere gratitude to all solidarity movements and committees that struggled for their release and to innumerable governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions and personalities for their valuable contribution.
The Cuban people are grateful for this just decision made by the US President, Barack Obama. Such decision has removed one obstacle that hindered the relations between our two countries.
The entire world has had a positive reaction to the announcements made last Wednesday; it has assessed their importance for international relations, particularly for the US links with the region. They have led to favorable statements being made by governments, presidents and well-known personalities, which we sincerely appreciate.
This has been the result of talks held at the highest level and under absolute secrecy, thanks to the contribution made by Pope Francis and the facilities offered by the government of Canada.
Besides, this result has been possible thanks to the profound changes occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where governments and peoples call for a new US Cuba policy.
We welcome the decision announced by President Obama to begin a new chapter in the relations between both countries and introduce the most significant changes in the US Cuba policy in more than 50 years.
We likewise recognize his willingness to hold discussions with the US Congress about the lifting of the blockade and his desire to achieve a better future for both nations, our hemisphere and the world.
We share the idea that a new stage could open up between the United States and Cuba that will begin with the resumption of diplomatic relations, which should be based on the Conventions governing Diplomatic and Consular Relations and regulating the conduct of Diplomatic and Consular Missions and their officials.
We will engage in the high level contacts between both governments with a constructive, respectful and reciprocity spirit and with the purpose of moving towards the normalization of relations.
As I expressed last December 17, a very important step has been taken, but the essential problem still remains unresolved, which is the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, that has been further tightened during the last few years, particularly in the area of financial transactions, through the application of skyrocketing and illegitimate fines on banks from several countries.
Our people should understand that, under the circumstances that have already been announced, this will be a long and hard struggle which will require the international opinion and the US society to mobilize in order to continue calling for the lifting of the blockade.
Every data indicate that the majority of US citizens and an even broader majority within Cuban émigrés favor the normalization of bilateral relations. Within the US Congress, which codified the blockade provisions into law, there is also an increasing opposition to that policy.
We hope the US President would resolutely use his executive prerogatives to substantially modify the implementation of the blockade in those aspects in which Congress approval is not required.
At the same time, we will analyze the scope and the form of implementation of the positive executive measures announced by President Obama.
The instructions he has given to review Cuba’s unjustifiable inclusion in the List of States that Sponsor International Terrorism is encouraging. Facts have shown that Cuba has been a victim of multiple terrorist attacks, many of whose perpetrators have so far enjoyed impunity. As we all know these attacks have taken a toll on thousands of human lives and maimed persons.
The pretexts used to launch those attacks are absolutely groundless, as is known by the entire planet. They only serve political interests under the false pretense of justifying the tightening of the blockade, particularly in the financial sector.
Never has any terrorist action against any US citizen, interest or territory been organized, financed or perpetrated from Cuba; nor will that ever be permitted. Every time we have received any information about terrorist plans against the United States we have relayed that information to the US Government to which for several years now we have been suggesting the establishment of a cooperation agreement in that area.
We have always been ready to establish a dialogue, on an equal footing, to discuss a wide range of issues on the basis of reciprocity and without casting a shadow on our national independence and self-determination and, as Fidel has pointed out, without renouncing any of our principles.
I reiterate that it will only be possible to move forward based on mutual respect, which involves the observance of the principles of International Law and the UN Charter, among them, the sovereign equality of States, peoples’ equal rights and self determination, the peaceful settlement of international controversies, the principle of refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any State and the obligation not to intervene in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of States, which means that any form of interference or threat to the political, economic and cultural elements of any given State is considered a violation of International Law.
In accordance with the proclamation of the Latin American and Caribbean region as a Zone of Peace, which was signed by the Heads of State and Government on January 29 this year in Havana in the context of the CELAC Summit, all States have the inalienable right to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, without any interference whatsoever from another State, which is a principle of International Law. That document was signed here in Havana by all Heads of State and Government of this continent, with the exception of the United States and Canada, which were not invited to attend.
Between the governments of the United States and Cuba there are profound differences which include, among others, different views about the exercise of national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations.
We reiterate our willingness to establish a respectful dialogue on our differences based on reciprocity. We have firm convictions and many concerns about what is happening in the United States in terms of democracy and human rights, and we would agree to talk on the basis of the principles referred to previously, about any issue, and about all what the US might be willing to discuss, about the situation here Cuba but also about the situation in the United States.
No one should expect Cuba to renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century, and for which its people have shed lots of blood and run the biggest risks in order to improve its relations with the United States.
It is necessary to understand that Cuba is a sovereign State whose people, through a free referendum held to approve the Constitution, chose a socialist path as well as its political, economic and social system (APPLAUSE).
We will demand respect for our system in the same way that we have never intended the United States to change its political system.
Both governments should take mutual steps to prevent and avoid any action that might affect the progress achieved in bilateral relations, based on the observance of the law and the constitutional order of both Parties.
We do not ignore the vicious criticisms that President Obama has had to put up with as a result of the already mentioned announcements by some forces that are opposed to the normalization of relations with Cuba, including some lawmakers of Cuban descent and ringleaders of counterrevolutionary groups who refuse to lose the means of support granted to them by the several decades of conflicts between our two countries. They will do whatever it takes to sabotage this process. We should not rule out the perpetration of provocations of every sort. On our part, a prudent, moderate and reflexive –though firm- behavior shall prevail.
In Cuba there are numerous and different mass, trade union, farmers, women, students, writers and artists and social organizations, which have even a representation at the Council of State, as well as non-governmental organizations, many of them represented by several deputies in this Assembly, which will feel offended if they are mistaken for a few hundreds of individuals who receive money, instructions and a breath of air from abroad.
At the multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, we will continue to advocate for peace, International Law and all other just causes, and we will continue to denounce the threats to the survival of the human species posed by climate change and the existence of nuclear arsenals.
We will continue to promote the exercise of human rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights, by all persons, as well as the right of all peoples to peace and development.
The Cuban Revolution is deeply grateful to the peoples, parties and governments from which it has received an unwavering and permanent solidarity, and shall continue to orient its foreign policy based on our unshakable allegiance to principles.
A symbol of the above are the special relations that we maintain with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to which we will continue to offer our support, in the face of the attempts to destabilize the legitimate government that is headed by Comrade President Nicolas Maduro Moros. We reject every attempt to impose sanctions against that sister nation (APPLAUSE).
As I said a few days ago, we are willing to cooperate with the United States at the multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as in the event of any dangerous situation that may require collective and effective humanitarian responses that should never be politicized.
Such is the case of the combat against the Ebola virus in West Africa and its prevention in the Americas, as was proclaimed by the ALBA Special Summit that was held in Havana on this issue on October last.
Just as I have stated in the recently held CARICOM and ALBA Summits, I appreciate the invitation conveyed to me by the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Valera, to attend the Seventh Summit of the Americas and I confirm I will attend in order to explain our positions, in an honest and respectful way, to all Heads of State and Government without any exception.
Cuba’s attendance to that Summit has been the result of the solid and unanimous consensus achieved within Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that is living through a new era and has united, amidst its diversity, under the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) which Cuba was honored to preside last year.
We do not forget that ALBA, with its continued appeal and the support of all countries of the region, managed to remove the old and opprobrious sanctions imposed against Cuba back in 1962 by the Organization of American States, at a meeting held in the Republic of Honduras, where hardly one month later a coup d’état was perpetrated that ousted Comrade Zelaya, the president of that country.
Within just a few days we will be celebrating the upcoming New Year and the fifty sixth anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution. Only two days ago, on December 18, we marked the fifty eighth anniversary of the occasion when we reunited with Fidel at a place called Palmas de Vicana, in the Sierra Maestra mountains, in the heart of the Sierra Maestra, and Fidel’s historical exclamation when he knew that, in total, we had seven rifles to resume the struggle: Now we will for sure win the war!
The unshakable faith in victory that Fidel instilled in all of us shall continue to lead our people in the defense and further improvement of the work of its Revolution.
Happy New Year!
We salute the new fifty-seventh year of the Cuban Revolution!
Raúl Castro is a revolutionary and President of Cuba.