Speech presented by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, during the closure of the National Assembly of People’s Power Eighth Legislature’s Fifth Period of Ordinary Sessions, in the Havana Convention Center, July 15, 2015, Year 57 of the Revolution.
Compañeras and compañeros:
Over the last few months we have witnessed several events of great importance to the country, about which you and our people have been informed in a timely fashion.
As is customary, deputies have received abundant information about the performance of the economy during the first half of the year, and estimates through the end of the year.
The decelerating growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product – known as GDP – a trend which has appeared in recent years, has clearly been reversed. As of June 30, the GDP had grown 4.7%, and we estimate that at the conclusion of the year it will stand at about 4%. And this is very good, considering that last year we only grew 1%. Nevertheless, to reach the expected 4%, we must work hard and in a very disciplined manner, above all in the economic sphere, as Minister of the Economy Marino Murillo indicated.
Despite several unmet projections, production in the sugar industry and manufacturing increased, as well as in construction, commerce, tourism, and agricultural production, despite the fact that the latter is suffering the effects of the prolonged drought occurring throughout the national territory.
I must emphasize, in this context, the need for more rational use of this vital resource, as several compañeras and compañeros have said. At the end of June, water stored in reservoirs stood at only 38% of capacity, today it stands at 36.1%, as the president of the Water Resources Institute, Inés María Chapman, reported, with the least favorable situations existing in the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Las Tunas, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus and Pinar del Río.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the plan’s implementation is to be found in the transportation sector, which led to difficulties in the economy’s performance, a result of organizational shortcomings and the low level of technical availability in the railroad and automotive systems, associated with the lack of replacement parts and problems in maintenance and repair. This situation was aggravated by delays in the arrival to the country of equipment projected for last year and this year, the majority of which should arrive in 2015.
In addition to the above is the decision adopted in the recent Council of Ministers meeting, to distribute means of transportation, as well as construction equipment, from state reserves, and expedite the ordering of equipment initially under consideration for the 2016 plan.
During the first half of the year we have faced severe external financial constraints. Nevertheless, the country has continued rigorously fulfilling its payment obligations to foreign creditors and providers, a practice which favors the gradual re-establishment of the national economy’s credibility, despite the U.S. blockade which remains in full force.
Amidst these difficulties, we have been able to maintain social services for the population – a question we will never neglect – and, as evidence of this, we can point out that the country’s epidemiological situation has improved substantially.
What’s more, monetary and financial stability has been maintained. Inflation, in general, has been contained to predicted levels, between three and five percent, although we cannot ignore the justified concerns of the population regarding the high prices of agricultural products, which are increasing more than the average salary.
You have noticed that on this occasion, unlike previous sessions of the National Assembly, information has not been included on progress in the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines approved by the 6th Party Congress, given that we considered more convenient a focus on the development of a draft report on this issue to be presented at the 7th Congress in April 2016, just as was called for by the Central Committee Plenum held yesterday.
I will, however, refer briefly to the principal tasks undertaken in the interest of updating our economic and social model. Among these is the elaboration of the theoretical conceptualization of socialism in Cuba, and the strategic guidelines and sectors to be included in the economic and social development plan through 2030. Both documents will be among those analyzed during the next Party Congress.
At the same time, progress continues in the strengthening of the role which the socialist state enterprise must play, as the fundamental element in the national economy, adjusting approved measures in a timely fashion and incorporating others related to more flexible functioning and to salary systems based on the results of work.
Likewise, several changes have been implemented in the economic planning process, in accordance with the perfecting of the enterprise system, which has facilitated the more comprehensive incorporation into the plan of policies approved as part of the implementation of the guidelines, and the programming of monetary balances in the plan and state budget.
Progress continues in the completion of the group of measures directed toward monetary unification, an extremely complex process which is indispensable to the efficient performance of the economy. It is worth reiterating what has been said on numerous occasions before our Parliament, about bank deposits being guaranteed, in international currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), as well as cash held by the population, or national and foreign incorporated entities.
In the same way, the experimental process of creating non-agricultural cooperatives continues to advance, with the priorities of consolidating those which are in place and gradually advancing in the constitution of new cooperatives, without repeating the distortions already identified.
Along with this, slightly more than half a million Cubans are functioning as self- employed workers in multiple activities, a figure which will continue to increase in a gradual fashion, as restaurants and services for the population are transferred to this management mode, while preserving state ownership of buildings.
We will continue the process of transformations in Cuban society at our own pace, which we have sovereignly chosen, with the majority support of the people, in the interest of constructing a prosperous and sustainable socialism, the essential guarantee of our independence. The first half of the year has been characterized by intense international action.
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Third Summit, held in January in Costa Rica, expressed the firm demand that the economic, commercial and financial blockade be ended, and called upon President Obama to utilize with resolve his broad executive authority to substantially modify the application of this policy. Just days later, the African Union Summit made a similar statement.
The 7th Summit of the Americas, attended for the first time by Cuba, held in Panama in April, provided a propitious opportunity for the region to reiterate its support to the just struggle of our people against the blockade, and insist on the necessity of modifying hemispheric relations in this era, when it can no longer be treated as a back yard.
Precisely in Panama, we held a meeting with the President of the United States.
My words at the two events reflected the invariable, principled foreign policy position of the Cuban Revolution, and expressed loyalty to the ideas which our people have defended, despite dangers and challenges, with the guidance of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz. This frees me from repeating them here today, since they are well known to you.
Nevertheless, I must reiterate our solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution and the government headed by President Nicolás Maduro, in the face of destabilization attempts and any act of external intervention. We were pleased to learn of the results of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s primary elections, while we are carefully following the dialogue underway between this country and the United States.
We denounce the destabilization campaigns against the government of President Rafael Correa and the Citizen’s Revolution in Ecuador, to which we confirm Cuba’s solidarity.
We notice that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been put into practice against Latin American revolutionary and progressive processes, which will be decisively confronted by our peoples.
This Parliament sends solidarity greetings to President Dilma Rousseff and the Brazilian people who defend the important social and political progress of regional integration and of the countries of the South against attempts to reverse these.
In early May, we attended the impressive commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the victory over fascism in Moscow, an episode that no one can distort or erase from the memory of humanity.
We warned early on, in this very hall, that the attempt to extend NATO to Russia’s borders would bring serious threats to international peace and security.
Today we reaffirm that the intention of imposing sanctions on Russia will harm the interests of Europe, and bring greater instability and new dangers. This position was put forward once again by Cuba at the Second CELAC-European Union Summit, where we also ratified our disposition to dialogue and cooperate with the European bloc, with which we are negotiating an agreement on this matter. On this occasion our delegation was led by First Vice President compañero Miguel Díaz -Canel.
We welcome the agreement reached between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Security Council group of permanent members plus Germany. We reiterate our support for the inalienable right of all states to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This result demonstrates that dialogue and negotiation are the only effective tools to resolve differences between states.
At this time, we are preparing to receive Pope Francis in September, with the affection, respect and hospitality he deserves.
His advocacy of peace and equity, the eradication of poverty, protection of the environment and his analysis of the causes of humanity’s problems arouse worldwide admiration, which we have all followed closely, especially during his memorable tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
It was already reported that on July 20, as a result of the negotiations taking place in a respectful manner, and on an equal footing, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States will be officially restored, and embassies will reopen in the respective capitals; firstly ours.
Thus the first phase of the process initiated on December 17 will have concluded, and a new, long complex stage will then begin, on the path toward the normalization of relations, which will require the will to find solutions to problems that have accumulated for more than five decades and affect the ties between our countries and peoples. As we have said, it’s a question of establishing a new type of relation between the two states, different from those of all our common history.
As indicated in the Statement of the Revolutionary Government of July 1, it is inconceivable, while the blockade is maintained, that there be normal relations between Cuba and the United States.
In recognizing the call by President Obama on the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade of Cuba, reiterated in his statement last July 1, we hope that he continues using his executive powers, that is, those decisions that he as President can adopt without Congressional involvement, to dismantle aspects of this policy, which causes damage and hardships to our people. Naturally, the parliament, namely Congress, is responsible for the rest of the blockade measures.
To normalize bilateral ties it will also be necessary that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned; illegal radio and television transmissions to Cuba ended; programs aimed at promoting destabilization and internal subversion eliminated; and the Cuban people compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.
Changing everything which must be changed is the sovereign and exclusive domain of Cubans. The Revolutionary Government is willing to advance in the normalization of relations, convinced that both countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, to our mutual benefit, beyond the differences we have and will have, thus contributing to peace, security , stability, development and equity in our continent and the world.
Compañeras and compañeros:
A few weeks ago, the homeland received the members of the “Henry Reeve” Contingent who participated in the battle against Ebola in West Africa, where they provided an extraordinary example of solidarity, altruism and personal courage in confronting this deadly epidemic. Our eternal tribute to Jor ge Juan Guerra Rodríguez and Reynaldo Vi lla franca Antigua, the two collaborators who died of other diseases contracted during the fulfillment of that mission.
In addition, a Cuban medical brigade, which will return in the coming days, assisted with great spirit of solidarity the victims of the earthquakes in the mountains of Nepal.
Our country will continue to fulfill, in accordance with its means, and with our internationalist duty to support peoples in need, as today tens of thousands of compatriots in over 80 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia are doing, under the principle that those who can defray the collaboration do so, and we will continue helping those who do not have the resources.
In just 10 days we will celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks and the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city of Santiago de Cuba. There we will share with this valiant people the joy at these events, valiant like the rest of the country, including the Isle of Youth and adjacent keys (applause), and hear the words of the Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, José Ramón Machado Ventura (applause).
Anyone who today compares this heroic city with that which was left after being ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, less than three years ago, will understand that nothing is impossible for a united people, like ours, willing to fight and defend the work of their Revolution.
See you in Santiago,
Thank you very much. (Prolonged applause)
(Council of State transcript)