President Raul Castro's speech to the closing ceremony of the Cuban National Assembly
Campaign News | Saturday, 1 January 2011
Speech delivered by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, during the closing ceremony of the Sixth Session of the Seventh Legislature of the National People’s Power Assembly at Havana’s Conference Center. December 18th, 2010, “Year 52 of the Revolution.”
When I came to this Assembly I saw today's date on a newspaper, December 18. What immediately came to mind was a little historical detail. Exactly 54 years ago we thought we wouldn't live such a long time, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, the nascent Rebel Army, today's Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Revolution itself, that after the disaster and the great setback suffered in the place know as Alegría de Pío, three days after the landing [of the yacht Granma carrying 82 revolutionary combatants from Mexico] on December 5 of that year.
For 13 days in small groups we retraced our steps ... [until] I met up with a small group that included Fidel. It was night when we met.
After an initial embrace he took me aside, and his first question was: "How many guns have you brought?" "Five", I replied. "Plus the two that I have, that makes seven. Now we've won the war!"
And it seems he was right. It's a happy coincidence, and I wanted to begin the closing address with such a heart-warming memory.
We have been meeting for several days now discussing extremely important matters for the future of the nation. This time, in addition to our customary work in commissions, the deputies have met in plenary with the purpose of discussing the details of the current economic situation as well as the proposed budget and economic plan for the year 2011.
The deputies have also devoted long hours to the thorough evaluation and clarification of some doubts and concerns about the Draft Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution.
Our media has broadly covered these discussions in order to make it easier for the general public to receive this information.
In spite of the impacts of the world crisis on the national economy, the irregular rain pattern during the last 19 months -from November 2008 until June this year-, and without excluding our own errors, I can affirm that the performance of the 2010 economic plan could be deemed as acceptable considering the times we are living. We will attain the goal of 2.1 per cent growth of the Gross Domestic Product, better known by its acronym (GDP); exports of goods and services have increased. The annual forecast figure of foreign tourists has already been reached even when the current year is not yet at a close. Although, once again, we will not be able to meet the planned revenues goals, we have strengthened the domestic financial balance and, for the first time in several years, we have begun to see a favorable dynamic, still somewhat limited, in work productivity in relation to the average salary levels.
Withholdings of foreign transfers or, what amounts to the same thing, the restrictions we were forced to impose on payments from Cuban banks to foreign suppliers at the end of 2008 -which shall be totally suppressed next year- have continued to decrease. At the same time, significant progress has been achieved in the rescheduling of our debt with our principal creditors.
Once again I would like to thank our commercial and financial partners for their confidence and understanding and I reassure them of our most steadfast determination to punctually honor our commitments. The Government has given precise instructions not to take on new debts without guaranteeing their payment within the terms agreed upon.
As was explained by the Vice President of the Government and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, next year’s economic plan foresees a 3.1 per cent GDP growth, which should be reached in the midst of a scenario that is not any less complicated or tense.
The year 2011 would be the first of the five covered by the midterm projection of our economy. During this period we shall be gradually and progressively introducing some new structures and concepts in the Cuban economic model.
During the coming year, we shall decisively move on to reduce unnecessary expenses, thus promoting the saving of all types of resources which, as we have said on several occasions, is the quickest and safest input of revenues at our disposal right now.
We shall do likewise in the areas of health, education, culture and sports, without neglecting in the least - but rather raising- the quality of our social programs, where we have identified enormous reserves of efficiency through a more rational use of the existing infrastructure. We shall also increase the exports of goods and services, while continuing to concentrate investments in those areas providing the quickest returns.
Regarding the economic plan and the budget, we have insisted that the old story of non-compliances and overdrafts must come to an end. The plan and the budget are sacred. And I repeat: from now on, the plan and the budget will be sacred; they are drafted to be complied with, not for us to be contented with justifications of any sort or even with imprecisions and lies -whether deliberate or not-, whenever the goals previously set are not met.
At times there have been some comrades who, without pursuing a fraudulent purpose, convey the inaccurate information reported by their subordinates without previously checking them and so they unconsciously fall into lying. But these false data could lead us to make wrong decisions with major or minor repercussions on the nation. Whoever acts in that manner is also a liar, and regardless of whom these persons may be they must be definitively -not temporarily- removed from the position they hold and, after an analysis by the corresponding bodies, they must also be removed from the ranks of the Party, should they belong to it.
Lies and their harmful effects have accompanied mankind since we learned the art of speech in ancient times, motivating society’s condemnation. We should recall that the eighth of the Ten Commandments of the Bible reads: “Thou shalt not bear false witness or lie”. Likewise, the three basic moral ethical principles of the Inca civilization stated as follows: do not lie, do not steal and do not be lazy.
I am going to repeat these three principles that are still observed by Inca descendants today: do not lie, do not steal and do not be lazy. Those are correct principles, aren’t they? Let us try to bear them in mind.
We must struggle to eradicate, once and for all, lies and deceit from the cadres’ behavior at all levels. No wonder Comrade Fidel in his brilliant definition of the concept of Revolution, pointed out, among other things: “... not to ever say a lie or violate ethical principles”. These are concepts that appear on the first page of the booklet containing the Guidelines that we have been discussing.
After the publication of the Draft Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy on November 9th last, the train of the Sixth Party Congress has taken on steam. The true congress will be the open and honest discussions -as is being the case- of said Guidelines by Party members and the entire people. This genuine democratic exercise will allow us to further enrich that document and, without excluding divergent opinions, we intend to achieve a national consensus about the need and urgency of introducing strategic changes in the way the economy operates, so that Socialism in Cuba could be sustainable and irreversible.
We should not be afraid of opposing criteria. This instruction, which is not new, should not be construed as one applicable only to the discussions of the Guidelines. The differences of opinion, preferably expressed in the proper place, time and way, that is, at the right place, at the right moment and in the correct form, shall always be more desirable than the false unanimity based on pretence and opportunism. Moreover, this is a right nobody should be deprived of.
The more ideas we are capable of inspiring in the analysis of any given problem, the closer we shall come to its appropriate solution.
The Economic Policy Commission of the Party and the 11 groups which make it up, have worked long months to draw up the abovementioned Guidelines which, as we have explained, shall constitute the leitmotif of the Congress, based on the conviction that the analysis of the economic situation is the most important task of the Party and the Government and the basic subject of cadres at all levels.
During the last few years we have been insisting that we could not let ourselves be carried away by improvising and haste in this area, considering the magnitude, complexity and inter-relations of the decisions to be adopted. For that reason I think that we did the right thing when we decided to defer the celebration of the Party Congress, even when we have had to patiently bear with the honest and also the ill-intended protests both inside Cuba and abroad urging us to rush into the adoption of a score of measures. Our adversaries abroad, as we might expect, have challenged our every step, first by calling the measures cosmetic and insufficient and now trying to confuse public opinion by prophesizing a sure failure and concentrating their campaigns on extolling an alleged disappointment and skepticism with which they say our people have welcomed this draft.
Sometimes it seems that their most heartfelt wishes prevent them from seeing the reality. In making their true desires evident, they blatantly demand that we dismantle the economic and social system that we created, just as if this Revolution were willing to submit to the most humiliating surrender or, what tantamount to the same thing, steer its own destiny by submitting to denigrating conditions.
Throughout 500 years, from Hatuey to Fidel, our people have shed too much blood to accept the dismantling of what we have built with so much sacrifice.
To those who may entertain those unfounded illusions, we must remind once and again what I said before this Parliament on August 1, 2009, and I quote: “I was not elected President to restore capitalism in Cuba nor to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue improving socialism, not to destroy it”.
Today, I add that the measures we are implementing and all the modifications that need to be introduced to the updating of the economic model are aimed at the preservation of socialism by strengthening it and making it truly irrevocable, as was stated in the Constitution of the Republic at the behest of the vast majority of our population in the year 2002.
We need to put on the table all the information and arguments behind every decision and also suppress the excessive secrecy to which we became used to during these 50 years that we have lived under the enemy siege. Any State must reasonably keep some matters secret; that is something nobody can deny. But matters defining the political and economical course of the nation shall be no secret. It is vital to explain, provide arguments and convince the people of the fairness, need and urgency of any measure, no matter how tough it appears to be.
The Party and the Communist Youth, as well as Cuba’s Workers’ Central and its unions, along with the rest of the mass and social organizations have the capacity to mobilize the support and the confidence of the people through debate, free from unviable dogmas and schemes that emerge as a colossal psychological barrier that we need to dismantle little by little. Together we can make it.
That is exactly the fundamental agenda that we have reserved for the National Conference of the Party to be held in 2011, after the Congress, at a date to be fixed later. On that occasion we shall analyze, among other matters, the modifications of the working methods and styles of the Party since, as a result of the deficiencies found in the performance of the Government administrative bodies throughout the years, the Party has had to engage in the exercise of functions outside its duties, which restricted and compromised its role as the organized avant-garde of the Cuban nation and the top leading force of society and the State, as established by Article Five of the Constitution of the Republic.
The Party should lead and supervise; it should not interfere with the activities of the Government at no level. It is the Government that governs. Each body has its own norms and procedures, depending on what their missions are within the society.
It is necessary to change the mentality of the cadres and of all other compatriots in facing up the new scenario which is beginning to be sketched out. It is just about transforming the erroneous and unsustainable concepts about socialism, that have been very deeply rooted in broad sectors of the population over the years, as a result of the excessively paternalistic, idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the interest of social justice.
Many of us Cubans confuse socialism with freebies and subsidies; and equality with egalitarianism. Quite a few of us consider the ration card to be a social achievement that should never be gotten rid of.
In this regard, I am convinced that several of the problems we are facing today have their origin in this distribution mechanism. While it is true that its implementation was inspired by the wholesome idea of ensuring people a stable supply of foodstuffs and other goods to counter the unscrupulous hoarding by some for profit, it is an evident expression of egalitarianism that equally benefits those who work and those who do not, or those who do not see the need to work, which generated practices such as bartering and resale in a submerged black market, etc, etc.
The solution to this complex and sensitive matter is not a simple one, since it is closely related to the strengthening of the role of salaries in society. That will only be possible if, at the same time, freebies and subsidies are reduced and the productivity of work and the supply of products to the population are increased.
In this matter, as well as in the eradication of overstaffing, the Socialist State shall not leave any citizen unprotected and, via the social welfare system, it shall ensure that people who are unable to work will receive the minimum required protection. In the future there will be subsidies, not to products, but to Cuban men and women who for one reason or another really need them.
As is known, as from September this year, the cigarette rations were eliminated. This product was being delivered only to a part of the population. Obviously, due to its harmful effects to human health, it can not be considered a basic commodity.
Next year -and we have already discussed that here- we can not afford to spend around 50 million dollars -47, to be exact- to import coffee to sustain the rations that have so far been distributed to all consumers, including newborn children. Since this is an unavoidable necessity, we intend to mix it with peas, as we used to do until 2005, since peas are much cheaper than coffee, whose price is almost three thousand dollars per ton, while the cost of a ton of peas is 390 dollars.
Therefore, if we want to keep on drinking pure, un-rationed coffee, the only solution is to produce it in Cuba where it has been proven that all the required conditions for its cultivation exist, and where we can produce enough quantities to satisfy the demand and even to export it with the highest quality.
After the US war against Vietnam, the heroic and undefeated Vietnamese people asked us to teach them how to plant coffee, and there we went. We taught them how to plan it and conveyed to them all our experience. Today Vietnam is the second biggest coffee exporter in the world. A Vietnamese official asked one of his Cuban colleagues: “How come you, who taught us how to plant coffee just recently, are now buying coffee from us?” I can not figure out what might have been the Cuban official’s answer, but most certainly he might have said: “the blockade.”
These decisions, and others that we shall have to apply, even though we know they are not popular ones, are a must in order to be able to maintain and even improve the free public health, education and social security services for all of our citizens.
The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Comrade Fidel himself, in his historical speech on November 17, 2005, stated, and I quote: “Here is a conclusion I’ve come to after many years: among all the errors we may have committed, the greatest of them all was that we believed that someone really knew something about socialism, or that someone actually knew how to build socialism”, end of quote. Hardly one month ago, exactly five years later, in his message on the occasion of the International Students Day, Fidel reiterated these concepts which are still fully valid.
I for one remember an idea expressed by a Soviet award-winning scientist who about half a century ago -around the times when the first man ever traveled to the cosmos, who was Gagarin- was thinking that even though the possibility of a manned flight into space had been theoretically documented, it was still a journey into the unknown, the undiscovered.
While we have counted on the theoretical Marxist-Leninist legacy, according to which there is scientific evidence of the feasibility of socialism and the practical experience of the attempts to build it in other countries, the construction of a new society from an economic point of view is, in my modest opinion, also a journey into the unknown -the undiscovered. Therefore each step must be profoundly meditated upon and planned before the next step is taken; mistakes are to be timely and quickly amended so that the solution is not left up to time, which will make them grow bigger and, ultimately, our invoice will be even more costly.
We are fully aware of the mistakes we have committed and the Guidelines we are right now discussing precisely mark the beginning of the road to rectification and the necessary updating of our socialist economic model.
No one should claim they have been deceived: the Guidelines will signal the road towards a socialist future, adapted to Cuba’s conditions and not to the capitalist and neo-colonial past which was defeated by the Revolution. Planning, and not free market, shall be the distinctive feature of the economy. As was outlined in the third general Guideline, the concentration of ownership shall not be allowed. This is as clear as glass, but there is no one as blind as the one who doesn’t want to see.
The building of socialism should be according to the specific features of every country. That is a History lesson that we have learned very well. We do not intend to copy from anyone again; that brought about enough problems to us because, in addition to that, many a time we also copied badly, as we said yesterday. However we shall not ignore others’ experiences and we will learn from them, even from the positive experience of capitalists.
Speaking about the necessary change of mind, I shall mention one example: we have arrived at the conclusion that self-employment is one more alternative for working-age citizens, aimed at increasing the supply of goods and services to the population, which could rid the State of those tasks so that it could focus on what is truly decisive, what the Party and the Government should do is, first and foremost, facilitate their work rather than generate stigmas and prejudices against them, much less demonize them. Therefore it is fundamental that we modify the existing negative approach that quite a few of us have towards this form of private job. When defining the features that ought to characterize the building of a new society, the classics of Marxist-Leninism -particularly Lenin- stated, among other things, that the State, on behalf of all the people, should keep the ownership over all the basic production means.
We turned this precept into an absolute principle and almost all the country’s economic activity started to be run by the State. The steps we have been taking and shall take towards broadening and relaxing self-employment are the result of profound meditations and analysis and we can assure you this time there will be no going back.
Cuba’s Workers’ Central and its respective national trade unions are currently studying the forms and methods to organize the provision of assistance to this labor force, promote full compliance with the Law and the payment of taxes and encourage these workers to eschew illegalities. We should defend their interests just as we do with any other citizen, as long as they observe the approved juridical norms.
The introduction of the basic concepts about the taxation system at different levels of education becomes very important, since younger generations will become permanently and concretely acquainted with the implementation of taxes as the most universal form of redistribution of the national income, in the interest of covering social costs, including the assistance to persons in greatest need.
From the point of view of the society as a whole, we have to encourage among all taxpayers the civic values of respect for and compliance with tax payments; we should educate people in that discipline and culture, reward those who comply and sanction tax evaders.
Another area where there is still much to do, in spite of the advances made, is the attention to the different production modalities in agriculture to remove the existing obstacles that hinder the promotion of productive forces in our rural areas so that, depending on the savings obtained by reducing the import of foodstuffs, farmers could receive just and reasonable revenues for their hard work. However this does not justify the fixing of extremely high prices to the commodities consumed by the population.
After two years since we started to distribute idle lands in usufruct, I think we are now in the position to evaluate the allocation of additional land plots, above the limits regulated by Decree-Law 259 of July 2008, to those agricultural workers who have achieved outstanding results in the intensive use of the lands they have been tilling.
I think it timely to clarify that the ownership of the lands distributed in usufruct continues to belong to all the people. Thus, if for any reason these lands are required for uses different from these in the future -namely, the construction of a social facility, a highway or whatever- the State shall compensate beneficial owners for their investments and would pay to them the value of the benefits created.
In due time, once we conclude the studies based on the experience we have been accumulating, we shall submit the corresponding proposals to modify the abovementioned Decree-Law to the Council of State, where farmers have their own representative, who is comrade Lugo Fonte, the chairman of the National Association of Small Farmers.
One of the most difficult barriers to overcome in the effort to create a different view -and we should publicly recognize that-, is the lack of knowledge about the economy among the people, including quite a few cadres who, giving clear proof of a supine ignorance on the subject, adopt or propose decisions while facing customary problems without stopping for a single minute to evaluate their effects and costs, or without knowing whether there is a budget or resources assigned to that end according to a plan.
I am not announcing any new discovery when I state that improvisation in general, particularly when it comes to the economy, leads to a sure failure regardless of the lofty ends one intends to attain.
On December 2 last, on the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the landing of the Granma, the official newspaper of our Party published an excerpt of the speech delivered by Fidel on that same date in 1976, when we were celebrating the twentieth anniversary of that historical event. Given its validity and relevance I find it appropriate to quote it. Thirty four years ago Fidel said: “The strength of a people and a revolution lies precisely in its capacity to understand and cope with difficulties. Despite everything, we will move forward on numerous fronts and we will struggle tirelessly to increase the economy’s efficiency, save resources, reduce non-essential costs, increase exports and raise economic awareness in every citizen. I said earlier that we are all politicians; now I add that we should all be economists, and I repeat, economists, not economic reductionists. A mindset oriented to saving and efficiency is different from that oriented to consumption”, end of quote.
To become an economist does not mean that we should now try to get a degree in Economics -we have enough of those. It means to have a domain of the main principles of Economics, not to pursue a PhD in Economics.
And Fidel continued to say: “?now I add that we should all be economists, and I repeat, economists, not economic reductionists. A mindset oriented to saving and efficiency is different from that oriented to consumption”, end of quote.
That is the essence of the Guidelines you have in your hands and of the precise instructions oriented to promote economic development right now, which is about producing whatever can be exported, reduce imports and invest in those areas that could yield the quickest returns. It is also about increasing economic efficiency, saving resources, reducing unnecessary costs -we have discussed all that in these days-, increasing exports and raising an economic awareness in every citizen. And I repeat: “economists, not economic reductionists. A mindset oriented to saving and efficiency is different from that oriented to consumption”, end of quote. This was said on December 2, thirty four years ago.
Ten years later, on December 1 of 1986, during the deferred session of the Third Party Congress, Fidel stated, and I quote: “Many do not understand that the Socialist State, just as any other State or system, can not deliver what it does not have. And it will have much less if it does not produce, if it gives away money without any production backing. I am sure that overstaffing, excess money paid out to people, idle stocks and wasting of resources are all linked to the great number of unprofitable companies that we have in our country...” end of the quote.
After 34 and 24 years respectively from the time when these two ideas that I have just quoted were expressed by the Leader of the Revolution, these and many other problems are still with us.
And, well, what did we do back then? Why weren’t the instructions given by the Leader of the Revolution complied with? We applaud every speech; we shout Long Live the Revolution! And afterwards things remain just the same.
He did his part, and now, trying to find an explanation, I express that Fidel, with his genius, was blazing a trail, showing the way, and the rest of us didn’t know how to ensure and consolidate our march forward to pursue those goals.
The truth is that we lacked cohesion, despite this people’s unity around its Party, its leaders and its Government, which has been our main strategic weapon for surviving more than five decades, inside a fortress under siege, facing the most powerful empire that has ever existed. But lacked cohesion, organization and coordination between the Party and the Government. In the midst of the threats and the daily emergencies we neglected mid and long-term planning; we did not act strongly enough against the economic violations and the errors committed by some leaders and we also stalled in correcting decisions that didn’t have the effect we expected but managed to survive.
On more than one occasion -right here, before this Parliament- I have referred to the fact that in this Revolution almost everything has been said and that we should check which of the instructions given by the Leader of the Revolution have been fulfilled and which have not, ever since he made his vibrant statement “History Will Absolve Me” during the trial against the Moncada attackers until the present. We will retake Fidel’s ideas, which continue to be valid even today, and will not allow the same to happen to us again. That is the reason behind the instructions oriented and the main line traced by the Party and the Government regarding errors, violations, etc. If we want to save the Revolution we have to comply with whatever we may agree. We should not allow that, after the Congress is over -as has been happening so far in many very eloquent cases- documents go to desk drawers to sleep the eternal sleep, just as we have been explaining in these days of fruitful, democratic and truly profound discussions. That is how we want the people to continue discussing those Guidelines. We have almost 100 days for that. We either rectify -because we no longer have time to keep on skirting around the precipice- or we will sink, and, as I said before, we will also be sinking the efforts made by entire generations since the times of Hatuey, the American Indian who came from the territory that is today the Dominican Republic and Haiti -the first internationalist in our country- until Fidel, who has brilliantly led us through these so complex situations since the triumph of the Revolution.
Those of us who are not so young, or those who, being older, are still feeling young and ready to keep up in the struggle, as well as those who belong to the younger generations -some of whom spoke eloquently yesterday- should never forget the words pronounced by Fidel in his first speech after coming into the capital, at the Batista’s military headquarters, the former ‘Columbia’, which is today the school named “Ciudad Libertad”. From that place he said: “The Revolution has triumphed and there is an immense happiness, but there is still much to do. We should not make the mistake of thinking that from now on everything would be easier. From now everything would be perhaps more difficult”. And that precise and visionary advice has become true all along these more than fifty years.
We did not expect this to be a bed of roses; we knew the power we were going to challenge, for which we only counted on the people and the weapons that we grabbed from Batista’s army. Later on we continued to acquire as many weapons as we could until the present, while we continued to further develop -and Fidel also taught us that- the great unity of our people, which we should always protect, as much as if it were the apples of our eyes or our own lives. But that unity can not be achieved by decree. We will have more unity because it will be everybody’s domain, if we apply absolutely democratic methods to political work in the entire nation, with patience, from the Party’s grassroots cells to the supreme organ of the State, which is this Assembly gathered here.
We have a cultured people that have attained a high educational level, and we have many other positive things. Huge advances have been made, but this is not the right occasion to list up all of them; you already know about them. Our media talks a lot about them, about the achievements of the Revolution. In our speeches we also expand on that. But we must go to the core of the problems, just as we have done in this Parliament session.
What I mean is that the issues that we have discussed and the errors that we have criticized can not happen again because it is the life of the Revolution what is at stake.
Errors, if they are just analyzed with honesty, can become experiences and lessons that could teach us how to eradicat