'I was elected to defend and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it'

By Raul Castro

[The following is an abridged version of a speech given on August 1 to Cuba’s national legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power, by Cuban President Raul Castro.]

During the last Assembly session in December, I warned that the year 2009 would pose a difficult challenge to the Cuban people following the US$10 billion in losses and damages caused by three devastating hurricanes. The first, Gustav, began to affect us on August 30, and the third, Paloma, caused destruction until November 9. That is, in just 72 days, approximately 20% of our gross domestic product was lost. In addition to that, there was the uncertainty implied by the economic and financial crisis on a global scale, and its inevitable impact on our economy.

We thought at the time that we would have a 6% (GDP) growth; by April, when we saw ourselves obliged to make the first adjustment to the plan, we lowered our expectations to 2.5%, and we have confirmed that in the first quarter, GDP growth has been 0.8%. Despite that, we estimate that we will finish the year at about 1.7%.

We have been consistent on the need to adjust spending to income. I am not an economist, nor has it been my task during these years of the Revolution to dedicate myself to the details of economic development, but I am basing myself on the logic that — as I said in the last session of parliament — nobody, no individual nor country, can indefinitely spend more than s/he earns. Two plus two always adds up to four, never five. Today I would add, as I said three days ago in the [party] Central Committee plenum, that within the conditions of our imperfect socialism, due to our own shortcomings, two plus two often adds up to three.

Despite existing tensions in our economy, modest advances can be seen. The internal currency balance is showing one of the most favorable situations in the last 20 years. Prices, while high, remain stable. In addition, more people have joined the workforce. With some exceptions, there is increased production in agriculture and industry and transport as a whole, and social services are guaranteed for our population, particularly health, education and cultural and artistic activities.

Swine flu under control

In terms of health — not without shortcomings of which we are aware — we have given an irrefutable demonstration of our ability to face epidemics of every type. We are one of the few countries in the world that can say it has the A H1N1 virus under control. For example, as of last night, as this disease spreads uncontrollably in more than 171 nations and as these same nations report to the World Health Organization, more than 177,000 people have been infected and more than 1100 have died. In Cuba, 242 cases have been confirmed, of which 135, more than half, are imported — in other words, sick people who traveled to the island; 50 are introduced — individuals infected by sick people from outside the country — and 57 are categorised as autochthonous, having been infected here by introduced cases. Of that total, 232 have been released from hospital and the remaining 10 are evolving favourably. Thus far, we have not had to regret complications or any deaths. It is an achievement of the health system developed by the Revolution, and moreover an example of how, when the necessary arguments are put forward, the required organisational methods are adopted with the participation of the entire people, and there is exigency, there are results.

Others can be mentioned, such as the fact that to date, the population has been spared irritating power outages stemming from generating shortfalls, aside from those caused by maintenance work on the electricity distribution networks or other causes. That would have been impossible to achieve without the strategy charted by comrade Fidel and subsequent measures for electric power generation and conservation.

There are many needs and we have to know how to prioritise the principal ones. Their solution will depend on us working more and better. What we do need to definitively root out is the irresponsible attitude of consuming without anybody, or very few people, worrying about how much it costs the country to guarantee that, and above all, if it can really do so. We know how terrible it is, for example, to lack housing, but as I have said on more than one occasion, solving that problem is not a question of desire; it requires time, resources and above all work. It becomes more difficult if there are not enough construction workers, as is generally the case.

In the education sector, more than 7800 retirees have gone back to the classrooms, and another 7000 have postponed their retirement. Taking together teachers who desisted from resigning and others who came back to teaching, we will have close to 19,000 more teachers in the coming school year. I am sure that the example set by these comrades will contribute to that same behaviour being followed by many who have not yet done so, and moreover to those who are reaching retirement age to stay on — if that is possible — in their posts for longer, a little bit longer, receiving their corresponding pensions in addition to their salary. It is already a considerable figure.

As it is known, a modest salary increase was recently approved for that sector. We would have liked it to be higher, and — as we intended — to pay our teachers and professors more fairly for their efforts. However, after thoroughly studying the matter, this was what was possible to approve in the current situation, and that is how it has been appreciated by these selfless workers. Social expenditure should be in accordance with real possibilities, and that means cutting those it is possible to do without. They may be beneficial and even praiseworthy activities, but they are simply not affordable.

Strategic tasks like food production, which we have indicated is a national security issue, require us to continue adding the greatest possible number of people, via every existing form of property and with the required order. We can count on many university graduates, in some specialties far over and above our necessities, but if we are not able to change mentalities and create the objective and subjective conditions that ensure opportune availability of a skilled workforce, who will attend to the land? Who will work in the factories and workshops? Who, in the end, will create the material wealth that our people need? Sometimes one has the sensation that we are eating socialism before building it, and aspiring to spend as though we were in communism.

Growing international prestige

Moving on to another subject, the seven months that have gone by this year have been witness to Cuba’s outstanding international role. Even our staunchest enemies cannot deny that this small island’s prestige is growing. We have just handed over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement to Egypt, a movement that, in the opinion of its member states, under Cuba’s leadership, has been revitalised and has greater unity and influence in the most diverse world forums in the last three years.

The peoples and governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, giving yet further evidence of the profound changes that have occurred over the last 50 years since the triumph of the Revolution, in which attempts to isolate us in this hemisphere have failed, unanimously demanded, with renewed strength, the lifting of the US blockade at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain. It was a resounding victory won by ALBA and the entire region in San Pedro Sula, Republic of Honduras, when, overcoming the opposition of the United States, it was decided to eliminate, without any conditions whatsoever, the anachronistic exclusion of Cuba from the Organization of American States, which, I reiterate once again, we do not have the slightest intention of joining, for obvious reasons known by all of you.

Our political and economic relations with Venezuela and with the rest of the nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America [ALBA], as well as with other countries in the region and the rest of the world, are progressing in a sustained, firm manner. The ALBA, a forum of integration and solidarity, is being consolidated, and in turn, is beginning to coming under attack from imperialism.

This Assembly has just adopted a declaration on Honduras. Cuba has firmly condemned the coup d’état in that country; has resolutely supported the immediate and unconditional restitution of the legitimate president, and has expressed its solidarity with that sister nation. What is happening in Honduras is decisive to the future of our America. The Honduran people will have the last word.

Despite the economic and financial difficulties, we have honoured our moral commitment in terms of international cooperation and solidarity. The two Central American nations which did not yet have diplomatic relations with us established them in the last few months. It would be fitting to ask what country is isolated in this region; it does not seem to be Cuba.

Relations with US

We have attentively observed the attitude of the new US government toward our nation. If we adhere strictly to the facts, the essential thing is that the economic, commercial and financial blockade remains intact and fully implemented, as seen by the persecution of our transactions with third countries and the growing fines levied on US companies and their foreign subsidiaries. Likewise, Cuba continues to be unjustly included on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism annually issued by the State Department.

The positive but minimal measures announced [by Washington] last April 13 on the eve of the Summit of the Americas, in response to the anti-blockade clamour of the entire continent, which ended the restrictions on travel by Cubans resident in that country and remittances to their families, and which would likewise permit certain operations in terms of telecommunications, have not been implemented as of yet. It is important for this to be known, because there is quite a bit of confusion and manipulation in the international media on the matter.

Several weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “We are opening a dialogue with Cuba, but we are very clear about wanting to see fundamental changes in the Cuban regime”. I feel myself obliged, with all due respect, to respond to Mrs Clinton and, by the way, to those in the European Union who are demanding unilateral gestures from us in the direction of dismantling our political and social regime. [The Cuban people] didn’t elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it. This is something that should be made very clear, because it represents the determined will of the Cuban people, after they approved, in a referendum in 1976, by the direct and secret ballot of 97.7% of voters, the Constitution of the Republic, which in its first article says, “Cuba is a socialist state of workers, independent and sovereign, organised with all and for the good of all, as a unified and democratic republic, for the enjoyment of political freedom, social justice, individual and collective well-being and human solidarity.”

I am using this opportunity to reiterate Cuba’s disposition to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States, between equals, without any shadow over our independence, sovereignty or self-determination. We are ready to talk about everything, I repeat, everything, but about here, about Cuba, and about there, about the United States, not to negotiate our political and social system. We are not asking the United States to do so. We must mutually respect our differences. We do not recognise the government of that country, of any other, or of any group of states, as having jurisdiction over our sovereign affairs.

Just as we have repeated our willingness to resolve our conflict with the United States, I clarify that we are facing this matter with absolute serenity and without any haste whatsoever. We have been walking on a knife’s edge for 50 years; we are well trained in that, and we are capable of resisting another 50 years of aggression and blockades.

New generation of revolutionaries

There are those in US ruling circles who say that they will wait for the disappearance of the Revolution’s historic generation, a sinister bet on the so-called “biological factor”, or the death of Fidel and all of us, which is the same thing. Those who think like that are doomed to failure because the generations of revolutionary patriots who will follow us, in the first place our magnificent youth, will never be disarmed ideologically, and together with them and the party, the Mambises of the 21st century will always be on the front lines.

Our five heroes are an eloquent example of that attitude, imprisoned for the last 11 years in the United States for combating terrorist plans against Cuba. The worldwide movement for their freedom continues to grow, and this Assembly agreed today on an appeal to the parliaments and peoples of the world, denouncing this injustice. From here, we send a strong embrace to Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio, Fernando and Rene, and express to them our admiration for their unbreakable determination, which is now a symbol of the Cuban Revolution.

I have one other substantial matter to address, and which was published yesterday in our press. The 7th plenum of the Central Committee agreed to postpone the 7th Congress of the [Communist] Party, which was planned for the end of this year. The task that we Cuban communists and all our people have ahead of us is large; it is a question of defining, with the broadest popular participation, the socialist society to which we aspire and can build in Cuba’s present and future conditions, the economic model that will guide the life of the nation to the benefit of our compatriots and ensure the irreversibility of the country’s socio-political regime, its only guarantee for real independence. You can understand the magnitude of the studies under way, which cover the principal aspects of national life in the midst of the pressing questions and tensions associated with the economic situation.

As approved in the 7th plenum of the Central Committee and explained in the note published yesterday, first it is necessary to conclude the preparation of the entire party, and then to discuss with the population as a whole and only then to hold the congress, when that great process has been completed. That is the real congress, in which all of the problems are discussed with the communists and with all of the people. If we want to hold a real congress, in a situation like the present, finding solutions for problems and looking toward the future, it must be like that. It must be the people, with its party in the vanguard, that decides.

In 50 years of revolution, in terms of consulting with the people, we have sufficient experience. The most recent, on a national level, was the process of analysing the speech of July 26, 2007, in Camaguey. The months of September and October were dedicated to discussing it at the grassroots level, without being limited to the issues contained in that speech, and the population was encouraged to express itself on any subject of interest, information that has been very useful for the subsequent work of the country’s leadership. In November of that year, work was done to collect the information and to draw up a summary, and in December of that same year, we discussed the final report in the party. The study meetings were attended by more than 5.1 million people, who made 3,255,000 comments, with 1,301,203 concrete proposals, of which 48.8% were critical. The outcome of that activity was not thrown into a bottomless pit.

The most recurrent referred to food production, the irrevocable decision to build socialism, the replacement of imports, increasing production, the economic and social situation, the concept of not spending more than what is taken in, the manifestations of corruption and criminal activities, defense preparation and the role of political and administrative cadres. As you can see, they are subjects very much linked to the content of the congress and to the country’s future. I should clarify now that the process was conceived of as a rehearsal, thinking about this maximum party event.

Ever since January 1, 1959, it has been the unwavering line to analyse with the people every important problem, no matter how difficult it is. If we have survived all of the difficulties and aggression for half a century, it has been because the Revolution is the work of the immense majority of the Cuban people. Firmly united, we will be consistent with the legacy of our people’s long history of struggle, Fidel’s teachings and our eternal commitment to the fallen.