Speech by Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas*
The following official translation was first published in Daily Granma, April 15, 2015.
Speech of the General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, at the VII Summit of the Americas, Panama, April 11, 2015.
It was high time I spoke here on behalf of Cuba.
I was told at first that I could make an eight-minute speech; although I made a great effort, along with my Foreign Minister, to reduce it to eight minutes, and as I’m owed six summits from which we were excluded, 6 times 8, 48 (laughter and applause), I asked President Varela a few moments before entering this magnificent hall, to allow me a few minutes more, especially after we have been hearing so many interesting speeches, and I am not only referring to that of President Obama, but also that of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, President Dilma Rousseff and others.
Without further ado, I will begin.
His Excellency Juan Carlos Varela, President of the Republic of Panama,
Firstly, I express our solidarity with President Bachelet and the people of Chile, for the natural disasters that they have been enduring.
I thank all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for their solidarity, which enabled Cuba to participate on an equal footing in this hemispheric forum, as well as the President of the Republic of Panama for the invitation to attend he so kindly extended us. I bring a fraternal embrace for the Panamanian people and those from all the nations represented here.
When on December 2 and 3, 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was created in Caracas, a new stage in the history of Our America began, which clearly asserted the hard earned right to live in peace and develop as its peoples freely decide, and plotted a path for future development and integration based on cooperation, solidarity and the common will to preserve independence, sovereignty and identity.
The ideal of Simón Bolívar to create a “great American Homeland” inspired truly epic independence struggles.
In 1800, the U.S. had considered adding Cuba to the Union of the North, as the southern boundary of its vast empire. In the nineteenth century, the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny emerged with the goal of dominating the Americas and the world, together with the “ripe fruit” theory regarding the inevitable gravitation of Cuba toward the United States, which rejected the birth and development of a particular, emancipatory thinking of our own.
Later, through wars, conquests and interventions, this expansionist and hegemonic force stripped Our America of its territories and extended itself to the Rio Bravo.
Following long and frustrated struggles, José Martí organized the “necessary war” of 1895—the Great War, as it was also called, began in 1868—and created the Cuban Revolutionary Party to lead it and to found a Republic “with all and for the good of all,” which set out to achieve “the full dignity of man.”
Accurately defining and anticipating the characteristics of his time, Martí devoted himself to the duty “of preventing the United States from spreading throughout the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and overpowering, with that additional strength our lands of America”—those were his exact words.
Our America for him was that of the Creoles, the indigenous, the blacks and the mulattos, the mestizo and hardworking America that had to make common cause with the oppressed and plundered. Today, beyond geography, this is an ideal that is beginning to become a reality.
One hundred seventeen years ago, on April 11, 1898, the then President of the United States requested authorization from Congress to militarily intervene in the independence war, which Cuba at the time had been fighting for nearly 30 years, already virtually won at the cost of rivers of Cuban blood, and this—the U.S. Congress—passed a deceptive joint resolution, which recognized the independence of the island “in fact and in law.” They came as allies and seized the country as occupiers.
An appendix to its Constitution was imposed on Cuba, the Platt Amendment—known by the name of the Senator who proposed it—which stripped the island of its sovereignty, authorized the powerful neighbour to intervene in its internal affairs and led to the establishment of the Guantanamo Naval Base, which still usurps part of our territory. During this period, the invasion of northern capital increased, thereafter there were two military interventions and support for cruel dictatorships.
When Cubans, at the beginning of the twentieth century, drafted their Constitution and presented it to the governor, a U.S. general arbitrarily appointed by his country, he responded that there was something missing, and when the Cuban constitutionalists asked what that might be, he said: This amendment presented by Senator Platt, giving the United States the right to intervene in Cuba whenever it deems necessary.
They made use of that right. Of course, Cubans rejected it and the response was … very well, we’ll stop here. That lasted until 1934.
There were two further military interventions and the support for cruel dictatorships in the mentioned period.
Regarding Latin America, “gunboat diplomacy” and then the “Good Neighbour” policy took precedence. Successive interventions overthrew democratic governments and installed terrible dictatorships in 20 countries, 12 of them simultaneously. Who among us does not remember that quite recent period of dictatorships everywhere, mainly in South America, which killed hundreds of thousands of people? President Salvador Allende left us an enduring example.
Exactly 13 years ago, there was a coup d’état against the dear President Hugo Chávez Frías which the people defeated. Then came, almost immediately, the costly oil shutdown.
On January 1st, 1959, 60 years after American soldiers entered Havana, the Cuban Revolution triumphed and the Rebel Army, commanded by Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, arrived in the capital, the same day, exactly 60 years later. Such are the unfathomable ironies of history. The Cuban people, at a very high price, began the full exercise of their sovereignty. They were six decades of absolute domination.
On April 6, 1960—just a year after the triumph—Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Lester Mallory, wrote in a perverse memorandum—I can not find another adjective to describe it. This memorandum was declassified decades later—I quote certain paragraphs:
“(…) the majority of Cubans support Castro…There is no effective political opposition. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship (…), to weaken the economic life of Cuba (…) denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” End of quote.
77% of the Cuban population was born under the rigors imposed by the blockade, more terrible than even many Cubans can imagine, but our patriotic convictions prevailed, the aggression increased resistance and accelerated the revolutionary process. That happens when you impede the natural revolutionary process of the peoples. The harassment brings more revolution, history demonstrates this and not only in the case of our continent or Cuba.
The blockade did not start when President Kennedy signed it in 1962, later I will make a brief reference to him given his positive initiative to contact the leader of our Revolution to begin what President Obama and I are now starting. Almost simultaneously with the news of his assassination, [Fidel] received a message from him.
That is to say the aggression increased. The attack on Playa Girón came in 1961, a mercenary invasion, sponsored and organized by the United States. Six years of war against armed groups who on two occasions encompassed the whole country. We had no radar, and clandestine aviation—it is not known where it came from—was throwing down weapons in parachutes. That process cost us thousands of lives; we have not been able to calculate the economic costs with accuracy. It was January 1965 when it concluded, and they had began supporting it towards the end of 1959, about 10 or 11 months after the triumph of the Revolution, when we had not yet declared socialism, which was declared in 1961, at the funeral of the victims of the airport bombings the day before the invasion.
The next day our army, small at that time, and all our people went to fight against that aggression and fulfilled the order of the Leader of the Revolution to destroy it within 72 hours. Because if they had managed to establish themselves there at the landing site, which was protected by the largest swamp of the Caribbean islands, they would have brought in an already formed government—with a Prime Minister and the appointment of other ministers—which was at a U.S. military base in Florida. If they had been able to consolidate the position they initially occupied, it would have been easy to bring that government over to Playa Girón. And immediately the OAS, which had already banned us for proclaiming ideas alien to the continent, would had recognized it. This government formed in Cuba, establishing itself on a small piece of land, would have asked the OAS for help and that help was located on U.S. warships situated three miles off the coast, which was the then existing limit of our territorial waters, which as you know is now is 12 [miles].
The Revolution continued to gain strength, to radicalize. The other option was to give up. What would have happened? What would have happened in Cuba? How many hundreds of thousands of Cubans would have died? Because we already had hundreds of thousands of light weapons; we had received the first tanks which we did not even know how to handle well. The artillery, we knew how to shoot cannon fire, but we did not know where they were going to hit; what some militia learned in the morning, they had to teach to others in the afternoon.
But there was a lot of courage, you had to go along a single route, because it was a swamp where the troops could not spread out, nor could tanks or heavy vehicles be deployed. We suffered more casualties than the attackers. That’s why Fidel’s order was fulfilled: to eliminate them within 72 hours.
And that same U.S. fleet was the one which accompanied the expedition from Central America, and it was there, from the coast where some of their ships could be seen just three miles away.
What was the cost to Guatemala of the famous invasion in 1954?, which I remember well because I was imprisoned on the Isle of Youth—or Pines, as it was called then—for the attack on the Moncada Barracks a year earlier. How many hundreds of thousands of Mayans, indigenous peoples and other Guatemalan citizens perished throughout a long process that would take years to recover from? That was the beginning.
Once we had already proclaimed socialism and the people had fought to defend Playa Girón, President John F. Kennedy—to whom I already made reference just a moment ago—was assassinated precisely at the very moment, the same day on which the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, had received a message from him—from John Kennedy—looking to initiate a dialogue. After the Alliance for Progress and having paid the foreign debt several times over without preventing it from further multiplying, a savage and globalizing neo-liberalism was imposed on us, as an expression of imperialism in this era, which caused a lost decade in the region.
The proposal then of a mature hemispheric association resulted in the attempt to impose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) on us, associated with the emergence of these Summits, which would have destroyed the economy, sovereignty and common destiny of our nations, if it had not been run aground in 2005, in Mar del Plata, under the leadership of Presidents Chávez, Kirchner and Lula. A year earlier, Chávez and Fidel had given birth to the Bolivarian Alternative, today the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.
We have expressed—and I reiterate now—to President Barack Obama, our willingness to engage in respectful dialogue and a civilized coexistence between the two states within our profound differences.
I consider as a positive step his recent statement indicating that he will decide shortly regarding Cuba’s presence on the list of state sponsors of terrorism—imposed by the Reagan administration—on which it should never have appeared.
Us, a terrorist country! Yes, we have undertaken certain acts of solidarity with other peoples, who may be considered terrorists, when we were cornered, forgotten and harassed to the limit, there was only one choice: surrender or fight. You know what we chose with the support of our people. Who could think that we would force a whole people to make the sacrifice made by the Cuban people to survive, to help other nations?! (Applause). But “the dictatorship of the Castros forced them,” just like it forced 97.5% of the population to vote for socialism.
I reiterate that I consider as a positive step the recent statement by President Obama to speedily decide on the presence of Cuba on a list of state sponsors of terrorism that it should never have been on, I was telling you, because when this was imposed it turned out that the terrorists were those of us who provided the corpses—I don’t have the exact figure to mind—for terrorism in Cuba alone, and in some cases against Cuban diplomats in other parts of the world who were killed. The figure was just provided me by my compañeros: in that period we saw 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled for life; plus many others who were wounded.
The terrorists were those who provided the corpses. Where did the terror come from then? Who provoked it? Some of those who have even been here in Panama these past few days, such as the CIA agent Rodríguez, who murdered Che and took his cut-off hands to prove with his fingerprints, I don’t know where, that it was the corpse of Che, which later we recovered with the help of a friendly government in Bolivia. But still, since then we continue to be the terrorists.
Truly, I ask you to excuse me, including President Obama and others present at this event, for expressing myself in this way. I told him myself that passion seeps from my very pores when it comes to the Revolution. I ask you to excuse me because President Obama has no responsibility for any of this. How many presidents have we had? Ten before him, every one of them have an outstanding debt with us, except President Obama.
After saying so many harsh things about a system, it is fair that I ask him to excuse me, because I am among those who believe—and I have expressed this to quite a few heads of state and government that I see here, in private meetings I have had with them, when receiving them in my country—that, in my opinion, President Obama is an honest man. I’ve read some of his biography in the two books which have appeared, not in full, I’ll do that given more time. I admire his humble origins, and I think his nature is due to this humble background (Long applause).
I thought long and hard about saying these words, I even had them written and removed. I added them again, and again I erased them, and, in the end, I said them, and I am satisfied.
To date, the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be applied in full force against the island, causing harm and scarcities to the people and is the fundamental obstacle to the development of our economy. It constitutes a violation of International Law and its extraterritorial reach affects the interests of all States.
The almost unanimous vote, apart from Israel and the United States itself, against the blockade in the UN over so many years, is no coincidence. And while the blockade exists, a situation for which the President is not responsible, and that due to past agreements and bills was codified into a law in Congress which the President cannot modify, we must continue to struggle and support President Obama in his intentions to eliminate the blockade. (Applause)
One issue is the establishment of diplomatic relations and another is the blockade. Therefore, I ask you all, and life also obliges us, to continue supporting this struggle against the blockade.
We have publicly expressed to President Obama, who was also born under the blockade policy toward Cuba, our recognition of his brave decision to participate in a debate with his country’s Congress in order to put an end to it.
These and other elements must be resolved in the process toward the future normalization of bilateral relations.
For our part, we will continue to be engaged in the process of updating the Cuban economic model with the aim of perfecting our socialism, advancing toward development and consolidating the achievements of a Revolution which has proposed to “conquer all justice” for our people. What we will do has been outlined in a program since 2011, approved in the Party Congress. In the next Congress, which will take place next year, we will expand it; we will review what we have done and what remains to be done in order to achieve our goal. Esteemed colleagues: I should warn you that I am only half way through, if you like I will stop, and if you’re interested I will continue. I will speed up a bit (laughter).
Venezuela is not, nor can it be, a threat to the national security of a superpower like the United States. (Applause). It is positive that the U.S. President has recognized this as such.
I must reiterate our total support, resolute and loyal, to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to the legitimate government and the civic-military union led by President Nicolás Maduro, to the Bolivarian and chavista people who are struggling to follow their own path and facing destabilization attempts and unilateral sanctions which we demand be lifted, that the Executive Order be revoked – although this is difficult given the law – which would be appreciated by our community as a contribution to hemispheric dialogue and understanding. We know each other. I believe that of those of us gathered here, I may be one of the few that best knows the Venezuelan process, it is not because we are there, nor that we are exerting influence there and they tell us everything, we know the process because they are proceeding along the same path which we passed and are suffering the same aggressions we suffered, or some of them. We will continue to support the efforts of the Republic of Argentina to recuperate the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands, and will continue to support its legitimate struggle to defend its financial sovereignty. We will continue to support the actions of the Republic of Ecuador in the face of transnational companies which cause ecological harm to its territory and attempt to impose abusive conditions.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Brazil, and of President Dilma Rousseff, to the strengthening of regional integration and to the development of social policies which have brought advances and benefits to broad sectors of the population, which, within the offensive against diverse leftist governments of the region, they are attempting to oust. Our support for the Latin American and Caribbean people of Puerto Rico in their efforts to achieve self-determination and independence—as the United Nations Decolonization Committee has ruled on dozens of occasions—will be unwavering.
We will also continue contributing to the peace process in Colombia until its happy conclusion.
We should all increase help to Haiti, not only through humanitarian aid, but with resources enabling it to develop, and support Caribbean countries so that they receive just and differentiated treatment in their economic relations, and reparations for the damages caused by slavery and colonialism.
We live under the threat of enormous arsenals posed by nuclear weapons which should be eliminated and that of climate change which leaves us no time. Threats to peace are increasing and conflicts are spreading.
As President Fidel Castro expressed,
“The fundamental causes lie in poverty and underdevelopment, and in the unequal distribution of wealth and knowledge which prevail in the world. It can not be forgotten that current underdevelopment and poverty are the consequences of conquest, colonization, slavery and the plundering of much of the earth by colonial powers, the rise of imperialism and the bloody wars for a new dividing up out of the planet. Humanity must consider what we have been and what we can not continue to be. Today,” continued Fidel,
“our species has acquired sufficient knowledge, ethical values, and scientific resources to advance toward a historic era of true justice and humanism. Nothing of what exists today in the economic and political order serves the interests of humanity. It can not be sustained. It must be changed,” concluded Fidel.
Cuba will continue to defend the ideas for which our people have assumed the greatest sacrifices and risks and fought for, alongside the poor, the sick lacking medical attention, the unemployed, boys and girls abandoned to their fate or forced to work or prostitute themselves, the hungry; the discriminated, the oppressed and the exploited who make up the vast majority of the world’s population.
Financial speculation, the privileges of Bretton Woods and the unilateral suspension of the convertibility of the dollar into gold are increasingly asphyxiating. We require a transparent and equitable financial system.
It is unacceptable that less than a dozen corporations, mainly from the U.S.—4 or 5 among 6 or 8—decide what is read, seen or heard on the planet. The Internet must have an international, democratic and participative system of governance, especially in regards to the creation of content. The militarization of cyberspace and use of covert and illegal information systems to attack other States is unacceptable. We will not allow ourselves to be blinded and colonized again. In regards to the Internet, which is a marvelous invention, one of the greatest in recent years, we might say, recalling the example of the tongue in Aesop’s fable, that the Internet can be used in the best way and is very useful, but in turn, can also be used for the worst.
Hemispheric relations, in my opinion, must change profoundly, in particular in the political, economic and cultural spheres, to focus on developing mutually beneficial ties and cooperation to serve the interests of all our nations and their stated objectives, in accordance with international law and respect for the exercise of self-determination and sovereign equality.
The approval of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, in January 2014 during the Second CELAC Summit in Havana, constituted an significant contribution to this goal, marked by Latin American and Caribbean unity within its diversity.
This is demonstrated by the fact that we are advancing toward a genuine process of Latin American and Caribbean integration through CELAC, UNASUR, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, ALBA-TCP, SICA and the Association of Caribbean States, which highlights the growing awareness of the need to unite to ensure our development.
Through the aforementioned Proclamation we are obliged to ensure that “differences between nations are peacefully settled through dialogue and negotiations or other means, fully consistent with international law.”
Today, to live in peace, cooperating with each other in order to confront the challenges and resolve the problems which, at the end of the day, affect and will continue to affect us all, is imperative.
As stated in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace “The inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful coexistence among nations,” must be respected.
With this we commit ourselves to fulfilling our “obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other state and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” and to respect “the principles and norms of international law (…) and the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.”
This historic document urges “all member states of the International Community to fully respect this declaration in their relations with CELAC member states.”
Now, we have the opportunity for all those present to learn, as the Proclamation also expresses, to “practice tolerance and live together in peace as good neighbours.”
Yes, there exists substantial disagreement, but also points in common, on which we can cooperate in order to make it possible to live in this world full of threats to peace, and [ensure] the survival of humanity.
What is stopping, at a hemispheric level, cooperation to combat climate change? As other Presidents who preceded me have already inquired.
Why can’t the countries of the two Americas, the North and the South, fight together against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, without politically biased positions?
Why not seek together the necessary resources to provide the hemisphere with schools, hospitals—even if they aren’t luxurious, a modest little hospital, in those places where people die because there is no doctor—to stimulate employment, to advance in the eradication of poverty.
Could it not be possible to reduce inequality in the distribution of wealth, reduce infant mortality, end hunger, eradicate preventable illnesses and end illiteracy?
Last year, we established hemispheric cooperation in the fight against and prevention of Ebola and the countries of the two Americas worked together, which should serve to stimulate greater efforts.
Cuba, a small country, lacking in natural resources, which has developed within an extremely hostile context, has been able to achieve full citizen participation in the political and social life of the nation; free universal healthcare and education; a system of social security which guarantees that no Cuban is left homeless; significant progress toward ensuring equality of opportunity and combating discrimination in all its forms; the full exercise of children’s and women’s rights; access to sports and culture; the right to life and citizen security.
Despite scarcities and difficulties, we remain true to sharing what we have. There are currently 65,000 Cuban collaborators working in 89 countries, above all in the spheres of medicine and education. 68,000 professionals and technicians from 157 countries have graduated from the island, 30,000 of which in the field of health.
If, with scarce resources, Cuba has been able to achieve this, what could the hemisphere do, with the political will to combine efforts to support the countries most in need?
Thanks to Fidel and the heroic Cuban people, we have come to this Summit, to fulfill the mandate of Martí with the freedom won by our own hands, “proud of Our America, to serve and honour her … with the determination and capacity to help ensure that she is valued for her merits, and respected for her sacrifices,” as Martí stated.
And to you all, forgive me for the time I have taken.
Many thanks to you all. (Applause)