Good evening. Thank you everybody for being here tonight. Particularly, I would like to thank our friends from Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba for inviting our Consulate to be here tonight to celebrate 60 years of revolution.
I also appreciate our Consul from Venezuela, our dear friend, Tatiana Vizcaya. I would like to make a comment because, just a few minutes ago Tamara made a mistake, she wanted to say 'Tania' and she said 'Tatiana'. And in fact, Tatiana, Tamara, and Tania are three different versions of the same name. In Russian you can commonly use them for the same person. So, that's a nice coincidence. So, thank you again.
It is quite unfair for me and for you to have me talking after such a wonderful presentation from our musicians. Now, we will be getting a little more serious.
Just to support the reasons why we're here. I'm always really lucky to gather with our friends from the solidarity movement. I think it is one of the more pleasant parts of our jobs because I don't need to explain why Cuba is Cuba, because I know you know that. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. I know that you are here because you know what Cuba is and what Cuba represents, and that Cuba is not only for the Cuban people, and tonight is a very good example. So, I thank you again for that.
So, Cuba just a little approach. How are we doing now sixty years after the triumph of the revolution? After that we can share, and talk, if you'd like to ask some questions.
Cuba Before the Revolution
Just some details about how we were before 1959. Don't get afraid, I won't include too much history. But I'd like to bring some figures that might help illustrate changes that we are facing right now. So you can see, at that point we had 57% of our population that was illiterate. This was solved in just a year, with voluntary teachers that came together after the initiative by our Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro. So we saw our revolution solve the issue of illiteracy in just one year.
Cuba became the first country, as you might all know, in Latin America to be free of illiteracy. There were only, at that time, 17,000 classrooms and 45% of our young children who were supposed to be in elementary school did not attend schools. In public schools most of the children did not reach the sixth grade. Less than eight percent of our rural population received medical attention. Life expectancy was 58 years old. Infant mortality rates, you can see the rates there [42 per 1,000 live births]. Also, maternal mortality rate 120 to 100,000 births. Women represented, at that time, 17% of our active population. Only, 3% of university students were women. So it was a really dramatic situation for the Cuban population.
Cuba Today After 60 Years of Revolution
But today, 60 years after that - Now 55% of state resources are allocated to the budgeted activity among which education and public health are the sectors that stand out. We have the highest rate of child school attendance in the region. And the total number of students in higher education is around 250,000.
Concerning healthcare, right now our country is facing for four years consecutively the lowest infant mortality rate in the region, 4.0 per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality rates is 38 per 100,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth is now 78.45 years. You'll remember it was 58 before the triumph of the revolution. As well, Cuba has been declared the first country in the world to eliminate the mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis. These are just to mention a few aspects of recent achievements.
Women - who, in fact, I am humbly proud to represent - are 60.5% of university student graduates; 67.2% of technical and professional workers; 48.6% of our leaders; 81.9% of professors, teachers, and scientists. Today Cuba is the second country in all the world with the highest representation of women in Parliament. (applause) It's not that we are discriminating against men, so please don't start to complain about that. (laughter) I must add that in our foreign services there are huge representations as well of women. Just in Canada, our Ambassador is a female, and our Consul General in Montreal is also a female. So, we have three women representatives of Cuba in Canada. (applause)
So, how are we doing now? We always need to go to the economics, to the base. So, when you see a country and a state that devotes more than 50 percent of our state income to these social bases, like health and education for instance, economics cannot be disregarded, as it cannot be in any other country's development.
As you all may have known, Cuba is not a developed country, Cuba has a lot of shortages. Most of them, or many of them, are increased by the blockade, which we will be talking about later. But these are the facts right now. In 2018, we ended with discrete growth in the gross domestic product 1.2%, which is not too much in the midst of so many adverse factors. But the behavior of the economy closed towards a positive sign. Similar levels of economic growth are in the forecast for 2019. We are expecting growth of 1.5%.
This is despite the impact of hurricane Irma, which you might all recall from 2017, which was really devastating for Cuba and many other countries in the Caribbean region. This hurricane severely affected the commercialization of Cuba as a tourist destination in the high season of 2017-2018 under measures taken by the U.S. government close to that time to hinder travel to our country. Despite all of those effects, tourism continued to grow, and we reached the figure of 4,731,363 visitors, with more than one million from Canada. (applause) For eight years consecutively, more than one million people from Canada come to Cuba, so you are all more than welcome.
Right now - and this is one of the main challenges we are facing - we need to consolidate our economy. In this regard we are really focused, because it is a priority to organize the economic activity in our country. This is particularly in the private sector of the economy, which is quite new for us, and the integration of all new actors that are taking part in our economy, as well as, the forms of ownership and management present in our social and economic environment today. As you may all know, from some years ago we have been making some changes in our economic system, without the intention to change the social basis of our economics but to reorganize, to open, to fix or to create the ones we need to fit in the market right now. But again, without losing the social character and the socialist basis of our system. So we need, in this regard, a boost in foreign investment and to promote exports from our country.
The U.S. Blockade on Cuba
There is the blockade, which I mentioned before, not to complain. It is not that we are always talking about the blockade because of political issues. It is because it is a reality. It is a reality that the U.S. blockade against Cuba imposed almost six decades ago, it was 1961, is the main obstacle for the development of Cuba and for the normalization of economic relations between our two countries. The quantifiable damages accumulated so far, as a result of the U.S. blockade amount to that unpronounceable figure you can see there [$933,678,000,000]. You see there are two different figures because they are taking into account the devaluation of the U.S. dollar against the price of gold. At current prices the damages will amount to that other unpronounceable figure [$134,499,800,000].
This is a fact. It gives you an idea of how much could have been possible for us to do if we wouldn't have lost such an amount of income. Despite that we have done a lot. So definitely I always say when we are on anniversaries, like we do in our personal lives, we are not satisfied, but we are quite proud. (applause)
Cuba’s New President & New Constitution
The social and political aspects, I would like to also highlight some specific events, Tamara mentioned some before. Last year we elected the first president who is not part of the historic generation that initiated the revolution. And that was an important change and important challenge faced by our revolution and by our people. However, I must tell you that the media, as you might see, was paying all the attention, and they say 'Oh! what's going on now there's not a Castro in power? What will happen with the Cuban Revolution?' As they did when Fidel died, you might remember that it was amazing how many supposedly really serious media started asking, 'What's going to happen with Cuba without Fidel? If they don't have Fidel?' Well Fidel was no longer the president for ten years before that. And Raul when he was appointed, it was because of his position. He was then elected, after that, and when he was elected, he said it would be five years, after that we would need to move on to new generations. So our people were prepared. Miguel Diaz-Canel, our new president has been working with our government, with our leaders for many many years so it's not a new phase. And our people definitely put all our confidence in him.
I must tell you my friends that this is going very well, very well. Our people are really confident in the new changes. People are really glad that Diaz-Canel is going into many places to know what is going on. He doesn't like to talk only to the principal figures in specific institutions. If he goes to a school, he goes first to see the students and asks them how everything is going, 'what do you think about this?' and after that he will talk to the Minister of Education. (laughter) So that's the way that the Cuban people like it. So we are really confident that things are moving very well. So it has been proved, as Fidel and Raul always said, that the life of the revolution is not limited to the people that initiated it, because they have a legacy that we are committed to continue.
The new constitution, as Tamara mentioned, as you may have seen on the video that was presented before. Because of the changes we have faced during the last years and the ones we need face in the future, our current constitution was approved in 1976. Please don't do the math because that's my age. So it might be old for our constitution but that's it. (laughter)
We are right now in a process of renewal. We need to make a legal framework and to put in stated words all the changes we have been needing to make and to open the possibility to do other changes, however if we don't update the constitution, the changes would be unconstitutional, and it is not possible to do that. So far, we don't have the new text in English, but I am sure that when the constitution is passed, it will take some time, but we will have the whole text in English. So, on February 24th after three months of popular consultations - which I may tell you - this was a process that involved our people more than many of the processes in which we have tried to invite and to call the people to be involved, because people were really interested to know what's going on and what's changing. our people, you know, are very argumentative.
We are always asking and wanting to know why. It is because Fidel told us that we must read, not just believe. When he taught us to do so, our people they're really going to take a stand and they're really argumentative people. We like debate. And this debate on the constitution was no different than the ones we have everyday for everything - about buses or transportation or food - and it got into so many details that 60% of the articles from the first draft were changed. For the final text that will be subject to the referendum it was needed, because people had a lot of suggestions and omissions they wanted to make. It was a huge process, a deep process of revision after the consultation process ended on November 15. After that they got only two months of revisions of all the opinions and suggestions from the people, so it resulted in the modification of 60% of the articles. The constitutional reform responds, as I told you before, to the important economic and social changes that have taken place in the country in recent years. It aims to consolidate and to give continuity to a socialist country, to a democratic, prosperous, and sustainable system.
So, here we are now, 60 years of revolution and counting! Thank you.
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