Good evening everyone! It is such a pleasure for me to be, for the first time, in this part of Canada. I am very happy because I know that there are many friends of Cuba in British Columbia. It was high time for me to be with you this evening. Thank you for this great attendance and I very much appreciate you being here with us this evening.
So first of all, I would like to express our big gratitude and thanks to the organizers of this event: the Canadian Cuban Friendship Association - CCFA-Vancouver, the Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, which for many years have been doing a great job in solidarity with Cuba and you all are very well known by many Cubans because they recognize that you have always been by the side of the Cuban people in the best times and in the worst of times. Thank you very much. [Applause]
You know this year we are commemorating in Cuba the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. [Applause]
The path travelled thus far since 1959 has not been an easy one, as Fidel Castro himself predicted when he arrived in Havana on January 8th, 1959, when he warned all Cubans that everything might be more difficult in the future.
And that was the reality we had to face for many years. Back then we not only had to remove the basis of the foundations of the Cuban society of that time and radically transform the country's political and economic system, but we also had to face all types of aggression and threats - both internal and external - some of which unfortunately continues to this day. Such as the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba and the campaigns to denigrate Cuba and its leaders that also continues today. Despite this adverse context, the Cuban people have made significant progress in the efforts to build a more just, inclusive, and caring free society. Now we can proudly say that Cuba has achieved all possible social justice in the midst of adverse domestic and foreign circumstances. It has offered its selfless solidarity to other countries in need and it has contributed decisively to peace and stability in our region and in the rest of the world. Today Cuba can show major achievements in healthcare, education, social security, sports, culture, and public safety in which indicators are similar - and sometimes higher - than those of developed countries.
This is possible thanks to the will of the Cuban state and to the fact that more than half of the nation's budget is allocated to health and education alone. Cuba has conquered rights not only for its own people. It has also made a valuable contribution to the advancement of human rights of other peoples. The four hundred and seven thousand Cuban collaborators, mainly doctors and nurses, who over the last 55 years have offered their assistance in 164 countries. As well, the 56,000 foreign students from 137 countries who have studied in Cuba, most of them studying medicine, are a living testimony of this.
Although modestly, the Cuban economy grows every year. As the modernization of our economic and social model advances, with that comes the resolute decision of the Cuban government to achieve a more efficient economy and improve the standard of living of the Cuban population.
Last year, 2018, was a very important year for Cuba. Two very important events in our history took place. First, in April 2018, we witnessed in Cuba the election of our new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. [Applause] With that we witnessed a successful transfer of the main state and governmental duties and responsibilities to the new generation of Cuban leaders.
Another event of paramount importance that took place in Cuba last year was the approval of a new constitution. A new constitution that was approved following a broad popular consultation in which more than eight million Cubans participated, and not only Cubans living in Cuba, but also Cubans living abroad. As a result of this huge popular debate that was carried out in Cuba for three months. More than 700,000 proposed changes were made by the Cuban population to the original draft that was written by the commission and adopted in the first stage by the Cuban parliament. That led to changes in 60% of the articles of the original text of the constitution that was submitted to the Cuban people. Then the constitution was ratified in a popular referendum, as Tamara said, on February 24 of this year 2019. Ninety percent of Cubans with the right to vote voted, 86.8% out of them voted 'yes' in favour of the new Cuban constitution and 9% voted 'no'. On April 10 of this year, the new constitution was formally proclaimed by the Cuban National Assembly, the Cuban parliament.
The figures that I just mentioned to you, show the genuine democratic character of the constitutional reforms process in which all Cubans had the opportunity to participate and make their contribution to the most important decisions for the life of the nation in the following years. You might ask yourself why this was needed at this stage of our development in Cuba, to conduct a process of constitutional reform. The previous Cuban constitution was approved in 1976 and it was amended three times. But, taking into consideration the very important deep transformations that we have been making in Cuba for more than a decade, it was not enough to introduce new amendments to the Constitution. Because of the magnitude of the changes that we had to make within the fundamental law of the country, a decision was made that amendments were not sufficient and that we had to do a huge and very broad process of constitutional reform. This included a referendum for the population to give its support, or not, to the new Cuban constitution.
So. it's important for you to know that since 2010, for almost nine years now, Cuba has been going through important transformations in its economic and social model. This process has been dictated by changes in the international situation - including the persistence and strengthening of the economic, financial, and commercial blockade imposed by the United States government - aimed at achieving a more efficient economy and improving the standard of living of the population.
Among the changes that have been taking place in Cuba in the last decade, I can mention the following: greater openness to foreign investment; the separation of the state functions from those of enterprise; the recognition of other types of ownership and property, in addition to state ownership; the elimination of unnecessary subsidies; to name only the most relevant. All of these changes that have been happening in Cuba for almost 10 years now are being made within socialism. This is very important to underline.
Preserving the social achievements, we are so proud of such as universal education and health care; social security coverage; and citizen safety, which makes Cuba one of the safest countries in the world. In short, what we have been doing in Cuba for several years now are changes within continuity, with the aim of improving our socialist model of development and advancing in the construction of a nation that is increasingly democratic, prosperous, and sustainable.
What are the main changes that were introduced in the Cuban constitution as compared to the previous one? The new constitution reaffirms that socialist ownership is an essential principle of the Cuban economic model and that state enterprise is the main economic actor. But at the same time, it recognizes the role of the market and other forms of ownership: mixed property, cooperative property, private property, personal property, and the property of associations and different organizations that exist in Cuba.
Another important change is that the rights of citizens in the new constitution are expanded to guarantee equality and non-discrimination of any kind in our society. Human dignity is recognized as the supreme value for Cuban citizens. The rights of children and adolescents are expanded, and the protection of the elderly is introduced for the first time in the Cuban constitution. The new text establishes the right of people to found a family whatever its form of organization and it defines that families are constituted by legal or defacto links. Actually, I have to tell you that according to data from the 2012 census in Cuba, more than 5 million people live in stable couples in Cuba. Of them, 48 percent are defacto legal unions and 52 percent are married. So, it's important that the constitution recognizes that families can be of different types.
At the same time, the mention of the subjects that make up marriage (i.e. a man and a woman) was eliminated from the new text. I can explain that later to you, the problem is that the old constitution defined what marriage was, and it said that it was a union between a man and a woman. The commission that wrote the draft for the new constitution wanted to keep the definition of marriage in the constitution, but in a more progressive way and it proposed to the Cuban population that marriage be considered a union between persons. [Applause] But, it didn't pass. That was the issue that was most debated in our society.
We learned, as a result of that debate, that the population is not ready yet to accept something like this. But what the commission did was to take into consideration the opinion of the population, and even though it was not an issue that divided the population in half, it was very divisive. So, a decision was made to take out of the constitutional text the definition of marriage and deferred that to future legislation that must be passed in Cuba in around two years. But the constitution says in the end that marriage is a social and legal institution and one of the forms of organization of the family, and at the same time, the constitution says that families could be of any kind. So, it's a first step in the direction that we believe that we have to go in the future. What we are doing in Cuba is to try to continue building a society in which no discrimination of any kind exists, we should, and we have to continue working in that direction. [Applause]
New rights were added in the new text in the areas of justice and due process. That was a demand by the Cuban population, and not to defer that to more specific legislation. They wanted the constitution to speak about this.
The duty to protect the flora and fauna was incorporated, that didn't exist before, but there was a demand by the population to guarantee some protection for animals in the constitution. And I think that is progress when compared with the previous text.
In the structure of the state, there are important changes in the constitution. Now, very soon because we have to have elections once again, we will have two important figures in our country. The president of the Republic, who will be the head of state, and the Prime Minister, who will be in charge of the government. This is going to be new.
In the last 40 years, because Fidel Castro at the beginning of the revolution was Prime Minister and we have a President, but when we adopted the Constitution of 1976, those two positions were merged, and Fidel became the head of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. But now we will divide that once again. I have to tell you that the President won't be a decorative protocol figure. It will be a very important person. He will be the head of state. He will appoint ambassadors. He will accept ambassadors from foreign countries, but he will also be in charge of defense, national security, and foreign affairs. Those are very important strategic issues for the country. The Prime Minister will be in charge of the day to day operations of the government. And I think that would be good. According to the big tasks and goals that we have set up for the development of Cuba in the next few years, a limit of two terms each of five years was established for the President of the republic. Also, the President of the republic must be at least 35 years old and not older than 60 at the time of the first election. That was a huge debate in Cuba.
We are becoming an older population and people didn't understand why at 60 people considered that was very low and there were many proposals for increasing the age limit. But in the end, the Commission and the parliament prevailed, because of the magnitude and the importance and the size of the big task that the government will have in the future. The president will be responsible for that. The idea was that we need a young president, at least when elected for the first time, although he can stay two mandates total of ten years as the head of the state.
At the level of the provincial governments, new positions were created. We will have, in the future in the provinces of Cuba, a governor and a lieutenant governor. That was also an issue of debate because people in Cuba didn't like those names, but in the end, the commission and the parliament prevailed. More prerogatives will be granted to municipal governments in Cuba.
The new constitution also ratifies the principles of Cuba's foreign policy and this is very important because the chapter dedicated to foreign policy in the constitution is bigger than in the previous one. There are traditional principles, but new principles were added according to the new international conditions in which we live. For example, the constitution ratified Cuba's aspiration for peace for all states and the observation of the principles and norms of international law in relations between states. But at the same time, as an addition to those principles, we find the protection and conservation of the environment and coping with climate change. This is new. [Applause]
The combination of direct or indirect intervention in the internal or external affairs of any states, and therefore of armed aggression and any form of economic or political coercion, that existed in the previous text but is more developed now in the new constitution. The promotion of general and complete disarmament and the rejection of the existing proliferation or use of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass extermination, is there too. The repudiation and condemnation of terrorism in any of its forms and manifestations. This is new.
As well, the promotion of multilateralism and multipolarity in international relations. Those are the principles that have guided Cuba’s foreign policy for some time and there are new issues added now. But I have to tell you that Cuba's foreign policy is also guided by the proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace. That was signed by all heads of state and governments in our region in January 2014 in Havana. This proclamation now - from what we see as very concerning trends in our region - is very important, because it expresses a commitment to foster friendly and cooperative relations among countries regardless of their differences in their political, economic, and social systems or levels of development and to practice tolerance and coexist in peace as good neighbours. It also recognizes the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system as an essential condition to ensure peaceful coexistence in the region. In the current complex international context, mainly in our region, these principles acquire significant relevance. When interference and aggressive actions intensify in our region seeking to provoke a regime change in Venezuela and Nicaragua. When the U.S. government has once again taken the course of confrontation with Cuba presenting our peaceful and solidarity country as a threat to the region, which Cuba is not.
In strict adherence to these principles Cuba has currently called upon all peoples and governments, regardless of political or ideological differences that may exist between us, to defend peace and to put up a joint opposition to a new U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean - specifically in Venezuela which will harm the independence, sovereignty, and interests of all peoples. [Applause & Chants "¡Viva Venezuela!"]
For Cuba, what is at stake today in Venezuela is the sovereignty and dignity of Latin America and the Caribbean. The survival of the principles and rules of international law and the principles enshrined in the U.N. charter and whether the legitimacy of a government emanates from the expressed and sovereign will of its people or from the recognition of foreign powers.
As a conclusion of my presentation, because I want to have time to have a real conversation with you, I can tell you that the Cuban Revolution faces important challenges in the future. In Cuba, the main battle - where all the efforts and the energies are being concentrated - in the battle to achieve an efficient economy that responds to the country's development needs and to the growing needs of the Cuban population. That implies for us in Cuba that we will need to better exploit our huge internal reserves and improve the economic management of the country. While we continue to deal with the U.S. blockade, which is being reinforced. Only in 2011, it cost almost $12 million a day to the Cuban economy. That is why, apart from our own internal shortcomings - and we know what they are and we have identified them - we reiterate all the time that the blockade continues to be the main obstacle for the development of the Cuban economy.
In the international arena, we will have to face an adversarial scenario, characterized by a growing U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the reinforcement of the blockade, just recently it was once again reinforced. As well as increasing aggression against Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other progressive forces in our region. We are mindful and ready to deal with the external threats facing Cuba once again coming from some, mainly in the United States, who despite their repeated defeats fail to understand that there is no way to break down a generous, brave, and solidarity people who have fought for almost 100 years to be independent and sovereign. [Standing ovation & applause]
Cuba will continue standing strong to continue to be free. Thank you very much. [Applause & Chants of "¡Viva Cuba!"”¡Viva Fidel!""¡Viva Raul!"]
You know I forgot to say something at the beginning. This is unforgivable. Yes, because I said at the beginning that we are celebrating 60 years of the Cuban Revolution, but I have to tell you something very important. If we have come thus far in Cuba it is not just because of the resistance of the Cuban people. The Cuban people are very resilient, this is a new word, but we have been resilient for a long time. This is also because of how we have been able to guarantee and keep unity in Cuba around our leaders. But also because of the solidarity that we have always received from many many friends of Cuba. And tonight is an example of how many friends Cuba still has. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Click here to read the report from the event
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