Friday, December 26, 2014

1695. The Cuban Five Are Free!

By Jeff Mackler, Socialist Action, December 22, 2014

The Cuban Five and President Castro pose for a photo in Havana on December 17: Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and René González; Cuban President Raúl Castro is in uniform.

In simultaneous press conferences in Washington, D.C., and Havana on Wednesday, Dec. 17, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced an agreement that included the immediate release of the three remaining Cuban political prisoners held in U.S. jails since 1998—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero. Two other Cubans, Fernando González, and René González, having completed long jail terms, had been released in recent years.

The Cuban Five, as they are known with great admiration worldwide, were charged in 1998 and convicted in 2001 in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and acting as agents of a foreign government. The U.S. government-orchestrated trial included the illegal manipulation of reporters and the media more generally, forged documents, and the exclusion of exculpatory evidence. It was a classic U.S. political frame-up, aimed at poisoning public opinion and the jury pool while characterizing Cuba, the victim of U.S. terrorism for decades, as a terrorist state.

A Dec. 19 statement by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), which has been monitoring U.S.-backed terrorist attacks on Cuba, stated, “For more than 30 years after Fidel Castro took power, over 3400 Cubans have died and over 2000 have been wounded in terrorist attacks by extremist anti-Castro exile groups based in South Florida. In 1990, the Cuban government sent the five men to Miami to monitor and disrupt such groups and prevent future attacks.” The Cuban Five [long ago granted Cuba’s highest award, “Heroes of the Revolution”], remained nonviolent throughout their mission.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio and television program described one such U.S.-trained terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, as “one of the most notorious Cuban exiles who applied for political asylum in the United States several years ago.” Goodman reported that Carriles, a former CIA operative trained by the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Ga., “has been trying to violently overthrow Fidel Castro’s government for four decades. … Posada was responsible for the 1976 downing of a civilian airliner that left Venezuela bound for Cuba. The bombing killed 73 passengers, including the gold medal-winning Cuban Olympic fencing team.”

In 1998 Posada told The New York Times, “The C.I.A. taught us everything. … They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.”

The Cuban government transmitted the information obtained by The Five to various U.S. intelligence agencies that supposedly exist to prevent such terrorist activities from being initiated from U.S. soil. It was these communications to the U.S. that led to the arrest of the Cuban Five, via a deeply implanted Cuban intelligence officer in the employ of the CIA. This was Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, subsequently imprisoned in Cuba for almost 20 years.

Trujillo was part of the prisoner swap, along with Alan Gross, an American working in association with the U.S. Agency for International Development, a notorious instrument used by the CIA and other such institutions aimed at undermining governments whose policies the U.S. government opposes. Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba for the past five years. Also, Cuba has reportedly freed 53 other “political prisoners” as part of the deal with the United States.

No U.S. government action was taken against the terrorists that the Five had exposed! Indeed, U.S. spy and terrorist operations continued with abandon, all focused on the organization of an internal opposition to topple the leadership of the Cuban Revolution.
In recent years the U.S. ruling class has been divided on the issue of the most effective methods to employ to bring down the Cuban workers’ state, established in 1959 when the forces led by Fidel Castro organized a popular revolution that removed the hated U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and opened the way to a socialist revolution in Cuba.

One wing of the U.S. ruling class, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a number of “liberal” Democrats, as well as Midwest Republicans who wish to sell cheap grain and other foodstuffs to Cuba, argue that a healthy dose of American capitalist investment aimed at undermining and underselling Cuba’s largely nationalized economy, is the best way to proceed. Clinton’s view is clearly stated in her new book, “Hard Choices.”

A Dec. 18 Bloomberg View article entitled “Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years” notes: “Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.”

The Bloomberg article continues, “From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation.”

While Obama officials asserted that the secret negotiations with the Cuban government that resulted in the present agreement were facilitated by Pope Francis and Canadian diplomats, presumably those with interests in exploiting Cuba’s significant nickel resources, ruling-class debates over the effectiveness of the Cuban embargo/blockade have been underway for decades.

Today, with the same intentions, the Obama administration has come on board. The president made clear in a Dec. 19 press conference that “the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government.” That “influence” includes U.S. corporate intentions to penetrate Cuban markets with an ongoing flow of cheap commodities aimed at undermining Cuban government enterprises.

U.S. imperialism’s relations with Cuba, and all other poor nations, always include such economic penetration based on imperialism’s capacity to set prices for vital resources far cheaper than their actual value. U.S. imperialism, for example, was able to effectively reduce the world market price of nickel, previously an important component of Cuba’s income, by 50 percent.

This kind of economic robbery is inherent in the imperialist system, wherein the nation that employs the highest levels of technology in the production of any commodity effectively devalues competing products produced with considerably more labor input. U.S. agri-business, utilizing the most advanced technologies in the world and very few workers, regularly produces rice more cheaply than any nation on earth. In every instance, the threat or actual export of rice in significant quantities has the effect of undermining the national rice markets worldwide.

The “liberal” advocates of opening Cuba to U.S. economic investments and commodity exports often cite the great economic gains obtained by U.S. multi-national corporations in China and Russia as a prime example. They have found a regular voice in the editorial pages of The New York Times, which repeatedly champions an end to the embargo in order to advance U.S. economic penetration of Cuba as the most effective way to bring down the Cuban workers’ state.

The more hard-bitten sectors of the U.S. ruling class prefer the traditional stick to Obama’s carrot. They remain in accord with the 1960 State Department memo—continuing in essence to this day—to “bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of [the Cuban] government.”

The National Lawyers Guild statement also noted that “under the current [Obama] administration, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had secretly attempted to build an opposition movement in Cuba which it acknowledged had no significant support from within the island. These covert actions as documented several months ago by the Associated Press include: (1) sending undercover Latin American youth to Cuba posing as health workers; (2) establishing a fake “Cuban Twitter” program, [the now-abandoned ZunZuneo (the sound of the hummingbird) program], the collecting the data of 50,000 unsuspecting Cubans; and (3) infiltrating the underground hip-hop scene and co-opting artists.”

These more “subtle” programs were, of course, accompanied by the ongoing and illegal 52-year U.S. embargo/blockade that has caused Cuba billions of dollars in lost revenue and has been central to the U.S.-imposed misery inflicted on the Cuban people. Despite the embargo/blockade and all other illegal measures employed by U.S. imperialism, revolutionary Cuba has persevered, including maintaining one of the world’s finest and free systems of health care, public education, and other vital social services that are universally admired.

In recent years, and following a massive consultation process with the Cuban people, Cuba has implemented series of reforms, within the context of maintaining its socialist ideals, aimed at improving the efficiency of the Cuban economy. These include granting licenses for the operation of small businesses that involve just a few people, usually family members, in their operation. In 2013, these enterprises employed some 400,000 Cubans.

This fall, the government announced 246 projects that will be added to the number of industries that are open to foreign investment. This effort focuses on the special development zone that is being developed in an expanded Port of Mariel. The new zone will offer the possibility of 100 percent private ownership, although enterprises will be subject to government, labor, and other regulation.

Additionally, modest parcels of state land have been distributed on a renewable-lease basis to Cuban workers and agricultural laborers. Here again, the objective was to improve efficiency and avoid bureaucratic abuse. The latter has been periodically and publically noted and condemned by the Cuban leadership, especially with regard to the state agriculture system, where theft and corruption have been rampant. In cases of imperialist-imposed and massive shortages of basic necessities, bureaucratic abuse is well known. Combating this abuse was been a critical part of the legacy of the Castro team.

Socialist Action has documented Cuba’s economic reforms in significant detail in the resolution in solidarity with Cuba adopted by our 2012 national convention and published in the pamphlet entitled, “The Politics of Revolutionary Socialism.” We noted that unlike the process of capitalist restoration that has been completed in Russia and China, no significant portion of Cuba’s economy has been granted to any section of the Cuban leadership or to international corporations. Indeed, before implementation, the proposed economic reforms were presented for discussion, debate, and modification to well-organized and massive assemblies of workers and farmers that included millions of Cubans.

While Cuba still lacks formal and vitally necessary institutions of workers’ democracy, such as the soviet (council) system under the revolutionary leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in the early period of the Russian Revolution, the present Cuban leadership has not developed into a hardened caste whose interests can only be preserved by repression. To the contrary, despite the incredible hardships imposed on Cuba by U.S. and world imperialism, the Castro team has struggled valiantly to maintain the social gains of the 1959 revolution and to foster social equality to a greater extent than anywhere on earth.

The Cuban example in sending hundreds of doctors and medical workers to fight the scourge of Ebola in Africa and similar humanitarian efforts across the globe is testimony to its ongoing revolutionary and socialist orientation.

The heinous U.S. embargo/blockade of Cuba has been annually condemned as illegal in United Nations General Assembly resolutions in each of the past 23 years. The most recent vote on this issue was 188-2, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against.

Commenting on the embargo/blockade and the new U.S.-Cuba agreement, and reaffirming Cuba’s socialist course, Raul Castro stated emphatically, “An important step has been taken, but the essential thing remains—the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, which has grown in recent years particularly in terms of financial transactions.” In short, Cuba, unlike virtually every nation on earth, has been denied credit from almost all of the world’s major banking institutions.

While Obama declined to lift the embargo, with the assertion that this required congressional action—that is, rescinding the Helms-Burton Law and other anti-Cuba legislation—what will soon become clear is that the U.S. government will seek to use its embargo leverage to extract important concessions.

Similarly, after a century of colonial occupation, including torture of so-called terrorists captured in the course of U.S. wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Obama made no reference to the U.S.-occupied naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Cuban government continues to demand an end to this colonial occupation, a product of the 1898 American war and occupation of Cuba based on the infamous “Remember the Maine!” pretext, when Spanish authorities were charged with blowing up the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor.

Obama’s press conference also announced several additional executive orders aimed softening relations with Cuba.

Dependent on expected new and soon to be enacted Treasury and Commerce Department revisions of current policy and their formal publication in the Federal Register, Obama and his administration officials indicated that rules on visits to Cuba by Americans will be liberalized to allow for travel in categories that have in the past required special licenses. These include family visits, as well as travel regarding official U.S. or foreign government business, journalism, research and professional meetings, educational and religious activities, performances workshops, competitions, expeditions, and humanitarian support. Specific licenses will no longer be required for business related to telecommunications and Internet linkages with Cuba.

Further, remittances by Americans with family members in Cuba will now increase to $2000 every three months, up from $500. Americans visiting Cuba will be allowed to legally import merchandise bought there with a value of up to $400, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol purchases.

In the same vein, Obama—declaring the U.S. approach to Cuba “outdated” and stating that “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked”—proclaimed that his objective was the normalization of relations with Cuba, including the construction and establishment of a U.S. embassy in Havana and an Obama administration effort to remove Cuba from the U.S. terrorist list. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated his intention to pay a formal visit to Cuba along with other top administration officials.

Liberal apologists for U.S. imperialism have been effusive with praise for Obama’s recent policy initiatives, characterizing them as sincere efforts to portray his “legacy” as that of a progressive, liberal-minded—if not humanistic—head of state.

Mindful of the need to attract to its 2016 electoral efforts the unprecedented millions who did not vote in the recent mid-term elections—two-thirds of the eligible electorate and especially Blacks, Latinos, and youth who saw no significant difference between the twin parties of the ruling rich—the president has engaged in a flurry of executive pronouncements aimed at burnishing his tattered image. These include his fraudulent immigration reforms, his “success” in negotiating the new $1.1 trillion congressional funding bill (that granted additional billions to the corporate elite), his tepid criticisms of the now internationally exposed CIA torture practices, and his most recent release/transfer of four Guantanamo prisoners who had been held for decades without charges or legal representation.

All these measures, as with Obama’s “new” Cuba policies, are in their essence the dressing of the government’s ongoing reactionary policies in more presentable garb. They are aimed at maintaining and advancing the interests of the U.S. rulers at the expense of the world’s people, including the American working class.

The classic maxim of over 3000 years past applies with full force today: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!” Obama’s Trojan Horse belies wicked intentions. Nevertheless, the hard-fought winning of the freedom of the Cuban Five, and all other measures aimed at ending the monstrous imperialist embargo/blockade, are important victories for revolutionary Cuba and all humanity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

1694. New Cuba-US Relations: Business over Politics

By Elio Delgado-Legon, Havana Times, December 24, 2014
President John F. Kennedy sings into law naval blockade of Cuba on October 24, 1962

The recent news about Cuba-US relations has had a huge impact at the international level and brought much joy to the Cuban people, particularly because three Cuban men who had served long and unjust sentences in the United States, for the “crime” of penetrating terrorist organizations based in South Florida, have returned home.

President Barack Obama’s decision to release them and re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba has been welcomed by the Cuban people, and constitutes the first steps in a long journey we will possibly have to make in order to normalize all relations with our neighbor.
I say that these are merely the first steps of the journey because the fundamental problem, the economic, commercial and financial blockade that has burdened the Cuban people for more than 50 years, still has not been resolved, and will have to be lifted by the US Congress.
It is fairly difficult to make any predictions about what Congress, with a Republican majority, will decide in response to Obama’s proposal that the laws that sustain the blockade be repealed, for, on the one hand, we know the Republicans will try and make the Democrat president look bad, but, on the other, there are economic interests among Republicans that would benefit from the re-establishment of bilateral trade.

Which of the two forces will prove stronger? We will have to wait and see, but, in my opinion, even though Cuban-American legislators will oppose the decision with all their strength and find support among some war-mongers like John McCain, there is a large lobby of farmers and other businesspeople whose interests have been undermined by the blockade and have done the math regarding how much they have lost in the course of 50 years and how much they can gain from exporting to a country with eleven million inhabitants, a country that draws more and more tourists and is already seeing as many as three million visitors every year (a figure that could well double in the short term if American citizens regain their freedom to travel where they please, as their Constitution establishes).

The United States is also interested in importing from Cuba many products they don’t find in other markets – some because they are made exclusively in Cuba and others because they are made with lesser quality elsewhere.

Another issue that, as I see it, is even more important than trade, is the possibility of investing in Cuba, particularly in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which has already received numerous applications from businesspeople from other countries.

In my opinion, the interests of US businesspeople will prevail over those of the Cuban-American legislators and their war-mongering supporters.

With the re-establishment of relations with Cuba, the United States has significantly improved the negative image it has earned for itself in recent years, particularly in Latin America, where it has been losing opportunities to invest and establish other businesses, opportunities that countries in Europe and Asia, which don’t mix politics and business, and do not meddle in the internal affairs of countries they trade with, have not missed. That must be the nature of all future relations between the United States and the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, if the US wishes to regain the prestige it once had.

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 76 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

1693. Normalization of U.S.-Cuban Relations Requires a Normalization of U.S. Conduct

By Belén Fernández, Al Jazeera America, December 21, 2014
Cubans celebrated freedom of the Cuban Five on December 17

For an island nation of only 11 million people, Cuba has a continued knack for landing in the media spotlight. First there was last week’s Associated Press revelation about covert U.S. efforts to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene as a means of promoting regime change. And now Washington has surprisingly announced it’s restoring ties with the country, after more than 50 years.

As part of the sudden reversal of policy, the U.S. released three alleged Cuban spies, who were arrested in the United States while investigating Cuban exile groups accused of terrorism. U.S. intelligence has its own history in Cuba, to say the least. By 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency had mulled 638 assassination schemes against former Cuban President Fidel Castro, ranging from a simple exploding cigar to strapping a mollusk with explosives to catch him while scuba diving.

But times have apparently changed, and as part of the thaw with the United States, Cuba has released an American prisoner of five years, Alan Gross, whose preincarceration activities on the island are the subject of a recent Newsweek piece by former Washington Post deputy foreign editor Peter Eisner.

Gross, writes Eisner, was part of an intelligence operation run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that involved the “illegal transmission of funds to front companies that had spent millions of dollars to subvert Cuba, covert action in Cuba and third countries and the illegal licensing and export of sensitive telecommunications material.”

USAID was incidentally also the force behind the United States’ attempted hip-hop revolution. So when the White House says, as it did in its official press release on Wednesday, that the U.S. “is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba,” does this mean putting a stop to subversion attempts?

A foot in the door
The communiqué states that U.S. policy vis-à-vis Cuba, although “rooted in the best of intentions … has had little effect” over the past 50-odd years, “constrain[ing] our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere and impair[ing] the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba.”

So much for those well-intentioned American terrorist attacks against the island, not to mention the ongoing economic embargo that amounts to collective punishment of a population for something that is not even a crime — having a noncapitalist economic system. The fact that Washington equates an effective Cuba policy with enhanced hemispheric domination indicates that what is being touted as a historic diplomatic breakthrough constitutes a change in means but not ends.

The key components of the new approach include “promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector” in Cuba, encouraging private property ownership, facilitating financial transactions between the two countries, establishing commercial telecommunications and Internet infrastructure and services on the island and selling “certain consumer communications devices” to the Cubans. A host of other U.S. exports are also mentioned, as is the re-establishment of the American Embassy in Havana.

While some observers have chosen to cast the new deal as a victory for the Cuban Revolution, the BBC News hints at other factors at play: “In Cuba, limited economic reforms carried out by [President] Raúl Castro have begun to relax the tight grip of the state and pique the interest of American business.”

Premature ecstasy over a perceived triumph of justice thus ignores the possibility that the U.S. has simply determined it’s easier to cajole Cuba into the neoliberal fold with a foot in the door. It’s safe to speculate that a portion of American business is salivating at the prospect of a Berlin Wall moment or a return of the prerevolutionary golden age of corporate-friendly dictatorship.

There is also the Cuban point of view to consider. In his address to the nation on Wednesday, Castro stressed that re-establishing ties with the U.S. “doesn’t mean that the main issue has been resolved”: the embargo, which is written into U.S. law and can’t be lifted by presidential whim.

He also said, “We need to learn the art of coexistence, in a civilized manner, with [respect for] our differences.”

While the U.S. is willing to put up with some differences, ones that impede the flow of capital won’t be received well.

The freedom makeover
Since crass discussion of business interests isn’t the best way to win public support, the U.S. has euphemized its financial ambitions in Cuba into a desire for freedom for the Cuban people.

The White House press release specifies that the country will continue to fund its “democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance [and] promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.” These efforts, it says, are “aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”

To be sure, nothing spells independence like the encroachments of a superpower in the domestic policies of a small nation. And why rely on the state when all it offers is universal access to food, shelter, health care and education?

Meanwhile, the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations promised by the White House is complicated by the fact that Guantánamo Bay — home to the infamous U.S. detention camp — is illegally operated on Cuban territory leased by the U.S. under bogus claims established after the Spanish-American War.

The normalization does, however, magnanimously provide for a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, although no review is deemed necessary for U.S. drone strikes on civilians or sponsorship of anti-Cuban terrorists.

So while the current hysteria of the anti-Castro camp in Florida might lend credence to the idea that the U.S.-Cuba détente constitutes an extreme departure from business as usual, it’s more of an extreme makeover — the foundations of which remain pretty ugly.

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

1692. President Raul Castro Addresses the Cuban Parliament about the Negotiated Agreement with the United States

By Raul Castro Ruiz, Havana Times, December 20, 2014
Cuban President Raul Castro (L) gestures next to first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel (R) at the end of the Parliament Annual Session, on December 20, 2014 in Havana. Adaberto Roque AFP/Getty Images

Comrades All:

We have all lived through intense and exciting moments in the last few days.

In this very month of December we successfully held the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit. Last Sunday we held the Thirteenth Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and, on that occasion, we paid a well-deserved tribute to their founders: our close friend and Bolivarian President, Hugo Chávez Frías, and the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz (APPLAUSE).

Present in this session are Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio, a source of genuine rejoicing and happiness for all of our people –I will elaborate on this important even towards the final part of my statement. Also present here are comrades Fernando and René and the relatives of the Five Heroes, as well as the young Elián González, his father Juan Miguel and Colonel Orlando Cardoso Villavicencio, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, who endured a harsh incarceration for more than ten years in Somalia.

As has been the usual practice in the sessions of our Parliament, it is now my turn to make a review of the country’s economic performance throughout the year that is about to conclude, as well as of the economic plan and budget for the year 2015, which have been thoroughly discussed by deputies in all the 10 commissions of the Assembly and also in yesterday’s plenary session.

The Ninth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party that was held on Thursday last was also devoted to the discussion of these issues. That is why I will just refer to them very briefly.

As has been already explained, the Gross Domestic Product, known as GDP, increased by 1.3 per cent, a figure below the originally planned rate, as a result of the insufficient economic performance during the first semester of the year, when we were faced with significant financial constraints deriving from the failure to meet the expected level of revenues from abroad, the adverse weather conditions and the internal insufficiencies in economic management.

Although, in fact, during the second semester of the year, we managed to modestly reverse that trend and achieve better results.

Next year’s economic plan will consolidate and reinforce the trend towards a more solid growth of the Cuban economy, based on the optimal use of our reserves in terms of efficiency; the restoration of productive sectors, particularly the manufacturing industry; a more efficient use of energy sources and a higher number of investments in infrastructure and material production, while preserving social services, such as public health and education, for our population.

A GDP growth of a little more than 4 per cent has been projected for the year 2015. This is an attainable goal, considering that, as different from the situation faced in the early months of 2014, a better funding has been guaranteed with sufficient time in advance, which in no way means that it will be an easy task. We will have to continue coping with the effects of the global economic crisis and the US blockade that still remains in force and creates undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy.

At the same time, we will continue to strictly honor the commitments entered into when we rescheduled our debts with our main creditors, thus contributing to the gradual recovery of the international credibility of the Cuban economy.

Yesterday afternoon, the National Assembly approved the Law on the State Budget for the year 2015, which envisages a 6.2 per cent deficit in the GDP, considered to be an acceptable rate under the present circumstances. New taxes will be implemented and the tax burden on the business system shall be reduced in accordance with the gradual implementation of the Tax Law.

Likewise, a series of steps have been taken to improve tax control against indiscipline and tax evasion by both juridical and natural persons.

In this regard, we should not only penalize those who fail to comply with their duties, since impunity would be an encouragement to the infringement of the legal norms in force. We have also considered it to be necessary to promote among all institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and self-employed workers a culture of civic behavior towards taxation as well as the view that taxes are the main formula to re-distribute national income in the interest of all citizens.

Furthermore, the process of implementation of the Guidelines of the Economic, Political and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, approved by the sixth Congress has continued. As has already been announced, we are now on a qualitatively higher stage of this process in which we are addressing extremely complex tasks, the solution of which will affect all the aspects of national affairs.

I am referring, first and foremost, to the process aimed at unifying both currencies, an area in which a very sound progress has been achieved during the second half of this year from the conceptual point of view. We have managed to streamline a comprehensive program of measures in order to avoid damages to the economy and the population.

The decision to generalize sales in CUP at the hard-currency stores has been positively welcomed by citizens, and this process will continue to expand in a gradual way.
This is an auspicious occasion to ratify two concepts that we should not ignore.
The first is that the Unification of Currencies is not the universal or immediate solution to all the problems our economy faces.

This important decision should be complemented by a series of macro-economic measures that would favor the ordering of the monetary regime of the country through a series of instruments that would guarantee a proper national financial balance, which will decisively contribute to improve economic performance and the construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism in Cuba.

The second, and no less important concept, is that all bank accounts in foreign currency, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), as well as the cash in the hands of the population and the national and foreign juridical persons shall be protected.

We have known about the well-intended and not very-well intended opinions that are being expressed both inside and outside the country about the rhythm of the process to update our economic model.

There has also been an open encouragement from abroad to speed up privatization, even of the main production and service sectors, which will b equal to laying down the flags of socialism in Cuba.

It seems as if the latter have not bothered to read the Guidelines which clearly states as follows, and I quote: “The economic system that shall prevail in our country will continue to be based on the people’s socialist ownership over the fundamental means of production, governed by the socialist principle of distribution: “from each according to his/her capacity to each according to his/her contribution”, end of quote.

We will continue to implement the agreements adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in a responsible and firm way, at the speed that we may sovereignly determine here, without jeopardizing the unity of Cubans, without living anyone to his or her own fate, without resorting to shock therapies and without ever renouncing the ideals of social justice of this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.

Next year we will initiate the preparations for the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the Party in April of 2016. Prior to that there will be a broad and democratic debate among all Communist Party members and the entire people about the process of implementation of the Guidelines.

Closely associated to the updating of the economic model is the process for the gradual, I repeat, gradual decentralization of faculties from the ministries down to the business sector.

This is not something that can be done overnight, if we want to succeed. We will require a reasonable time to prepare and train, as we have been doing, our cadres at every level; modify the old-fashioned mentality and get rid of old habits; and work out and implement the legal framework and specific procedures that would enable all of us to see to it that the decisions are adequately implemented and mistakes are timely corrected, thus avoiding unnecessary setbacks.

Among other steps, a decision was made to expand and make more flexible the social object of the Socialist state-owned enterprises in order to increase their autonomy. The mission assigned to them by the State was redefined and they were entrusted with the faculties required for the marketing of their production surplus. Likewise, the removal of administrative limitations, which will allow for the payment of salaries based on results, was also established.

These transformations shall be gradually implemented, without haste, in an orderly, disciplined and rigorous manner.

The just aspiration of earning higher salaries is a very sensitive question. We can not allow ourselves to make any mistakes, nor letting ourselves be drawn by desire or improvisation.

We would be happy to see that the salaries earned by those workers who work in those sectors recording the most efficient results and reporting benefits of particular economic and social impact are gradually increased.

However, I should state very clearly that we can not distribute a wealth that we have not been capable of creating. Doing so would have serious consequences for the national economy as well as for the personal finances of each and every citizen. Pouring out money into the streets without an equivalent increase in the offer of goods and services will generate inflation, a phenomenon that, among other harmful effects, would reduce the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, which will particularly affect the most humble. And we can not allow that to happen.

The first year of implementation of the new salary policy in quite a few enterprises has revealed that there has been a violation of the salary cost index per every gross value-added Peso. In other words, higher salaries have been paid without the corresponding backing in production. On several occasions I have warned that this should be considered as a serious, very serious indiscipline that should be resolutely confronted by the administrative cadres and trade union organizations.

The fact that in our social system, trade unions defend workers’ rights is secret to no one. To effectively do so, trade unions should be the first to look after the interests of any given workers group, but also the interests of the entire working class, which are essentially the same interests defended by the entire nation.

We can not leave any room for selfishness and greed to thrive and consolidate among our workers. We all want and need better salaries, but first we have to create wealth and then distribute it according to the contribution each one can make.

Obviously, there are many other issues related to the updating of the economic model which I have not mentioned. In several of them there have been deviations that we are called to correct in due time, in the spirit of never having to back. But for that we have to work in a very serious and responsible way.

No one in the world could ignore Cuba’s outstanding international record in the course of the year that is about to conclude. Cubans are faced with a huge challenge: We must put the economy on a par with the political prestige that this small Caribbean Island has earned thanks to the Revolution, the heroism and the resilience of our people. Economy remains the most important unresolved matter and it is our duty to place it, once and for all, down the right path towards the sustainable and irreversible development of socialism in Cuba.

As I said at the beginning, the deputies and the entire people feel deeply moved and excited about the possibility of sharing the presence in Cuba of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René, which makes true the promise made by Comrade Fidel thirteen years ago. The extraordinary example of firmness, sacrifice and dignity of the Cuban Five has filled with pride an entire nation that struggled tirelessly for their liberation and now welcomes them as true heroes (APPLAUSE).

I should reiterate the profound and sincere gratitude to all solidarity movements and committees that struggled for their release and to innumerable governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions and personalities for their valuable contribution.

The Cuban people are grateful for this just decision made by the US President, Barack Obama. Such decision has removed one obstacle that hindered the relations between our two countries.

The entire world has had a positive reaction to the announcements made last Wednesday; it has assessed their importance for international relations, particularly for the US links with the region. They have led to favorable statements being made by governments, presidents and well-known personalities, which we sincerely appreciate.

This has been the result of talks held at the highest level and under absolute secrecy, thanks to the contribution made by Pope Francis and the facilities offered by the government of Canada.

Besides, this result has been possible thanks to the profound changes occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where governments and peoples call for a new US Cuba policy.

We welcome the decision announced by President Obama to begin a new chapter in the relations between both countries and introduce the most significant changes in the US Cuba policy in more than 50 years.

We likewise recognize his willingness to hold discussions with the US Congress about the lifting of the blockade and his desire to achieve a better future for both nations, our hemisphere and the world.

We share the idea that a new stage could open up between the United States and Cuba that will begin with the resumption of diplomatic relations, which should be based on the Conventions governing Diplomatic and Consular Relations and regulating the conduct of Diplomatic and Consular Missions and their officials.

We will engage in the high level contacts between both governments with a constructive, respectful and reciprocity spirit and with the purpose of moving towards the normalization of relations.

As I expressed last December 17, a very important step has been taken, but the essential problem still remains unresolved, which is the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, that has been further tightened during the last few years, particularly in the area of financial transactions, through the application of skyrocketing and illegitimate fines on banks from several countries.

Our people should understand that, under the circumstances that have already been announced, this will be a long and hard struggle which will require the international opinion and the US society to mobilize in order to continue calling for the lifting of the blockade.

Every data indicate that the majority of US citizens and an even broader majority within Cuban émigrés favor the normalization of bilateral relations. Within the US Congress, which codified the blockade provisions into law, there is also an increasing opposition to that policy.

We hope the US President would resolutely use his executive prerogatives to substantially modify the implementation of the blockade in those aspects in which Congress approval is not required.

At the same time, we will analyze the scope and the form of implementation of the positive executive measures announced by President Obama.

The instructions he has given to review Cuba’s unjustifiable inclusion in the List of States that Sponsor International Terrorism is encouraging. Facts have shown that Cuba has been a victim of multiple terrorist attacks, many of whose perpetrators have so far enjoyed impunity. As we all know these attacks have taken a toll on thousands of human lives and maimed persons.

The pretexts used to launch those attacks are absolutely groundless, as is known by the entire planet. They only serve political interests under the false pretense of justifying the tightening of the blockade, particularly in the financial sector.

Never has any terrorist action against any US citizen, interest or territory been organized, financed or perpetrated from Cuba; nor will that ever be permitted. Every time we have received any information about terrorist plans against the United States we have relayed that information to the US Government to which for several years now we have been suggesting the establishment of a cooperation agreement in that area.

We have always been ready to establish a dialogue, on an equal footing, to discuss a wide range of issues on the basis of reciprocity and without casting a shadow on our national independence and self-determination and, as Fidel has pointed out, without renouncing any of our principles.

I reiterate that it will only be possible to move forward based on mutual respect, which involves the observance of the principles of International Law and the UN Charter, among them, the sovereign equality of States, peoples’ equal rights and self determination, the peaceful settlement of international controversies, the principle of refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any State and the obligation not to intervene in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of States, which means that any form of interference or threat to the political, economic and cultural elements of any given State is considered a violation of International Law.

In accordance with the proclamation of the Latin American and Caribbean region as a Zone of Peace, which was signed by the Heads of State and Government on January 29 this year in Havana in the context of the CELAC Summit, all States have the inalienable right to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, without any interference whatsoever from another State, which is a principle of International Law. That document was signed here in Havana by all Heads of State and Government of this continent, with the exception of the United States and Canada, which were not invited to attend.

Between the governments of the United States and Cuba there are profound differences which include, among others, different views about the exercise of national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations.

We reiterate our willingness to establish a respectful dialogue on our differences based on reciprocity. We have firm convictions and many concerns about what is happening in the United States in terms of democracy and human rights, and we would agree to talk on the basis of the principles referred to previously, about any issue, and about all what the US might be willing to discuss, about the situation here Cuba but also about the situation in the United States.

No one should expect Cuba to renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century, and for which its people have shed lots of blood and run the biggest risks in order to improve its relations with the United States.

It is necessary to understand that Cuba is a sovereign State whose people, through a free referendum held to approve the Constitution, chose a socialist path as well as its political, economic and social system (APPLAUSE).

We will demand respect for our system in the same way that we have never intended the United States to change its political system (APPLAUSE).

Both governments should take mutual steps to prevent and avoid any action that might affect the progress achieved in bilateral relations, based on the observance of the law and the constitutional order of both Parties.

We do not ignore the vicious criticisms that President Obama has had to put up with as a result of the already mentioned announcements by some forces that are opposed to the normalization of relations with Cuba, including some lawmakers of Cuban descent and ringleaders of counterrevolutionary groups who refuse to lose the means of support granted to them by the several decades of conflicts between our two countries. They will do whatever it takes to sabotage this process. We should not rule out the perpetration of provocations of every sort. On our part, a prudent, moderate and reflexive –though firm- behavior shall prevail. (APPLAUSE).

In Cuba there are numerous and different mass, trade union, farmers, women, students, writers and artists and social organizations, which have even a representation at the Council of State, as well as non-governmental organizations, many of them represented by several deputies in this Assembly, which will feel offended if they are mistaken for a few hundreds of individuals who receive money, instructions and a breath of air from abroad.

At the multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, we will continue to advocate for peace, International Law and all other just causes, and we will continue to denounce the threats to the survival of the human species posed by climate change and the existence of nuclear arsenals.

We will continue to promote the exercise of human rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights, by all persons, as well as the right of all peoples to peace and development.

The Cuban Revolution is deeply grateful to the peoples, parties and governments from which it has received an unwavering and permanent solidarity, and shall continue to orient its foreign policy based on our unshakable allegiance to principles (APPLAUSE).
A symbol of the above are the special relations that we maintain with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to which we will continue to offer our support, in the face of the attempts to destabilize the legitimate government that is headed by Comrade President Nicolas Maduro Moros. We reject every attempt to impose sanctions against that sister nation (APPLAUSE).

As I said a few days ago, we are willing to cooperate with the United States at the multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as in the event of any dangerous situation that may require collective and effective humanitarian responses that should never be politicized.

Such is the case of the combat against the Ebola virus in West Africa and its prevention in the Americas, as was proclaimed by the ALBA Special Summit that was held in Havana on this issue on October last.

Just as I have stated in the recently held CARICOM and ALBA Summits, I appreciate the invitation conveyed to me by the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Valera, to attend the Seventh Summit of the Americas and I confirm I will attend in order to explain our positions, in an honest and respectful way, to all Heads of State and Government without any exception.

Cuba’s attendance to that Summit has been the result of the solid and unanimous consensus achieved within Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that is living through a new era and has united, amidst its diversity, under the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) which Cuba was honored to preside last year.

We do not forget that ALBA, with its continued appeal and the support of all countries of the region, managed to remove the old and opprobrious sanctions imposed against Cuba back in 1962 by the Organization of American States, at a meeting held in the Republic of Honduras, where hardly one month later a coup d’état was perpetrated that ousted Comrade Zelaya, the president of that country.

Comrades all:

Within just a few days we will be celebrating the upcoming New Year and the fifty sixth anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution. Only two days ago, on December 18, we marked the fifty eighth anniversary of the occasion when we reunited with Fidel at a place called Palmas de Vicana, in the Sierra Maestra mountains (APPLAUSE), in the heart of the Sierra Maestra, and Fidel’s historical exclamation when he knew that, in total, we had seven rifles to resume the struggle: Now we will for sure win the war! (APPLAUSE).

The unshakable faith in victory that Fidel instilled in all of us shall continue to lead our people in the defense and further improvement of the work of its Revolution.
Happy New Year!

We salute the new fifty seventh year of the Cuban Revolution!

Thank you, very much (OVATION).