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Cuba at 50 - Raul Castro

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Cuba at 50 - Raul Castro

Raul Castro Ruz speaks in Cuba on Dec. 27th, 2008

By Raul Castro Ruz

We are just a few days away from the end of year in which the country has faced difficult challenges. The ups and downs of a world economy in sustained decline have been compounded by increasingly unpredictable and devastating natural phenomenon.

Recovery from the damage caused by the three most recent hurricanes is generally proceeding satisfactorily. Nevertheless, we should be aware of the magnitude of this task, particularly the recovery of homes. More than 500,000 homes in 35 municipalities have been affected by the hurricanes this year, plus 70,000 in another 12 damaged by other events in previous years. Of those figures combined, 77% remains to be repaired or completely rebuilt.

The adverse economic reality present during virtually all of 2008 forced us to give secondary priority to studying and adopting decisions on other important matters.

For example in terms of foodstuffs, this year the country had to pay $907 million more than in 2007; $840 million of that figure is related to higher prices. They have gone down in recent weeks, but prices for our main export lines have sunk even lower.

The average price for nickel in 2008 has been 41% lower than in 2008. Prices for sugar and sea foods have likewise dropped, along with other Cuban exports.

The financial crises that exploded in the United States has evolved rapidly into the global economic crisis that comrade Fidel predicted at least a decade ago, the most profound crisis in almost 80 years.

Despite all these difficulties, the economy grew, although by less than what was planned, which was decisively influenced, as I mentioned previously, by the damage from the hurricanes, amounting to a total of close to $10 billion; in other words, about 20% of the gross domestic product for this year.

The unfavorable situation of the world economy and our own difficulties require the optimization of any possibilities offered us by mutually advantageous economic relations, which we have been developing with friendly nations on every continent, and particularly the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, promoted personally by its president, compañero Hugo Chávez Frías.

Gratuities should be strictly limited to equally ensuring all citizens in vital areas such as education, health and social security and assistance. Maintaining these at current levels, along with culture and sports, means producing more and increasing income into the budget, because costs are rising every year. The task is not a simple one at all, and requires everyone’s understanding and support.

Everything requires regulation as a guide upon which to base our work.

In the previous Assembly session, we concentrated on two main issues: the new Social Security Law and the need to increase the number of people engaged in work and their productivity and efficiency.

I agree with the opinions expressed during the session: we have approved a just Social Security Law, respectful of the interests of workers and one which, at the same time, takes into account the country’s economic and demographic realities.

These are reasons that are irrefutable and very difficult to turn around, which impose the need to raise the retirement age, and that is what the vast majority of our workers have understood, after thorough discussions where everyone’s opinion was heard and taken into account.

This past June, we called on retired teachers and professors who had stopped teaching for different reasons to come back to the classroom. The response has justified our expectations. We are happy to congratulate the 7,000 educators who responded, and who today are contributing their experience and knowledge to the different educational levels, particularly elementary, middle and high school, where the shortage of educators is greatest.

These are examples that demonstrate how our people always respond when work is seriously undertaken, with solid arguments and correct organization.

With respect to construction workers, I should say that the response is very, very insufficient in this sector key to the country’s development in every aspect, including the thousands of homes that we have to build. We’ll see what we can do.

We share the concern of many compatriots with respect to individuals who do not contribute to society, but we should be aware of the fact that these are problems that cannot be resolved by regulations or even a law. They require an approach that combines political, economic, legal and administrative action, and above all, what I have just said to you: that they feel the need to work.

In international relations, the country’s successes are considerable. At the UN, the resolution against the blockade was approved for the 17th consecutive time. A few days ago in Brazil, the Rio Group Summit received Cuba’s entry as a full member with an ovation.

We are living in a radically different period of history, very different from those years when Latin American governments — except for a very few and honorable exceptions — bowed down submissively as a bloc to Washington’s dictates to isolate Cuba. Today we are reaping the fruits of a firm foreign policy, based on solidarity and inviolable principles, conceived of and undertaken in practice by compañero Fidel for almost five decades, even under the most difficult circumstances.

At this time, 50 years ago, the Rebel Army, in close coordination with the combatants of the underground struggle, obtained its great and decisive victories throughout the country.

The victory of the 1st of January did not mark the end of the struggle, but the start of a new stage, characterized by the increasingly massive and conscious participation of the people, in which there has not been a minute of respite during the past half century.

We Cuban revolutionaries can look back at the past with our heads held high, and also to the future with the same confidence in our strength and capacity to resist.

Let us all congratulate ourselves on the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution and, in first place, its Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, who has been leading us, yesterday, today and always, from victory to victory!

Excerpts of a speech given by Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba at the International Convention Center on December 27, 2008, entitled "Year 50 of the Revolution."

Originally printed-in and translated by Granma International

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