Our strength will lie in sovereignty, development and equity

Havana. December 6, 2011

Our strength will lie in sovereignty, development and equity
• Speech by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers at the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Caracas, Venezuela, December 2, 2011, Year 53 of the Revolution
(Typescript version- Council of State)

COMPAÑERO Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela;

Dear Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Heads of delegations:

In the first place, we greet the Venezuelan sister people and the Bolivarian Revolution. Venezuela has received us today with hospitality and pride, in the year celebrating the bicentenary of its independence and is offering us this opportunity for the governments of all of Latin America and the Caribbean to meet together.

We have the privilege to be present at a founding event of great significance. With the decisions we are adopting here and the joint work of the last three years, we are vindicating more than two centuries of struggles and hopes. Coming thus far has cost effort, but also blood and sacrifice.

The colonial metropolises of the past and the imperial powers of today have been the enemies of this undertaking. They have attempted to defy the body of ideas of Simón Bolívar who, with farsightedness, affirmed, "The unity of our peoples is not a simple illusion of men, but the inexorable decree of fate."

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is our most precious work. Symbolically, it consolidates the concept of a united and sovereign region, committed to a shared destiny.

In strategic terms, it gives us the political instrument required for combining our resolve, respecting diversity, solving differences, cooperating for the wellbeing of our peoples and acting in solidarity with one another. Its success will depend on the nature and wisdom of its members, the 33 independent nations situated between the Río Bravo and Patagonia.

Our strength will lie in sovereignty, development and equity and the prosperity with justice of the citizens of this vast and rich region will depend on that. We do not have a fully homogenous body of ideas, nor do we agree on all political positions. This is part of the reality and we must work with that in a climate of respect and cooperation.

We live in an area free of nuclear weapons, a privilege enjoyed by very few regions of the world. It is a fundamental contribution to the cause of humanity for the total elimination of this threat, which is endangering human survival.

We must aspire to also declare ourselves, one day in the not too distant future, a territory free of foreign military bases, as an additional contribution to regional identity.

The common heritage of our lands and seas emcompasses exceptional natural riches which, utilized in a sustainable way, with responsibility and solidarity, offer future generations the basis for a future of prosperity and justice. We have a diverse and interrelated culture, with indigenous ancestral values. There also exists an insufficiently utilized technical and scientific potential.

Despite all of this and not insignificant economic growth figures, Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than 20 million square kilometers of area and more than 580 million inhabitants, is advancing slowly and has not managed to overcome the deformations blocking its development.

We inhabit the region of the world considered to have the greatest inequality in terms of distribution of wealth. Together with the recognition that we have borne the effects of the global economic crisis in better conditions, there also exists the great breach signified by the extreme concentration of wealth in a few hands in the face of the immense poverty of the majority.

The prosperity of our region is dependent on a solution to this problem.

Currently, there are 180 million poor Latin American and Caribbean people, 72 million of them living in extreme poverty. This is a tragedy which will not be solved even if we meet all the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations.

Today, poverty is affecting 81 million of our children and 13 million of them do not even have access to adequate nutrition, in a region which produces more food than it requires. These children are the creditors of this region’s future. We are their debtors.

The recent economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean shows that, despite the profound crisis, revenue from exports has grown, principally of basic products; that the burden of the foreign debt, although unjust and crushing, has been lighter; and that the accumulation of reserves has increased.

This panorama gives us an opportunity if we act with responsibility and a genuine spirit of solidarity.

And it is in this spirit that we must face the situation in Haiti, which represents a test for all of us. Latin America and the Caribbean have a historic and ethical responsibility to this sister republic, the first to attain its independence from the colonial yoke in our region where, led by slaves, the first revolution in the history of humanity took place. Haiti requires and deserves our efforts to contribute, with more substantial contributions, to its reconstruction and development, with strict adherence to the will of its government and the needs of its people.

In our case, as we stated at the last Cancun Summit in February 2010, and confirm today, "Cuban collaboration and its modest effort will remain in Haiti for as many years as necessary, if the government of this nation wishes it. Our country, heavily blockaded, has no excess of resources, rather it lacks everything, but it is disposed to share its poverty with those who have less, in first place with those who currently most need it on the continent."

I recall that on one occasion when I visited Ecuador, during one of the many international meetings which we have convened, I took advantage and visited the Chapel of Humankind, founded by that magnificent painter of the continent, Osvaldo Guayasamín, and was very impressed by a sign expressing a thought which wasn’t his – according to his older son – and which was on one of the walls of this extremely important cultural and historical center. The sign read, "When I was a child, I cried because I had no shoes, until one day I saw a child who had no feet." I wish to say that, however difficult a country’s situation is, however complex and great our poverty is, there is always someone poorer than us, there is always a child without feet who doesn’t need shoes.

Dear colleagues:

We have assumed the commitment to firmly oppose any attempt at the destabilization of the constitutional order in our countries.

This is not a fortuitous statement, but one of genuine response to the coup d’état against Venezuela in 2002, and then the oil coup, the Santa Cruz sedition in Bolivia, the military coup perpetrated in Honduras, the attempted coup in Ecuador and constant acts of destabilization against legitimately constituted governments, firmly committed to their people’s demands for social justice, defenders of the sovereignty of their countries and expressions of the purest and most effective democracy.

The nature and motivations of those who promote those attacks on sovereign institutionalism and against the constitutional rights of the peoples are known to us. It is also known that they receive the support of the United States and certain European governments, as well as the complicity of powerful private organizations in the information and advertising industry.

I recall that during a meeting we had in Nicaragua, in the capital, Managua, related to similar recent events in Central America, I realized when I spoke, what a coincidence that all these attempts have been against ALBA countries! And I turned to President Correa, who was on my left, and said, "You’ll be the next one." He looked at me in surprise, as if to say, "But, why?" he himself and you know why.

It is the fight between materialistic oligarchical interests, supported by transnational capital, and the legitimate rights of the peoples. It would be a serious error to ignore the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have changed, that they cannot treat us as in the past. It has cost us hard work to confront the burden of colonialism and neocolonialism and a strong regional determination to defend our hard won independence must be expected. The Bicentenary Charter which we adopted today must be assumed as an expression of this reality.

Beyond our regional environment, we share a complex world in upheaval, in which the peoples are rebelling against injustices – what we are seeing in Europe and in other parts of the world and in the United States itself demonstrates that – imperialist policies of plunder, the concentration of wealth, corruption and the abuse of power. It is a phenomenon particularly expressed in the North of Africa, the Middle East, almost all of Europe and North America. It is an expression of the collapse of merciless neoliberal economic models already experienced and repudiated in our region.

It is also a world in which the major powers are violating international law, exercising their domination through the use of force and attacking sovereign nations hiding behind pretexts and manipulation.

In Libya, NATO has committed an international crime which is now threatening to become a model. (Firework explosions are heard)

That’s the war Chávez is waging on mosquitoes or I don’t know what! (Chávez tells him that it is a firework display in Caracas in honor of CELAC)

To the shame of the United Nations, defenseless cities have been bombed for eight consecutive months, massacring civilians, destroying social services, mutilating the infrastructure and making hundreds of thousands of people homeless or refugees.

For Cuba, the attitude of the United States is nothing new. It is the same as always. We have spent more than 50 years standing up to hostility and aggression. We are enduring the most all-encompassing and lasting economic, commercial and financial blockade ever imposed on any country. Our region knows that and has resolutely and consistently spoken out against it, for which we Cubans express our gratitude to all of you.

I am going to end by reading a paragraph I included, then took it out, but after what Chávez has said, I shall read it.

I wish to thank yesterday’s meeting of foreign ministers for their generous statements about Cuba and the recommendation of a future Cuban presidency of CELAC in 2013. I was going to leave it until tomorrow or after you, presidents, prime ministers and heads of delegation had spoken; but Chávez, the president of Venezuela, the host country, pulled out agreements here, made me vote, I agreed, I voted and now I interpret… I already asked Correa if he is in agreement with this kind of vote, on granting Cuba the celebration of the next CELAC [Summit], after Chile.

In this case, I give thanks not only to the foreign ministers, but to all the presidents, prime ministers and heads of delegation present.

Finally, how were things left, Correa? You are in agreement, as Chávez would say, right?

Are you all in agreement or shall I withdraw this paragraph? I do not want to express my thanks and after that have someone put up their hand and say, No, I am not in agreement.

(Chávez confirms that they will be in Cuba in 2013).

Well, then we will keep it in.

Many thanks to all of you. (Applause)

We acknowledge the tremendous effort displayed by Venezuela in creating the bases for and organizing this Summit, as well as the leadership of President Hugo Chávez Frías in bringing us to this point, toward such promising results for the future of the region, and his contribution to the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Within the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Cuba will work with dedication, altruism and commitment for the unity of our peoples, for a future of peace and social justice, and for the irrevocable undertaking of consolidating the full independence of what José Martí defined for the future as "Our America."

Thank you very much (Applause)

Translated by Granma International

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