Cuban President Raul Castro’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas

On April 10 and 11, Cuba for the first time was welcomed to the Summit of the Americas. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama exchanged handshakes and friendly greetings, and their speeches promised commitment to the process of reconciliation. Other leaders of the Americas celebrated this demonstration of reconciliation.

On April 11th after President Obama’s speech that was discussed in a prior post, President Castro delivered his major Summit speech, most of which was a critical review of the history of U.S. relations with Cuba and other Latin American countries.

This post contains substantial extracts from Castro’s speech. Other posts will examine the two presidents’ subsequent private meeting at the Summit plus Obama’s comments on other subjects and the reactions from other leaders.

 President Castro’s Speech

President RAul castro
President Raul Castro

“In 1800, there was the idea of adding Cuba to the [U.S.] to mark the southern boundary of the extensive empire. The 19th century witnessed the emergence of such [U.S.] doctrines as the Manifest Destiny, with the purpose of dominating the Americas and the world, and the notion of the ‘ripe fruit’, meaning Cuba’s inevitable gravitation to the [U.S.], which looked down on the rise and evolution of a genuine rationale conducive to emancipation.”

“Later on, through wars, conquests and interventions that expansionist and dominating force stripped Our America of part of its territory and expanded as far as the Rio Grande.”

“After long and failing struggles, José Martí organized the ‘necessary war’ [for independence against Spain], and created the Cuban Revolutionary Party to lead that war and to eventually found a Republic ‘with all and for the good of all’ with the purpose of achieving ‘the full dignity of man’. . . . Martí committed to the duty ‘of timely preventing the [U.S.] from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.’”

On “April 11, 1898, the President of the [U.S.] requested Congressional consent for military intervention in the [Cuban] independence war already won with rivers of Cuban blood, and that legislative body issued a deceitful Joint Resolution recognizing the independence of the Island ‘de facto and de jure.’ Thus, [the U.S.] entered [this war] as [Cuba’s supposed] ally and seized the country as an occupying force.”

“Subsequently, an appendix was forcibly added to Cuba’s Constitution, the Platt Amendment, that deprived it of sovereignty, authorized the powerful neighbor to interfere in [Cuba’s] internal affairs, and gave rise to Guantánamo Naval Base, which still holds part of our territory without legal right. It was in that period that the [U.S.] invaded the country, and there were two military interventions and support for cruel dictatorships.”

At the time, the prevailing [U.S.] approach to Latin America was the ‘gunboat policy’ followed by the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy. Successive interventions ousted democratic governments and in twenty countries installed terrible dictatorships, twelve of these simultaneously and mostly in South America, where hundreds of thousands were killed. President Salvador Allende [of Peru] left us the legacy of his undying example.”

“It was precisely 13 years ago that a [U.S.] coup d’état staged against beloved [Venezuelan] President Hugo Chavez Frías was defeated by his people. Later on, an oil coup would follow.”

“On January 1st, 1959, sixty years after the U.S. troops entered Havana, the Cuban Revolution triumphed and the Rebel Army commanded by Fidel Castro Ruz arrived in the capital.”

“On April 6, 1960, barely one year after victory, [U.S.] Assistant Secretary of State Lester Mallory drafted a wicked memorandum, declassified tens of years later, indicating that ‘The majority of Cubans support Castro […] An effective political opposition does not exist […]; the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [to the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship […] to weaken the economic life of Cuba […] denying it money and supplies to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.’”

“We have endured severe hardships. Actually, 77% of the Cuban people were born under the harshness of the blockade, but our patriotic convictions prevailed. Aggression increased resistance and accelerated the revolutionary process. Now, here we are with our heads up high and our dignity unblemished.”

“When we had already proclaimed socialism and the people had fought in the Bay of Pigs to defend it, President Kennedy was murdered, at the exact time when Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, was receiving [Kennedy’s] message seeking to engage Cuba in a dialogue.”

“After the [U.S.] Alliance for Progress, and [after] having paid our external debt several times over while unable to prevent its constant growth, our countries were subjected to a wild and globalizing neoliberalism, an expression of imperialism at the time that left the region dealing with a lost decade.”

“Then, the [U.S.] proposal of a ‘mature hemispheric partnership’ resulted in the imposition of the Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA), –linked to the emergence of these Summits– that would have brought about the destruction of the economy, sovereignty and common destiny of our nations, if it had not been derailed at [the Fourth Summit of the Americas at] Mar del Plata [Argentina] in 2005 under the leadership of Presidents Kirchner, Chavez and Lula. The previous year, Chavez and Fidel had brought to life the Bolivarian Alternative known today as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.”

“We have expressed to President Barack Obama our disposition to engage in a respectful dialogue and work for a civilized coexistence between our states while respecting our profound differences. I welcome as a positive step his recent announcement that he will soon decide on Cuba’s designation in a list of countries sponsor of terrorism, a list in which it should have never been included.”

“Up to this day, the [U.S.] economic, commercial and financial blockade is implemented against the island with full intensity causing damages and scarcities that affect our people and becoming the main obstacle to the development of our economy. The fact is that it stands in violation of International Law, and its extraterritorial scope disrupts the interests of every State.”

“We have publicly expressed to President Obama, who was also born under the blockade policy and inherited it from 10 former Presidents when he took office, our appreciation for his brave decision to engage the U.S. Congress in a debate to put an end to such policy.” In an apparent extemporaneous addition, Castro said, “I apologize to Obama for expressing myself so emotionally. President Obama has no responsibility for this. There were 10 presidents before him; all have a debt to us, but not President Obama. . . . I have read his books — parts of them — and I admire his life.”

“This and other issues should be resolved in the process toward the future normalization of bilateral relations.”

“As to us, we shall continue working to update the Cuban economic model with the purpose of improving our socialism and moving ahead toward development and the consolidation of the achievements of a Revolution that has set to itself the goal of ‘conquering all justice.’”

“Venezuela is not, and it cannot be, a threat to the national security of a superpower like the United States. We consider it a positive development that the U.S. President has admitted it.”

A major section of the Castro speech covered Cuba’s continued advocacy for the ideals of the Revolution, for true international governance of the Internet, for changes in hemispheric relations and cooperation against cyber warfare, climate change, terrorism, drug-trafficking organized crime and inequality and for eradication of poverty, illiteracy and hunger. He also commended the efforts in these areas of CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States], UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], CARICOM [Caribbean Community], MERCOSUR [Southern Common Market], ALBA-TCP [Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America—Peoples’ Trade Treaty], SICA [System for Integration of Central America] and ACS [Association of Caribbean States].

Castro concluded with these words: “Cuba, a small country deprived of natural resources, that has performed in an extremely hostile atmosphere, has managed to attain the full participation of its citizens in the nation’s political and social life; with universal and free healthcare and education services; a social security system ensuring that no one is left helpless; significant progress in the creation of equal opportunities and in the struggle against all sorts of discrimination; the full exercise of the rights of children and women; access to sports and culture; and, the right to life and to public safety.”

“Thanks to Fidel and the heroic Cuban people, we have come to this Summit to honor Martí’s commitment, after conquering freedom with our own hands ‘proud of Our America, to serve it and to honor it […] with the determination and the capacity to contribute to see it loved for its merits and respected for its sacrifices.’”

Conclusion.

It would be easy to criticize this speech as an unnecessary historical review going back to the late 19th century and as an unproductive way to advance the cause of Cuba-U.S. reconciliation in 2015.

On the other hand, I see the speech as a necessary recital to the U.S., other countries in the hemisphere and the world of the reasons for Cuba’s historical and current suspicions of U.S. motives and actions and for Cuba’s wariness in engaging in the current negotiations for restoration of normal relations with the U.S. Nevertheless, this history is not preventing Cuba ifrom engaging in those negotiations, and by its actions Cuba is demonstrating that such reconciliation is in Cuba’s national interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas

On April 10 and 11, Cuba for the first time was welcomed to the Summit of the Americas. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama exchanged handshakes and friendly greetings, and their speeches promised commitment to the process of reconciliation. Other leaders of the Americas celebrated this demonstration of reconciliation.

President Obama made several speeches and remarks at the Summit. This post will discuss his April 11th speech to the Summit’s plenary meeting; subsequent posts will cover his other remarks and those of President Castro.

 President Obama’s Speech

Obama

“When I came to my first Summit of the Americas six years ago, I promised to begin a new chapter of engagement in this region.  I believed that our nations had to break free from the old arguments, the old grievances that had too often trapped us in the past; that we had a shared responsibility to look to the future and to think and act in fresh ways.  I pledged to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  And I said that this new approach would be sustained throughout my presidency; it has, including during this past year.  I’ve met that commitment.”

“We come together at a historic time.  As has already been noted, the changes that I announced to U.S. policy toward Cuba mark the beginning of a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba.  It will mean, as we’re already seeing, more Americans traveling to Cuba, more cultural exchanges, more commerce, more potential investment.  But most of all, it will mean more opportunity and resources for the Cuban people.  And we hope to be able to help on humanitarian projects, and provide more access to telecommunications and the Internet, and the free flow of information.”

“We continue to make progress towards fulfilling our shared commitments to formally reestablish diplomatic relations, and I have called on Congress to begin working to lift the embargo that’s been in place for decades.  The point is, the [U.S.] will not be imprisoned by the past.  We’re looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere.”

“This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region.  The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion.  This is the first time in more than half a century that all the nations of the Americas are meeting to address our future together.  I think it’s no secret — and President Castro, I’m sure, would agree — that there will continue to be significant differences between our two countries.  We will continue to speak out on behalf of universal values that we think are important.  I’m sure President Castro will continue to speak out on the issues he thinks are important.”

“But I firmly believe that if we can continue to move forward and seize this momentum in pursuit of mutual interests, then better relations between the [U.S.] and Cuba will create new opportunities for cooperation across our region — for the security and prosperity and health and dignity of all our people.”

“Now, alongside our shift toward Cuba, the [U.S.] has deepened our engagement in the Americas across the board.  Since I took office, we’ve boosted U.S. exports and also U.S. imports from the rest of the hemisphere by over 50 percent.  And that supports millions of jobs in all of our countries.  I’ve proposed $1 billion to help the people of Central America strengthen governance, and improve security and help to spark more economic growth and, most importantly, provide new pathways for young people who too often see their only prospects an underground economy that too often leads to violence.”

“We’re partnering with countries across the region to develop clean, more affordable and reliable energy that helps nations to combat the urgent threat of climate change, as [Brazil’s] President Rousseff already noted.  Our 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative is working to bring 100,000 students from Latin America to the [U.S.] and 100,000 students from the [U.S.] to Latin America.  The new initiatives that I announced in Jamaica will help empower a new generation of young people across the Americas with the skills and job training that they need to compete in the global economy.”

“During the course of my meetings with CARICOM [Caribbean Community], as well as my meetings with SICA [System for Integration of Central America] as well as the discussions that I’ve had with many of you bilaterally, there have been additional ideas that we’re very interested in — finding ways in which we can expand access to the Internet and broadband; how we can structure private-public partnerships to rebuild infrastructure across the region; and to expand our commercial ties in a broad-based and inclusive way.  Because I am firmly of the belief that we will only succeed if everybody benefits from the economic growth, not just a few at the top.”

“At home, I’ve taken executive actions to fix as much of our broken immigration system as I can, which includes trying to help people come out of the shadows so that they can live and work in a country that they call home.  And that includes hundreds of thousands of young people we call DREAMers, who have already received temporary relief.  And I’m remaining committed to working with our Congress on comprehensive immigration reform.”

“So the bottom line is this:  The [U.S.] is focused on the future.  We’re not caught up in ideology — at least I’m not.  I’m interested in progress and I’m interested in results.  I’m not interested in theoretic arguments; I’m interested in actually delivering for people.  We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades.  And those of you have interacted with me know that if you bring an issue to my attention, I will do my best to try to address it.  I will not always be able to fix it right away, but I will do my best.”

“I believe the relationship between the [U.S.] and the Americas is as good as it has ever been.  I’m here today to work with you to build on this progress.  Let me just mention a few areas in which I think we can make more progress.”

“First, we will continue to uphold the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy.”  I believe our governments, together, have an obligation to uphold the universal freedoms and rights of all our citizens.  I want to again commend [Panama’s] President Varela and Panama for making civil society groups from across the region formal partners in this summit for the first time.  I believe the voices of our citizens must be heard.  And I believe going forward, civil society should be a permanent part of these summits.”

“Second, we have to focus on reigniting economic growth that can fuel progress further in those communities that have not been reached.  And that means making the Americas more competitive.  We still have work to do to harmonize regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.  The cost of energy in many communities — in many countries, particularly in Central American and the Caribbean, are so high that it presents a great challenge to economic development, and we think that we can help particularly around clean energy issues.”

“We have to confront the injustice of economic inequality and poverty.  I think that collectively we are starting to identify what programs work and which programs do not work.  And we should put more money in those things that do work, and stop doing those things that don’t.  We don’t have money to waste because of too many young people out there with enormous needs.  I think President Varela is right to focus particularly on education and skills building.  And this is an agenda which we should all tackle collectively.”

“Third, we have to keep investing in the clean energy that creates jobs and combats climate change.  The [U.S.] is today leading this global effort, along with many of you.  And I should point out that America’s carbon pollution is near its lowest level in almost two decades.  Across the Americas, I think we have the opportunity to expand our clean energy partnerships and increase our investments in renewables.”

“And finally, we have to stand firm for the security of our citizens.  We must continue to join with our partners across the region, especially in Central America, but also in the Caribbean, to promote an approach, a holistic approach that applies rule of law, respects human rights, but also tackles the narco-traffickers that devastate so many communities.  This is a shared responsibility.  And I’ve said before that the [U.S.] has a responsibility to reduce the demand for drugs and to reduce the flow of weapons south, even as we partner with you to go after the networks that can cause so much violence.”

“So, a new relationship with Cuba.  More trade and economic partnerships that reduce poverty and create opportunity, particularly focusing on education.  Increased people-to-people exchanges.  More investment in our young people.  Clean energy that combats climate change.  Security cooperation to protect our citizens and our communities.  That’s the new chapter of engagement that the [U.S.] is pursuing across the Americas.”

“I want to make one last comment addressing some of the points that [Ecuador’s] President Correa raised and I’m sure will be raised by a few others during this discussion.  I always enjoy the history lessons that I receive when I’m here.  I’m a student of history, so I tend to actually be familiar with many of these episodes that have been mentioned.  I am the first one to acknowledge that America’s application of concern around human rights has not always been consistent.  And I’m certainly mindful that there are dark chapters in our own history in which we have not observed the principles and ideals upon which the country was founded.”

“Just a few weeks ago, I was in Selma, Alabama celebrating the 50th anniversary of a march across a bridge that resulted in horrific violence.  And the reason I was there, and the reason it was a celebration, is because it was a triumph of human spirit in which ordinary people without resort to violence were able to overcome systematic segregation.  Their voices were heard, and our country changed.”

“America never makes a claim about being perfect.  We do make a claim about being open to change.  So I would just say that we can, I suppose, spend a lot of time talking about past grievances, and I suppose that it’s possible to use the [U.S.] as a handy excuse every so often for political problems that may be occurring domestically.  But that’s not going to bring progress.  That’s not going to solve the problems of children who can’t read, who don’t have enough to eat.  It’s not going to make our countries more productive or more competitive in a global economy.”

“So I just want to make very clear that when we speak out on something like human rights, it’s not because we think we are perfect, but it is because we think the ideal of not jailing people if they disagree with you is the right ideal.”

“Perhaps President Correa has more confidence than I do in distinguishing between bad press and good press.  There are a whole bunch of press that I think is bad, mainly because it criticizes me, but they continue to speak out in the [U.S.] because I don’t have confidence in a system in which one person is making that determination.  I think that if we believe in democracy it means that everybody has the chance to speak out and offer their opinions, and stand up for what they believe is right, and express their conscience, and pray as they would, and organize and assemble as they believe is appropriate — as long as they’re not operating violently.”

“So we will continue to speak out on those issues not because we’re interested in meddling, but because we know from our own history.  It’s precisely because we’re imperfect that we believe it’s appropriate for us to stand up.  When Dr. King was in jail, people outside the United States spoke up on his behalf.  And I would be betraying our history if I did not do the same.”

“The Cold War has been over for a long time.  And I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born.  What I am interested in is solving problems, working with you.  That’s what the [U.S.] is interested in doing.  That’s why we’ve invested so much in our bilateral relationships, and that’s why I will continue to invest in creating the kind of spirit of equal partnership and mutual interest and mutual respect upon which I believe progress can advance.”