HAVANA TIMES — Latin American and Caribbean nations leaders are gathered in Havana for the second day on Wednesday for a summit that includes all countries of the Americas except the US and Canada. Host president Raul Castro addressed them at the opening session on Tuesday. Here is an official translation of his full speech.
Remarks by Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz at the opening the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit, January 28, 2014.
Esteemed Heads of State and Government of Latin America and the Caribbean;
Distinguished Foreign Ministers and guests;
On behalf of the people and the government of Cuba I warmly welcome you and wish you a pleasant stay. It is for us a great honor and a reason for sincere gratitude to be able to count on your presence in this Summit of “Our America”, which has been convened on the occasion of the one hundred and sixty first anniversary of the birth of José Martí.
We deeply regret the physical absence of one of the great leaders of Our America, the unforgettable Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, who fervently and tirelessly advocated and struggled for the independence, cooperation, solidarity, integration and unity of Latin America and the Caribbean and for the creation of this very Community.
I would like to propose a one-minute moment of silence in his memory.
The period elapsed since the celebration of the last CELAC Summit has been complex but fruitful.
The Latin American and Caribbean countries have been required to face a number of challenges. The crisis has continued to affect the world’s economy; the dangers which threaten peace are ever more present in several regions of the world; and some sister nations have been the object of threats, unilateral coercive measures and international lawsuits due to legitimate actions they have taken to defend their sovereignty.
We have, however, been able to make further progress in the construction of CELAC and follow up on decisions adopted in Caracas and Santiago de Chile.
Step by step, we are creating a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that is currently recognized in the world as the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Likewise, we have been reconciling our views and, despite the inevitable differences, a spirit of greater unity within diversity is being developed, and that should be our ultimate goal.
As I said in Santiago de Chile, “We know that, among us, distinct ideas and even differences exist, but CELAC has been built upon a legacy of two hundred years of struggle for independence and is based on a profound commonality of goals. Therefore, CELAC is not a succession of mere meetings or pragmatic agreements, but a common vision of a Greater Latin American and Caribbean Homeland which solely has a duty to its peoples.”
One of our priorities should be the creation of a common political space in which we can move forward toward the achievement of peace and respect among our nations; in which we are able to overcome the objective obstacles and those deliberately imposed upon us; in which we can utilize our resources in a sovereign way and for our common wellbeing and place our scientific and technical knowledge in the service of progress for our peoples; in which we can assert undeniable principles such as self-determination, sovereignty and sovereign equality of States.
Only in this way can we ensure that the assertion describing Latin America and the Caribbean as the most unequal region in the planet no longer be a reality.
Cuba’s Pro Tempore presidency of CELAC has focused precisely on the achievement of that goal. That is why the central theme of this Summit is “the struggle against poverty, hunger and inequality.”
While it is true that some progress has been made during the last few years, this has been slow, fragmented and unstable. According to ECLAC – to which we convey our appreciation for its consistent cooperation with the Cuban presidency and the five studies it carried out in the context of this cooperation – the poverty rate in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 reached, as a minimum, 28.2% of the population; that is to say, 164 million people. And the abject or extreme poverty rate was 11.3%, equivalent to 66 million inhabitants in the region. The most distressing concern, however, is child poverty, which affects 70.5 million boys, girls and adolescents; 23.3 million of whom live below the poverty line.
The richest 10% in Latin American receive 32% of the total income, while the poorest 40% receive only 15%.
The peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean demand and require a better distribution of wealth and income, universal and free access to quality education, full employment, higher salaries, the eradication of illiteracy, the establishment of a true food security, health systems for all, the right to decent housing, fresh water and sanitation services.
These are all achievable goals, progress toward which will be indicative of progress in our region.
We are in a position to reverse the current situation. With slightly more than 15% of the earth’s surface and 8.5% of the world’s population, our region possesses a substantial percentage of the most important non-renewable mineral reserves; one third of the fresh water reserves; 12% of the arable land; the world’s greatest potential for food production and 21% of natural forests.
And it is precisely all this wealth which should become the driving force in eradicating inequalities. The imperative and challenge we face is being capable of transforming this natural capital into human capital, into economic infrastructure and diversification of production and exports, in a way that decisively contributes to a true development process.
One of the problems we face in Latin America and the Caribbean is the inability to translate the periods of high prices of the natural resources we export into long-term economic development processes, in such a way that they could truly contribute to the reduction of poverty and increase the per capita income of our populations. To do so we should fully exercise sovereignty over our natural resources and design appropriate policies to guide our relations with foreign investors and transnational companies operating in CELAC member countries.
The benefits of direct foreign investments for the economies of the region and the injection of capital by the transnational companies operating here are undeniable, but we forget that the excessive growth in profits obtained – 5.5 times as much over the last nine years – affects the positive impact of such benefits on the balance of payments of our countries.
When it comes to education, the region faces significant needs, both in terms of access as well as in terms of quality; functional illiteracy continues to exist –although with remarkable differences from one country to another.
While access to primary education has improved in the region, information gathered by ECLAC and UNESCO establishes very clearly that access to education, and the quality of training which students receive, are very much linked to income levels.
The situation is far more serious in secondary education, not only because 50% of youth between the ages of 20 and 24 dropped out, but because only 21.7% of youth from the poorest sector in that age group were able to finish school. In contrast, 78.3% of their peers in the richest sector managed to complete this level of education. That is to say, a 56.6 percentage point gap separated the two groups in 2010.
In the case of university education, the situation is even more complex. According to some estimates issued by ECLAC, in the year 2010 enrollment at this level accounted for one third of the youths between the ages of 18 and 24.
We have all the means, resources and methodologies necessary to eradicate illiteracy across Latin America and the Caribbean. We should demonstrate the political will to do so and give our peoples, without exceptions or inequalities, the opportunity to access all educational levels.
None of the projects which we intend to pursue will be possible without educated and cultured peoples.
The different levels of development among the social and productive sectors in our countries present an opportunity for cooperation, for complementarity and integration of our economies, as well.
We should establish a new regional and international cooperation paradigm. In the context of CELAC we have the opportunity to create a model of our own making, adapted to our realities, based on the principles of mutual benefit and solidarity, taking into account the best experiences developed in the last few years by countries of the region and by Latin American and Caribbean integration organizations, such as MERCOSUR, ALBA, PETROCARIBE, UNASUR, CARICOM, SICA and others which, throughout the years, have been establishing the route to be followed.
Additionally, we can not forget that the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean require that special attention is given to their specific problems, which have worsened due to the effects of global crises and climate change, that affects us all but has an even stronger impact on Caribbean countries whose economies decelerated or grew at a rate below the regional average achieved in 2012.
The impact of the 2008-2009 economic crisis was particularly severe in this sub-region and absorbed, as an average, 13.2% of their Gross Domestic Product. The effects of devastating natural disasters have also influenced that reality.
Likewise, both the international community and our countries have the moral obligation to continue making a contribution to the comprehensive development of the Republic of Haiti through concrete actions of fraternal cooperation based on their specific needs and national priorities.
The important task that the CELAC countries have ahead in the course of the present year is to work together in the drafting of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and prevent the commission of mistakes prevalent in the conception of the Millennium Development Goals.
Esteemed Heads of State and Government:
Regardless of our progress, we continue living in a world governed by an unjust and exclusive international order, under which threats to peace and foreign interference in the region still prevail.
We can not forget the long history of interference in the internal affairs of states, military invasions and bloody coups d’état. The so called “centers of power” have not resigned themselves to losing control of this rich region, nor will they ever renounce the attempts to change the course of history in our countries, to recover the influence they have lost and benefit from our resources.
In 1999, when the socialist block ceased to exist, NATO modified its strategy for offensive actions against alleged global threats outside the territory of the member States of the Alliance in an area it called the “Euro-Atlantic periphery”. At the European Union-Latin American and Caribbean Summit that was held in Rio de Janeiro later on in June, the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, asked if our region had been included in that “periphery” and if it was subject to that ever-more aggressive and dangerous doctrine. Such question has remained unanswered until today, fifteen years later.
Last year we learned of the existence of a global communications espionage system implemented by the United States which indiscriminately targeted heads of state and government, international agencies, political parties, companies and individual citizens of the region, in flagrant violation of international law and the sovereignty of states.
Another source of major concern, given its potential to create international conflicts, is the covert and illegal use by private individuals, organizations and states of the information systems of other nations to attack third countries. Some governments have even suggested the possibility of responding to these attacks by using conventional weapons.
The only way to prevent and deal with these new threats is through the joint cooperation of all states, which will be equally useful in preventing cyberspace from becoming a theater of military operations.
Therefore, we welcome the initiative of the government of Brazil to hold the Global Multisectoral Meeting on Internet Governance in Sao Paulo, in April of 2014.
As an expression of its firm commitment to nuclear disarmament and peace, Latin America was the first region in the world to establish, through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, a Nuclear Free Zone. But we should go further. Peace and development are interdependent and inextricably linked. There can be no peace without development.
Nor will there be development without peace. That is why we are determined to declare our region a Zone of Peace to eradicate – once and for all – war, the use or threat of force; a Zone in which any dispute between our countries can be resolved amongst ourselves, through peaceful ways and negotiation, in accordance with the principles of international law.
We reiterate our full solidarity with the Republic of Argentina in its claim for the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and adjacent seas. While we reject every attempt to exploit the natural resources of these territories, including the subsoil assets, before any agreement is reached, we call upon the United Kingdom to accept dialogue and negotiation, as has been requested by the Argentine government.
As the Puerto Rican Poet, Lola Rodríguez de Tió wrote, “Cuba and Puerto Rico are the two wings of the same bird”. Thus, I reiterate that “our Community will be incomplete as long as the seat of Puerto Rico, a genuinely Latin American and Caribbean sister nation faced with a colonial status, remains vacant.”
We express our solidarity with the people and the government of Ecuador, threatened by the lawsuits filed by transnationals before courts which are prejudiced by greed and hold a neocolonial political vision.
I thank you all for the expressions of solidarity against the criminal blockade imposed on my country for more than half a century and the unjust inclusion of Cuba in the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
With my best wishes for success in the discussions we will have and bearing in mind the enormous responsibility we share for the unity of our region, I officially declare open the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
Thank you, very much.