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From sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu Fri Nov 17 17:45:26 2000
To: tcraine@hotmail.com
Subject: Fidel Castro's speech in Riverside Church, Harlem/Sep 2000
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2000 15:44:46 -0500
X-UIDL: fE_"!:5f!!1(G!!*DC!!

Fidel Castro's speech to U.S. movement (excepts)

Harlem, New York, September 2000

Two weeks ago Workers World published the speech of Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, president of the Republic of Cuba, to the United Nations Millennium Summit. It focused on the catastrophic situation facing the Third World. Here we publish excerpts from his speech to the solidarity rally held in Riverside Church, Harlem, New York, on Sept. 8, 2000. The talk was frequently interrupted with applause and comments from the audience.

On my way here, I recalled my four visits to the United Nations. The first time, I was thrown out of the hotel near the United Nations. I had two choices: pitching a tent in the United Nations courtyard--and as a guerrilla fighter who had recently come down from the mountains, it would not have been all that difficult for me--or heading for Harlem, where I had been invited to stay in one of its hotels. I immediately decided: "I will go to Harlem because that is where my best friends are."

Someone in the audience shouts, "My house is your house."

Thank you very much. That is what they used to say to me in many beautiful homes where very wealthy people lived. They had those little signs that read exactly like that. Later, when we did something to help the poor, they definitely removed the signs. However, in you I can sense the generosity of the humble.

I am sure you can understand that it is not easy for me to visit New York; there is more than enough proof of that. This time it was definitely not easy, and many of my compatriots were very worried. We are living in a special period, and I do not mean the special period in Cuba, which has been brought about by the double blockade, but rather the special period of presidential elections. And I have received all kinds of threats, from killing me to sending me to a U.S. prison.

On human rights in Cuba

Simply by reducing infant mortality in our country from approximately 60 deaths per 1,000 live births in the first year of life to less than seven per 1,000, we have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. We have protected the health of all children free of charge and guaranteed a life expectancy of over 75 years. Moreover, we have not only preserved lives but also guaranteed free education for all, and not a selfish and mediocre education but one based on solidarity and excellence. A study carried out by UNESCO, a UN agency, revealed that our children possess almost twice as much knowledge as the average child in the rest of Latin America.

We have also saved the lives of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children in Africa and other parts of the Third World throughout the years of the Revolution, and we have provided health care for tens of millions of people. Over 25,000 health care workers have taken part in these internationalist efforts. This is called a "violation of human rights," and it is why we must be destroyed.

How Cuba has survived the blockade and special period

[The Cuban people] with exemplary courage have withstood 41 years of a blockade enforced by successive governments of the most powerful country in the world in political, economic, technological and military terms. Furthermore, for the last 10 years, they have withstood the double blockade that resulted from the collapse of the socialist bloc and the USSR. We were left without markets and without a source of supplies of food, fuel, raw materials and many other essential products that we paid for with our earn ings, and in order to pay, of course, we needed to trade. If nobody buys anything from a country, that country will not have anything with which to buy from those who deprive it of earnings.

This country, where we are right now, is one of the few countries in the world that could be almost totally self-sufficient in terms of the basic elements for maintaining life. But the same cannot be said of a small isolated country, or a medium-sized country or even a large country in Latin America. None would have been able to withstand this for even two weeks, and we have withstood it for 10 years. And for several years now, little by little, we have managed not only to survive but also to gradually increase our economic production, although we have still not bounced back to the rates we had before the double blockade that forced us into what we call the special period.

Suffice it to say that a daily caloric intake of 3,000, more or less evenly spread, was reduced overnight to 1,800 calories. It now stands at around 2,400 calories. But not even that stopped us from doing what we should. Throughout these 10 years, we added 30,000 new doctors to our health care network and we have not closed a single clinic, or a school or a classroom. Our country has never been subjected to those so-called economic shock policies that wipe out hospitals, schools, social security and vital resources for low-income people. We have resisted and not a single one of those measures was ever used, and those that we did implement to confront this terribly difficult situation were discussed with all of the people, not just in our National Assembly.

On Cuba's elections

We do have a National Assembly--even though many people ignore it--characterized by a democratic spirit that fills us with pride because it is the neighbors who put up the candidates, nominate them for delegates of their districts and elect them by direct and secret ballot. No candidate is nominated by the party. They are all freely nom inated by the district residents--no more than eight and no less than two candidates from whom one is chosen--and elected on the basis of their own merits and capacity.

These district delegates make up the municipal assemblies and these municipal assemblies, established at the grass roots level, nominate the candidates to delegates of the provincial assemblies and the deputies to the National Assembly. These delegates must also be elected by direct and secret ballot and must obtain over 50 percent of the votes cast. Almost half of that National Assembly is made up of these district delegates who are, as I have explained, nominated and elected by the people, with no intervention by our Party. The only role played by the Party is to guarantee the observation of the procedures set forth in our Constitution and our laws for the electoral process.

Nobody needs to spend a penny, not a single one.

The district candidates campaign together as a group, as do the candidates to the National Assembly who are nominated in every municipality, proportionally to the size of each municipality, although every one must have a minimum of two deputies in the National Assembly. This is the procedure, the method we have developed to guarantee the democratic principle. Yet, as I was telling you, when we adopted measures to confront the difficult situation of the special period all were discussed, first of all, at the grassroots level, with workers, farmers, students and other mass organizations, at hundreds of thousands of assemblies and later at the National Assembly. Then, after they had been studied by the National Assembly, they were sent back to the grass-roots level for further discussion before their final adoption by the Assembly.

These measures protected everyone and guaranteed social security for all. Among the main measures adopted were taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and other sumptuary items. Medicines, food or other essential products were never taxed and despite everything, we still could ensure a liter of milk a day for every child up to the age of 7. And do you know how much the population had to pay for that liter of milk? Accord ing to the official exchange rate, 1.5 cents of a U.S. dollar, one and a half cents.

We still have a ration card and we will maintain it for a number of foodstuffs. But a pound of rice, which costs between 12 and 15 cents on the world market--without including the cost of transportation from distant places, since we cannot buy it from the country closest to us, and without including the cost of internal transport, distribution and the rest--is sold to consumers for just under one and a half cents. And a pound of beans is sold for the same price as a liter of milk, 1.5 cents of a dollar.

In our country, the vast majority of citizens pay 0 cents of a dollar for the homes they live in because today, as a result of the revolutionary laws, over 85 percent of homes are owned by the families who live in them, and they do not even pay taxes on them. In the remaining homes, located in out-of-the-way places deemed essential for industry or services, the tenants pay an extremely low rent or are granted usufruct of them.

That is why when people say that someone earns $15 or $20 a month in Cuba, I say that you have to add X amount for what they would have to pay for housing if they lived in New York, X number of dollars for the cost of education, another X number of dollars for health care, and other rising costs. I am not saying that we are not poor, or that we do not have needs; but we have distributed our poverty or resources as fairly as possible.

The prices of basic medicines are the same as they were in 1959, over 40 years ago. At that time they were cut by half because one of the first things the Revolution did was to lower the price of medicines and those who are administered these medicines in a hospital do not pay a penny for them. And if they need a heart transplant, a liver transplant, other transplants or costly operations or treatments, they do not pay a penny. This is what the Revolution did for the people.

An offer to train poor U.S. medical students

At the moment there must be over 4,000 students from Latin America and the Caribbean studying medicine in Cuba, and that is a conservative estimate. Soon there will be 10,000. Our country has done this in spite of the blockade and at absolutely no cost to the students, who are provided with adequate food and living quarters, laboratory equipment, textbooks and clothing; and other costs are covered as well, such as transportation to and from the school. The invitation was opened to students from all over Latin America as a way to promote unity, brotherhood and cultural exchange.

I recently learned something that really amazed me. We were visited by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and as I was telling a lawmaker from Mississippi about these programs he said: "Listen, there are a lot of places in my district where there isn't a single doctor." I said, "What! Ah, now I see: you are the Third World of the United States." And I said: "We are prepared to send you a few doctors free of charge, the same as we do for other countries of the Third World."

I suddenly realized the way things really are. You always hear about how wealthy the United States is, about its gross domestic product of over $8 trillion, and so on, and suddenly there I was talking to a respected member of the U.S. House of Representatives who said that there are not enough doctors in his district. That is why I said, "We can send doctors."

And remembering the schools I immediately added, "And there is something more: listen, we are prepared to grant a number of scholarships to poor youth in your district who cannot afford to pay the $200,000 it costs to get a university degree."

The member of the U.S. House of Representatives said to me that other minorities face the same situation and he told to me about the Chicanos, about the Indian reservations and about other parts of the country, and he meant not only to Latinos and immigrants but also to people born in the United States.

I can say here that we are prepared to accept 250 students a year from the United States' Third World. They will learn Spanish as well, and they will get to know young people from all over the hemisphere to whom they will teach all they know about America and its culture and the others will teach them about theirs. I already said a figure, 250 scholarships per year, but for the first pre-med course beginning in March we could offer 500 to include other minorities. We would not choose the candidates, they would be selected by the members of Congress who want to help poor young people in their districts to study medicine, and these young people would commit themselves to go back home after they graduate as doctors.

On U.S. society

There are serious social problems even in such a rich country as this, the richest in the world. I want to mention some of them. Thirty-six million people, 14 percent of the population, live below the poverty line, a rate twice as high as that of other developed countries. Double that of Europe and Japan. Forty-three million people are not health-insured and another 30 million have such low medical coverage that it is practically non-existent. There are 30 million illiterates and another 30 million functional illiterates.

Cuba did not make this up, these are official figures from international org anizations. Among the Black population the rate of poverty is over 29 percent; the rate for the whole population is 14 percent. Among Black children the figure reaches 40 percent. In some cities and rural areas in the United States it is over 50 percent. Despite economic expansion, the poverty rates in America are from two to three times higher than those in Western Europe, and 22 percent of American children live in poverty. These are official figures.

Only 45 percent of all workers in the private sector have social security coverage. It is estimated that 13 percent of the total U.S. population will not live beyond 60 years of age. Women still earn only 73 percent of what men earn in comparable jobs and make up 70 percent of part-time workers, those who have no right to any social benefits. Between 1981 and 1995, 85 percent of new workers with more than one job were women. The richest 1 percent of the population, who in 1975 owned 20 percent of the wealth, now owns 36 percent. And the gap keeps widening.

There is not one millionaire, not one person who belongs to the upper middle class, among the 3,600 people sentenc ed to capital punishment who are now on death row in U.S. prisons. One might wonder why. You perhaps have a better answer than I do. I am not accusing anyone, I simply say what is going on.

In the whole history of the United States not one single white man has ever been executed for having raped a Black woman. Nevertheless, and this is an historical fact, during the time that rape was considered a capital crime, of the 455 people executed for rape, 405 were Black: that is to say, nine out of 10.

A recent study by a non-governmental organization indicates that Black men have a 13 times greater chance of being given longer sentences than white men when it comes to drug-related offenses, although there are five times as many white men dealing drugs in the United States.

More than 60 percent of the women in prison in the United States are African American or Hispanic.

On Shaka and Mumia

You know that our people vigorously condemned the judicial murder of Shaka Sankofa for a crime he did not commit, despite the unanimous condemnation of world public opinion and even that of many governments in the world. I requested a lot of information, data, and details. I even went as far as to look at small maps and sketches of the place where the crime he was accused of was committed. Only one person claimed to have seen him, at night, from quite a distance, a quick glance that not even the most sensitive camera could have recorded, that, and other evidence, led me to believe in his innocence. I am not saying this because someone claimed it was true, but because I analyzed all the information and reached that conclusion.

A televised round table was held in our country in which internationally known figures participated. I can see from here one person who took part in that round table.

I am equally well aware that for some time now you have been caught up in a very just struggle, a struggle which our people also fully support: the struggle for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist sentenced to death whose unfair trial has given rise to a giant pro test movement throughout the world.

When, as is the case with the African Americans, racial discrimination is added to social marginality, tens and tens of millions of people suffer horribly from this injustice, including those who have never been sentenced to death nor to prison. Actually, they were born sentenced to be humiliated every day of their lives.

I am more or less white. I say more or less because there is no ethnic group that can claim purity. I visited the United States in November 1948. I had gone to visit Harvard. I wanted to study economics. I already had revolutionary ideas but I wanted to equip myself with more knowledge.

On the journey back to New York, I traveled in a cheap second-hand car bought for $200 or $300, one of those sold for a bit more than they are worth as scrap metal, and I drove along those highways down to Florida to go on to Cuba by sea in a ferry. I stopped several times in some places for lunch, a meal or to buy something. I perceived contempt more than once, sort of a disparaging attitude just because I spoke another language or because I was Hispanic. I had the impression that it was not only certain ethnic groups that were discriminated against but also people of any other nationality who spoke a different language.

Therefore, we could remind those who so hate Cuba, the Revolution and myself in particular that they should thank the Revolution every now and then, because without the Revolution there would not be many Cuban millionaires [in the U.S.], without the Revolution there would not be a so-called Cuban American National Foundation, without the Revolution there would not be Cuban members of the U.S. Congress, they would not be able to sponsor certain bills, they would not be courted in the election campaigns, they would not be granted their every wish even though a large majority of them do not vote.

On Elián González

Elián is doing wonderfully. You can hardly imagine what a happy boy he is, how intelligent he is, what a serious boy he is, he is really extraordinary. Vast crowds did not welcome him--just as we said--but only some schoolmates and his closest relatives. Not one of us, not a single [Communist] Party or State official was there. The family spent six minutes greeting those who were there to welcome them and then immediately left the airport with Elián. He did not miss classes, not even the day he left the United States. In two months, with his family, his teacher and his little classmates, he had made extraordinary progress and later, in Cuba, from June 29 up until July 28, he had intensive classes together with his classmates who were here. He graduated on a par with all the other children and moved up to second grade.

We can count on the support of the whole population, the cooperation of all our people not to approach him when he goes to school, not to shout slogans at him, to treat him like any other child. He has only appeared on television a few times, and that is because the people were demanding it.

He is living in the same modest house where he lived before. He is studying in the same school, he has the same teachers, and his same classmates from first grade are still with him and will be until the fourth grade. Also, in the middle of this month his father began working in the same modest work place because that is what he wanted. Not only the little boy but his father also became very respected in our country. He resisted all pressures, even when they tried to buy him out with his son, with promises to return him the child if he stayed to live in the United States. Millions of dollars, and he never wavered, not for one second.

Our people will never forget and will always thank the American people who spoke out en masse in favor of the legitimate rights of a father and his son. Once more I said to myself: the American people are very idealistic, therefore, for them to support an unjust cause they first have to be deceived, they have to be made to believe, like in Vietnam and other places, that that was right. In this case, they learned the truth due to a variety of factors, particularly through a million people marching in a struggle that extended for seven months and which still continues against the Cuban Adjustment Act, for the victims it creates. That struggle is also being waged against the Torricelli Act, the Helms-Burton Act, the blockade and the economic war.

On fighting for equality

I am not claiming that our country is a perfect model of equality and justice. We believed at the beginning that when we established the fullest equality before the law and complete intolerance for any demonstration of sexual discrimination in the case of women, or racial discrimination in the case of ethnic minorities, these phenomena would vanish from our society. It was some time before we discovered that marginality and racial discrimination with it are not something that one gets rid of with a law or even with 10 laws, and we have not managed to eliminate them completely, even in 40 years.

We are aware that there is still marginality in our country. But there is the will to eradicate it with the proper methods for this task to bring more unity and equality to our society. On behalf of my Homeland, I promise to keep you informed about the progress of our efforts.