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Opening speech by army general Raul Castro Ruz, President of the councils of state and ministers of the councils of state and ministers of the Republic of Cuba at 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 happy 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 even for the creation of this Community.

I would like to propose a one-minute silence in his memory.

Distinguished colleagues:

The period elapsed since the celebration of the last CELAC Summit has been complex but fruitful.

The Latin American and Caribbean countries have had to cope with different challenges.  The crisis has continued to affect the world’s economy; the dangers that 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 the legitimate actions they have taken to defend their sovereignty.

However, we have been able to make further progress in the construction of CELAC and follow up on the decisions that we 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 amid diversity is being developed, and that should be our ultimate goal.

As I said in Santiago de Chile, “we know that there are different ideas and even differences among ourselves, but CELAC has been built upon a heritage 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 coincidences, but a common vision of a Greater Latin American and Caribbean Homeland which only has a duty to its peoples.”

One of our priorities should be the creation of a common political space where we could move forward to the achievement of peace and respect among our nations; where we are able to overcome the objective obstacles and those that are deliberately imposed on us; where we could exploit our resources in a sovereign way and for our common wellbeing and utilize our scientific and technical knowledge in the interest of the progress of our peoples; where we could assert undeniable principles such as self-determination, sovereignty and sovereign equality of States.

Only in this way the assertion that Latin America and the Caribbean is the most unequal region in the planet will 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 fight 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 CELAC, to which we convey our appreciation for its permanent 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 accounted, as a minimum, for 28.2 per cent of the population; that is to say, 164 million people.  And the abject poverty or extreme poverty rate accounted for 11.3 per cent, which is equivalent to 66 million inhabitants in the region. The biggest concern, though, is child poverty, which affects 70.5 million boys, girls and adolescents; 23.3 million of them live under the poverty line.

The 10 per cent richest in Latin American receive 32 per cent of the total income, while the 40 per cent poorest receive only 15 per cent.

The peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean call for and need a better wealth and income distribution, universal and free access to quality education, full employment, better 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, the pursuit of which will be an indicative of the progress of our region.

We have all what it takes to reverse the current situation. With slightly more than 15 per cent of the earth’s surface and 8.5 per cent 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 per cent of the arable land; the world’s biggest potential for foodstuffs production and 21 per cent of natural forests.

And it is precisely all that wealth what should become the driving force to eradicate inequalities.  Our imperative and challenge is being able to transform that natural capital into human capital, economic infrastructure and diversification of production and exports, in a way that it decisively contributes to a true development process.

One of the problems that we face in Latin America and the Caribbean is the inability to translate the periods of high prices of the natural resources that 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 peoples.

To achieve that we should fully exercise our sovereignty over our natural resources and design appropriate policies in our relations with the foreign investments and transnational companies operating in the CELAC member countries.

The benefits of direct foreign investments for the economies of the region and the injections of capital by the transnational companies that are operating in it are undeniable, but we usually forget that the excessive increase of the profits they obtain — 5.5 times as much during the last nine years—affects the positive impact of such benefits on the balance of payment of our countries.

When it comes to education, the region faces significant gaps, 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 the other.

While access to primary education has improved in the region, the information rendered by CELAC and UNESCO establishes very clearly that access to education and the quality of the training that students receive are very much linked to their income levels.

The situation is far more serious in secondary education, not only because 50 per cent of youths between the ages of 20 and 24 dropped out from school, but because only 21.7 per cent of the youths coming from the poorest sector in that age group were able to complete it.  In contrast, 78.3 per cent 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 both groups in 2010.

In the case of university education, the situation is even more complex.  According to some estimates issued by CELAC, in the year 2010 the enrollment for this education 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 wipe illiteracy off Latin America and the Caribbean.  We should have the political will to do it and give our peoples, without any exceptions or inequalities, the possibility to access all educational levels.

None of the projects that we intend to pursue shall be possible without educated and cultured peoples.

The different levels of development among the social and productive sectors in our countries are also an opportunity for cooperation as well as the complementarity and integration of their economies.

We should establish a new regional and international cooperation paradigm.  In the context of CELAC we have the possibility 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 experience developed in the last few years by the countries of the region and by the Latin American and Caribbean integration organizations, such as MERCOSUR, ALBA, PETROCARIBE, UNASUR, CARICOM, SICA and others which, throughout the years, have been tracing out the route to be followed.

Besides, 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 the Caribbean countries whose economies slowed down or grew to a level below the regional average achieved in 2012.

The impact of the 2008-2009 economic crisis was particularly severe in that sub-region and absorbed, as an average, 13.2 per cent 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 the 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 the 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” do not resign themselves to having lost the control over this rich region, nor will they ever renounce the attempts to change the course of history in our countries in order to recover the influence they have lost and benefit from their 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 knew 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 to respond to these attacks by using conventional weapons.

The only way to prevent and cope with these new threats is through the joint cooperation of all States, which will be equally useful to prevent 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 with 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 even further.  Peace and development are interdependent and inextricably linked.  There can be no peace without development.  Nor there can be development without peace.  That is why we are determined to declare our region as 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 could be resolved by ourselves, through peaceful ways and negotiation, in accordance with the principles of International Law.

We reiterate our fullest solidarity with the Republic of Argentina in its claim for the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and their 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 Argentinean 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 that are biased by greed and 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.

Esteemed colleagues:

With my best wishes for success in the discussions that we will have and bearing in mind the enormous responsibility that we shared towards 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.

(CELAC- Cuba)

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