The Honorable Alaina Lockhart, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie,
Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas, Michael Grant,
The Honorable Senator Peter Boehm,
Distinguished senators, members of Parliament, representatives of the Canadian Government, ambassadors, high commissioners and colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow Cubans who live and work in Canada, que siempre llevan a Cuba y a su pueblo en el corazón,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to those who have sent their messages of condolences and solidarity over the victims of and damages caused by the tornado that hit Havana last Sunday. I´m confident that Cuba will bounce back from this as well.
It is a great honour for us to have you all this evening at the Embassy of Cuba. We deeply appreciate that you have so courageously braved today´s particularly cold weather to celebrate Cuba´s National Day with us.
For my people, this celebration has a special meaning, as we are commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution; a Revolution that, as the leader of Cuba´s Communist Party Raúl Castro recently said, remains young, because, as in its origins, young people are its main protagonists.
The path travelled thus far has not been an easy one, but quite the opposite, as Fidel Castro predicted upon his arrival in Havana on January 8, 1959, when he warned that everything might be more difficult in the future.
Back then, we not only had to remove the foundations of the Cuban society and radically transform the country´s political and economic system; but we also had to face all types of aggressions and threats, both internal and external, some of which continue to this day, such as the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, and the campaigns to denigrate the Revolution and its leaders.
Despite this adverse context, the Cuban people has made significant progress in its efforts to build a society that is increasingly just, inclusive, caring, free and democratic.
Now we can proudly say that Cuba has achieved all possible social justice in the midst of adverse domestic and foreign circumstances; it has offered its selfless solidarity to other countries in need; and it has contributed decisively to peace and stability in our region and in the world, thereby gaining international recognition.
Today, Cuba can show major achievements in health care, education, social security, sports, culture, public safety, which indicators are similar to and sometimes higher than those of developed countries. This is possible thanks to the will of the Cuban State and to the fact that more than half of the nation´s budget is allocated to health and education sectors.
Cuba has conquered rights not only for its own people; it has also made a valuable contribution to the advancement of human rights of other peoples. The 407 thousand Cuban collaborators, mainly doctors and nurses, who over the last 55 years have offered their assistance in 164 countries; and the 56 thousand foreign students from 137 countries who have studied in Cuba, most of them medicine, are a living testimony of this.
Although modest, the Cuban economy grows every year as the modernization of our economic and social model moves on, with the resolute decision to achieve a more efficient economy and improve the standard of living of the population.
2018 witnessed the election of our new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, with the successful transfer of the main State and government’s duties and responsibilities to the new generations of Cubans.
Another event of paramount importance was the approval by the Cuban Parliament on last December of the revised draft of the new Constitution, following a broad popular consultation, which resulted in nearly 800 thousand proposals, leading to changes in 60% of the articles of the original project. These figures show the genuine democratic character of the constitutional reform process —in which all Cubans had the opportunity to participate and make their contribution to the most important decisions for the life of the nation—, which will lead to a referendum on next February 24.
On the international stage, Cuba has continued to play a key role in the defence of peace and stability in our region and worldwide, based on the principles of respect for sovereignty, the right to self-determination, non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of the States, which are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
Cuba´s foreign policy has also been guided by the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by all Heads of State and Government of the region, in Havana in 2014.
This Proclamation expresses our commitment to foster friendly and cooperative relations among countries — regardless of the differences in our political, economic and social systems or levels of development—, and to practice tolerance and coexist in peace as good neighbors. It also recognizes the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system as an essential condition to ensure peaceful coexistence.
At present circumstances, these principles achieve significant relevance as aggressive and interference actions intensify in our region, seeking to provoke a regime change in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and when the U.S. government seems to be taking the course of confrontation with Cuba, presenting our peaceful and solidary country as a threat to the region, which it is not.
With regards to our bilateral relations with Canada, there are some facts that I would like to highlight today. 115 years ago, in the city of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Cuba opened its first Consulate in this vast country. In 2020, we will celebrate 75 years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations, which have stood the proof of time since they were first established in 1945.
This is just an expression of the long-standing positive relations between Cuba and Canada, which are strengthened through people to people exchanges, and also through political, trade, economic and cultural relations.
Our relationship is a good example and a model of the links that can exist between two countries with different political, social and economic systems at different stages of development.
In fact, Cuba´s relations with Canada and its provinces are a priority for Cuba and it is our goal to further promote them.
In 2018, Cuba-Canada bilateral political consultations were held, which have allowed us to continue working together on issues of mutual interest to strengthen our relations; to hold constructive discussions on how to address and face common challenges; and to exchange views on bilateral and international matters, on which we have different opinions and approaches, in a frank and respectful way.
We have maintained high-level government exchanges, for example, the visits to Ottawa of Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca; Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero; and Vice President of the Central Bank of Cuba, Arnaldo Alayón, who headed a banking and financial delegation.
In addition, inter-parliamentary exchanges continued with the visit to Ottawa of the President of the Cuba-Canada Friendship Group at the Cuban Parliament, Ms. Gladys Bejerano.
We particularly appreciate Canada´s vote at the UN General Assembly in favor of the Cuban draft resolution demanding the end of the US blockade against our country.The blockade is nowadays the main obstacle to the development in all its potential of the Cuban economy, and, because of its extraterritorial nature, it constitutes a major stumbling block to Cuba´s efforts to increase economic, commercial and financial relations with the rest of the world.
Speaking about our political dialogue, I would like to refer briefly to the health problems that have been reported by Canadian diplomatic personnel in Havana.
Cuba understands the obligations of the government of Canada to protect its diplomatic personnel posted anywhere in the world and to try to find answers to the health symptoms reported in Cuba, however, it considers that Canada´s decision made public today by Global Affairs Canada is incomprehensible.
Cutting Canada´s staff at its Embassy in Cuba and adjusting the mission´s programs are actions that do not help find answers to the health symptoms reported by Canadian diplomats, and which will have an impact on the relations.
This decision contrasts with the level, status and presence of Canadian diplomatic staff in other world capitals where they do not enjoy as much safety, tranquility, good health environment, and hospitality as in Cuba.
Since the Canadian Embassy reported the first case, Cuba has offered to cooperate and has worked together with numerous entities in the Canadian government; it has requested information and has provided all evidence available; and has put at their disposal the best Cuban experts in the most diverse fields.
During the exchanges that had been held, it has become clear that there is no evidence that might reveal any brain damage, or that may explain the varied symptoms reported, or that may indicate that these symptoms had occurred due to the stay of the affected diplomats in Cuba.
Despite Canada´s government decision, Cuba remains committed to keeping the good state of bilateral relations and strengthening the links with a country with which we keep strong bonds of friendship and cooperation.
In the economic domain, Cuba has remained Canada´s largest export market in Central America and the Caribbean, and Canada continues to be Cuba´s fourth trading partner, with total goods trade amounting to close to one billion dollars in 2018, which represents an increase of about 25%, as compared to 2017.
Canada is also a key foreign investor in Cuba ranking second, owing to the number of business it has set up in Cuba. But we want to see more Canadian companies investing in Cuba, and a major step in this direction is my government´s recent decision to begin the negotiation of a bilateral agreement on reciprocal promotion and protection of investments.
Canadians have continued to show their interest in doing business with Cuba. Last November, more than 70 companies and officials from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada attended the Havana International Trade Fair. Joining us today are some senior executives and representatives of companies and entities, which have been working with Cuba for many years, like Sherritt International, National Bank of Canada, EDC, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Canada Cuba, CCC, Terracam, Transat, Air Canada, Air Canada Vacations, l´ Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec, among others.
Cuba has always been a welcoming and safe destination for tourists, particularly during the harsh Canadian winter months. In 2018, for instance, more than 1 million Canadians visited our island, for the eighth consecutive year.
Canada is also one of the main providers of development assistance to Cuba in priority sectors, such as food security, economic modernization, and sustainable development.
En même temps, Cuba se félicite du renforcement des relations avec la province du Québec, qui a joué un rôle important dans la promotion des affaires, la coopération mutuellement bénéfique et les échanges culturels. L'ouverture du bureau du Québec à l'ambassade du Canada à La Havane et la création d'un groupe de travail Québec-Cuba illustrent bien la façon dont les liens avec les autres provinces de ce grand pays peuvent être développés.
Cependant, il existe encore un potentiel énorme et inexploré pour renforcer et élargir les relations bilatérales dans les domaines les plus divers, en tirant parti des nouvelles opportunités qui existent à Cuba en matière d’investissement et de commerce dans des secteurs prioritaires tels que le tourisme et les sources renouvelables de l'énergie, de l'agriculture, de l'agro-industrie et de la biotechnologie.
À l'avenir, il sera essentiel pour Cuba de mettre en place une économie efficace qui réponde aux besoins de développement du pays et aux besoins croissants de la population. Et dans ce domaine, le Canada peut jouer un rôle important.
Cuba is looking forward to see Canada becoming a key player in the development of the island´s economy in the coming years, for which conditions exist, given the stability in our bilateral relations, the potentials of the Canadian market and the business opportunities that Cuba offers today.
To sum up, there is a huge potential continue building together a relationship that is beneficial for both countries and peoples, to which our Embassy is totally committed.
On behalf of our staff and on my own behalf, I would like to thank officials from Global Affairs Canada (including Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Development) and other Canadian ministries, like Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Infrastructure Canada, the government of Quebec and other Canadian entities, who are joining us today, for their continuing support to ensure the effective performance of our duties.
The road ahead of us is complex and we are fully aware of the challenges we face domestically, mainly in order to successfully bring to fruition the modernization of our economy. We are also mindful of and ready to deal with the external threats facing Cuba again, coming from those who, despite their repeated defeats, fail to understand that there is no way to break down a generous, brave and solidary people, that has fought for almost 100 years to achieve total independence and sovereignty, and that has stood strong and emerged victorious to continue to be free.
As Cuban President Díaz-Canel said last December, “2019 will be a year of challenges, struggles and victories, we will move forward and overcome, and we will go for more.”
Cubanos que nos acompañan esta noche y amigos todos, seguiremos luchando, resistiremos y venceremos en nuestros esfuerzos por seguir construyendo un país cada vez más justo, inclusivo, democrático y próspero.
Thank you very much.