Speech on the 50th Anniversary
of the Attack on Moncada Garrison
By Fidel Castro
It seems almost unreal to be here in this same place 50 years after the events we are commemorating today, which took place that morning of July 26, 1953. I was 26 years old back then; today, 50 more years of struggle have been added to my life.
Way back then, I could not have imagined for even a second that this evening, the few participants in that action who are still alive would be gathered here, together with those, gathered here or listening to us all around the country, who were influenced by, or participated directly in the Revolution; together with those who were children or teenagers back then; with those who were not even born yet and today are parents or even grandparents; with whole contingents of fully fledged men and women, full of revolutionary and internationalist glory and history, soldiers and officers in active duty or the reserves, civilians who have accomplished veritable feats; with a seemingly infinite number of young combatants; with dedicated workers or enthusiastic students, as well as some who are both at the same time; and with millions of children who fill our imagination of eternal dreamers. And once again, life has given me the unique privilege of addressing all of you.
I am not speaking here on my own behalf. I am doing it in the name of the heroic efforts of our people and the thousands of combatants who have given their lives throughout half a century. I am doing it too, with pride for the great work they have succeeded in carrying out, the obstacles they have overcome, and the impossible things they have made possible.
In the terribly sad days that followed the action, I explained to the court where I was tried the reasons that led us to undertake this struggle. At that time, Cuba had a population of less than six million people. Based on the information available back then, I gave a harsh description, with approximate statistics, of the situation facing our people 55 years after the U.S. intervention.
That intervention came when Spain had already been militarily defeated by the tenacity and heroism of the Cuban patriots, and [the U.S.] frustrated the goals of our long war of independence when in 1902 it established a complete political and economic control over Cuba.
The forceful imposition on our first Constitution of the right of the U.S. government to intervene in Cuba and the occupation of national territory by U.S. military bases, together with the total domination of our economy and natural resources, reduced our national sovereignty to practically nil.
I will quote just a few brief paragraphs from my statements at that trial on October 16, 1953:
“Six hundred thousand Cubans without work. Five hundred thousand farm laborers who work four months of the year and starve the rest….
“Four hundred thousand industrial workers and laborers whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose homes are wretched quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender, whose life is endless work and whose only rest is the tomb….
“Ten thousand young professionals: medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, dentists, pharmacists, journalists, painters, sculptors, etc., who finish school with their degrees anxious to work and full of hopes, only to find themselves at a dead end, with all doors closed to them….
“Eighty-five percent of the small farmers in Cuba pay a rent and live under constant threat of being evicted from the land they till. There are two hundred thousand peasant families who do not have a single acre of land to till to provide food for their starving children. More than half of our most productive land is in foreign hands. Nearly three hundred thousand caballerías (over three million hectares) of arable land owned by powerful interests remain idle. Two million two hundred thousand of our urban population pay rents that take between one fifth and one third of their incomes. Two million eight hundred thousand of our rural and suburban population lack electricity….
“The little rural schoolhouses are attended by a mere half of the school age children who go barefoot, half-naked and undernourished. Ninety per cent of the children in the countryside are sick with parasites….
“Society is indifferent to the mass murder of so many thousands of children who die every year from lack of resources. From May to December over a million people are jobless in Cuba, with a population of five and a half million. When the head of a family works only four months a year, how can he purchase clothing and medicine for his children? They will grow up with rickets, with not a single good tooth in their mouths by the time they reach thirty; they will have heard ten million speeches and will finally die of poverty and disillusion. Public hospitals, which are always full, accept only patients recommended by some powerful politician who, in return, demands the votes of the unfortunate one and his family so that Cuba may continue forever in the same or worse condition.”
Perhaps the most important statement I made about the economic and social situation was the following:
“The nation’s future, the solutions to its problems, cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a golden fleece, like the one mentioned in the Old Testament, destroyed by the prophet’s fury. Golden fleece cannot perform miracles of any kind. [...] Statesmen whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’ will not solve these problems.’ In this present-day world, social problems are not solved by spontaneous generation.”
These statements and ideas described a whole underlying thinking regarding the capitalist economic and social system that simply had to be eliminated. They expressed, in essence, the idea of a new political and social system for Cuba, although it may have been dangerous to propose such a thing in the midst of the sea of prejudices and ideological venom spread by the ruling classes, allied to the empire and imposed on a population where 90 percent of the people were illiterate or semi-literate, without even a sixth-grade education; discontent, combative and rebellious, yet unable to discern such an acute and profound problem. Since then, I have held the most solid and firm conviction that ignorance has been the most powerful and fearsome weapon of the exploiters throughout all of history.
Educating the people about the truth, with words and irrefutable facts, has perhaps been the fundamental factor in the grandiose feat that our people have achieved.
Those humiliating realities have been crushed, despite blockades, threats, aggressions, massive terrorism and the unrestrained use of the most powerful media in history against our Revolution. The statistics leave no room for doubt.
It has since been possible to more precisely determine that the real population of Cuba in 1953, according to the census taken that year, was 5,820,000. The current population, according to the census of September 2002, now in the final phase of data processing, is 11,177,743. The statistics tell us that in 1953, a total of 807,700 people were illiterate, meaning an illiteracy rate of 22.3 percent, a figure that undoubtedly grew later during the seven years of Batista’s tyranny. In the year 2002, the number was a mere 38,183, or 0.5 percent of the population.
The Ministry of Education estimates that the real figure is even lower, because in their thorough search for people who have not been given literacy training, […] in their sectors or neighborhoods, it has been very difficult to locate them. Their estimates, based on investigative methods even more precise than a census, reveal a total of 18,000, for a rate of 0.2 percent. Of course, neither figure includes those who cannot learn to read or write because of mental or physical disabilities.
In 1953, the number of people with junior or senior high school education was 139,984, or 3.2 percent of the population aged 10 and over. In 2002, the number had risen to 5,733,243, which is 41 times greater, equivalent to 58.9 percent of the population in the same age group. The number of university graduates grew from 53,490 in 1953 to 712,672 in 2002.
Unemployment, despite the fact that the 1953 census was taken in the middle of the sugar harvest—that is, the time of the highest demand for labor—was 8.4 percent of the economically active population. The 2002 census, taken in September, revealed that the unemployment rate in Cuba today is a mere 3.1 percent. And this was the case in spite of the fact that the active labor force in 1953 was only 2,059,659 people, whereas in 2002 it had reached 4,427,028. What is most striking is that next year, when unemployment is reduced to less than 3 percent, Cuba will enter the category of countries with full employment, something that is inconceivable in any other country of Latin America or even the so-called economically developed nations in the midst of the current worldwide economic situation.
Without going into other areas of noteworthy social advances, I will simply add that between 1953 and 2002, the population almost doubled, the number of homes tripled, and the number of persons per home was reduced from 4.46 in 1953 to 3.16 in 2002; 75.4 percent of these homes were built after the triumph of the Revolution.
Eighty five percent of the people own the houses they dwell in and they do not pay taxes; the remaining 15 percent pays a rather symbolic rent. Of the total number of homes in the country, the percentage of huts fell from 33.3 percent in 1953 to 5.7 percent in 2002, while the percentage of homes with electrical power service rose from 55.6 percent in 1953 to 95.5 percent in 2002.
These statistics, however, do not tell the full story. Cold figures cannot express quality, and it is in terms of quality that the most truly spectacular advances have been achieved by Cuba.
Today, by a wide margin, our country occupies first place worldwide in the number of teachers, professors and educators per capita. The country’s active teaching staff accounts for the incredible figure of 290,574.
According to studies analyzing a group of the main educational indicators, Cuba also occupies first place, above the developed countries. The maximum of 20 students per teacher in primary schools already attained, and the ratio of one teacher per 15 students in junior high school grades seven, eight and nine, that will be achieved this coming school year, are things that could not even be dreamed of in the world’s wealthiest, most developed countries.
The number of doctors is 67,079, of which 45,599 are specialists and 8,858 are in training. The number of nurses is 81,459, while that of healthcare technicians is 66,339, for a total of 214,877 doctors, nurses and technicians in the healthcare sector. Life expectancy is 76.15 years; infant mortality is 6.5 for 1000 live births during the first year of life, lower than any other Third World country and even some of the developed nations.
There are 35,902 physical education, sports and recreation instructors, a great many more than the total number of teachers and professors in all areas of education before the Revolution. Cuba is now fully engaged in the transformation of its own systems of education, culture and healthcare, through which it has attained so many achievements, in order to reach new levels of excellence never even imagined, based on the accumulated experience and new technological possibilities.
These programs are now fully underway, and it is estimated that the knowledge currently acquired by children, teenagers and young people will be tripled with each school year. At the same time, within five years at most, average life expectancy should rise to 80 years. The most developed and wealthy countries will never attain a ratio of 20 students in a classroom in primary school, or one teacher to 15 students in high school, or succeed in taking university education to every municipality throughout the country to place it within reach of the whole population, or in offering the highest quality educational and healthcare services to all of their citizens free of charge. Their economic and political systems are not designed for this.
In Cuba, the social and human nightmare denounced in 1953, which gave rise to our struggle, had been left behind just a few years after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959. Soon, there were no longer peasants, sharecroppers or tenant farmers without land; all of them became the owners of the land they farmed. There were no longer undernourished, barefoot, parasite-ridden children, without schools or teachers, even if their schooling took place beneath the shade of a tree. They no longer died in massive numbers from hunger, disease, from lack of resources or medical care. No longer were the rural areas filled with unemployed men and women. A new stage began in the creation and construction of educational, healthcare, residential, sports and other public facilities, as well as thousands of kilometers of highways, dams, irrigation channels, agricultural facilities, electrical power plants and power lines, agricultural, mechanical and construction material industries, and everything essential for the sustained development of the country.
The labor demand was so great that for many years, large contingents of men and women from the cities were mobilized to work in agriculture, construction and industrial production, which laid the foundations for the extraordinary social development achieved by our country, which I mentioned earlier.
I am talking as if the country were an idyllic haven of peace, as if there had not been over four decades of a rigorous blockade and economic war, aggressions of all kinds, countless acts of sabotage and terrorism, assassination plots and an endless list of hostile actions against our country, which I do not wish to emphasize in this speech, so as to focus on essential ideas of the present. Suffice it to say that defense-related tasks alone required the permanent mobilization of hundreds of thousands of men and women and large material resources.
This hard-fought battle served to toughen our people, and taught them to fight simultaneously on many different fronts, to do a lot with very little, and to never be discouraged by obstacles.
Decisive proof of this was their heroic conduct, their tenacity and unshakably firm stance when the socialist bloc disappeared and the USSR splintered. The feat they accomplished then, when no one in the world would have bet a penny on the survival of the Revolution, will go down in history as one of the greatest ever achieved. They did it without violating a single one of the ethical and humanitarian principles of the Revolution, despite the shrieking and slander of our enemies. The Moncada Program was fulfilled, and over-fulfilled. For some time now, we have been pursuing even greater and previously unimaginable dreams.
Today, great battles are being waged in the area of ideas, while confronting problems associated with the world situation, perhaps the most critical to ever face humanity. I am obliged to devote a part of my speech to this.
Several weeks ago, in early June, the European Union adopted an infamous resolution, drafted by a small group of bureaucrats, without prior analysis by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs themselves, and promoted by an individual of markedly fascist lineage and ideology: José María Aznar. The adoption of this resolution constituted a cowardly and repugnant action that added to the hostility, threats and dangers posed for Cuba by the aggressive policy of the hegemonic superpower.
They decided to eliminate or reduce to a minimum what they define as “humanitarian aid” to Cuba.
How much of this aid has been provided in the past few years, which have been so very difficult for the economy of our country? In 2000 the so-called humanitarian aid received from the European Union was 3.6 million dollars; in 2001 it was 8.5 million; in 2002, 0.6 million. And this was before the application of the just measures that Cuba adopted, on fully legal grounds, to defend the security of our people against the serious threats of imperialist aggression, something that no one ignores.
As can be seen, the average was 4.2 million dollars annually, which was reduced to less than a million in 2002.
What does this amount really mean for a country that suffered the impact of three hurricanes between November of 2001 and October of 2002, resulting in 2.5 billion dollars in damages for our country, combined with the devastating effect on our revenues of the drop in tourism after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, the drop in sugar and nickel prices due to the international economic crisis, and the considerable rise in oil prices owing to various factors?
What does it mean in comparison with the 72 billion dollars in losses and damages resulting from the economic blockade imposed by the U.S. government for more than four decades, and with regards to which, as a result of the extraterritorial and brutal Helms-Burton Act, which threatened the economic interests of the European Union itself, the latter reached a shameful “understanding” where it pledged not to support its business people in their dealings with Cuba, in exchange for vague promises that the Act would not be applied to its investments in the United States?
Through its sugar subsidies, the countries of the European Union have caused billions of dollars in losses for the Cuban economy throughout the entire duration of the U.S. blockade.
Cuba’s payments to the countries of the European Union for goods imported over the last five years totaled some 7.5 billion dollars, or an approximate average of 1.5 billion dollars annually. On the other hand, over the last five years, these countries only purchased an average of 571 million dollars worth of imports from Cuba annually. Who is actually helping whom?
Moreover, this much-touted humanitarian aid usually comes with bureaucratic delays and unacceptable conditions, such as creating funds of an equal value in national currency, at the exchange rate of our currency exchange bureaus, to provide funding in national currency for other projects where decisions were to be adopted with the participation of third parties.
This means that if the European Commission were to hand over a million dollars, they want the Cuban side to put up 27 million Cuban pesos in exchange, to fund other projects in national currency for the same amount, and the execution of the projects would involve the participation of European non-governmental organizations in all decision-making processes. This absurd condition, which was never accepted, practically paralyzed the flow of aid for a number of projects for three years, and subsequently limited it considerably.
Between October 2000 and December 2002, the European Commission officially approved four projects for an approximate total amount of 10.6 million U.S. dollars (almost all of it for technical assistance in administrative, legal and economic matters) and only 1.9 million dollars for food security. None of this has been executed, due to the delays caused by the bureaucratic mechanisms of this institution. Nevertheless, in all European Union reports, these amounts appear as “approved for Cuba,” although the truth remains that until now not a penny of this funding has reached our country.
It should be remembered that additionally, in all of their reports on aid to Cuba, the European Commission and member countries include so-called indirect costs, such as airfares on their own airlines, accommodation, travel expenses, salaries and First World-standard luxuries. The portion of the supposed aid money that actually directly benefits the projects is whittled away through these expenditures, which do not help the country in any way, but are nonetheless calculated as part of their “generosity” for public relations purposes. It is truly outrageous to attempt to pressure and intimidate Cuba with these measures.
Cuba, a small country, besieged and blockaded, has not only been able to survive, but also to help many countries of the Third World, exploited throughout centuries by the European colonial powers.
In the course of 40 years, over 40,000 youths from more than 100 Third World countries, including 30,000 from Africa, have graduated in Cuba as university-educated professionals and qualified technical workers, at no cost to them whatsoever, and our country has not attempted to steal a single one of them, as the countries of the European Union do with many of the brightest minds. Throughout this time, on the other hand, over 52,000 Cuban doctors and health care workers, who have saved millions of lives, have provided their services voluntarily and free of charge in 93 countries.
Even though the country has still not completely left behind the special period, last year, 2002, there were already more than 16,000 youths from throughout the Third World undertaking higher studies in our country, free of charge, including over 8,000 being trained as doctors. If we were to calculate what they would have to pay for this education in the United States and Europe, the result would be the equivalent of a donation of more than 450 million dollars every year. If you include the 3,700 doctors providing their services abroad in the most far-flung and inhospitable locales, you would have to add almost 200 million U.S. dollars more, based on the annual salary paid to doctors by the WHO. All in all approximately 700 million dollars.
These things that our country can do, not on the basis of its financial resources, but rather the extraordinary human capital created by the Revolution, should serve as an example to the European Union, and make it feel ashamed of the measly and ineffective aid it offers these countries. While Cuban soldiers were shedding their blood fighting the forces of apartheid, the countries of the European Union exchanged billions of dollars worth of trade every year with the South African racists, and through their investments, reaped the benefits of the cheap, semi-slave labor of the South African natives.
This past July 20, less than a week ago, the European Union, in a much-trumpeted meeting to review its shameful common position on Cuba, ratified the infamous measures adopted against Cuba on June 5 and declared that political dialogue should continue “in order to more efficiently pursue the goals of the common position.”
The government of Cuba, out of a basic sense of dignity, relinquishes any aid or remnant of humanitarian aid that may be offered by the European Commission and the governments of the European Union. Our country would only accept this kind of aid, no matter how modest, from regional or local autonomous governments, non-governmental organizations, and solidarity movements, which do not impose political conditions on Cuba.
The European Union is fooling itself when it states that political dialogue should continue. The sovereignty and dignity of this people are not open to discussion with anyone, much less with a group of former colonial powers historically responsible for the slave trade, the plunder and even extermination of entire peoples, and the underdevelopment and poverty suffered today by billions of human beings whom they continue to plunder through unequal trade, the exploitation and exhaustion of their natural resources, an unpayable foreign debt, the brain drain, and other means.
The European Union lacks the necessary freedom to take part in a fully independent dialogue. Its commitments to NATO and the United States, and its conduct in Geneva, where it acts in league with those who want to destroy Cuba, render it incapable of engaging in a constructive exchange. Countries from the former socialist community will soon join the European Union, albeit the opportunistic leaders who govern them, more loyal to the interests of the United States than to those of Europe, will serve as Trojan horses of the superpower within the EU. These are full of hatred towards Cuba, which they left on its own and cannot forgive for having endured and proven that socialism is capable of achieving a society a thousand times more just and humane than the rotten system they have adopted.
When the European Union was created, we applauded it, because it was the only intelligent and useful thing they could do to counterbalance the hegemony of their powerful military ally and economic competitor. We also applauded the euro as something beneficial for the worldwide economy in the face of the suffocating and almost absolute power of the U.S. dollar.
But now, when the European Union adopts this arrogant and calculated attitude, in hope of reconciliation with the masters of the world, it insults Cuba, then, it does not deserve the slightest consideration and respect from our people.
Any dialogue should take place in public, in international forums, and should address the grave problems threatening the world. We shall not attempt to discuss the principles of the European Union or Disunion. In Cuba they will find a country that neither obeys masters, nor accepts threats, nor begs for charity, nor lacks the courage to speak out the truth.
They need someone to tell them a few truths, because there are many who flatter them out of self-interest, or are simply spellbound by the splendor of Europe’s past glories. Why do they not criticize or help Spain to improve the disastrous state of its educational system, which brings shame to Europe with its banana republic levels? Why do they not come to the aid of the United Kingdom, to prevent drugs from wiping out this proud nation? Why do they not analyze and help themselves, when they so obviously need it?
The European Union would do well to speak less and do more for the genuine human rights of the immense majority of the peoples of the world; to act with intelligence and dignity in the face of those who do not want to leave it with even the crumbs of the resources of the planet they aspire to conquer; to defend its cultural identity against the invasion and penetration of the powerful trans-nationals of the U.S. entertainment industry; to take care of its unemployed, who number in the tens of millions; to educate its functionally illiterate; to give humane treatment to immigrants; to guarantee true social security and medical care for all of its citizens, as Cuba does; to moderate its consumerist and wasteful habits; to guarantee that all of its members contribute 1 percent of their GDP, as some already do, to support development in the Third World or at least alleviate, without bureaucracy or demagoguery, the terrible situation of poverty, poor health and illiteracy; to compensate Africa and other regions for the damage wreaked throughout centuries by slavery and colonialism; to grant independence to the colonial enclaves still maintained in this hemisphere, from the Caribbean to the Falkland Islands, without denying them the economic aid they deserve for the historical damage and colonial exploitation they have suffered.
To a list that would be endless, I could add:
To undertake a genuine policy supporting human rights with actual deeds and not just hollow words; to investigate what really happened with the Basques murdered by GAL and demand that responsibility be taken; to tell the world how scientist Dr. David Kelly was brutally murdered, or how he was led to commit suicide; to respond at some point to the questions I posed to them in Rio de Janeiro regarding the new strategic conception of NATO as it relates to the countries of Latin America; to firmly and resolutely oppose the doctrine of preemptive strikes against any country in the world, proclaimed by the most formidable military power in all of history, for you know where the consequences for humanity will lead.
To slander and impose sanctions on Cuba is not only unfair and cowardly but ridiculous. Thanks to the great and selfless human capital it has created, which they lack, Cuba does not need the aid of the European Union to survive, develop and achieve what they will never achieve. The European Union should temper its arrogance and prepotency.
For decades, our people have confronted powers much greater than those possessed by the European Union; new forces are emerging everywhere, with tremendous vigor. The peoples are tired of guardians, interference and plunder, imposed through mechanisms that benefit the most developed and wealthy at the cost of the growing poverty and ruin of others. Some of these peoples are already advancing with unrestrainable force, and others will join them. Among them there are giants awakening. The future belongs to these peoples.
In the name of 50 years of resistance and relentless struggle in the face of a force many times greater than theirs, and of the social and human achievements attained by Cuba without any help whatsoever from the countries of the European Union, I invite them to reflect calmly on their errors, and to avoid being carried away by outbursts of anger or Euro-narcissistic inebriation. Neither Europe nor the United States will have the last word on the future of Humanity!
I could repeat here something similar to what I said in the spurious court where I was tried and sentenced for the struggle we initiated five decades ago today, but this time it will not be me who says it; it will be declared and foretold by a people that has carried out a profound, transcendental and historic Revolution, and has succeeded in defending it:
Condemn me. It does not matter. The peoples will have the last word! Eternal glory to those who have fallen during 50 years of struggle! Eternal glory to the people that turned its dreams into a reality! Venceremos!
Speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes garrisons, held in Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 2003.