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Important Documents & Speeches by
Fidel Castro Ruz

Speech by Fidel to the South African Parliament
Address by His Excellency Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the NCOP - September 4, 1998

Do not be alarmed. The speech is not as long as it seems ... [Laughter.] ... although the translation will take more of our time.

Honourable Ms Frene Ginwala, Speaker of the National Assembly, honourable Mr P Lekota. Chairman of the National Council of Provinces, members of the South African Parliament, distinguished guests, while flying to South Africa I was told that this should be a written speech because of the need to have it translated and printed for those guests who would not have access to simultaneous interpretation.

I was trying to figure out the impression that I would have upon arrival at this Parliament. What could I, and what should I, say that would deserve your interest and your attention, since you have so kindly gathered here to listen to my words.

What I bring here with me, assisted by some data, is therefore just the work of my imagination. Like a love letter addressed to a sweetheart thousands of miles away, even though you don't know how she feels, what she wants to hear, and not even what her face looks like. [Applause.]

For me a speech is just an honest and intimate conversation. That is why I got into the habit of talking to, or establishing a dialogue with, my interlocutors, looking at their faces and trying to persuade them of what I am telling them. [Laughter.] [Applause.]

If at any time I put aside the paper to add a few things that cross my mind while inspired by some ideas. I hope that those who do not have earphones, the organisers, or the people in charge of seeing to the solemnity and efficiency of this event, will understand. [Applause.]

As you can appreciate, everything has been coming out differently. There are no earphones and there is this type of consecutive translation, which forces me to intersperse my words with pauses from time to time. Anyway, this proves once again that we do not have to be discouraged by difficulties and that there is a solution for everything. [Applause.]

I think about this country and I think about its history. I see in my mind all kinds of developments, events, facts, data, realities that reflect the enormous responsibility and the colossal historical task implicit in creating the new South Africa that you intend creating.

I hope that my presence here will leave, as the sole essential memory, our fervent and sincere wishes to support the enormous efforts that you are making in order to heal the deep wounds that for many centuries have remained open.

This promising country, which was yesterday the target of isolation and universal condemnation, can tomorrow be an example of brotherhood and justice. The timely presence, at the precise moment, of a leader of exceptional human and political qualities makes it possible. That man was there, in the dark corners of a jail. He was much more than a political prisoner, sentenced for life; he was a prophet of politics ... [Applause.] ... who is today acknowledged even by those who hated and ruthlessly punished him in the past. [Applause]

Nelson Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 consecutive years that he lived imprisoned without ever renouncing his ideas. [Applause.] He will go down in history because he was able to draw from his soul all the poison accumulated by such an unjust punishment. He will be remembered for his generosity and for his wisdom at the time of an already uncontainable victory, when he knew how to lead so brilliantly his self sacrificing and heroic people, aware that the new South Africa would never be built on foundations of hatred and revenge. [Applause.]

There are still today two South Africa's, which I ought not to call the "white" one and the "black" one; that terminology should forever be dropped if a multiracial and united country Is meant to be created. [Applause]. I would rather put it this way: two South Africa's, the rich and the poor ... [Applause.] ... one where an average family receives 12 times the income of that of the other; one where the children who die before their first year of life are 13 per 1 000 and the other where those who die are 57 per 1000; one in which life expectancy is 73 years, the other in which it is only 56 years; one where 100% of the people know how to read and to write, another where illiteracy is more than 50%; one with almost full employment, another where 45% are unemployed ... [Interjections.] ... one where 12% of the population own almost 90% of the land, the other where almost 80% of the inhabitants own less than 10% of it . [Applause.] ... one that has accumulated and has almost all the technical and managerial knowledge, the other doomed to inexperience and ignorance ... [Interjections.] ... one that enjoys well being and freedom, the other having been able to conquer freedom but without well being. [Applause.]

Such a dreadful legacy cannot be changed overnight. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by disrupting the production system or wasting the considerable material and technical wealth, as well as the productive experience created by the workers' noble hands under a criminal and unjust system was virtual slavery. Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks of human society is to carry forward social change in an orderly, gradual and peaceful way, so that such wealth could contribute to the optimal benefit of the South African people. And, in the opinion this daring guest whom you have invited here to say a few words, that is the greatest challenge that South Africa is facing today. [Interjections]

I reject demagogy. I would never say a word here to incite discontent, much less to win applause or to please the ears of millions of South Africans who are rightly hurting today because the paradise of equal opportunities for all and the justice that they dreamed of during the long years of struggle have not yet been attained in their country. [Applause.]

There are many nations with similar social and economic problems that are the result of the conquests, the colonisation and an unbearable disparity in the distribution of wealth; but in no place other than here has the struggle for respect for human dignity kindled so much hope. The contradiction between hopes, possibilities and priorities is not only a South African domestic affair but something that is being debated and that will still continue to be debated amongst the honest theoreticians of many countries.

The system of conquest, colonisation, slavery, extermination of the indigenous populations and looting of their natural resources in the last centuries has had dreadful consequences for the overwhelming majority of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America [Applause.]

Seventy million Indians were exterminated in the whole of the American hemisphere owing to ruthless exploitation, slave labour, imported diseases or even the cutting edge of the conquerors' swords.

Twelve million Africans were violently taken from their villages, from their homes and transported to the new continent, all shackled in chains, to work as slaves on the plantations, and that does not include the many millions who drowned or died during the crossings.

Actually apartheid was universal, and it lasted for centuries. [Applause.] In our hemisphere, the slaves were the first to revolt, in one way or another, against colonial domination in the very early stages of the 16th century. Major revolts in Jamaica, Barbados and other countries took place in the first decades of the 18th century, long before the revolt of the American slaves at the beginning of that same century. The first republic in Latin America was created by the slaves in Haiti. Some years later heroic and massive slave revolts also took place in Cuba. The African slaves were the ones who pointed the way to freedom on that continent. In the course of history many crimes have been committed by the Christian and civilised West, as they like to call themselves, and those crimes are a burden on their conscience. [Applause.] It is not only those who created and applied the apartheid system in South Africa who must carry the full burden of the guilt. [Interjections.]

The political miracle of unity, reconciliation and peace under the leadership of Nelson Mandela will perhaps become an unprecedented example in history. [Applause.]

Partly recalling the meaning of a famous phrase, it could be said: that there were never so many who wished so much for so few. [Laughter.] You, the South African citizens and leaders of all parties and of all ethnic origins, are those few for whom all the inhabitants of this planet wish so much and from whom all of us expect so much, from a political and human point of view.

And one idea may lead to another; from the new South Africa, the hopes for a new Africa. Economically, South Africa is, from the industrial, agricultural, technological and scientific points of view, the most developed country on the African continent. Its mineral and energy resources are boundless, in many cases exceeding those in all other countries in the world. Today South Africa produces 50% of the electricity of this continent. [Interjections.] ... 85% of the steel and 97% of the coal. It transports 69% of ail rail cargo, it has 32% of all the motor vehicles and 45% of the paved roads. [Laughter.] The rest of Africa is also immensely rich in natural resources. [Interjections.] There is the enormous potential and virgin talent of its children, their extraordinary courage and intelligence ... [Applause.] ... their capacity to assimilate the most complex knowledge in science and technology. That we know very well because we have been with them, we had the privilege of fighting, together with them, for freedom or for peaceful structuring. [Applause.]

Cuba is just a small island next to a very powerful neighbour, but 26,294 professionals and technicians graduated in our education centres ... [Applause.] ... and 5,850 students coming from different African countries have been trained there. [Applause.] A total of 80,524 Cuban civilians, among them 24,714 doctors, dentists, nurses and health technicians, together with tens of thousands of teachers, engineers and other professionals and skilled workers, have co-operated by rendering international services of different ends in Africa. [Applause.] In over 30 years 381,432 soldiers and officers have been on duty or have fought together with African soldiers and officers on this continent for national independence or against foreign aggression ... [Interjections.] [Applause.] . . a figure that rises to 461,956 in a brief historical period. From the African land in winch they worked and fought voluntarily and selflessly, they only took back to Cuba the remains of their fallen comrades ... [Interjections.] ... and the honour of having fulfilled their duty. [Applause.]

That is why we know and value the human qualities of the children of Africa much more than those that for centuries colonised and exploited this continent. [Interjections.]


With deep and tearing pain we witness today their fratricidal wars and their economic underdevelopment, their poverty, their famines, their lack of hospitals and schools, the lack of communications. We confirm with astonishment that Manhattan or Tokyo have more telephones than the whole of Africa together. [Interjections.]

The deserts are expanding, the forests disappear, the soil is subject to erosion. And something awful: old and new diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera, ebola, parasites and treatable infectious diseases, are all decimating its population. Infant mortality shows record-high indexes when compared with those of the rest of the world; also the rate of mothers who die during childbirth; and in some countries, life expectancy is beginning to decrease.

The awful HIV virus is expanding in geometrical proportions. When I say that whole nations in Africa are at risk of disappearing, it is not an overstatement, and you know it. Each Infected person would have to pay $10,000 a year in medication only to survive, while the health budgets can hardly allocate $10 to spend on each person's health. At present prices, $250 billion would have to be invested each year, in Africa, only to fight Aids. Owing to this, 9 out of every 10 persons dying from Aids in the world die in Africa.

Can the world contemplate this catastrophe with indifference? Can mankind, with its amazing scientific advances, confront this situation or not? Why go on talking to us about macro economics indexes and other eternal lies, prescriptions and more prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, about the miraculous virtues of the blind market laws and the wonders of neoliberal globalisation? Why is it that these realities are not taken for what they are? Why not seek other formulas and admit that man is able to organise his life and his destiny in a more rational and humane manner? [Applause.]

An unavoidable and deep economic crisis, perhaps the worst in history, is threatening all of us today. In the world, which has become an enormous gambling house, speculative operations with a value of $1.5 trillion, which bear no relation to any real economy, are carried out every day. [Applause.] Never before has world economic history seen a phenomenon similar to this one.

The snares on the stock exchange markets of the United States have been escalating to the point of absurdity. It was only an historical privilege, associated with a set of factors. that mace it possible for a wealthy nation to become the world issuer of reserve currency from the reserve banks in every country. Their treasury bonds are the last safe haven for those fearful Investors confronting any economic crisis.

A small correction here. When I said that the shares on the stock exchange markets have been escalating to the point of absurdity, I should have said something that was not written here: "The prices of the shares on the stock exchange markets of the United States nave been escalating to the point of absurdity." [Applause.] I repeat, because the subject continues, what I said about bonds and dollar reserves. When it is published in the press, if this deserves to be published in the press, it may be put correctly, but I feel that it is my duty to clarify this for you. [Laughter.]

The dollar stopped having gold backing when that country unilaterally suppressed the exchange rates established in Bretton Woods. As in the dreams of the alchemists of the middle ages, paper has been turned into gold. [Laughter.] Ever since then the value of the reserve world currency has simply become a matter of confidence. Wars like the one in Vietnam, at a cost of $500 billion, paved the way for this enormous deceit. To that should be added the colossal rearmament, without taxes, which raised the public debt of the United States from $700 billion to $2.5 trillion dollars in only eight years.

So money became a fiction. The values no longer had a real and material basis. $9 trillion dollars were purchased by American investors in recent years through the simple mechanism of the unbridled multiplication of the stock prices in their markets. And it is thus that we find that the colossal growth of transnational corporate investments in the world, or even in their own country, at the same time as they have had growth in domestic consumption, has been artificially feeding an economy that seemed to grow, and to grow without inflation and without crisis. Sooner or later the world would have to pay the price.

The most prosperous nations of South East Asia have been ruined. Japan, the second most significant world economy, can no longer stop a recession. The yen keeps losing value. The yuan is being sustained with great sacrifice by China, whose high growth will be reduced this year to less than 8%, a figure dangerously close to the tolerable limit for a country which is conducting a speedy, radical reform and an extraordinary rationalisation of the labour force in its productive enterprises. The Asian crisis is coming back. The economic catastrophe in Russia is emerging. And the greatest economic and social failure in history is trying to build capitalism in that country. [Interjections.]

[Applause.] All that, despite the enormous financial assistance and the recommendations and recipes supplied by the best minds in the West. Perhaps, at this moment, the greatest political risk lies in the situation cremated in a state that owns thousands of nuclear warheads, a state in which the operators of the strategic missiles have not been paid their salaries for five months. [Interjections.] [Laughter.] [Applause.]

The stock exchanges of Latin America have lost over 40% of their share value in only a few months, the ones in Russia have lost 75%. This phenomenon tends to expand and become universal. The basic commodities of many countries, eg copper, nickel, aluminium, petroleum and many others, have lately been decreasing in price by 50%.

The stock exchanges of the United States themselves are already shaking. As you know, they just had what they call a "Black Tuesday". [Laughter.] I do not know why they call "black '. Actually it has been a "White Tuesday". [Applause.] [Laughter.] No one knows when and how the general panic will be unleashed. Could anyone, at this point, be certain that there will not be a repetition of the 1929 crash? It is just that between then and now there is an enormous difference. In 1929 there was not $1,5 trillion involved in speculative operations, and only 3 % of Americans had shares in the stock exchange. Today 50% of the population of the United States has its savings and its pension funds invested in shares in those stock exchanges. This is not a fabrication of mine. It is not a fantasy. Just read the news. If you wish, add to this the fact that the new world order is destroying, faster than ever before, the natural environment in which we, the 6 billion inhabitants of the planet, live at present, and in which 10 billion inhabitants will have to live in another 50 years' time.

I have discharged my duty. I have just told you what crossed my mind at an altitude of 10,000 meters. [Laughter.] [Applause.] Please do not ask me about solutions. I am not a prophet. I only know that great crises have always delivered great solutions. [Applause.]

I trust the minds of peoples and of men. I trust the need of humanity to survive. I trust that you, distinguished and patient members of this Parliament, will think about this subject. I trust that you will understand that this is not a matter of ideologies, races, colours, personal income or social classes; it is rather, for all of us sailing in the same boat, a matter of life or death. [Applause.]

Therefore let us be more generous, more jointly responsible, more humane. Let South Africa become a model of a more just, more humane, future world. [Applause.] If you can achieve it, all of us will be able to. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

from: Moreover &
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» Raúl Castro
(1931- )
Participant in Moncada attack and imprisoned subsequently; Granma expeditionary; commander of Rebel Army's Second Front of Oriente; minister of Revolutionary Armed Forces, 1959-present; Vice-Premier, 1959-76; in 1976 became first Vice-President of Council of State and Council of Ministers; second secretary of Communist Party since 1965; brother of Fidel Castro.