The December session of Cuba's National Assembly concluded with a speech by Raul Castro. An abridged version of this speech has been officially translated into English, and contains the most important elements. However, in several places Raul departed from his prepared script and made some notable additional comments that were not been translated, but which appeared in the full Spanish transcript of his speech.
Here are three fragments from the full transcript, which should be read together with the official abridged translation. The first captures the optimistic spirit of this revolutionary process. The Fidelista leadership has instilled in Cuba's revolutionaries a "never say die" attitude in the face of daunting difficulties and setbacks. The second relates a painful anecdote about the state of Cuban agriculture: Cuba, that taught Vietnam how to grow coffee, now imports it from Vietnam.
The barb at the end, in which Raul ridicules the idea that all of Cuba's problems can be blamed on the US blockade, encapsulates the change in mentality that the Cuban leadership is promoting. Blaming everything on the blockade reinforces passivity in the face of things that are largely, if not wholly, the responsibility of the Revolution itself; it is one facet of the wider phenomenon of paternalism, also touched on in Raul's speech. It's also the convenient excuse behind which incompetent and corrupt officials hide.
Related to this, the final fragment elaborates on the harm done by the prevailing culture — cult even — of excessive official secrecy, which allows corrupt and incompetent officials to act with impunity. Elsewhere in his speech Raul gives a stern warning that officials who lie, deliberately or otherwise, will be held accountable for their actions and sanctioned accordingly with no exceptions for high-ranking officials. The subtext is an all-out offensive against bureaucratism in all its manifestations, a point lost on leftist critics who assert, without foundation, that Cuba's economic reforms are aimed at reinforcing, rather than undermining, the bureaucratic tendencies in Cuba's socialist state.
Additional comments by Raul Castro in the National Assembly
Closing speech, December 18, 2010
Translation by Marce Cameron
The [closing] speech is a little longer on this occasion than previous ones, but this has been, really, an exceptional National Assembly session because of the themes discussed, the opinions you expressed and the documents approved.
When I came to this Assembly I saw today's date on a newspaper, December 18. What immediately came to mind was a little historical detail. Exactly 54 years ago we thought we wouldn't live such a long time, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, the nascent Rebel Army, today's Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Revolution itself, that after the disaster and the great setback suffered in the place know as Alegría de Pío, three days after the landing [of the yacht Granma carrying 82 revolutionary combatants from Mexico] on December 5 of that year.
For 13 days in small groups we retraced our steps ... [until] I met up with a small group that included Fidel. It was night when we met. After an initial embrace he took me aside, and his first question was: "How many guns have you brought?" "Five", I replied. "Plus the two that I have, that makes seven. Now we've won the war!" (Applause). And it seems he was right. It's a happy coincidence, and I wanted to begin the closing address with such a heart-warming memory.
* * *
After the American war of aggression against Vietnam, the heroic and invincible Vietnamese people asked us if we would teach them how to grow coffee, and we went there; we taught them, we shared our experience. Today Vietnam is the number two coffee exporter in the world. And a Vietnamese functionary said to his Cuban colleague: "How is it possible that you taught us how to grow coffee, and now you're buying coffee from us?" I don't know how the Cuban might have replied. He probably said: "The blockade".
* * *
[ ... ] I support an end to secrecy, at all costs. Although one secret we must keep, yesterday we spoke about some [secrets] that I do not think should be published. You'll notice that my interventions in the Assembly have hardly been published in the press at all, I requested this, precisely to be able to talk, the session was closed [to the media] to be able to discuss here, as it is said, with our underwear off; I didn't have to take off so many clothes but we discussed what we needed to discuss. This is how it must be.
I'm a supporter of the struggle against secrecy, because behind this ornate carpet is where our failures are hidden, along with those that want things to be this way and remain so. And I remember some criticisms. "Yes, take such criticisms out of the newspaper", I myself directed, in the past, many years ago and, naturally, nothing was said about an institution, or a product, etc. Straight away the great bureaucracy began to stir: "These criticisms don't help, they demoralise the workers". Which workers are going to be demoralised?
[Raul then relates an old anecdote about a scandal at the Triunvirato milk processing state enterprise. A milk truck broke down, after which all the milk from the local dairies was given to pigs in a nearby breeding centre.]
Close to the city, to the provincial capital, they were throwing out milk, dishing it out to their pigs. Secrecy, for this kind of thing? No. He who wants to guard secrets about his own deficiencies, and who struggles and makes a great effort to avoid [taking responsibility for] them — I'm referring to deficiencies.