Exactly 40 years ago, at this same time, in this same place, we proclaimed the socialist nature of our Revolution. We had just buried the men who had died victims of the perfidious attack made at daybreak on April 15, 1961.
The B-26 bombers used for the attack, a property of the U.S. government, had been painted with the color and insignias of our modest Air Force. Our three main air bases –in Ciudad Libertad, San Antonio de los Baños and Santiago de Cuba– were the targets hit on that treacherous and bloody morning. The aircraft involved were carrying 10,000 kilograms of bombs, 64 five-inch missiles and 23,040 50-caliber bullets. In a matter of seconds, our young artillerymen, still in training, responded to the surprise attack with their antiaircraft weapons. The enemy could only destroy three fighter planes on the ground.
Seven of our compatriots died and 53 others were wounded, including five children who lived in the vicinity of the Ciudad Libertad airport.
The attackers’ planes had taken off from a base in Nicaragua. One of them was shot down, two had two make forced landings in different places, and all those that made it back to their base had been hit repeatedly by antiaircraft fire.
By the end of the fighting at the Bay of Pigs, our devious enemy had lost 14 pilots, including four U.S. citizens, and 62% of the aircraft supplied by the United States.
The Revolution, after fighting off the attack of April 15, was still left with more fighter planes than pilots. And 48 hours later, at daybreak on April 17, those pilots would deal a devastating blow to the invading forces. That air attack had served to alert us to the imminent invasion, 36 hours before the invaders had landed. By then, all of our forces were mobilized and on full alert.
Thus the superpower commenced its loathsome and cowardly military aggression against our country in a flagrant violation of international law.
As was to be expected, the powerful imperialist machinery of propaganda and deception was immediately put in action. How did the United States explain those events to the world?
In order to explain this to the generations born later, I will use excerpts from the same wire dispatches I used on that April 16 to denounce the shameless conduct of the American leaders:
"Miami, April 15, UPI. Cuban pilots who escaped from Fidel Castro’s Air Force landed today in Florida in World War II bombers after having blown up Cuban military facilities. [...] One of the Cuban Air Force B-26 bombers landed in the Miami international airport riddled with bullet holes from antiaircraft artillery and machine guns, and with only one of its engines working. Another came down in the air station at the Key West marina; a third bomber landed in another foreign country different from the one they had originally planned to head to after the attack. There are unconfirmed reports of another plane crashing off Tortuga Island. The U.S. Navy is investigating into the case. The pilots, who asked for their identities not to be revealed, disembarked from their planes wearing their maneuver uniforms and immediately requested asylum in the United States."
Minutes later, another cable:
"Miami, UPI. The pilot of the bomber that landed in Miami explained that he was one of the 12 B-26 pilots who remained in the Cuban Air Force. [...] ‘My comrades took off earlier to attack the airfields we had agreed to hit. Later, because I was running out of fuel, I had to head to Miami because I wouldn’t have been able to make it to our planned destination."
"Miami, April 15, AP. Three Cuban bomber pilots, fearful of being betrayed in their plans to escape from Fidel Castro’s government, fled to the United States today after strafing and bombing the airports in Santiago and Havana.
"One of the two twin-engine bombers landed in Miami international airport, and the pilot described how he and three others of the 12 B-26 pilots who remain in the Cuban Air Force had planned for months to escape from Cuba. [...] Immigration authorities placed the Cubans in custody and seized the planes." As you can see, they seized their own planes.
"Mexico City, April 15, AP. The bombing of Cuban bases by Cuban deserter planes was particularly welcomed here by the majority of newspapers, which joined with the Cuban exile groups to say that the bombing was the beginning of a movement for liberation from communism. [...] A great deal of activity was seen among the Cuban exiles. A Cuban source commented that the new Cuban government in exile would head to Cuba shortly after the first wave of the invasion against the Fidel Castro regime, to establish a provisional government that it hoped would be quickly recognized by many anti-Castro Latin American countries. Amado Hernández Valdés, of the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front here, said that the time of liberation was drawing close. He declared that four Cuban bases had been attacked by the three Cuban deserter planes."
Both agencies published the following news item:
"Statement issued by Dr. Miró Cardona: A heroic blow in favor of Cuban freedom was dealt this morning by a certain number of officers from the Cuban Air Force. Before flying their planes to freedom, these true revolutionaries tried to destroy as many of Castro’s military planes as possible. The Revolutionary Council is proud to announce that their plans were carried out successfully, and that the Council has been in contact with them and has encouraged these brave pilots. Their action is another example of the desperation to which patriots of all social strata can be led under Castro’s relentless tyranny.
While Castro and his followers try to convince the world that Cuba has been threatened by an invasion from abroad, this blow in favor of liberty like others before it, was dealt by Cubans living in Cuba who decided to fight back against tyranny and oppression or die trying. For security reasons, no further details will be released."
Miró Cardona was none other than the head of the provisional government that the United States had locked up in the barracks of an air base, together with other political leaders, with their bags all packed and a plane ready to land them on an airstrip in the Bay of Pigs as soon as a beachhead had been secured.
But, the numberless lies did not stop here. The wire services reported that same afternoon:
"The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, rejected Roa’s claims [...] and showed the Commission photographs from United Press International showing two airplanes that landed in Florida today after taking part in the raids against three Cuban cities. ‘They have the mark of Castro’s Air Force on their tails, they have the star and the Cuban initials; these are clearly visible. I will exhibit these photographs with pleasure.’ Stevenson added that those two planes were piloted by officers of the Cuban Air Force and manned by deserters from the Castro regime. ‘No U.S. personnel participated in the incident today, and the planes were not from the United States, they were Castro’s own planes that took off from his own airfields.’"
Possibly the U.S. government’s trickery and lies deceived even the press agencies.
It is clear how such lies were concocted in advance and fed to the pilots: everyone regurgitated the same lies with the same details.
The frustrated President of the Provisional Government could not be expected to do anything other than repeat the same version.
The case of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was lamentable. He had been a presidential candidate respected by the general public and politicians in the United States. Many believe he too was deceived, with no consideration whatsoever for his reputation.
Forty years have passed. Nevertheless, the methods of lies and deception used by the empire and its mercenary allies remain unchanged. Barely four years ago, when bombs began to explode in Havana hotels, financed by the Cuban-American National Foundation and brought to Cuba from Central America by bloodthirsty terrorists, the story they tried to spread was that these were actions carried out by members of the Cuban state security services disgruntled with the Revolution.
Almost at the end of the speech I gave here 40 years ago, I said, "What the imperialists cannot forgive us is that we are here. What they cannot forgive us is the dignity, the determination, the courage, the ideological firmness, the spirit of sacrifice and the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people, and the fact that we have undertaken a socialist revolution. And that socialist revolution we defend with these guns! (Applause and shouts of "Viva Fidel!") We defend that socialist revolution with the same courage with which our antiaircraft artillery force riddled the attacking planes with bullets yesterday! We do not defend it with mercenaries; we defend it with the men and women of our people!
"Is it the millionaires who have the weapons?" (Shouts of "No!")
"Is it the children of the rich who have the weapons?" (Shouts of "No!") That is what I asked then, and this is what you answer now.
"Is it the foremen who have the weapons?" (Shouts of "No!")
"Who has the weapons?" (Shouts of "The Cuban people!")
"Whose hands are those raising those weapons?" (Shouts of "The people!")
"Are they the hands of the rich kids?" (Shouts of "No!")
"Are they the hands of the rich?" (Shouts of "No!")
"Are they the hands of the exploiters?" (Shouts of "No!")
"Whose hands are those raising those weapons?" (Shouts of "The people!")
"Are they not the hands of workers, are they not the hands of peasants, are they not hands callused by work, are they not creative hands, are they not the humble hands of the people?" (Shouts of "Yes!")
"And who makes up the majority of the people, the millionaires or the workers?" (Shouts of "The workers!") "The exploiters or the exploited?" (Shouts of "The exploited!") "The privileged or the humble?" (Shouts of "The humble!")
"Do the privileged have them? (Shouts of "No!")
"Do the humble have them? (Shouts of "Yes!")
"Are the privileged the minority? (Shouts of "Yes!")
"Are the humble the majority? (Shouts of "Yes!")
"Is a revolution democratic when it is the humble who have the weapons? (Shouts of "Yes!")
"Comrades, workers and peasants: This is the socialist and democratic revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble! (Applause and Shouts of "Long live the Commander inn Chief!") And for this revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble, we are willing to give our lives!
"Yesterday’s attack, which cost seven heroic lives, was aimed at destroying our planes on the ground. But they failed, they only destroyed three planes, and the bulk of the enemy planes were damaged or shot down."
Compatriots of yesterday, today and tomorrow:
At the Bay of Pigs, our patriotic and heroic people, who had matured extraordinarily in barely two years of confrontation with the powerful empire, fought fearlessly and unwaveringly for socialism.
Once and for all, they crushed the absurd idea that the suffering endured, and the blood and tears spilled throughout almost a hundred years of struggle for independence and justice against Spanish colonialism and its slavery-based model of exploitation, and later against imperialist domination and the corrupt and bloody governments imposed on Cuba by the United States, were to serve for the rebuilding of a neocolonialist, capitalist and bourgeois society. It was essential to seek out loftier objectives in the political and social development of Cuba.
It was necessary, and it was possible. We did it at the exact and precise moment in history, not a minute before and not a minute later, and we were daring enough to attempt it.
When we see that south of the Río Grande there is a whole collection of balkanized countries --although they all share the same language, culture, history and ethnic roots—about to be devoured by the mighty, expansionist and insatiable superpower of the turbulent and brutal north that scorns us, we Cubans can cry out to the top of our voices: Bless that day, a thousand times over, that we proclaimed our revolution to be socialist! (Applause and shouts of "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!") Today it might have been too late. The victory of January 1, 1959 offered an exceptional opportunity to do it.
Without socialism, we would not have been able to reduce the illiteracy rate to zero.
Without socialism, we would not have schools and teachers for all our children, without a single exception, even in the most distant and remote corners of the country. Nor would we have special schools for those who need them, nor a primary schooling rate of 100%, nor a secondary schooling rate of 98.8%. We would not have exact science vocational schools, or senior high schools, or military schools, or sports training schools, or schools for physical education and sports instructors, or trade schools, or technological and polytechnic professional training institutes, or colleges for workers and peasants, or language schools, or art schools in every province of the country.
Without socialism, Cuba today would not have 700,000 university graduates, 15 teacher-training colleges, 22 medical schools, a total of 51 higher education institutions, plus 12 affiliates and independent faculties, with 137,000 university students.
Without socialism, we would not have 67,500 doctors, over 250,000 professors and teachers, and 34,000 physical education and sports instructors, the highest number per capita in all three categories among all countries in the world.
Without socialism, sports would not be a right of the people, and Cuba would not win more Olympic gold medals per capita than any other country.
Without socialism, we would not have been able to attain the level of political culture we have today.
Without socialism, we would not have 30,133 family doctors, 436 polyclinics, 275 hospitals, both general and specialized, including surgical, pediatric and maternal hospitals, and 13 specialized medical institutes.
Without socialism, our country would not have 133 scientific research centers and tens of thousands of either Masters or Ph.D. researchers.
Without socialism, there would not be 1,012, 000 retired workers, 325,500 pensioners and 120,000 people on social welfare receiving social security benefits, without a single exception, nor would those social security benefits be available to all of the country’s people when needed
Without socialism, 163,000 peasants would not be the owners of their lands, whether in the form of individually owned parcels or cooperatives, nor would 252,000 agricultural workers be the owners of the facilities, machinery and crops in the basic units of cooperative production.
Without socialism, 85% of families would not own their homes, nor would 95% of the population have access to electricity, and 95.3% to drinking water; 48,540 kilometers of highways would not have been built, nor would there be 1005 water reservoirs, which hold almost all of the water that can be dammed for agricultural, industrial and domestic use.
Without socialism, the infant mortality rate would not be less than 8 per 1000 live births. Vaccines against 13 diseases would not protect our children, nor would our people’s life expectancy at birth be 76 years. The HIV positives’ rate would not be 0.03%, as compared to 0.6% in the United States and other developed and wealthy countries; nor would 575,000 voluntary blood donations have been made in the year 2000.
Without socialism, we would not be able to promise, as we are now doing, to provide decent employment to 100% of our youth under the sole condition that they be trained; nor would we be developing the programs that will offer them all the opportunity for training.
Without socialism, manual laborers and intellectuals, whose works help fulfill the material and spiritual needs of our species, would never have taken the vanguard role they justly deserve in human society.
Without socialism, Cuban women, formerly discriminated against and relegated to humiliating work, would not constitute 65% of the country’s technical workforce today, nor would they enjoy the right to equal pay for equal work, a goal that has yet to be achieved in almost all of the developed capitalist countries.
Without socialism, there would not be mass organizations, made up of workers and laborers, peasants, women, neighborhood residents organized into Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, primary school, junior and senior high school students, university students, veterans of the Cuban revolution. These organizations encompass the vast majority of our people and play a decisive role in the revolutionary process and the truly democratic participation of all the people in the leadership and destiny of the country.
Without socialism, we could not have a society without beggars wandering the streets, without children going barefoot or begging, or absent from school because they need to work for a living, or subjected to sexual exploitation, or used for committing crimes, or joining gangs, things that are so common in other parts of the world, including the United States.
Without socialism, Cuba would not have an outstanding place in its growing, tenacious and sustained struggle to preserve the environment.
Without socialism, the country’s cultural heritage would be left unprotected, subjected to plunder or destruction. The historic parts of Cuba’s oldest cities would have been replaced with new buildings totally unrelated to their architectural surroundings. The oldest section of our capital, where visitors increasingly marvel at the painstaking care taken in its restoration and preservation, would not exist. The eyesore built behind the Palace of the Captains-General, where a centuries-old university building was torn down to put up a heliport in its place, provides ample evidence for these claims.
Without socialism, we would not have been able to withstand the overpowering foreign influence progressively imposed on so many peoples around the world, nor would we be witnessing the vigorous cultural and artistic movement developing in our country today: the Higher Institute of Arts, a prestigious institution created by the Revolution, is being restored and expanded; valuable knowledge is being passed on in the 43 vocational and professional art schools throughout the country, which will soon grow in number; and 4000 young people have just entered the first year of study in 15 new art instructor training schools (Shouts from the audience), created last year. Every year, another 4000 students will enter these schools, which have room for a total enrollment of 15,000, and they will graduate with a baccalaureate degree in humanities.
Presently, we have 306 cultural centers, 292 museums, 368 public libraries open to the entire population, and 181 art galleries.
Without socialism, we would not have the televised courses of University for All; its initial programming has had a tremendous impact, and it promises to contribute significantly to achieving a level of comprehensive general knowledge that will make Cubans the most educated people in the world.
Three hundred Youth Computer Clubs are operating, and 20,000 personal computers are being distributed among junior and senior high schools. Computer skills will be taught on a mass basis from preschool all the way up to the university level.
The list of comparisons and contrasts would be endless, but there are a few that I cannot fail to mention, given their patriotic, internationalist and human significance:
Without socialism, Cuba would not have been able to endure 42 years of hostility, blockade and economic war imposed by imperialism, much less a ten-year special period that has still not ended. It would not have been able to achieve an appreciation of its currency from 150 pesos to the dollar in 1994 to just 20 pesos to the dollar in 1999, a feat unequalled by any other country. Nor would it have been possible, in the midst of inconceivable difficulties, to initiate modest yet sustained and sound economic growth.
Without socialism, Cuba would not be the only country in the world today that does not need trade with the United States in order to survive, and even to advance, both economically and socially. As to the latter, not even the wealthiest and most industrialized countries compare to Cuba.
Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that is not a member, and does not want to be a member, of the International Monetary Fund, which has become the zealous guardian of the empire’s interests. Nothing I have described here would have been possible if our hands and feet were tied to this sinister institution spawned at Bretton Woods, which politically crushes those who must turn to it, destabilizing and destroying governments. There is no escape for those tied to the double yoke of the IMF and neoliberalism, both manifestations of the unfair and irrational economic order imposed on the world.
Without socialism, each and every person in our country would not have the same right to receive educational or health care services free of charge, regardless of the cost, and without anyone ever questioning him or her on their religious or political beliefs.
Without socialism, we would not have a country free of drugs, brothels, gambling casinos, organized crime, vanished people, death squads, lynching and out of court executions.
Without socialism, Cuban families could not watch their children grow up healthy, educated and skilled, with no fear of them being lured into drugs or crime, or killed at school by their own classmates.
Without socialism, Cuba would not be, as it is today, the most solid barrier in the hemisphere against drug trafficking, something that benefits even American society.
Without socialism, Cuba would not be a country in which, for 42 years, no one has suffered the repression and police brutality so commonly practiced in Europe and other parts of the world, where anti-riot vehicles and men dressed up in strange gear, like visitors from outer space, attack the population with clubs, shields, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper gas and other means.
It is difficult for the West to understand why such things do not happen in Cuba. They do not have the slightest notion of the way human society can be enriched by the unity, political consciousness, solidarity, selflessness and generosity, patriotism, moral values and commitment built through education, culture and all the justice offered by a true revolution.
Without socialism, hundreds of thousands of Cubans would not have discharged internationalist missions; nor would our country have contributed even a grain of sand to the struggle against colonialism in Africa; nor would its people have shed a single drop of blood fighting against the seemingly invincible forces of the hateful system of apartheid, racism and fascism.
Not one of the countries that traded and invested back then and still now possess enormous wealth in South Africa and other countries on the African continent –where Cuba neither sought, nor has, nor wants to have a single square inch of land– contributed the least share of sacrifice. Not even the enormous distance separating us from Africa could be an insurmountable obstacle for the spirit of solidarity of this small, blockaded and besieged island.
Without socialism, over 40,000 Cuban health care workers would not have provided their noble internationalist cooperation in more than 90 countries, nor would they be helping to develop comprehensive health care programs today in 16 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, thanks to the immense human capital created by the Revolution.
Without socialism, it would not have been possible for 15,600 students from the Third World to graduate in Cuban universities, nor would there be 11,000 students from those countries currently enrolled in higher studies in Cuba.
Without socialism, we would not have the prestigious Latin American School of Medical Sciences, where there are currently young people from 24 countries and 63 indigenous ethnic groups studying, and 2000 new students will enroll every year.
Without socialism, we would not have been able to establish the International School of Sports and Physical Education that can accommodate a total of 1500 students, and where 588 youths from 50 countries are currently enrolled in the first year of studies.
Without socialism, we would not have been able to provide medical treatment in Cuba for 19,000 children and adults from the three republics affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, the majority of whom were treated in the midst of the special period, and for 53 people harmed by the radiation leak in the state of Goiás, in Brazil.
What we have shared with other peoples has not prevented a single one of our compatriots from having the opportunity to be a part of the millions of mid-level technicians and university-educated professionals in Cuba today. This shows that much can be done with very little, and that everything could be done with much less resources than those spent today on commercial advertising, weapons, narcotics and luxury.
Without socialism, Cuba would not have become, without actually trying, an example for many people in the world, and the loyal and constant voice for the most deserving causes; a small country that enjoys the enviable privilege of being almost the only one that can speak out at any international forum and freely denounce, with no fear of reprisals or aggression, the unfair economic order and the insatiable, rapacious, hypocritical and immoral policies of the hegemonic superpower’s government.
Without socialism, Cuba would not have been able to endure the hostility of nine U.S. presidents, all of whom, with the exception of Carter –I must say this, in all honesty– were either hostile or extremely aggressive and hostile towards our country. I would have to add the one who has just assumed the presidential throne, since judging from his first steps in the international arena and the language of his advisors and allies in the Miami terrorist mob, there are signs that we could be facing a particularly aggressive and utterly unethical administration.
On a day like today, it is worth recalling that immortal quote from Maceo, the Bronze Titan: "Those who attempt to take over Cuba will reap nothing but the dust of its blood-drenched soil, if they do not perish in the fight!" (Shouts and Applause).
The Cuban people today, heirs of the thinking of Maceo, and of Martí, and of the whole legion of heroes who pioneered the long path we have followed to get to where we are now, are in a position to declare that: "Those who attempt to take over Cuba today will not reap even the dust of our blood-drenched soil, because they will have no other choice but to perish in the fight!" (Applause and Shouts of "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!").
As I said earlier, at this very moment in history, the nations of Latin America are about to be devoured by the United States, the hegemonic superpower of today’s world. Within a few days, from April 20 to 22, a hemispheric summit meeting will be held in Quebec. There, the hegemonic superpower will attempt to dictate the terms of surrender to the governments of Latin America.
The documents for a free trade agreement among the countries of the hemisphere have been hastily drawn up. The United States wants to speed things up, in order to feast upon the privileges it hopes will block the path for commercial competition and investment from Europe and the industrialized countries of Asia. The strategy is to get the agreement adopted at any cost before there is time for MERCOSUR to consolidate and for the integration of the countries of South America to develop to the point where they can negotiate with the United States from a much stronger position.
The U.S. government would prefer to negotiate with each of these countries individually, exploiting their economic weakness, their unequal levels of development, and the conflicts among them, as well as the desperation created by the enormous foreign debt that suffocates them.
Given their total dependence on the United States and the International Financial Institutions, some of these countries are in no position to put up resistance; others are unaware of the danger they face of being swallowed up, or do not want to put up any resistance. But, not all of them are willing to be simply devoured, and there will be resistance.
For their part, the peoples represented there, many of them mired in ignorance, extreme poverty and desperation, will have no participation whatsoever in the decisions made, and will look on from afar at negotiations whose objectives, content and consequences they are not in a position to know about, much less understand. Building awareness, denouncing the voracity of imperialism and the danger facing the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean is perhaps the most urgent task today for political and social leaders, progressive economists and intellectuals, and all the forces of the left.
Those of us aware of the social realities, of the gravity of the daunting problems facing us, and of the fact that they can never be solved in this way and will only grow ever more critical, we do know that Latin America can be devoured, but it cannot be digested. Sooner or later, like the biblical character, in one way or another they will escape from the whale’s belly. And the Cuban people will be waiting outside, for they learned a long time ago how to swim in troubled waters, and they know that until there is a radical change in their living conditions, the peoples of the Third World will become increasingly unrulable and force the needed solutions to be adopted.
On a day like today, as we look back over the accomplishments of the Revolution, it is amazing to discover that we are far from having achieved all the necessary and possible justice.
The years that have passed have come to enrich our experience and knowledge tremendously. Four decades of struggle in the face of enormous difficulties have strengthened our convictions, and our confidence in human beings and their infinite potential.
The socialism we conceive of today is far superior to our dreams back then. The special period forced us to walk back on a stretch of the road we had traveled. Painful inequalities emerged. Those who were willing to patiently endure, those most dedicated to the revolutionary cause above all else, our most loyal manual and intellectual workers, the most humble and faithful of the people, the most conscientious revolutionaries understood this inevitable circumstance. And as has always happened and always will happen in difficult times, they shouldered the bulk of the burden in the efforts to save the country and socialism at any cost. (Shouts from the audience)
In the future we will not only achieve much higher goals than those we achieved in the past but we will even surpass them. Today, we are advancing towards objectives we would not have even dreamed of 40 years ago, and much less in the extremely difficult stage that began 10 years ago, from which we are emerging victorious. A new dawn is beginning to shine on our future, a future that will shine brighter on a more accomplished socialism, a more promising and profound revolutionary work.
We did not come here today to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist nature of the Revolution, but rather we came here to ratify it, to swear on it once again.
Using the exact same words as on that unforgettable day 40 years ago, I will ask you, "Workers and peasants, humble men and women of the homeland, do you swear to defend to your last drop of blood this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble?" (Exclamations of "We do!")
"Here, before the tomb of our fallen comrades; here, near the remains of those heroic young men, sons of workers and sons of humble families," –and today I will add two more things: in memory of all those who have died for the homeland and for justice in the last 133 years, and in the name of all those who have given their lives for humanity in heroic internationalist missions-- "we reaffirm our determination that like those who stood up to the bullets, like those who gave their lives, no matter when the mercenaries come, all of us, proud of our Revolution, proud to defend this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble, will not waver, in the face of whoever they may be, in defending our Revolution to our last drop of blood."
Ever onward to victory!
Patria o Muerte!