Your Excellencies distinguished ambassadors and foreign diplomats
Federal and local authorities
Members of Congress and their staff
Recent and long-standing friends
Cuban fellow countrymen and women
Welcome to the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington on the occasion of celebrating Cuba’s National Day. This is only the second time we are able to say such phrase. Before two years ago, you were invited to the Interest Section.
This celebration tonight is very special for us Cubans, as we mark the first anniversary of the Cuban Revolution after the passing of our historic leader Fidel Castro Ruz. Many thanks to all of you who came to the Embassy to pay respect and to those who sent message of condolences.
Everyone present here today have played a role in one way or the other in the events that have taken place in the bilateral relations over the past twelve months. Significant progress has been made; however, important obstacles remain in place.
Never before in our common history had both countries held negotiations on such a variety of issues for two consecutive years, as we have between January 2015 and January 2017. To date, there are 22 MOUs signed and in place, on fields such as health, environmental protection and law enforcement.
Thanks to those commitments and other changes, 284 thousand Americans and 329 thousand Cuban-Americans travelled to Cuba in 2016, as from September on direct flights, with lower ticket prices and a greater predictability in services. Combined together, both figures represent an increase of 34% in those travelling from the United States to Cuba.
Likewise, 223 thousand Cubans travelled to the United States to visit their families or for other reasons and came back to the Island. Just from September to December 2016, ten Cuban airports received 1833 direct flights from eight different US airlines.
Four cruise lines hold permits granted to travel to different Cuban ports. A great number of passengers who travelled to Cuba were able to use the roaming services thanks to agreements already signed by their main providers of telephone services in the United States. A few, however, have been able to use their credit cards or other payment instruments on the island.
In March 2016, President Barack Obama visited Cuba, accompanied by a bipartisan delegation of 39 members of Congress. This was the largest CODEL in many years to any destination. In Cuba, we also received the Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx; the Small Business Administrator, María Contreras-Sweet; the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Daniel Martí; the US Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Silvia Burnwell. Likewise, Cuba welcomed six governors and a lieutenant governor. We also received the visit paid by the US Conference of Mayors led by its President. In turn, 25 official delegations from Cuba (6 of which were high-level delegations) paid visits to Washington D.C., while 47 official delegations from the United States (13 of which were high-level delegations) visited Havana.
In 2016, 229 business delegations visited Cuba with 2428 members. 23 trade agreements have been signed and there are several about to be signed. Relations have been maintained with 25 business associations, especially with the US Chamber of Commerce. The President of the Chamber and several of their high-ranking officials have just visited Havana again. 90 US companies with 240 businessmen and 4 state representatives attended the Havana Fair in November 2016.
At this very moment, an important delegation from the deep-water Port, the Container Terminal and the Economic Development Zone of Mariel is visiting the United States, touring the ports of Houston, New Orleans, Norfolk, Tampa, Palm Beach and Port Everglades as they are expected to sign several MOUs. Mariel is the natural partner for the majority of ports in the south of the United States.
One thousand 667 US journalists visited Cuba, and many other travelled from third countries to bring to the people of this country their impressions on what they saw on the island.
Many have been the exchanges between universities, scientific institutions and religious organizations.
Only a few days ago, the authorities of both countries signed a new immigration agreement that will allow that the movement of people from both nations takes place in an orderly, legal and safe fashion. It is of great value for the national interest of both countries to handle the issue in this manner. Then a few days later we signed the MOU on Law Enforcement that set the cooperation among many US federal agencies and their counterparts in Cuba.
It lacks total sense the idea that either party has made unilateral concessions to be able to enter this new phase of the relationship between Cuba and the United States. For 58 years, those who own the hatred-promoting business have insisted on destroying the efforts to normalize the bilateral relations; but the hatred-promoting business only generates incomes for a few people and creates no employment or economic growth for the majority.
We all have seen how important companies and business associations have expressed their interest in the improvement of the bilateral relations to be able to normalize trade and commerce under the same standards set in commercial relations with other countries. This is a pending task. It is significant the will of the 75% of the Americans to improve the ties between Cuba and the United States and to lift the blockade. We hope this to be a request respected by those who claim to advocate democracy in United States and that they act accordingly.
I reaffirm that each one of you has been part of the progress made in bilateral relations and we all have a responsibility not to lose what have been achieved.
Let me finish my words quoting what President Raul Castro just said 24 hours ago at the 5th Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States:
He expressed “Cuba’s willingness to continue negotiating the pending bilateral affairs with the United States, based on equality, reciprocity and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country, and to continue engaging in a respectful dialogue and cooperation in matters of mutual interest with the new government of President Donald Trump.
“Cuba and the United States may cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner by respecting the differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that for this to happen Cuba should make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence.
The economic, commercial and financial blockade is still in place, which brings about considerable privations and human damages that seriously hurt our economy and hinders development.
Despite all this, we continue immersed in updating our economic and social model and fighting to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation”.
Thank you very much for your attention! Please enjoy the event.