Vol. 72/No. 16 - April 21, 2008
Remarks by Raúl Castro nominating first vice president, head of army
Below we reprint remarks by Cuban president Raúl Castro at the February 24 session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. The article “National Assembly elects Cuban leadership” in the March 10 issue of the Militant reported extensively on that meeting, which elected a 31-member Council of State and elected Raúl Castro as its president.
In Castro’s closing remarks to the session, he discussed adjusting the structures of the Cuban state, government, Communist Party, and mass organizations to bring them in harmony with the shifting objective circumstances and class needs of workers and farmers in Cuba and their international obligations to toilers around the world.
The excerpt below is from Castro’s intervention in the discussion on the decision to nominate Julio Casas Regueiro as minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and José Ramón Machado Ventura as the first vice president of Council of State and vice president of the Council of Ministers. Castro explains that these proposals are based on discussions in the Political Bureau and Central Committee Secretariat of the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP).
Castro’s description of the two men’s political histories provides insights into why, at this juncture, Cuba’s revolutionary leadership chose them for the high-ranking posts.
The translation is from the March 2, 2008, Granma International, with slight stylistic and editorial revisions by the Militant. Subheadings and footnotes have been added by the Militant.
BY RAÚL CASTRO
I must immediately give up my post as minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces [MINFAR], which I have carried out since October 1959. Of course, I think that I have the right to put on my uniform now and again, as is the right of my friend Juancito [Almeida], Guillermo [García], Ramiro [Valdés],1 and the other comrades of the Armed Forces; and, in virtue of the position to which you have just elected me, I also have maximum responsibility on questions of the country’s defense. And for that post, the comrades previously mentioned, who discussed the first proposal that I have just made to you,2 propose General of the Army Corps Julio Casas Regueiro, first deputy minister of the MINFAR [Applause].
I can see that you know him, that you have seen his biography: He was a founder of the Frank País Second Eastern Front.3 In 1959, a founder, along with other comrades of Column 6 of that front, and of the Revolutionary National Police. With that institution he fought at Playa Girón.4
He moved on to the FAR, where he had different and ascending responsibilities: he was a substitute, among others, for the Minister of the Economy and Logistics, in which he worked brilliantly; chief at one stage of the Anti-Aircraft Defense and the Revolutionary Air Force, when we had a vacancy and there was no one to appoint, and he worked equally well in that complex type of armed forces; chief of an army, the Eastern Army; first deputy minister when there were three first deputy ministers—now there is just one and that’s enough.
He fulfilled a combat mission in the Republic of Ethiopia in Africa.5
He was elected as a member of the Political Bureau [of the CCP] in the 4th and 5th Congresses of the party;6 he has been a deputy [in the National Assembly] since 1981; and a member of the Central Committee [of the party] and the Council of State since 1998.
General of the Army Corps, as we said, since 2001, the same year he was decorated with the honorary title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba and the Playa Girón Order.
I, who have criticized almost all of the generals of the Armed Forces and have also criticized myself in meetings, do not recall ever having made any weighty criticism of comrade Julio Casas in the last 50 years [Applause], except for that of being—as we Cubans say—very cheap [Laughter]. But that’s where his successes on the economic front, and other activities in the Ministry of the Armed Forces, come from.
‘A practical sense of saving’
He is an accountant; he was a bank employee in Santiago de Cuba before joining the insurrection. He has a body of experience, and one of his great virtues has been the fame that he has among all the generals of a practical sense of saving, to such an extreme that somewhere over there is an order of mine, signed and legalized, in which he is the only person to whom I once gave the faculty of vetoing my economic decisions, particularly in the early days of his occupying this last responsibility.
Lots of people didn’t believe that, but, as usually happens on tours here and there, especially after the Special Period,7 army chiefs and other heads of large units—as subordinates often do—would take advantage of a moment of happiness or satisfaction, or the chief’s good mood, and approach me and say: “Chief, minister, in the Special Period such-and-such a work of mine was halted,” or “I have such-and-such a problem, etc.” And I would order an aide: “Take note of that to sort it out.” Afterwards, when I had given the order, it would reach Julio Casas, and on many occasions he came to see me and said: “Minister, we have 17 problems like this in the rest of the country and some more important ones; who are we taking money away from to give to this request of yours?”
And that’s how I gave him the right. I came to the conclusion—it is written and circulated to the corresponding chiefs—that he had the right to veto any decision of mine that was outside of the plan. And for that reason, many chiefs, some of whose smiling faces I see here, commented among themselves that they had to make a plan to get rid of that veto [Laughter], a plan in which they were not successful. They got used to it, I got a lot a pressure taken off me, and then I passed them onto him and he said yes or no, within the established framework of his responsibilities.
I don’t think that there is any need to say more about him, only that he is well experienced. Suffice it to say that since the Commander in Chief’s proclamation on July 31, 2006, 8 approximately 18 months ago, he has borne the principal weight of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. That’s it.
If you all agree, including the Council of State, we will proceed to sign the corresponding documents. But I prefer that, instead of voting on this case, it be the Assembly President who decides on how to do it, but I first ask that you allow me to speak.
The second issue or second exception that we believe we should make for the principal proposal, which was the first one I presented to you, is the appointment of the first vice president of the Council of Ministers.
Ensuring unity in leadership
As you all know, the posts of first vice president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, which I represented until now, have been decided to ensure unity in the leadership—for obvious and very essential reasons under the conditions that our country is and has been in for almost half a century. I am referring to executive unity, not political unity, which we know is magnificent—in the face of any eventuality [involving] one of its top leaders, of accidents, attacks, or whatever it may be, so that continuity is maintained without interruption of any kind. And, therefore, we propose that the current first vice president of the Council of State be at the same time the vice president of the Council of Ministers, and, as everybody knows, that is nobody other than comrade José Ramón Machado Ventura (Applause).
Machado needs no introduction either, but not everyone knows his entire life story, his history, although you all saw a summary this morning.
I also met Machado more than 50 years ago in the Sierra Maestra9 mountains. We were both in the Commander in Chief’s Column One; [he was a] doctor by profession. We crossed [the country] together to open the Second Front and—it will be 50 years now—we arrived on March 11. And on the 27th, it will be 50 years since we promoted Almeida and myself to commander, and as we once commented: “It took so much work to become a commander, and so many years!”
In the Second Front, Machado was the head of medical services; he was a doctor and a combatant, a wounded combatant. There are those who are wounded by coincidence, because a stray bullet hits them in the rearguard, or a bomb dropped by a plane … Machado healed the injured on the forward edge of Batista’s10 last offensive, on the Guantánamo front. He would send the wounded combatant to the rearguard, take away his gun and set himself to firing [at the enemy]. He was wounded, and I prohibited him from continuing to carry out those activities that were outside of his main function, which was to attend to the injured, make them better, and above all attend to the population that lived around the many field hospitals that were set up, some of them even with X-ray [equipment], despite the fact that in the places where we were, practically the majority of the people had never personally seen a doctor.
After the triumph, he was Minister of Public Health, and as I said in the Political Bureau—begging the pardon of previous ministers or the current one, [José Ramón] Balaguer—in my opinion, that of Fidel, and that of many other comrades, he was the best minister of public health that this country has ever had. [Applause]. He was there for seven years, from 1960 to 1967.
1970 sugar harvest in Matanzas
In 1968, there was a very complicated situation in Matanzas. The party was very weak; as we said on that occasion in a very vulgar way, there was a mess in the Party, and Fidel told him: “Leave this ministry and go over there,” because preparations were beginning for the 1970 sugar harvest. He went there, and under his leadership, the province of Matanzas was the only one that met its target for the harvest—one million tons of sugar. There were six provinces at the time. Matanzas had extra sugar cane, which they had to send to Villa Clara and Havana province, which was a single province at the time. In fact, I remember the slogan that the people of Matanzas had: “Matanzas, one million, Henequeneros champion!” [Henequeneros was the name of the provincial baseball team at the time.] They fulfilled both.
I think that when [Esteban] Lazo11 was there, on one or two occasions subsequently, they achieved one million. That must have been because of the sugar cane that Machado left planted there for you [Laughter]. That was another time. That’s where our friend Machado was, and in 1971, we were presented with the same situation with the party in Havana province, which was [then made up of] the two current Havana provinces. If, looking at them separately, each is quite a challenge—one, because it’s the capital, with its characteristics; the other, because it is one of the provinces with the most municipalities, 19—just imagine the two together. And Fidel asked him to come and attend to the party, which had a situation similar to that of Matanzas. I came to think, and I commented to him once: “Hey, Machado, you’re the fixer of parties or provincial [party] committees.” But he did both of those tasks well.
He has been a member of the Political Bureau since the First Congress and the party organizer since 1974; deputy and member of the Council of State since the first National Assembly.12
As most of you know, he is demanding; he is very demanding! To be sincere, at times I have personally told him that he is not always demanding with the best methods, at times. But he is demanding just like—without trying to compare them, not at all—Che [Guevara] used to be; they start by demanding more from themselves than they demand from others. [Applause]
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1. Juan Almeida, Guillermo García, and Ramiro Valdés are the three combatants who fought in the Sierra Maestra mountains during the Cuban Revolution who hold the rank of Commander of the Revolution. On July 26, 1953, 160 revolutionaries under the command of Fidel Castro launched insurrectionary attacks on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba and a garrison in Bayamo. While the attacks failed, they opened the door to the armed struggle against the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In June 1955 participants in the Moncada attack, together with revolutionary youth from other organizations, founded the July 26 Movement. In 1956, July 26 Movement cadres initiated a revolutionary war against Batista after returning to Cuba from Mexico in the Granma yacht. Almeida, a bricklayer, and Valdés, a truck driver, participated in the Moncada attack and the Granma expedition. Today Almeida is president of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. Valdés was the Minister of the Interior from 1961-68 and 1979-85. García, a peasant, helped organize the regroupment of Rebel Army forces in December 1956. He was Cuba’s Minister of Transportation from 1974-85 and is a member of the Council of State.
2. The first proposal Castro made was to postpone filling all the positions in the government in order to take time to study and develop proposals on the structure and functioning of the government and to return to those questions at a National Assembly meeting later this year. He explained the proposal was based on a discussion in the CCP Political Bureau, including with Fidel Castro.
3. Frank País was vice president of the Federation of University Students in Oriente province and later the central leader of the July 26 Movement there. País was murdered by Batista’s forces on July 30, 1957.
4. Playa Girón, known in the United States as the Bay of Pigs, refers to the April 1961 U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Cuba and the subsequent battle, in which revolutionary militias, armed forces, and police defeated the counterrevolutionaries in less than 72 hours.
5. In 1977 the Cuban government responded to a request by the government of Ethiopia to help defeat a U.S.-backed invasion by neighboring Somalia. Washington planned to use a Somali victory to begin turning back land redistribution and other measures that followed the 1974 overthrow of the landlord-based monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie there.
6. The 4th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took place Oct. 10-14, 1991. The 5th Congress took place Oct. 8-10, 1997.
7. The Special Period is the name used in Cuba to refer to the sharp economic crisis precipitated in the early 1990s when Cuba abruptly lost most of its aid and favorable trade relations with the Soviet bloc countries.
8. On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro issued a statement informing the Cuban people he had been hospitalized for major surgery and was delegating his leadership responsibilities.
9. The Sierra Maestra mountains in eastern Cuba were the base of operations for the Rebel Army during the revolutionary war.
10. Fulgencio Batista established a brutal military dictatorship after leading a coup on March 10, 1952. Backed by the U.S. government, he was overthrown by the advancing Rebel Army and popular uprisings on Jan. 1, 1959.
11. Esteban Lazo, a farm worker from Matanzas province, joined the Association of Rebel Youth following the 1959 victory. He was first secretary of the CCP in the City of Havana province from 1994-2003, and has been a vice president of the Council of State since 1992. He has been in charge of ideological matters for the CCP since 2003.
12. The first CCP Congress took place Dec. 17-22, 1975, The first National Assembly was elected Dec. 2, 1976.