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Press conference by Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations Felipe Perez Roque for the Cuban and foreign press.

Ministry of Foreign Relations
February 13th, 2008
"Year 50 of the Revolution"

Council of State Transcription Staff

Carina Soto (Moderator).- Good morning, everyone.

I want to welcome you to this press conference by Cuba's Minister of Foreign Relations Felipe Perez Roque.

Minister, with us today are representatives of the Cuban press and 70 correspondents from 58 newspapers from 19 different countries.

You have the floor.

Felipe Pérez.- Good morning to all Cuban correspondents and representatives of the foreign press accredited in Havana.

Also with us today is Caridad Diego, head of the Bureau for Religious Affairs of our Party's Central Committee.
I have called this conference to officially announce the visit of Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Cardinal Secretary of State for the Vatican. His visit will take place from February 20th to 26th, as Havana's archbishop Cardinal Jaime Ortega had already announced.

It is an official and pastoral visit in response to an invitation by Cuban authorities and Cuba's Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Bertone's visit will be part of Cuba's commemoration of John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba ten years ago.
During his stay in our country, Cardinal Bertone will meet with Cuban authorities and participate in pastoral activities, including masses in Havana, Villa Clara and Guantánamo.

Cardinal Bertone will also bless a monument to Pope John Paul II, located in the city of Santa Clara.

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone's visit to Cuba is an expression of the excellent relations between Cuba's government and the Vatican, of the excellent relations between the Cuban State and the Holy See.

Relations between the Vatican and Cuba are fluid, cordial and based on respect.

Cuba and the Vatican concur on many international issues, including the need to eradicate poverty, the right of all peoples to development, the universal, inalienable, indivisible and interdependent character of all human rights for all persons, including economic, social and cultural rights.

We concur on the need to guarantee the right to food, health and education for all of the planet's inhabitants.
We have the same views in our criticism of consumerism and neoliberalism, as well as on the protection of the family, the promotion of culture and spiritual values.

We agree on the need to preserve the environment and about the grave dangers posed by climate change.
We agree on the need to defend peace and in our repudiation of violence, threats and the use of force in relations between States, as we do in condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, among other issues.

Cardinal Bertone's visit is also expressive of the fluid and respectful relations between our State and government with Cuba's Catholic Church, and of the fluid and respectful relations between the Cuban State and all religions and religious and fraternal institutions, which conduct religious activities in our country without any restrictions, under the broad guarantees established by the Constitution and our laws.

Under our constitution, all rights are guaranteed to all citizens, who are considered equal, regardless of their beliefs.
The Cuban State recognizes, respects and guarantees religious freedom for all citizens, freedom of thought and religion, the freedom to profess the religious worship of preference.

All creeds and religions are equally recognized.

Three archdioceses, 8 dioceses, 532 chapels, 2 seminaries and over 1,500 missions of the Catholic Church operate in the country.

In addition to this, 92 Catholic congregations, both female and male, exist in the country, 20 more than at the triumph of the Cuban revolution.

Over 1,300 public processions, in which over half a million people have participated, have been organized by the Catholic church in the last 10 years.

In Cuba, the Catholic church's consecrated members include 1,200 priest, brothers, deacons and nuns.
Currently and with full support from the Cuban State, a new seminary for the Archdioceses of Havana is being constructed.

In addition to the Catholic church, there are 54 Evangelical and Protestant churches in Cuba today, with over 900 chapels, 1,600 cell churches and 2,000 pastors and ministers.

In addition to this, there are two orthodox churches in our country. Cuba's other active creeds include the Hebrew Community of Cuba, with 5 synagogues, the recently founded Cuban Islamic League , some 1,000 home chapels of Afro-Cuban religions, over 400 spiritists centers and more than 1,000 fraternal associations.

All enjoy the same recognition and respect from the Cuban State and government. We maintain cordial ties, respectful and regular communication with them, and we devote concerted efforts to allow them to conduct their activities in Cuba in ampler ways and with more facilities.

Cuba welcomes His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone at a time when our country maintains diplomatic relations with 186 States, including the Vatican, diplomatic relations which have not been discontinued since 1935; at a time when Cuba operates 122 embassies abroad and there are 102 permanently accredited foreign embassies in Havana.
Ten years after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, Cardinal Bertone's new visit to our country (he visited us first in 2005, before being bestowed with his current position) takes place at a time when our country chairs the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, made up of 118 UN member States; after Cuba was elected, with more than two thirds of the vote, as member of the Human Rights Council and the UNESCO Executive Council, where Cuba has promoted and supported important international initiatives in defense of the loftiest values and the most fundamental rights and liberties of human beings, including, of course, religious freedom.

Today, Cuba is visited by over 2 million tourists every year, and welcomes more than 1,600 press correspondents, who visit us to write reports for their newspapers.

Cuba not only welcomes Cardinal Bertone, but opens its doors to over 30,000 young people from 123 countries who pursue scholarships in our universities, 23,000 of whom are medical students. Among them are Catholics who, as is the case with all Cuban citizens, are guaranteed the freedom to practice their faith. Nearly 37,000 Cuban health professionals, including 18,000 doctors, working in 69 countries around the world, will know of Cardinal Bertone's visit to our country, as they offer their fraternal and altruistic services in the remotest corners of the world.
We welcome Cardinal Bertone, 10 years after the Pope's visit, just after having given back one million people from 32 countries, most of them poor, their sight through Operation Miracle; when more than three and a half million people in 23 countries have been taught to read and write, through the work of Cuban advisers and using the Yes I Can method in the course of the past 5 years. We believe this is a modest, though profoundly humane and fraternal contribution, by the Cuban people, to the globalization of solidarity.

This visit also takes place at a time when the United States' policy of blockade and hostility towards our country is being stepped up considerably. The blockade's restrictive economic measures, which Pope John Paul II described, here in Havana, as "unjust and ethically unacceptable", have been intensified and broadened with the proclamation and subsequent application of the Bush Plan in 2004.

The rights of Cuban families on either side of the Strait of Florida to have normal ties are violated in an arbitrary fashion. Arbitrary decisions as to what qualifies as "family" and which relatives may be considered family members are made, under the logic imposed by the government of the United States. The sending of remittances by families is restricted. The US National Council of the Churches of Christ is barred from having any ties to Cuban churches or from offering humanitarian aid to our people. Even third countries are not permitted to export to Cuba medications, medical equipment or health technologies needed to save human lives, including those of children and poor peoples in other nations.

In spite of the nearly unanimous condemnation of the international community, expressed some months ago when 184 States of the UN General Assembly approved a resolution demanding the lifting of the blockade and despite the growing opposition of US citizens, the genocidal policy, aimed at brining about hunger, disease and suffering to subjugate our people, persists.
This is the backdrop to the Cardinal's visit. We are confident that, during his visit, the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, will once again meet, in Cuba, a noble, instructed, worthy, respectful, brotherly and hard-working people, a people who, in spite of the criminal blockade, exercises its right to broad citizen participation, proud of its nation and determined to defend its independence in the face of aggression and slander; a talented, politically conscious people endowed with human values and profound convictions, who has confidence in its ideas and its future, who enjoys ever broader and equal opportunities. All of these values, all of these sentiments are today more deeply rooted in the soul of the Cuban people than when Pope John Paul II was welcomed in Cuba.

In Cuba, Cardinal Bertone will not find homeless people, ill people without medical care, children without schools, elderly citizens without protection, people who endure marginalization or religious, gender, racial or social discrimination.

To conclude, our country will welcome Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone with respect and hospitality.

In coming days, you will receive more details about the program and coverage planned.

Moderator.- To ask questions, we ask that you use the microphones to either side of the room and that you identify yourselves and the newspaper you represent.

Andrea Rodríguez (AP).- Good morning, Minister.

You mentioned there were a number of issues on which the Holy See and Cuba have the same views, such as the fight against neoliberalism, poverty and other phenomena. I am curious, first, to know if you're going to touch on issues on which there is disagreement, particularly between the Cuban churches and State, for instance, the issue of abortion and the use of contraceptives. Secondly, I would like to know if you're going to take advantage of this opportunity to make some kinds of concessions to the more or less historical demands of the Church, such as access to the media, religious education, etc.

Thank you. Felipe Pére

z.- All kinds of issues will be discussed at the meetings between Cardinal Bertone and Cuban authorities, and discussions will be respectful and cordial, even when touching on issues where there could be disagreement. We will lend a respectful ear, and we will also respectfully express our opinions. This is hardly an isolated or novel exercise.
This is the atmosphere and the climate that characterizes the dialogue between the Cuban State and the Vatican and between Cuban authorities and the Catholic church in Cuba. We see absolutely no reason why divergent and even different points of view on some issues should constitute an obstacle to respectful talks and communication with the Holy See and Cuba's Catholic church.

Obviously, there are issues that are taken up in the dialogue that exists between the Catholic church and the Cuban State, which are worked on a permanent basis, and this won't be, let us say, an exceptional opportunity to discuss these issues. All issues related to the work of the Church in Cuba, which the State respects and appreciates, are discussed regularly as part of continuous and sustained dialogue.

Andrea Rodríguez (AP).- Some words on the concessions? It was the second part of the question.

Felipe Pérez.- No one has asked for any concessions. It is a word that we Cuban revolutionaries have actually stricken from our dictionaries.

What I can tell you is that the Cuban State has made an effort, continues and will continue to make an effort to guarantee that, as per our Constitution and our laws, the Catholic church and all religions in our country enjoy the broadest freedoms to carry out their pastoral and religious activities.

Enrique López Oliva (Monitor, México).- Ten years after John Paul II's visit to Cuba, what do you believe is the main achievement in terms of relations between the Church and the State, between the Holy See and the Cuban government and the Catholic church and Cuban State authorities, to have stemmed from this visit? What is the main achievement and the main, pending challenge?

Felipe Pérez.- I believe that, 10 years after the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Cuba, the Cuban people's greatest achievement has been to remain on its feet, to have not gone down on its knees, holding its ground in face of the ferocious economic blockade imposed upon us, which the Pope called unjust and ethically unacceptable, to have secured, in spite of the aggression we are subjected to, an independent and respected country, in which all citizens, believers and not, exercise the same rights. I believe this has been the Cuban people's greatest feat, its victorious will to resist, its determination to be a free people, having held its ground in the face of attempts to have it go down on its knees.

At the same time, I believe there has been unquestionable progress in terms of dialogue among all religions, particularly with Cuba's Catholic church, with the Cuban State and government. I believe this dialogue has become more fluid, more respectful, and I believe that, 10 years after that visit, we can point to sustained, indisputable and solid progress in terms of this dialogue, and there is also growing cooperation in this connection.

We are working to contribute to the efforts made by the Archdioceses of Havana to construct a new seminary.
In the past few years, more than 1,000 repairs were done on chapels, over 100 cooperative projects were undertaken at the neighborhood and community levels, with the participation not only of the Catholic church but also other churches and congregations.

I believe that 10 years after the Pope's visit, we can say that we have fully guaranteed the framework, guarantees and rights established by the Constitution.

There is, of course, much work to be done. There is no final goal to our work. We have to continue working, within the framework established by the Constitution and laws, each of us in our respective areas.
Anthony Boadle (Reuter).- Good morning.

The date is set for Cuba's signature of two UN Conventions on these rights. I wanted to ask if the objections which the Commander in Chief has raised in the past with respect to these Conventions still hold or if the circumstances have changed.

Felipe Pérez.- Cuba will sign these two Conventions at the beginning of this year. We fully share the objections and criticisms that the Commander in Chief raised at the time following the meeting with then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Anita K. Snow (AP).- Getting a bit off subject, I was waiting for everyone to ask all of their questions about the church. This week, the Pentagon announced that it is going to pursue the death penalty for six prisoners held in the Guantánamo Naval Base. According to some regulations which changed two years ago, they could carry out the executions at the Guantánamo Naval Base. I would like to know if the Government of Cuba has an official position on this.

Felipe Pérez.- No, we don't have an official position on that, though I reiterate our opposition to maintaining the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuban territory against our will and in violation of our rights. Our opposition to the fact that in that Naval Base, which was imposed upon Cuba and is maintained here against our wishes, there is a prison where inmates are tried without even a minimum of guarantees and where torture is practiced, as was recently acknowledged by the highest authorities of the US government.

We once again demand that that ignoble prison in Guantánamo be closed down, that the illegally occupied territory be returned to our sovereign nation and we oppose and repudiate the violation of the rights, the unjust and unfounded imprisonment of the prisoners who are held there and their trial at courts which offer them no guarantees and have condemned them beforehand.

Moderator.- One last question from José Luis Paniagua.

José L. Paniagua (EFE).- Good morning, Minister.
I wanted to take advantage of your presence here today to ask you for an evaluation of the meeting, at the beginning of the week, between the delegations of the Cuban and Spanish governments, at the second session of the mechanism for political dialogue set in motion in April of last year.

Felipe Pérez.- We had positive results in our talks, which were held in an atmosphere of mutual respect, of respect towards independence, and in the spirit of non-interference in the internal affairs of either country, in an atmosphere of respect towards the principles of the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of States, which are the bases for these talks.

We spoke at length with our Spanish counterpart. We believe it is a useful and positive mechanism that allows for the respectful exchange of viewpoints and information; it does not involve giving each other a full accounting, but is rather a space for exchange among equals, among States with the same rights and prerogatives, and it is an expression of progress in the relations between Spain and Cuba, an expression of the relations based on respect and friendship which exist between the Spanish and Cuban people and between the governments of the two countries. They also express Cuba's acknowledgement of the role that the Spanish government has played in heading, within the European Union, the efforts to fully normalize EU - Cuba relations and to attain the definitive lifting of the absurd sanctions imposed in 2003 which, though suspended, have not been definitively eliminated.
We appreciate the efforts of the Spanish government, we appreciate its willingness to sustain respectful and open talks with Cuban authorities, as verified by the visit of Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, and we must continue to work within this mechanism in future sessions and seminars, at a time, what's more, when Cuba has not faced, for two years now, any type of unjust condemnation or spurious resolution at the Human Rights Council or any other multilateral organization, at a time when the mandate which the United States had forcefully imposed against Cuba has been discontinued definitively.

In this climate, where our country's position has secured recognition following the election of Cuba, with over two thirds of the vote, as member of the Human Rights Council, Cuba can now demonstrate its willingness to work with non-discriminatory and universal mechanisms which apply to all countries. A case in point in the invitation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who visited us recently, Cuba's willingness to sign two Conventions, Cuba's willingness to subject itself, as of 2009, to the universal periodic review mechanism, like all other States.

It is within this context, where our country has come out victorious and defeated attempts at isolating us, that now, in a free and sovereign fashion, we can hold talks with whomever we wish, about the subjects we wish to discuss, and within the framework of the agreements we chose to adopt, in a sovereign and free manner, securing full respect for our sovereignty and our independence.

Thank you very much.

Moderator.- Thank you very much, everyone. Thank you very much, Minster.



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