Compañeras and compañeros:
Today, February 24, we celebrate the 123rd anniversary of the resumption of our War of Independence called for by José Martí.
The profound significance of this date marked the maturity and the crystallization of the project proposed by Martí, who in order to lead it and to make it happen, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party.
When everything seemed lost, his ability to find an alternative and overcome any setback, led him to summon the people to a definitive effort: the war that he believed necessary when he thought it unavoidable. He continually called for national unity, articulating the best traditions of the past, without overlooking all those who were willing to sacrifice and give their lives for a greater cause.
A month later, on March 25, 1895, in Montecristi, the Dominican Republic, Martí, along with Major General Máximo Gómez, signed the Manifesto which set out the scope and aims of the struggle. Together they left for Cuba to join the liberation struggle, landing at Playitas de Cajobabo on April 11, just like Major General Antonio Maceo had done a few days before at Duaba.
As Fidel stated on the 100th anniversary of the Ten Years War, "Martí gathered up the flags of Céspedes, Agramonte, and the heroes that fell in that struggle and led Cuba's revolutionary ideas in that period to their highest expression."
There is no better moment than this to award the honorific title of Hero of Labor of the Republic of Cuba - in fitting recognition of a lifetime of work committed to the Revolution - to three brave compañeros who already hold the honorable title of Heroes of the Republic of Cuba. I am referring to José Ramón Machado Ventura and Comandantes of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez and Guillermo García Frías.
As for Machado Ventura, I could highlight that he joined the struggle against the tyranny as a medical student at the University of Havana, and 65 years ago he participated in the first March of the Torches, in January 1953.
In 1957 he joined the Rebel Army in the Sierra Maestra and served as a doctor and guerilla fighter in various battles. He was a founder of the Second Front; and organized and led the Military Health Department until the end of the struggle, where he was wounded in combat. He developed a broad network of field hospitals and dispensaries which not only offered services to combatants but also, and most importantly, the area's population, who in many places had never seen a doctor before.
After the triumph of the Revolution he was appointed Head of Medical Services of Havana and of the FAR(Revolutionary Armed Forces) and later Minister of Public Health.
He is a founder of the Communist Party of Cuba and in 1975 was elected as a member of the Political Bureau. He was First Party Secretary in various provinces.
Since 2011, he has served as second secretary of the Central Committee. He is a vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers.
Ramiro Valdés Menéndez joined the revolutionary struggle at a young age. He participated in the March of the Torches in January 1953 and in the attacks on the Moncada Garrison that same year, during which he was injured. He was imprisoned on the Isle of Pines and lived in exile in Mexico, where he joined the Granma expedition.
He was involved in multiple battles in the Sierra Maestra, and participated alongside Che in the invasion of the West as second commander of the Ciro Redondo Column No. 8.
Since the triumph of the Revolution he has occupied important posts, including Minister of the Interior on two occasions, and as a vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, a position which he currently holds. He is a member of the Party Political Bureau.
A lot more can be said about each one of these figures on this occasion, but in the case of Ramiro, I have always admired him because he is the only one of us who - in addition to those actions taken some months before Moncada, during which we marched in the first March of the Torches led by Fidel 65 years ago - was wounded in the taking of the main post during the Moncada assault; where he was shot in the heel with the bullet lodging itself in his foot. When we met up, or when we were brought together again at the Vivac (prison) in Santiago de Cuba, he showed me his blood-stained socks, but said he didn't know where the bullet was. The years went by and he began to limp in the Sierra Maestra because of a callus he had on the sole of his foot. On various occasions he was unable to continue marching with the rest of the initial group of the liberation war, until one day, he began to scrape away at the callus with his own knife until the bullet of the Moncada attack appeared, shot by an enemy as he fell to the ground mortally wounded.
There are dozens or hundreds of heroic feats or important acts linked to each one, and which of course were not even recorded in the few campaign diaries that were written. What is more, unlike the rest of us in the liberation war, Ramiro had the good fortune and honor of being the second commander of the Column led by Che to Las Villas.
Guillermo García Frías, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, organized a network of campesinos to help the Granma expeditionaries and take them to the Sierra Maestra. An astute man, he personally led Fidel and the other combatants to Cinco Palmas and recovered various rifles.
He was the first campesino to join the Rebel Army, with an outstanding record, first as a combatant and later as second commander of the Third Front when it was founded in early March 1958, led by then Comandante Juan Almeida.
There are hundreds of anecdotes about Guillermo; of the early days and following the Granma landing, we will only touch on some aspects. It was he who led Fidel and two other compañeros, Faustino Pérez - who was a doctor - and Universo Sánchez, one of which was unarmed having left his rifle behind on treating the wounded in the first clash at Alegría de Pío.
That is to say that Fidel arrived to the Sierra Maestra with two other combatants, only one of which was armed. It was Guillermo García that got them around the blockade on the old road from the Pilón sugar mill to the municipal capital of Niquero; it was he who - fulfilling other urgent missions given him by the Comandante en Jefe, from Purial de Vicana, or Cinco Palmas de Vicana, where they first set up camp - gathered together almost all of us who originally joined up, including Ramiro himself, Almeida, Che, Camilo; and thus the initial group of three, then five more, then eight, gradually reuniting this important group of compañeros.
One of the first actions he took in support of the nascent guerilla force, was the number of rifles he collected in the days following these events of which I am speaking, from the 15th to the 18th, which together with the few we already had weren't event sufficient to form a platoon, but were enough to launch the first attack; and although it might not have been the best moment to do so, with hundreds of soldiers hot on our heels, Fidel said that, with this first battle, we had to show the people that the guerillas were still here and would continue the war. This was the reason behind the battle of La Plata, barely a few weeks after this initial group, with the help of Guillermo García, were reunited. Other tasks would follow later.
As the first campesino to join the Rebel Army, he was also the first to be promoted. He had an outstanding track record, first as a combatant and then as second commander of the Third Front, under the command of Almeida.
After the triumph of the Revolution, he occupied various positions in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Later he also served, among other roles, as a Political Bureau delegate in the former province of Oriente; a vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, Minister of Transport, and President of the Flora and Fauna Enterprise Group, where he has done an outstanding job.
He was a member of the Party Political Bureau from 1965 through 1986, and is currently a member of the Central Committee and Council of State.
Regarding characteristics shared by these three Mambises of our times I can cite their loyalty to the Revolution and to Fidel, their commitment to work, modesty and humility, which have made them worthy of the recognition and respect of the Cuban people.
It is not by chance that we are commemorating this date in the Capitolio building, whose tenacious restoration, has enabled the attributes of one of the most important buildings in the country to be highlighted, and in whose crypt rest the ashes of the Unknown Mambí, before which an eternal flame burns as a tribute of the people to their founding fathers and the glorious Liberation Army, and is surrounded by the flags of nations of the continent.
Today, this building is the headquarters of the National Assembly of People's Power. It is also irrefutable proof of the care and interest that must always be put into preserving the cultural heritage of the nation.
Let me take this solemn moment to extend a well-deserved congratulations to Havana City Historian, Eusebio Leal, and those collaborators who have been most closely associated with the massive restoration of the Capitolio; including architect Perla Rosales; engineers Mariela Mulet, Yohanna Aedo and Tatiana Fernández; restoration expert Patricia Coma; professor Juan Carlos Botello and his students from the Vocational School; historian Lesbia Méndez; director of the City Historian Office's Construction Enterprise, Conrado Hechavarría; and German expert Michael Diegmann.
On a day like today, as we honor those noble Cubans who in 1895 returned to the battle field to free Cuba, I repeat Fidel's words spoken in 1965: "We would have been like them then, and they would have been like us now!" This is the commitment we have upheld and will also be that which guides the present and future generations, in order that the Homeland continues to be free.
Thank you very much. (Applause)
Council of State transcript / GI translation