Political Review

2016: the year in which Cuba lost its historic leader.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños_IPS

Close to midnight on November 25, Cuban President Raúl Castro confirmed before the cameras of national television the news of the death of his brother and former president Fidel at the age of 90.

The close of 2016 witnessed the first State funeral on the island in more than half a century due to the demise of the founder of the Cuban 1959 Revolution and one of the 20th century’s most important political figures.

 

With nine days of official mourning and homages throughout the country, millions of Cubans paid tribute to the man who ruled Cuba until 2006 and wrestled with a dozen U.S. administrations.

 

November had started with Donald Trump’s controversial victory in the U.S. presidential elections. His triumph supposes a great question mark for the future of relations between Washington and Havana, after two years of a complicated and, for some, slow process in the normalisation of relations between the two Cold War adversaries.

 

The president-elect’sannouncements related to pressuring for a better deal with the Cuban government under the threat of reversing the rapprochement initiated by Barack Obama could suppose a return to previous times, marked by confrontation and the lack of dialogue, though analysts see this scenario as not very probable.

 

Though the Cuban government still hasn’t pronounced itself regarding Trump’s attacks, it has reiterated it is ready to dialogue with Washington based on “mutual respect” and “without concessions.”

 

On November 16-18 the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Army) carried out the Bastion 2016 Strategic Exercise, being carried out since 1980 every three or four years. Many persons read in the context of these military maneuvers a message and “warning” for the next occupant of the White House that the country is prepared to defend itself in any scenario.

 

While 2015 was the year of the opening of embassies in the capitals of both countries, 2016 witnessed several rounds of talks of the Bilateral Commission, the approval of bilateral agreements and an exceptional growth in the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba.

 

The tourist sector was perhaps the most favoured by the diplomatic thaw, helped by the Obama administration’s easing of the travel ban for U.S. citizens, as well as the authorisation for cruise and airline companies to operate on the island.

 

But undoubtedly the great moment of this process was Obama’s historic visit to Havana in March, to become the first U.S. president to do so in 88 years.

 

Almost at the close of the year, the European Union annulled the so-called Common Position that restricted relations with the island and signed with Cuban authorities an important dialogue and cooperation agreement.

 

With this, the Raúl Castro government scored a new diplomatic victory, as well as economic, taking into account the 0.9 per cent drop in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), derived, among other causes, from the complex economic situations which Venezuela and Brazil, two of Cuba’s principal trade partners, are going through.

 

The normalisation continues on course

 

During 2016 Cuba and the United States held talks about different issues and signed agreements on areas of interest and necessary cooperation, like the struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, money laundering, telecommunications and health.

 

Several business delegations, headed by U.S. legislators, governors and government officials, visited the country to explore business possibilities and to enhance economic and cultural ties, while Cuban authorities travelled for the same reasons to the United States.

 

Some U.S. officials and personalities who visited Cuba in 2016
  • Terry McAuliffe, governor of the State of Virginia (January)
  • Daniel Sepúlveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary at U.S. Department of State and coordinator for International Policy of Information Technology (January).
  • Delegation of legislators made up by Republicans Tom Emmer (Minnesota), Paul Gozar (Arizona) and Mike Bishop (Michigan), and Democrats Khaty Castor (Florida), John Garamendi and Alan Lowenthal (California) and Brendan Boyle (Pennsylvania) (February).
  • Anthony Foxx, secretary of transportation (February and August).
  • Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC (February).
  • Delegation of the Presidential Committee for the Arts and Humanities (April).
  • Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore (Maryland) and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (May).
  • Jeremiah W. Nixon, governor of Missouri (May).
  • María Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the Small Business Administration of the United States (June).
  • John Bel Edwards, governor of Louisiana (October).
  • Michael Froman, U.S. representative of commerce (October).
  • Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph Biden (October).
  • Sylvia Burwell, secretary of health (October).
  • Earl Ray Tomblin, governor of West Virginia (November).

While important advances have been made in relations, many analysts and economists consider that the steps taken by both sides to irreversibly cement the rapprochement are still very cautious.

 

The Cuban side slows down any decision alleging that Obama’s measures seek to dismantle the socialist-oriented political system through the empowerment of some sectors of civil society, like the new owners of private businesses and the strengthening of telecommunications and the Internet.

 

It also insists that the economic blockade is the principal obstacle for the full reestablishment of relations, threatened by possible fines and sanctions included in U.S. legislation in the case of business deals with Cuba.

 

The White House sustains, for its part, that President Obama has extensively used his executive powers to loosen the ropes of the blockade and that the elimination of that structure of legislations depends entirely on Congress.

 

However, the effects of the rapprochement were confirmed with the arrival, for the first time, of four million tourists to the Caribbean country, which was influenced by the expansion of the licences to travel to Cuba categories and the authorisation given to eight U.S. airlines to operate up to 110 daily flights to the island, 20 of them to the capital.

 

But the landing in Havana of the Air Force One, the U.S. presidential plane, summarised like few the symbol of this new type of relations which two conflicting adversaries of the last 60 years are trying to weave.

Some Cuban officials and delegations who visited the U.S. in 2016
  • Rodrigo Malmierca, foreign trade and investment minister (February).
  • High-ranking officers of the Interior Ministry, among them a police colonel, visit the installations of the Southern Command joint forces in the Key West air force and navy base (April).
  • Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, agriculture minister (June).
  • Roberto Morales Ojeda, public health minister (June).
  • 11 entrepreneurs went to the Global Enterprising Summit Stanford (June).
  • Officials from the higher education ministry (October).
  • Fernando González, science, technology and environment first deputy minister (December).

 

Obama, the president who came with the rain

 

A rainy Havana received Barack Obama, who on March 20 became the first U.S. president to land on the island in 88 years.

 

His two-day stay in the Cuban capital was described as historic, with which he tried to close more than half a century of mutual hostilities and disagreements. For many, the event is inscribed among the mayor points of his legacy once he would abandon the White House on January 20, 2017.

 

Accompanied by his family, members of his cabinet, legislators and important U.S. entrepreneurs, the visit gave rise to numerous opinions and feelings that ranged from hope and admiration to distrust, doubts or scepticism. Others outwardly expressed their doubts about the possibility of a faster advance in relations between both countries from then onwards.

Read here the IPS Cuba coverage of Barack Obama’s visit to Havana.

 

Prior to the arrival of the head of state, the departments of the treasury and of commerce issues on March 17 a new package of measures that modified the application of some aspects of the blockade. The most significant was the authorisation to use the dollar in the Caribbean country’s international transactions, which until now continues not being in force, according to the Cuban government.

 

It was the fourth announcement of this type made by Washington after December 17, 2014, when the presidents of both countries announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations.

 

During a press conference on March 17, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez recognised President Obama’s position against the blockade and his repeated calls to Congress to lift it.

 

But he reiterated that this legal instrument, decreed in 1962, is still in force in its fundamental parts and is the principal obstacle for Cuba’s economic development. During his first hours in Havana, the presidential family visited different places in the historic core of Old Havana and were received by Cardinal Jaime Ortega in Havana Cathedral.

 

Ortega, together with other personalities of the Catholic Church, including Pope Francis, served as intermediaries in the secret negotiations for the reestablishment of relations after 55 years of rivalry between the United States and Cuba.

 

Subsequently, the president and his family decided to break the protocol and they dined in the private San Cristóbal Restaurant, as a way of backing private enterprises, a sector that was opened in Cuba in 2010.

 

Obama paid homage to national hero José Martí in the Memorial of the Plaza that bears his name; he later held official talks with his counterpart Raúl Castro in the Palace of the Revolution. Both presidents reviewed the progress in the normalisation of bilateral ties; the peace talks in Colombia, which were held in Havana; the commercial exchange possibilities; and the backing to the private sector.

 

They also displayed their willingness to advance in common points and to continue holding talks on those in which there are deep differences, like those related to the political models, democracy, human rights, social justice, international relations, peace and world stability.

 

They agreed that there’s still a long road ahead in order to build a relationship of a new type, like the one that has never existed between the two nations. Obama said that they had to get up to date with half a century of work…and advance in the mutual interests of the two countries, including and improving the lives of our people, Cuban and U.S. and that was why he was there.

 

On the evening of March 21, Obama exchanged experiences and opinions with more than 200 men and women of the private sector who presented their undertakings, obstacles and growth goals in order to find new commercial opportunities that generate jobs and opportunities for the Cuban and U.S. peoples. In the business forum, which was held in a revamped locale of the emblematic barrio of Old Havana by the capital’s bay, Obama affirmed that both countries can “lay the foundations of trust.”

 

In the morning of Tuesday the 22nd, the U.S. president addressed the Cuban people with a speech broadcast by TV and radio from the Alicia Alonso Grand Theatre of Havana, to which university students, artists, representatives of religious and fraternal organisations and civil society were invited.

 

In his speech, the president called for building a joint future, always highlighting the differences between the countries in terms of a single party, freedom and democracy. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he pointed out, while he placed emphasis on young people as the builders of the future and private enterprise as the driving force of development and prosperity, citing examples of some Cuban successful entrepreneurs.

 

After a meeting with leaders of the internal dissidence, the president attended together with his Cuban counterpart a friendly baseball game between teams from both countries in the Latin American Stadium. Raúl Castro went to José Martí International Airport to bid him farewell and even accompanied the Obama family to the foot of the plane’s ramp before they left for Argentina, the next stopover of their tour.

 

7th Congress of the PCC: no generational change

 

The 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only one) was held April 16-19 in the Cuban capital. Several documents considered of strategic importance for the future of the country were analysed and approved there.

 

The congress, the PCC’s most important every five years, was held in the midst of a process of recomposing bilateral relations with the United States and less than a month after President Obama’s visit to Havana.

 

The meeting’s fundamental elementwas the will of the close to 1,000 delegates to maintain on course the programme of transformations begun in 20008, which will continue being implemented “without haste but without pause,” an almost symbolic phrase that Raúl Castro, first secretary of the organisation, reiterated once again.

 

Those in attendance reviewed and modified several documents, among them the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution, the programme of reforms approved by the previous congress in 2011. Six new guidelines were added.

Marino Murillo, vice president of the Council of Ministers, announced that six new guidelines had been approved: one directed at continuing to strengthen accounting as a timely tool for decision making; strengthening the role of foreign direct investment in the introduction of cutting-edge technology and technological parks and establishing a policy on the development of Cuban cinema.
For the tourism sector a directive was approved that proposes to watch over artistic expressions linked to tourism so they faithfully display the outlined policy; while another ratifies the need to perfect a programme of integral training of all persons and executives participating in the implementation of the guidelines.
The upgrading of the organs of people’s power as a means to consolidate socialist democracy is the sixth approved guideline as part of the 274 that will guide Cuba’s economic and social policy.
As a result of the process of updating the guidelines for the period of 2016-2017, a total of 274 directives are established, structured into 13 chapters.

 

Barely 55 youths in representation of the 671,344 PCC members attended the Party meeting, a decrease in the Party members at the close of 2015 with respect to the almost 800,000 registered members in 2011.

 

Though an important generational changeover was expected, the meeting concluded with the re-election of its first and second secretaries, who are over 80 years old, the ratification of another 10 veterans of the Political Bureau and the incorporation of five new members aged over 40.

 

However, the Cuban president recognised that “due to the inexorable law of life this will be the last congress presided over by the historic generation.”

 

The most evident renovation took place in the Central Committee, formed by 142 members, of which more than two thirds were born after 1959. Even so, the average age of the body is 54 years.

 

It was approved to implement the limit of 60 years as the maximum age to be a member of the Central Committee and up to 70 to occupy leadership posts, as well as a ceiling of two five-year periods in these posts. It was also proposed to replicate the measure in the government, for which the required constitutional referendum was again announced.

 

The agenda of the 7th Congress included the review of the fulfilment of the objectives of the National Conference of the PCC, held in January 2012, to deal with social and internal affairs of the organisation, constitutionally defined as the highest leading force of society and the State.

 

The delegates approved the Conceptualisation Project of the Cuban Economic and Social Model for Socialist Development, the bases for the National Development Plan for 2030, the report on the results of the implementation of the guidelines in their first five years and their updating for the period of 2016 to 2020.

 

As a Congress agreement, the first two texts were debated months before by all the Party members, the Union of Young Communists, representatives of mass organisations and broad sectors of society.

In early January the plenum of the Central Committee of the PPC was held, and its members recognised that in five years only 21 per cent of the 313 Guidelines had been implemented and that “some of the measures still do not have a real impact on the family economy.”
That is why in March the daily Granma considered it was not necessary “to put in place, at half of the road, a new process of debate that included all of society.” In its place, it said, “what must be done is to finish what has begun, continue carrying out the people’s will expressed five years ago and continue advancing along the course outlined by the 6th Congress.”

 

The plenum of the Central Committee was authorised to approve definitively the conceptualisation of the economic model, including the modifications resulting from the consultation process, as well as to recommend to the National Assembly of People’s Power (unicameral parliament) the analysis of that document.

 

When this occurs, it will become the new theoretical guide for the economic, social and political changes piloted by the government of Raúl Castro to come out of the deep depression in which this socialist country has been living for 25 years.

 

The conceptualisation of the model’s “essential objectives are to explain and support with clarity and rigor its principal characteristics with a view to its better understanding,” noted one of the four resolutions of the Congress.

 

The Party meeting was preceded by concerns about the scarce popular discussion of the principal documents of the 7th Congress by the Party members and citizens, who demanded greater transparency and participation in the analyses.

 

Other activists criticised that the confronting of social problems, like inequality and sexual and racial discrimination, had to form part of the Congress agenda.

 

The island says goodbye to Fidel Castro

 

The celebration on August 13 of his 90th birthday was preceded by vast media coverage. Photo exhibits, book launchings, concerts, messages of congratulation on the social media, forums and documentaries about his life and work comprised the programme of festivities.

 

For many it supposedly was part of a campaign to reaffirm his figure as the principal symbolic value of the Revolution, faced by the process of transformations undertaken by President Raúl Castro and the March visit by Barack Obama, which he criticised.

 

During his address in the closing session of the 7th Congress of the PCC, the revolutionary leader referred to the proximity of his 90th birthday, while he premonitorily noted that “perhaps this is one of the last times I speak in this hall” of the capital’s Convention Centre, attributing to fate his having lived so long.

 

Far from power and public life since 2006, the last time he was seen in public was on his birthday, during a gala tribute in the Havana Karl Marx Theatre with his brother Raúl and Venezuelan President NicolásMaduro.

 

After his passing away at 10:29 p.m. of November 25 from unspecified reasons, the Cuban government declared nine days of official mourning and remembrance activities throughout the country.

 

During these days, radio and television, all of which are state-run, only broadcasted historic, patriotic contents and scarce national and international news. The state-run commercial establishments and even the growing private businesses had to interrupt the sale of alcoholic beverages.

 

Professional, artistic, social and religious organisations shared their sorrow over his death and in multiple messages expressed their condolences to family members, close friends and followers of his ideas, while they highlighted the figure of Castro as a politician who placed Cuba in the international arena and his commitment to the struggle for independence and social justice.

 

The Plaza de la Revolución, in the Cuban capital, on November 28 and 29 welcomed hundreds of thousands of persons who paid tribute to the man who governed the country for the most years as prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, a post he held up to 2008, two years after handing over command to his brother Raúl Castro, elected by the National Assembly (parliament).

 

On the 29th, in the evening hours, thousands of Cubans of all ages, together with leaders from Latin American nations, paid posthumous homage to him in the crowded José Martí Plaza de la Revolución. A similar rally took place on December 3 in Antonio Maceo Plaza de la Revolución, in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, some 870 kilometres to the southeast of Havana, where President Raúl Castro gave another speech.

 

The head of state referred to turning into law the will of the deceased that “his name and his figure never be used to name institutions, plazas, parks, avenues, streets or other public places, or to build in his memory monuments, busts, statues and other similar forms of tribute.”

 

The legislative proposal was approved on December 27 during a parliament session.

 

For four days, from November 30 to December 3, the mortal remains travelled as if on a pilgrimage almost 1,000 kilometres to the eastern city, repeating in the opposite sense the journey he made when he was young together with the triumphant bearded guerrilla fighters, who on January 2, 1959 left from Santiago de Cuba en route to Havana.

 

On the morning of December 4, in a private ceremony which was attended by the family and some heads of state and government, the urn with the ashes was deposited inside a polished granite rock brought from the Sierra Maestra.

 

Located in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, very close to where the remains of National Hero José Martí (1853-1895) rest, the mausoleum includes a concrete wall with the concept of the Revolution that Fidel expressed on May 1, 2000, engraved in golden letters.

 

Diplomacy, a winning card

 

Three significant events sum up the results of Cuban diplomacy in 2016: the abstention of the United States and Israel in the voting of the UN resolution that demands the end of Washington’s economic, commercial and financial blockade; the signing of the agreement to put an end to the Colombian conflict; and the signing of the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation with the European Union.

 

Resolution 70/5 of the UN General Assembly “Need to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was endorsed on October 26 by 191 nations, with the abstentions of the United States and Israel, countries who had voted against for 24 consecutive years.

Read here a dossier on the blockade from the point of view of IPS Cuba.

The UN vote was preceded, as usual, by an intense government diplomatic campaign in the country and, on an international level, with the novelty of a strong presence in this year’s social media.

 

Through the labels #YoVotoVsBloqueo and #CubaesNuestra, netsurfers published images, videos and texts expressing their rejection of the financial persecution measures and obstacles for commercial exchange between both countries.

 

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, explained before the plenum of the General Assembly that the resolution against the blockade “is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy against Cuba has failed.”

 

Meanwhile, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez assessed the vote of abstention as “a positive step in the future improvement of relations between the United States and Cuba.”

 

However, the head of Cuban diplomacy commented that “the economic, commercial and financial blockade persists” and “causes damages to the Cuban people and hinders the country’s economic development.”

 

In this sense, civil society organisations requested from the U.S. Congress the lifting of that hostile policy against Cuba since “it is a substantial limitation of the right to development of the Cuban people, which generates shortages and suffering to Cuban families, with a considerable humanitarian impact.”

 

End of the Common Position

 

Finally, on December 12 the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation with Cuba, which had been negotiated for almost two years with the European Union (EU), was signed.

 

Havana and Brussels started their talks on April 29, 2014 and concluded them after seven bilateral working meetings in March 2016. The process’s greatest boost took place during 2015, parallel to the negotiations between Cuba and the United States.

 

Many analysts read this event as a pragmatic reaction of the EU to the changes taking place in the Caribbean nation. The EU is the island’s second trade partner, in addition to the biggest foreign investor in the country and the point of origin of a third of the tourists it receives, according to official data.

 

With the uncertain course that relations with the United States could take once Donald Trump assumes power, the EU’s rapprochement could mean a breath of fresh air for the deteriorated Cuban economy, which at the close of 2016 confirmed its recession when its GDP decreased 0.9 per cent.

 

However, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini ruled out that the change of government in Washington will affect relations between the EU and Cuba.

 

Mogherini affirmed to journalists that Brussels will continue expressing its “concern” on the extraterritorial impact of the U.S. sanctions on Cuba, which is of interest to not only the island and its people but also to the European bloc.

 

With the Agreement, both parties buried the Common Position promoted in 1996 by then president of the Spanish government José María Aznar, which conditioned cooperation with the EU to improvements in human rights on the Caribbean island.

 

Havana considered that policy, which also tried “to favour a process of transition toward a pluralist democracy, as “interventionist” and “discriminatory.”

 

According to the signed text, available on the web page of the EU Delegation in the Cuban capital, the agreement has the goal of consolidating and strengthening bilateral relations in the spheres of political dialogue, cooperation and trade, based on mutual respect, reciprocity, common interest and respect for sovereignty.

 

Relations were oriented at backing the process of modernisation of the Cuban economy and society, as well as bilaterally cooperating in international forums with a view to strengthening democracy, human rights and the struggle against discrimination, and meeting the sustainable development goals.

The some 100-page-long agreement is divided into three chapters: Political Dialogue, which deals with questions like governability, human rights, international and regional stability and security and weapons of mass destruction, among others; Cooperation, a more extensive segment on sectors for this purpose; Economy and Commerce.
It will first be applied provisionally and partially, awaiting a ratification process by the European Parliament, as well as the parliaments of the 28 EU member countries. If one were to reject it, it would put an end to the agreement.

Meanwhile, both parties confirmed the will to seal a long-term relationship, which would suppose for Cuba the possibility of diversifying its commercial and economic ties and maintaining a greater balance in its international relations.

 

However, the human rights issue continues being the apple of discord, which is why it was decided to discuss it in a separate dialogue, with the aim of reaching a consensus. With respect to this, the Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission affirmed that in 2016 around 9,940 arbitrary detentions against opposition groups had been documented.

 

While the majority of the cases are set free a few hours later, many of the arrested affirm that this type of preventive actions has increased and describe them as permanent harassment against the work of these groups.

 

Meanwhile, the government accuses them of being financed by the United States to promote a political change in Cuba.

 

Opposition blogs

 

Some of the most important events and figures linked to the opposition sector in the year that has concluded:

 

-Eduardo Cardet: In November he was elected as national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), a post that had been vacant since the death of the leader and founder of the organisation, OswaldoPayá, on July 22, 2012.

 

O March 24 he presented to the National Assembly (parliament) 10,000 new signatures for the backing of the Varela Project in order to demand rights like freedom of association, of the press, free elections, the creation of enterprises, as well as the release of political prisoners.

 

On July 12 the MCL handed over to the legislative authority the proposal “One Cuban, one vote,” a text that proposes the changes that “the new electoral law must include for it to be considered a real democratic law.”

 

He has been in provisional imprisonment in the eastern province of Holguín since November 30, accused of “disobeying the law, public scandal, resistance to the authority and lesions,” which could cost him up to three years in prison.

 

Ladies in White and#TodosMarchamos: Members of the group Ladies in White continue carrying out the campaign #TodosMarchamos, an initiative being boosted by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL) – made up by different opposition groups -, with the aim, among others, of defending their right to public demonstrations.

 

Cubalex Legal Information Centre: Security forces raided on September 23 the independent Cubalex Legal Information Centre, which gives free legal advice, draws up reports about human rights violations for international agencies, and deals with the legalisation of civil society organisations, defending its own before the Justice Ministry.

 

-Manuel Cuesta Morúa: On December 5 he received in Washington the 2016 Ion Ratio Democracy Award, granted by the Wilson Centre. The award recognises his “extensive work in the democratic reforms in Cuba” and gives him a one-month grant in the centre to work with the academic and political formulation communities of the U.S. capital.

 

-Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto: The graffiti artist was arrested on several occasions throughout the year for his anti-establishment actions, which the government considers counterrevolutionary and public order disturbances. He is still in prison since in the early morning hours of November 26, when he found out about the death of former president Fidel Castro, he wrote on a wall of the Habana Libre Hotel: “He’s gone.”

 

-José Daniel Ferrer and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu): The national coordinator of Unpacu was authorised in April for the first time to travel abroad just for once. He is one of the members of the Group of the 75 who rejected exile as a condition to be released after he was imprisoned in 2003.

 

-Guillermo Fariñas: For 54 days he was on a hunger and thirst strike, which he lifted on September 12 to demand from President Raúl Castro the end of repression against the opposition on the island.

 

Havana: capital for dialogue and concord

 

After 52 years of armed conflict, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Juan Manuel Santos signed on August 23 a historic agreement in the Cuban capital to put an end to the conflict.

The negotiators of the two parties and the representatives of the accompanying countries made official the reaching of an agreement that puts an end to one of the oldest conflicts in the world and aims to “build a stable and lasting peace.”

 

The UN, backed by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), will have the role of verifying the agreement, which include 180 days for the total surrender of the weapons by the members of the FARC, which will have to concentrate in a series of points preestablished during that period.

 

In addition, Havana was the venue of the 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States from June 2 to 4, which was attended by 22 heads of state and government from the 25 member nations of that organisation created in 1994.

 

Meanwhile, the governments of the Caribbean countries vindicated in Havana their vocation for peace to face as one the region’s great challenges, which range from adapting and mitigating the risks of climate change, to strengthening integration and sustainable development.

 

The Declaration of Havana, approved by consensus together with the 2016-2018 Action Plan, greeted and expressed its support to the success of the Colombian peace plan and the one that would be initiated with the National Liberation Army, “so that both lead to achieving a stable and lasting agreement for the good of the Colombian people.”

 

It also ratified in its point 9 the validity of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Peace Zone, signed by the heads of state and government of the region during the 2ndSummit of the CELAC, held in Havana in January 2014.

 

Exodus of Cubans with U.S. on the horizon

 

The migratory panorama in the last 12 months was tinged by the persistent exit of thousands of Cubans, especially to the United States, as a consequence of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana.

 

Decades of political confrontation turned the residents on the island into deservers of an exclusive privilege: the possibility of opting for residence in the United States one year and one day after their arrival.

 

Many feared that the advance in relations between the governments of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama would eliminate these migratory advantages, as finally occurred on January 12, 2017.

 

Specialists indicated that that reason, together with Cuba’s elusive economic take-off, favoured the five-fold increase of Cuban emigration to the United States in the last five years.

Migratory figures
According to the Field Operations Office of the Customs and Border Protection Service, in the fiscal year of 2016 (from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016), more than 50,000 Cubans entered the United States.
The figure represents an 18 per cent increase compared to the fiscal year of 2015, when the number was 43,159.
The numbers indicate that 80 per cent entered through Mexico, availing themselves of the dry foot policy, through the borders of Laredo, El Paso and San Diego.
The Cubans who used the sea as a means of exit were 7,358, 65 per cent more than in 2015, when 4,473 rafters were reported.
During the fiscal years of 2014, prior to the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the arrival to U.S. soil of 24,278 Cubans was reported.

During the talks regarding this issue, the Cuba side expressed concern for the preferential migratory treatment given its citizens, considering it an encouragement for irregular emigration and trafficking in persons.

 

The authorities also criticised the persistence of the dry foot /wet foot policy, established in 1996 by President William Clinton (1993-2001): the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966)and the Parole Programme for Cuban Medical Professionals, which began in 2006 under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009) and facilitates the emigration of doctors while working in missions abroad.

 

These demands again emerged during the 2nd technical meeting on the illicit trafficking of emigrants and migratory fraud, with the aim of increasing bilateral cooperation in that area.

 

The singular migratory crisis begun in November 2015 had regional repercussions, taking into account that the Cubans chose South and Central American countries on their route to the United States.

 

This derived in diverse reactions by the authorities of those nations to put a stop to the corridors generated by the emigrants and stop the trafficking in persons.

 

Governments like that of Nicaragua decided to close their borders, while Ecuador opted for the deportation of 121 Cubans who remained in that country in a migratory limbo, a fact that generated many reactions and criticisms.

 

In late August, the foreign ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a review of the Cuba policy, to stop the crisis of emigrants in the continent and to suspend the privileges for the Cubans.

 

Regarding this, the U.S. daily The New York Times described Washington’s Cuba migratory policy as “anachronistic” and “irrational,” while it criticised the Barack Obama government’s refusal to modify it.

 

According to the newspaper’s September 2 editorial, the illegal migration of citizens from the island has led to the creation of trafficking in persons operations through Central and South America, which is why those countries have had to shelter, at times for several months, thousands of Cubans who are stranded on the road.

 

In the United States, new voices are urging the modification of the diplomatic facilities the Cubans enjoy.

 

Republican Congressman for Texas Blake Farenthold and Democrat Henry Cuellar presented in March a bill to annul that preferential treatment, while in January Republican Senator Marco Rubio presented a bill to modify the Cuban Adjustment Act with the aim that only the politically persecuted Cubans obtain its benefits.

 

Moreover, then presidential nominee Donald Trump considered it was unfair that the United States give preferences to Cuban migrants based on the legislation approved in 1966.

 

In the midst of this panorama, the Cuban government continues updating its migratory policy when on April 22 it announced that any Cuban national could enrol as a passenger and crew in cruise ships and merchant vessels to enter and exit Cuba.

 

For decades, the official refusal to allow Cubans to exit or enter by sea, or even to board vessels for excursions in national waters, was the object of harsh criticisms and supposed an obstacle for Cuban American travellers, who only visit the country by air.

 

When announcing the measure, the official daily Granma specified that to enrol as a crew member in the vessels, the interested persons have to do so through employment institutions.

 

Preparing the announced succession

 

Cuba is starting 2017 with a complex panorama, marked by the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States and an economy in recession that is receiving the negative effects of the crises and slowing down in countries like Venezuela, Brazil and China, its principal trade partners.

 

Many are cautious and prefer to wait for the first steps of the new U.S. administration to see if Trump really keeps his promises of reversing a great deal of the rapprochement measuresinitiated by Obama.

 

This would suppose for Havana additional challenges in the process of transformations initiated in 2010, known as the updating of the economic model, and which requires a greater dynamism and a gross amount of investments in order to meet the government’s aim of building a prosperous and sustainable socialism.

 

Meanwhile, Raúl Castro is getting ready for his last year in his post. He has repeated several times that he will hand over the posts of president of the Councils of State and of Ministers after he ends his second term in office in 2018, for which he was re-elected in February 2013.

 

A strong “candidate” as Castro’s successor is Miguel Díaz-Canel, current first vice president of the Council of State, whom the president has praised for his tenacity and systematisation in his work, self-critical spirit, his constant links to the people and high sense of team work.

 

His current post confers him the responsibility of replacing the president of the Council of State in his functions in case of his absence, sickness or death. According to Castro, it is a way of preserving, without interruptions of any type, the continuity and stability of the nation.

 

While the next Cuban president will not have the charismatic leadership of Fidel and Raúl Castro, he will have to find new forms of coordinating the nation under a new social agreement that preserves the best achievements of the revolutionary period, channels citizen empowerment and guarantees the country’s integral development. (2017)

 

 

 

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