Havana. Cubans remembered 2017 as the first year without the aegis of leader Fidel Castro, of the devastating passage of Hurricane Irma and of some mysterious acoustic attacks that were used by U.S. President Donald trump to put an end to bilateral rapprochement.
Since the first day of January, the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only one) promoted a group of activities and tributes to the former president who passed away in Havana on November 25, 2016 at the age of 90.
Before leaving the White House, President Barack Obama (2009-2017) cancelled the special policy for Cuban citizens who arrived to U.S. territory (commonly known as “wet foot/dry foot”), as well the parole program for Cuban health professionals in third countries.
This led to fundamental changes in emigration to the U.S., which became even more complicated when Washington paralyzed its consular services in Havana and suspended indefinitely the granting of visas.
Finally, in June Trump announced a strengthening of the blockade maintained by Washington since 1962 by announcing new restrictions on U.S. travel to and doing business with Cuba with some 180 Cuban entities linked to military and intelligence institutions.
But bilateral relations deteriorated even more with the reports of alleged acoustic attacks that affected more than 20 U.S. diplomats and their families in the Caribbean country.
After accusing the Cuban government of not taking the necessary measures to guarantee their protection and safety, the Department of State ordered the departure of more than half of its personnel in the Cuban capital, while it expelled 17 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington.
The authorities denied any responsibility in the incidents, described them as groundless and politically motivated and offered facilities for Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents to carry out investigations in the field, while the causes or origins of these incidents have still not been determined.
In the international sphere, Cuba again got the almost unanimous backing of the UN General Assembly to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade.
Moreover, it normalized relations with the European Union (EU) through the coming into force of the agreement signed in late 2016 that buried the so-called Common Position (1996) and cleared the way for enhancing cooperation in different spheres.
Cuban diplomacy remained active in international forums and integration mechanisms, while it continued backing the Venezuelan government of NicolásMaduro, who is battling a serious economic crisis whose impact is being felt in the decrease of the oil supplies as well as the exchange of goods and services.
Irma, the most powerful hurricane formed in the basin of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, ravaged the major part of the national territory, with the death of 10 persons, as well as important damages to homes, agriculture, the national electrical system, roads and the principal tourist destinations.
However, at the close of the year the authorities reported advances in the recovery of the principal infrastructure works, especially those related to the so-called smokeless industry, an essential pillar of the economy.
More than eight million Cubans went to the polls on November 26 to elect the delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power (city councilors), the preamble of the renovation in Parliament and the generational change in the topmost leadership of the country, which should take place in the first four months of 2018.
Goodbye Obama, hello Trump?
One of the principal legacies of eight years of a Democratic government in the United States was the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. That is why when Barack Obama handed over the keys to the White House to Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, many asked themselves what would happen from then on.
But before, in less than a month, both governments seemed set on boosting as much as possible the bilateral agenda and signing agreements before the presidential change.
Talks were held between Havana and Washington on human trafficking, the claims for confiscated goods, as well as on cooperation and coordination in the struggle against transnational crimes, like terrorism, drug trafficking, cybercrimes and money laundering.
Agreements were also signed on air and sea rescues, cooperation on protected areas, on the delimitation of oil exploration zones and environmental protection for the preparation and response to contamination due to oil spills and other dangerous substances in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida.
Finally, legislators presented in the House of Representatives the Trading with Cuba Bill, directed at lifting the blockade.
Before that, on January 6 the Cuba House bipartisan group announced another initiative to lift the ban on travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and to eliminate the restrictions for tourist purposes, but like in similar actions, it did not prosper awaiting a better political atmosphere.
During his electoral campaign, Donald Trump had contradictory positions in relation to the Cuba subject. First he backed the rapprochement, but later he promised to dismantle Obama’s executive orders and to maintain the blockade, unless the government of RaúlCastro made concessions on issues of human rights, democracy and economic opening.
In February, the Republican government ordered a complete review of the Cuba policy, officially announced by the president himself on June 16, during a speech in the city of Miami.
The National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the United States’ Cuba policy, which took effect on November 9, included restrictions on Americans’ travel and on investments in sectors controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the security and intelligence services, among them numerous hotels.
For the Cuban government there is a “political intention” and a “subversive undertone” behind the changes to the regulations on “people-to-people” exchange and considers that the restrictions “harm the U.S. people and businesspeople.”
Mystery surrounds alleged sonic attacks
But the bilateral climate became much more strained starting August when Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that in May two diplomats had been expelled from the Cuban embassy in Washington.
She indicated that the measure was due to the return of some U.S. officials from the U.S. mission in Havana because of some “incidents” that caused them “physical symptoms” in 2016, about whichshe did not specify more details.
Since then the saga of some alleged acoustic attacks has grown, and according to the U.S. government and press they caused some symptoms to some 20 diplomats and their relatives such as hearing loss, dizzy spells, headaches, fatigue, and cognitive problems and sleeping disorders, as well as brain damage.
On September 26, and as a proposal of the Cuban side, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla was received in Washington by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On that occasion, Rodríguez warned his interlocutor “to not make rash decisions that are not based on proof or on conclusive investigative results” and to “not politicize a matter of this nature.”
However, three days later the Department of State announced the withdrawal of 60 per cent of its personnel in the Havana diplomatic venue, an action that Cuba described as “precipitated” and damaging for bilateral relations.
Moreover, this department issued a warning in which it recommended U.S. citizens to not travel to Cuba due to this situation. The issuing of visas in Havana was also suspended for an indefinite time.
The Cuban government sustained that the partial evacuation of the U.S. diplomatic personnel was “precipitated.”
In a brief press release, the general director for the United States at the Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, argued that such actions would affect “particularly cooperation on matters of mutual interest and the diverse types of exchanges between both countries.”
A while later, the government assessed as “unwarranted” the decision made by the United States, which on October 3 ordered the exit of 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington, based on the fact that they had reduced their diplomatic personnel in Havana and that the Cuban government hadn’t taken the necessary steps to prevent “attacks” against the U.S. diplomats.
The Cuban side insisted that it lacks any responsibility in the alleged incidents, questioned the existence of the attacks – which Canadian diplomats and their relatives, including children, also suffered -, and blamed Washington of refusing to fully cooperate with the investigation to find the truth that, until now, still hasn’t been revealed.
|For Havana, the alleged incidents have only served to take back relations to their worst moment since December 17, 2014 and to please an anti-Cuban political sector headed by senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menéndez, who are reluctant to accept any type of bilateral rapprochement.|
Although throughout the year U.S. businesspeople, governors and legislators traveled to Cuba to explore trade opportunities and to get to know the island’s reality, a decrease was seen in this type of exchanges and talks with the authorities.
For the time being, there are still voices in the United States of groups like Engage Cuba and Pastors for Peace that are in favor of maintaining and enhancing economic and political rapprochement and avoid the policy of isolation sustained for half a century.
Despite all the aforementioned, U.S. cruise line companies and airlines maintained their trips to the island and contributed to the sustained increase in the number of U.S. visitors since the reestablishment of relations in July 2015.
It should be recalled that U.S. legislations prevent their nationals from traveling to Cuba as tourists, which is why they have to resort to one of the 12 categories approved during the Obama administration and that, in general, have been kept in place by Trump with some modifications.
|According to the general director for the United States at the Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, in 2017 a total of 619,523 Americans traveled to Cuba, for a 217.4 percent increase in relation to the previous year.
Moreover, 453,905 Cubans resident in the United States visited the island, a 137.8 percent increase compared to 2016, the official reported through her Twitter account.
A total of 1,173,428 visitors from that country arrived during the year, she specified.
Migration: cancelation of advantages and flexible regulations
For many, Cuban emigration in and to the United States was the great looser after the return of hostilities and distrust to relations between both governments.
But it is also true that when the Obama administration was still in the White House the dream of thousands of Cubans of finding work and residence in that country, protected by exclusive migration privileges, was truncated.
On January 12, the Democratic president put an end to the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that granted the status of legal residence to Cubans who arrived without visas to the United States.
He also rescinded the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program which was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2006.
According to the Cuban side, the changes constituted another important step in the normalization of migration relations between the two countries, with the aim of guaranteeing a regular, safe and orderly migration between both of them.
However, the surprising presidential directive left in a limbo thousands of Cubans who were in Central America and Mexico, on their way to the United States, and which since November 2015 started creating a migratory crisis.
|Several civil society actors, like for example the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops, asked that “ways be sought to resolve legally” the problem of the Cuban immigrants “in that critical situation.”|
The decision meant a fundamental change in the migration relations, whose immediate effect was the drastic reduction of the number of national emigrants who tried to reach the United States in 2017.
To further complicate more the panorama, the Trump administration suspended on September 29 the issuing of visas for the island’s residents when it ordered the withdrawal of more than half of its diplomatic personnel in Havana, using the sonic attacks as an excuse.
|Irregular emigration continues
According to statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office, in the fiscal year of 2017 (from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017), 15,410 Cubans irregularly arrived through the border with Mexico. The majority was able to enter the country before the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy was decreed on January 12.
The number represents around 35 percent of the 41,523 who arrived through the same means during the fiscal year of 2016, this agency compared.
The Coast Guard pointed out that in the fiscal year of 2017 1,934 Cubans who tried to illegally enter the United States were intercepted at sea. The number is way below the 7,411 Cubans captured during the fiscal year of 2016 and the 4,473 of the fiscal year of 2015, when the arrival of the so-called rafters shot up in the face of the uncertainty about a possible change in migration policy.
As a solution, the Department of State proposed that Cubans use the consular services in Colombia, which increases the price even more of the procedures to travel legally to the United States.
The Washington mission in Havana reported, through its Facebook page, that among the persons of Cuban nationality resident on the island who will have to travel to Bogotá “prior notification” include those requesting immigrant visas for fiancés, relatives of U.S. citizens or the persons who won one of the visas of the so-called “lottery” (diversity visas).
Cuba deplored “the paralyzation of the procedures of Cuban citizens to emigrate or visit the United States, which have been transferred to third countries, making them totally unfeasible.”
In the heat of this situation and after a meeting with representatives of the émigrés in the United States – where a bit more than two million persons of Cuban origin live -, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez announced on October 28 in Washington a package of migration measures.
Welcomed by some and considered still insufficient by several civil actors, the regulations in force since January 1, 2018 “form part of the continuous and irreversible process of updating the country is living in this sense since January 2013,” the authorities defended.
In addition, the head of the General Customs of the Republic made modifications to this entity’s regulations related to the process of dispatching foreign recreational vessels in the established Marinas.
|Principal changes stipulated by Cuba in its migration and customs policy in 2017:
Cuba vs blockade
For the 26th consecutive time, Cuba presented to the UN General Assembly the resolution that since 1992 demands an end to the U.S. blockade.
The largest of the Caribbean islands received the backing of 191 of the 193 nations seated in the multilateral agency, with the sole opposition of Israel and the United States which, a year before, had abstained in the heat of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington in July 2015.
However, in 2017 the irreconcilable positions of days gone by again came up in the plenary meeting, something that the General Assembly was able to confirm in the speeches of the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.
Both speakers based their addresses on the justification/rejection of the persistence of the blockade based on concepts like respect for human rights, democratic and electoral system, sovereignty, self-determination and national independence.
The Cuban report insisted that the blockade is a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of Cubans’ human rights and described it as an act of genocide.
As every year, the presentation of the document was preceded by the display in the state-run media, as well as in the digital platforms and propaganda billboards, of a campaign against Washington’s unilateral policy.
However, the intensity of these actions ceded its media visibility in the face of the priority given to the impact and subsequent recovery actions after the passage of Hurricane Irma.
|According to the Cuban report, the blockade caused since 1962 damages worth more than 130 billion dollars and in the period from April 2016 to June 2017 it caused loses to the Caribbean country of around 4.3 million dollars.
The text warned that the financial and extraterritorial dimensions of the act were being maintained, with the imposition of fines to four foreign companies that had commercial relations with Cuba, and the rejection or refusal of banks and international financial institutions to carry out transactions with the island for fear of being fined.
Homages to Fidel Castro
On January 2, hundreds of thousands of persons staged a civic-military parade in the capital’s Revolution Square for the 60th anniversary of the landing of the Granma yacht and the founding of the Rebel Army, which later became the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Army).
The military parade should have taken place on December 2, 2016, but it was reprogramed due to the mourning, funeral rites, pilgrimage and the depositing of the ashes of Fidel Castro (1926-2016) in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
While Parliament approved a law forbidding the use of Fidel’s name in public spaces and of his image to put up monuments, the authorities did not spare TV, radio or written and digital press spaces to insist on the thinking and work of the statesman that marked the fate of the Caribbean island in the last half century.
Moreover, meetings, political rallies and cultural events were held, as well as artistic gatherings, exhibitions, congresses, conferences, panels, book presentations, festivals and workshops of different sectors of science, technology, the economy or politics dedicated to his figure.
For many, such an insistence aims to capitalize on his undeniable political prestige, endorse the process of economic reforms that the government of President Raúl Castro is promoting and attract the attention of the new generations who barely knew of his influence through long speeches and direct contact with the population.
In addition, on October 10, when the 149th anniversary of the start of the first of the wars of independence (1868-1878) was commemorated, the niches with the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819-1874) and of Mariana Grajales (1815-1893), considered the father and mother of the Nation, respectively, were transferred to an zone very near to the monolith where the remains of Castro rest.
For some citizens, the decision seeks to guarantee the veneration of the leader of the 1959 Cuban revolution together with the great heroes of the nation and National Hero José Martí (1853-1895).
Gone with the wind (of Irma)…
From September 8 to 10, Hurricane Irma’s powerful winds – which at times reached 290 kilometers per hour – were practically felt on the entire northern coast, with a greater or lesser impact on 12 of the country’s 15 provinces.
Specialists considered it was the strongest storm formed in the basin of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and one of the 10 most intense registered in the world.
Its passage left a toll of 10 deaths and serious damages to homes, agriculture and the strategic sector of tourism.
The major part of the national hotel plant, including the most important tourist destinations like Guardalavaca, the group of keys of Jardinesdel Rey, Varadero and Havana are precisely located on the northern part of the island and all of them suffered damages.
In the face of the proximity of the so-called high season – starting November 1 – the authorities prioritized the reestablishment of these indispensable zones for the attraction of hard currency.
Although the provinces of the center of the country were the hardest hit by the hurricane, the capital reported the largest amount of deaths – seven -, strong sea penetrations and important damages to housing due to the sustained deterioration of the housing fund.
As on other occasions, Cubans showed their solidarity and welcomed in their homes relatives, neighbors and friends during the storm, which contrasts with the vandalistic actions, the irresponsibility of public officials in the protection of goods and protests in some streets of the Cuban capital.
The strong winds, rain and swells caused severe damages and even modified the aspect of national parks and ecosystems like the mangroves, natural forests and small beaches.
The measures approved by the government to help the victims included the free handing over to the most vulnerable persons and the subsidized sale of construction materials to those who totally or partially lost their homes, the granting of credits at low interest rates and payable in 15 years, and the sale of additional foodstuff in the subsidized monthly food basket.
Moreover, initiatives were boosted like the local production of construction materials, as a more effective way to resolve the situation of the thousands of affected homes.
This was complemented by the assistance of the United Nations System (UNS) in Cuba, which made it possible for more than 637,000 residents in the most severely affected zones to receive aid in food and goods, as well as medicines and medical supplies handed over to health institutions.
In addition to the UN’s aid, Cuba received material and financial resources from countries like Venezuela, Russia, China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Czech Republic and Japan, among others.
Citizen voices even proposed the temporary modification of the Tax Law in the General Customs of the Republic as another possible state action that could help in the recovery of the severe damages to the infrastructure, but the initiative did not bear fruit.
Hurricanes like Irma confirm the reality of climate change and of the gradual rise of the average annual temperatures, which tend to favor the formation of increasingly stronger cyclone organisms.
In the face of such a panorama, the Cuban government will have to increase the precautions to protect the cities and build homes and buildings that are safer and more resistant to the strong winds and intense rainfall.
Together with this, the recovery continued in the eastern provinces of Guantánamo and Holguín, which were hit in October 2016 by the also powerful Hurricane Matthew and from whose consequences they are still suffering.
The contribution of the rest of the Cuban provinces, the Cubans resident abroad and international cooperation was added to the search for local solutions.
Just the UN is carrying out a plan that hopes to mobilize 26.5 million dollars to meet the urgent needs of almost 650,000 Guantánamo and Holguín residents.
|Irma in some numbers:
Total damages: 13 million pesos
Direct impact time on Cuba: more than 72 hours
Persons in simultaneous phase of cyclonic alarm: 10,000,000
Protected persons: 1,800,000 (16 % of the population)
Persons with no water supply: 3,100,000 in a first stage
Affected provinces: 12 out of 15
Damaged homes: 158,554
Damaged healthcare centers: 980
Affected educational centers: 2,264
Damaged crops surface: 95,000 hectares
Interrupted telephone land lines: 246,707
Damaged roads: 537 kilometers
National Power System: totally collapsed
Cuba and EU open doors to new relations
The first Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between Cuba and the European Union (EU), signed in Brussels on December 12, 2016 by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and the EU high representative for foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, came into force on November 1.
The negotiations were initiated in April 2014 and lasted during seven rounds of talks. On July 5, 2017, the European Parliament gave the green light to the agreement.
The island nation was the only one in Latin America that lacked a legal framework to develop its dialogue and cooperation with the Group of 28. For almost two decades, the so-called Common Position (1996) conditioned cooperation to improvements in human rights in Cuba.
Havana considered that policy, which also tried to “favor a process of transition toward a pluralist democracy,” as “interventionist” and “discriminatory.”
“The EU and Cuba are truly turning a page and a new chapter of our association is starting now with the provisional application of our new agreement,” Mogherini said in a press release.
With the provisional implementation of this Agreement, which will fully take effect once the process of ratification by all the Parties concludes, relations between the EU and Cuba will develop, for the first time, under a contractual framework that reaffirms the bases of respect, the observance of international law and of the principles established in the UN Charter, said the Cuban Foreign Ministry in a press release.
The PDCA stipulates the consolidation and strengthening of bilateral relations in the spheres of political dialogue, cooperation and commerce, based on mutual respect, reciprocity, common interest and respect for sovereignty.
Relations will be oriented at backing the process of modernization of the Cuban economy and society, as well as to cooperatebilaterally and in international forums with a view to strengthening democracy, human rights and the struggle against discrimination, and to meet the sustainable development goals.
Moreover, it protects the development of more political, social, financial, scientific, academic, sport and cooperation ties.
For the island, with a very modest GDP growth of barely 1.3 percent in 2017, the mechanism facilitates commercial and cooperation agreements, as well as giving a bit of a breathing space to the Cuban economy, suffering an endemic crisis since the early 1990s.
At the end of the year, the 28-member bloc displaced Venezuela, which for years was Havana’s first trade partner, in addition to also being the biggest foreign investor in the country and the point of origin of a third of the tourists it receives, according to official data.
|The Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) is divided into three chapters: Political Dialogue, which deals with questions like governance, human rights, international and regional stability and security and weapons of mass destruction, among others; Cooperation, a more extensive segment about the sectors for this purpose; and Economy and Commerce.
It will be fully applied when ratified by all the national parliaments of the 28 States of the European bloc. The rejection by one of them could put an end to the agreement.
Cuban foreign policy maintained an active participation in international forums and its traditional position of defense of multilateralism in spaces like the United Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Community of Caribbean States (CARICOM), where it also defended strengthening and enhancing South-South cooperation.
Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, hosted the 6th CELAC Summit on January 26 and 27, where homage was paid to Fidel Castro for his contribution to Latin American integration and his role in regional unity.
Out of the 20 special declarations, two referred to Cuba, related to the devolution of the U.S. naval base in the Bay of Guantánamo and the elimination of the economic blockade imposed by Washington.
The 22nd Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the 5th CARICOM-Cuba Ministerial Meeting were held in the Cuban capital on March 11. These events made a commitment to relaunch cooperation, commerce and transportation between the region’s economies.
As an essential aspect, the second Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement between the Caribbean Community and Cuba wassigned. The common conclave insisted on achieving that economic and cooperation relations between the largest of the Caribbean islands and CARICOM be “a two-way process.”
The document extends the tariff preferences granted in 2000 to the Community, including 340 new Caribbean products with free access to the national market, while they granted preferences to 85 on the Cuban side.
In the final declaration, the ministers ratified the need to continue strengthening cooperation and the exchange of experiences and good practices through the application of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and all its goals.
President Raúl Castro also participated on December 8 in the 6th CARICOM-Cuba Summit in Saint Mary’s, Antigua and Barbuda, where the 15 attending leaders agreed to promote sustainable tourism and multidestination and carry out the Paris Agreement (2015) on climate change, among other commitments.
The occasion served to sign a protocol between the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Cuban Civil Defense to plan collaborations before the occurrence of natural disasters.
The Cuban president subsequently made an official visit to the small island country, where he met with Prime Minister Gaston Browne and important local leaders.
Castro and Browne signed a joint friendship and cooperation declaration in which they reiterated their concern for the negative effects of natural disasters and reaffirmed the proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.
A brigade of electric line workers and another of healthcare personnel traveled to that Eastern Caribbean nation in September, a bit after the passage of Hurricane Irma, which destroyed at least 90 percent of Barbuda’s infrastructure.
Throughout the year, the Foreign Ministry and Parliament issued several statements where they reaffirmed their backing of the government of Venezuelan President NicolásMaduro in the face of what they described as “a serious escalade of domestic violence and international intervention.”
Despite the change in Latin America’s geopolitical map, not very favorable for the progressive and left-wing oriented governments, Cuba defended the viability of the integration mechanisms like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), founded on December 14, 2004 by commanders Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez (1954-2013).
On the occasion of the ALBA-TCP’s anniversary, Havana hosted the 18th Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission of the Cuba-Venezuela Cooperation Agreement, in which officials signed the Annual Cooperation Plan for 2018.
The latter includes 27 new projects in nine exchange programs in health services, the supply of medicines, the training of human resources and cultural and sports promotion.
Cuba favored increasingly strengthening its relations with Russia, as the September 21 meeting between foreign ministers Bruno Rodríguez and Sergey Lavrov confirmed during the 72nd period of sessions of the UN General Assembly, when both assessed the strengthening of strategic ties between the two countries.
Likewise, the Eurasian nation became an important supplier of fuel and a partner in the search for new oil deposits on the island, which mitigates the difficulties in the face of the decrease in the shipments of oil from Venezuela.
|Russia increases its importance in Cuba
Cuba was one of the pioneering States to sign on September 20 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, assessed as “a fundamental step forward toward nuclear disarmament” and the “will to contribute significantly to reach a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Moreover, the Foreign Ministry rejected the December 6 unilateral declaration by President Donald Trump on Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.
Some of last year’s most important events and figures linked to the opposition:
Rosa María Payá
Coordinator of the Cuba Decide citizen platform, an initiative that asks for the holding of a binding plebiscite so Cubans can express and decide on a “change to a democratic system that respects Cuban society’s plurality.”Payá is also the leader of the Youth Latin American Network, made up by youth organizations in 20 of the region’s countries. In February the entity organized the awarding of the OswaldoPayá, Freedom and Life Prize, which in its first edition was given to the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. The government refused to let Almagro and other figures like former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Chilean Minister Mariana Aylwin, daughter of deceased Chilean former President Patricio Aylwin, enter the country.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara
A young independent artist who on April 22 carried out a performance in which he called attention about the withdrawal of the bust of student leader Julio Antonio Mella (1903-1929) from the premises where Cuba’s first luxury hotel, the ManzanaKempinski, was inaugurated in the capital.
He issued a summons for the holding in May 2018 of the 00 Biennial, an alternative event in the face of the postponement of the 13th Havana Biennial due to the damages caused by Hurricane Irma to the island’s system of institutions.
He also presented an “impossible monument” for Fidel Castro with his own vision of the revolutionary leader.
Another of his artistic actions was “Juego de Tronos: Elecciones Cuba 2018” (Game of Thrones: Elections Cuba 2018), which is a parody of the famous HBO trailer series in which he proposed 14 possible candidates, which include opponents and representatives of the government, so that Cubans elect a president.
He has been arrested on several occasions, just like his couple, art historian YanelysNúñez.
One of his latest activities in 2017 was a pilgrimage to the Rincón Sanctuary, for “freedom and democracy in Cuba.”
Artist and creator in 2015 of the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Activism (INSTAR), an entity that in November began its activities with a lecture and later workshops related to art and activism throughout a week each month. She backed the holding of the 00 Biennial.
A citizen platform that tried to nominate some 170 independent candidates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power elections for delegates, although it finally did not achieve this. During the electoral process they accused the authorities of a campaign of intimidation, temporary arrests, the confiscation of opponents’ goods and even persuading voters to not vote for independent candidates.
Ladies in White and#TodosMarchamos
Members of the Ladies in White group continue carrying out every Sunday the campaign #TodosMarchamos (We All March), an initiative promoted by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL) – made up by different opposition groups – and that seeks, among other objectives, to defend their right to public manifestations.
Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU)
It lists more than 500 documented arbitrary detentions in 2017 against its members. In addition, it refers to the detention of 17 activists sentenced to prison for refusing to pay fines and lists 73 raids on its members’ homes.
He denounced in April actions by State Security to prevent the presentation of the documentary Nadie (No One; 2016), centered on the life of poet Rafael Alcides (1933) and which won the prize to the Best Documentary during its international premiere in the Dominican Global Film Festival in January 2017.
They have denounced arrests, threats, searches and confiscations of work means, in addition to the prohibition to travel abroad.
Cubans return to the polls
The process of nomination of candidates to delegates of People’s Power (city councilors) started in mid-2017. Initially previewed for October 22, the elections had to be postponed until November 26 and December 3 (second round) due to the effects of Hurricane Irma.
The elections revamped the 168 municipal governments which today have the biggest quotas of power thanks to their own budgets and new prerogatives granted by the reforms initiated in 2008.
Critics of Cuba’s political system claim that for the electoral model to be valid candidates from the opposition must be allowed so voters can have alternatives.
But the official media continue defending that the Cuban electoral model is more democratic due to the mass participation of citizens, the quality of the candidates and the absence of electoral campaigns.
Women’s important role was highlighted. Of the close to 200,000 electoral authorities, women’s participation was more than 69 percent.
Moreover, 5,307 young people were nominated, while another 12,000 youths participated in the electoral process as collaborators.
The elections were closely observed since after this first electoral stage the Cuban system establishes a second phase to elect by direct vote the representatives in the provincial governments and the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power (unicameral parliament).
Once constituted, parliament elects from its members the Council of State, made up by a president, a first vice president, five vice presidents, a secretary and 23 more members, for a five-year term.
On December 21, President Raúl Castro confirmed that his leaving the post of president of the Council of State and of Ministers – the topmost executive bodies – would be postponed until April 19, 2018 instead of February 24 as it had been announced, due to the changes in the electoral schedule caused by Hurricane Irma.
During the 6th Congress of the PCC (2011), it was agreed to limit to a maximum of two consecutive five-year periods remaining in the principal state and government posts and a maximum age was established to hold them (60 years in the PCC Central Committee and 70 in leadership posts). Raúl Castro is 86.
But that and other reforms require modifying the Constitution through an announced referendum, an issue hardly mentioned in the official media.
Promised constitutional reform still absent
In force since 1976, the last time the current fundamental law was partially reformed was in 2002, when the irreversibility of the socialist character of the Revolution was proclaimed through a plebiscite.
There is consensus on the need to reform the more than 40-year-old Magna Carta in order to promote and legally protect many of the economic reforms initiated in 2008.
The official silence in relation to this was broken on March 31 by José Luis Toledo, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power Committee on Constitutional and Juridical Affairs, who recognized that the process had still not started.
The most significant law approved by the MPs in the last 12 months was that on Land Water.
Officials, specialists and citizens are criticizing the slow pace of the program of economic reforms and the strong political implications promoted since 2008, among other factors, due to the absence of a constitutional handhold that will endorse them.
In the opinion of many, the modifications should make an in-depth review of the legislative system and powers to achieve a country that is more in tune with current and future times, without losing the human, solidary character and commitment to the people, constantly struggling against corruption and under an umbrella of real transparency at all levels.
Likewise, they propose that the changes be approved by direct and secret vote, as well as the elections in all the authorities.
They demand that the new Constitution strengthen the defense of citizens’ rights, for which they exhort analyzing the experiences of the Latin American left, where instruments were created like the People’s Defense Councils.
The approval of a law on Cinema, the Press and Communications, as well as the new Civil and Family Codes are some of the initiatives that civil society sectors and organizations are insistently asking for.
Another frequent petition is the legal recognition of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual persons in Cuba, egalitarian marriage, the adoption of care of minors by non-heterosexual families, as well as identification based on gender identity.
|November elections in numbers:
Persons with the right to vote: 8,855,213
Persons who voted: 7,610,183
Percentage: 89.02 percent
Valid ballots: 91.79 percent
Blank ballots: 4.12
Void ballots: 4.07
Elected delegates in first round: 11,415
Circumscriptions that went to second round: 1,100
Cuba has embarked on a generational change in its principal State and Government structures. During 2018 Cubans will witness a significant renewal in the composition of Parliament and a new president will take the reins of this island country of 11.2 million inhabitants.
However, the new executive has in store great challenges, the most complex of which is perhaps the refoundation of the social pact and the projection of a style of government that for the first time in six decades will not be linked to military charisma and merits, as occurred with the so-called historic generation, in frank process of retirement.
In this sense, it will be indispensable that citizens notice a real and effective compliance of the government strategy which in the form of guidelines were approved in 2011, and reviewed and expanded in 2016.
Their full application has been delayed because of mistakes, as well as excessive bureaucracy and formalism in the leadership structures, which has resulted in numerous demands to concretize the actions that, by popular consensus, should head the country’s development strategy and increase social wellbeing in the next decades.
In this sense, policies will be vital to encourage economic growth, increase labor productivity and finish including organically the emerging private sector that continues being looked upon with suspicion and not as an essential actor to overcome the economic crisis that began in 1990.
For the immediate, the government that is elected must battle with the shortage and increased prices of products in the markets, the economic distortions that cause the double currency, as well as the process of recovery after the passage of recent hurricanes.
To this it would have to be added the ways to get around the effects of the increasingly more devastating storms and extreme climate events, which will have an inevitable impact on any economic and development plan, while it will put to the test the authorities’ response capacity to mitigate the adverse effects.
Reducing the housing deficit, putting a stop to the deterioration of the housing fund and raising the purchasing power of the wages are also among the most urgent demands.
At the same time, the new Cuban government will face a U.S. administration set on returning to the Cold War strategies of confrontation and the strengthening of the blockade, which presents challenges in terms of peaceful coexistence and national defense.
Although it seems Havana and Washington will maintain the talks on matters like cybersecurity, the struggle against human trafficking, antiterrorism and other similar ones, the intentions of commercial exchange will have to wait for better times.
The strengthening of ties with strategic allies like Russia, China and the defense of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela will be other priorities for Cuba, in addition to continuing defending in international forums putting an end to the U.S. blockade.
Additionally, the new Parliament must make an effort to revitalize its work styles and give a boost to postponed legislative bills demanded for a long time by the population.
Lastly, the authorities will surely prioritize the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the military actions that contributed to the overthrow of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973), as a preamble to the festivities for the six decades of the triumph of the 1959 revolution.
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