Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2017 — Like a metaphorical invisible hand, moving to place a ouija or bet on Russian roulette, David, a young writer, considers that the coming year will be unpredictable for the island.
In the hope that the Ifá priests (Yoruba mystics) will spread around their Letters of the Year, the necromancers predict the future, and a woman dressed as a gipsy, furiously blowing out cheap tobacco smoke, turns up various clues after tossing a pack of cards on the table. David suspects that 2017 will throw up more bad news than good.
“Forecasting is a maddening activity. All sorts of things can happen, but few of them will help the Cuban in the street. The economy is getting worse, Venezuela, which gave us free oil, is holding out the begging bowl, and now we have a weirdo like Donald Trump at the White House. In this situation, I don’t think anything good is going to happen for our country,” is David’s sceptical comment.
People in Havana said the same kind of thing when polled by the Diario Las Américas.
Sergio, an economist “sees the future as grey with black stitches. The countries which gave us credit for nothing, like Brazil and Venezuela, are swamped by their own internal crises. Cuba’s finances are in the red and have far less purchasing power.
“Insufficient exports and imports which are almost doubling the balance of payments. In most areas of production, whether agricultural or industrial, we are either stuck, or going backwards. Forced cutbacks on fuel are affecting and paralysing a variety of development plans, as well as infrastructure, highways, railway lines, and ports which are in urgent need of investment.
“All we have left is tourism and the export of medical services, which, because of domestic conditions in Venezuela and Brazil, may fall by 40 per cent. And, of course, family remittances, which, although the government will not publicise it, are now the second national industry and the country’s biggest contributor of new money.”
Rubén, a social researcher, sees three possible scenarios, but makes it clear that there could be other variants. “First scenario: Donald Trump tears up all the agreements reached with Cuba. If you then factored in the difficult economic situations in Brazil and Venezuela, the best allies the government had, and Putin looking for a rapprochement with the White House, the economic reversal would be serious. I don’t think as bad as the Special Period, but nearly.
Second scenario: If Trump does not move the counters about, there would still be effects for Cuba, which is crying out for investments and credits from anywhere in the world, but, because of geography and history, the United States is the most appropriate. Third scenario: Trump negotiates a major agreement with the government. But, in order to achieve this, Raúl Castro has to give ground in political and human rights terms. It is a complicated context”. To that he adds that Raúl and the historic generation has only one more year to govern.
For most people, the future is a dirty word. It’s senseless and not worth giving yourself a headache thinking about it. “Put simply, we have to live from day to day here. Try to make four pesos, look up girls’ skirts, and think how you can get away from Cuba”, says an internet user in Mónaco Park, in the south of Cuba.
People usually shrug their shoulders, smile nervously, and churn out rehashed remarks they have learned through many years of media and ideological indoctrination.
“I hope our leaders have some answers, because things look grim”, says a woman queueing to buy oranges in the Mónaco farmers’ market.
“If they”ve planned what’s going to happen in 2017, up to now they’ve said nothing. I think they’re just like the rest of us — no way out and shit scared. Like they’ve always said, “No one can bury it, but no one can fix it either,” says a man in the same line at the market.
And, on the question of what would be the best options for riding out the probable economic storm, Yandy, a high school graduate, is unequivocal. “Get the hell out of Cuba. Or, have a business, making lots of money, so that you can dodge the economic crisis which will be with us for decades”.
Lisandra, a prostitute, is more optimistic “As long as the American tourists come, you can make money. And if there aren’t many of those, the only thing to do is to make out with Cuban wheeler-dealers. But the best choice is get out of Cuba.”
But most Cubans, drinking their breakfast coffee black instead of with milk as they would prefer it, don’t bother themselves too much about the future.
José, a street sweeper, takes the view that “in Cuba things don’t change. Hardly ever up and and nearly always down. The people who need to worry are the bosses in government. If things go badly, they are the ones with most to lose.”
Translated by GH