A Country Waiting For A Ship

It is enough for an oil tanker to be delayed for the whole country to be paralyzed. (Pdvsa.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2019 — We have always been promised a Holy Grail. At the end of the 60s, the heart of all Cuba beat to the rhythm of the so-called Ten Million Ton Harvest, while in the years of the economic crisis known as the Special Period, hope focused on the Food Plan that would fill our plates and please our stomachs. Now, all the illusions of 11 million people cling to the arrival of fuel ships from Venezuela that will dock and unload their precious cargo on this Island.

The country is experiencing a new economic relapse that some consider simply a new symptom of the long illness of lack of productivity, dependence on foreign subsidies and the inability of the Cuban economic model to generate efficiency and well-being. The government calls for calm and has named the current circumstance “the conjuncture,” a word worthy of the new language to which the Plaza of the Revolution has accustomed us, which renamed the private sector as “cuentapropia*,” the unemployed as “available workers” and to the dictatorship as “democracy of a single Party.”

Beyond the names and phrases of public discourse, reality has its own vocabulary. The long lines at the bus stops, the shortages of basic products, the hours spent waiting to fill the gas tank in a service station, all of these are named in their own ways in popular conversations: “the thing is bad”, “this is for long “and” it is not easy “are some of the expressions that fill every corner of the Island. Nor is humor lacking, that escape valve from the frustration of a society that makes all kinds of parodies and puns from the “conjunctural” moment.

Despite the “Energy Revolution” that was undertaken at the beginning of this century, Cuba is now more dependent on fossil fuels than it was a decade ago. It is enough for an oil tanker to be delayed for the whole country to be paralyzed – paused – until the next ship arrives. The calamitous situation of the Venezuelan economy makes the arrival of these ships more random, to which is added the measures taken by Washington to prevent the black gold of that South American country from continuing to prop up Havana.

As so many other times in the nation’s history of the last half century, the crisis will not only be expressed in longer lines and sadder faces; in empty plates and more hopeless people… it will also influence an increase in the number of people who decide to pack and leave. In the last decades the escape and exodus have been an inseparable part of Cuban life. While the analysts discuss whether this moment is an extension or not of the economic collapse of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we all agree on one thing: it is the same old flight, that prolonged escape, that we are already familiar with, like the crisis itself.

*Translator’s note: Cuenta propia literally translates as ‘on one’s own account’ and is used to mean ‘self-employed.’


This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.