Leap Year, Creepy Year / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban outlook does not look hopeful for the beginning year (photo taken from the Internet)
The Cuban outlook does not look hopeful for the beginning year (photo taken from the Internet)

Miriam Celeya, Cubanet, Havana 15 January 2016 – The year 2016 has begun under a bad omen. If it weren’t enough with the general gloominess after one year of uneasy peace between the governments of Cuba and the US without any perceived improvement in living conditions, the food crisis has become more acute, and shortages are increasing. Agricultural products are increasingly scarce, of poor quality and high prices, while merchandise at foreign currency stores is very scarce. Many self-employed (cart pushers) have disappeared from the cityscape, while the cooperative stores are showing shortages signaling worse times ahead.

The high expectations arising out of the 17 December 2014 announcement of a reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States are shipwrecked and long gone. The stubborn reality has once again proved to everyone that Cuba’s ills are endemic: they rest only in the evil combination of an obsolete and failed sociopolitical and economic system and the persistence of a politically inept dynastic clique that seized the country 57 years ago, whose beginning and essential end are centered in clinging to power at any cost.

In other words, the national disappointment is based on placing the prospects of happiness in a miracle that would come from “outside” to save us from the native demon we have in Cuba: Castro-ism, cradle and reservoir for disaster. Hence, in the face of disappointment (delusion?), thousands of Cubans choose to seek abroad the happiness that is denied here.

However, by coincidence, the natural decline of the Castro experiment, which is already exhausted, will have its biggest survival test this leap year. Because, while 2016 threatens to be difficult for ordinary people — that conglomerate of the majority which some are in the unfortunate habit of referring to as “Cubans on foot” — will not be a honeycomb for the olive-green gerontocracy and its brown-nosers.

It is true that the Government-State-Party, embodied in the General-President, continues to hold power at his own free will, but in recent times the circumstances have not turned out to be as favorable as were expected. Despite the many awards and being hosted by governments and international organizations and against the grain of legitimation – useless to date – of the Cuban dictatorship in forums, including those of a financial nature, throughout the democratic world, envisioned foreign investment has not yet materialized, investment which would provide the necessary capital to start to repair the internal economic crisis.

The “new era in relations between Cuba and the international financial community,” according to the French Department of Finance, has yet to bear fruit for the elite of the Palace of the Revolution, while the Foreign Investment Act continues to lack the legal guarantees required by potential investors. Widespread corruption, rooted in the national reality, also advises caution when negotiating. Obviously, the slow pace of “reforms” of State socialism may be commendable in the hypocrisy of the forums, but it is incompatible with the urgencies of capital.

On the other hand, important changes have taken place in the regional political physiognomy, undermining alliances on which the plans of the Castro regime’s eternity rest. “21st Century Socialism” is shaking, and, just like the ‘real socialism’ of Eastern Europe, it tends to “come undone.” While the fallen scepter of populism Kirchner-style in Argentina, Venezuela’s Chávez-style regime also just suffered a tremendous setback, when the opposition won the majority seats in the recent legislative elections amid a national crisis ranging from the greatest food shortages, corruption and citizen insecurity in recent history, to drug charges that point to the President himself and his closest acolytes.

In this vein, Venezuela’s support for the Castro regime through daily oil shipments – already in a phase of decline since 2014 – is hanging by a thread. Raul Castro’s promise of a reform “without haste, but without pause,” has not ameliorated the fear of blackouts that have begun to spread across Cuba, and the increasing uncertainty adds pressure to the valve, which will guarantee the ongoing exodus, mainly to the US.

Add to this scenario is the political crisis generated by the corruption scandal in Brazil, involving the president and his party. The region’s left has fallen into the cone of a tornado and is lagging far behind those glorious days when a jubilant Chávez hurled threats and “anti-imperialist” insults at every podium, and lavishly gave away Venezuela’s national wealth for the benefit of Latin American autocracies and other opportunistic parasites.

In closing, repressive signs in Cuba’s interior have been emphasized. This is an indication of the regime’s growing insecurity, as well as its preoccupation with maintaining control over an increasingly poorer, unhappier, more irreverent and less fearful population.

By natural logic, in this leap year we will witness the last congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to be led by the so-called historical generation. It is unlikely that a 90-year old Raúl Castro or his spectral, 95-year old brother would be able to direct the 8th Congress in 2021, nor does it seem possible that the shadow of what was once the Cuban nation will be able to survive five more years of Castro-ism.

The 7th Congress of the PCC to be held in April will undoubtedly be the most important domestic political event in Cuba. Like it or not, this improbable Party that lacks a political program, with ranks of less than one million members, and which not a single fairly lucid Cuban believes in “is the highest leading force of society and the state,” as Article 5 of the Constitution endorses, so that, at least the intention of the government on the political future of the country for the next five years should be made clear. It would be unwise to propose 300 more ineffective guidelines.

Another important event of the year will certainly be the proposed new Electoral Law. Given the fear that anything that resembles democratic elections awakens in the gerontocracy, we will have to see what freak of jurisprudence they will propose to “make perfect” (even more in their favor) the electoral system, and how they propose to make it look “more democratic.” In particular, the recent Venezuelan experience will make them cling more strongly to that famous maxim of our former President: “Elections? What for?”

“Leap Year, creepy year,” our grandmothers said. And indeed, so far, all signs point to more poverty, more emigration, more corruption, more repression… and also to the fastest growing dissatisfaction and internal dissent. However, nothing will prevent a change for the better in Cuba, with the help of those who have nothing to lose but their own fear. The picture being sketched is thorny, and it suggests that 2016 will be a decisive year for Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting